Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions
What are morphic fields? How do they fit into your Hypothesis of Formative Causation?
The Hypothesis of Formative Causation states that the forms of self-organizing systems are shaped by morphic fields. Morphic fields organize atoms, molecules, crystals, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies, ecosystems, planetary systems, solar systems, galaxies. In other words, they organize systems at all levels of complexity, and are the basis for the wholeness that we observe in nature, which is more than the sum of the parts. For a more formal definition of morphic fields, see the Glossary
According to the Hypothesis of Formative Causation, morphic fields also contain an inherent memory given by the process of morphic resonance, whereby each kind of thing has a collective memory. For example, crystals of a given kind are influenced by all past crystals of that kind, date palms by past date palms, giraffes by past giraffes, etc. In the human realm this is similar to Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. For morphic resonance see Glossary.
In the realm of developmental biology the morphic fields that shape the growing organisms are called morphogenetic fields; in social organization they can be called social fields; and the organization of mental activity they can be called mental fields. But all these kinds of fields are particular kinds of morphic fields, and all are shaped and stabilized by morphic resonance. For a fuller description of the Hypothesis of Formative Causation see my books A New Science of Life, which is quite brief and somewhat technical, or my book The Presence of the Past which is longer, but less technical, and more complete.
What evidence is there for the existence of morphic fields?
Morphic fields are postulated to account for the wholeness of self-organizing systems which can not be explained in terms of the parts alone and their interactions. My current research on bonds between pets and owners, the sense of being stared at, and other experiments described in my book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World is designed to provide evidence for morphic fields, and this evidence is already looking quite strong. Papers on recent experiments are currently in the press, and a listing can be found in the Scientific Publications section of this web site.
Evidence for morphic resonance comes from memory effects in nature, as discussed in my book The Presence of the Past, and from experiments on human psychology showing that it becomes easier to learn what other people have already learned. One phenomenon that suggests the existence of morphic resonance and morphic fields is the otherwise inexplicable rise in IQ that has taken place over the last few decades, the so-called "Flynn Effect".
How does your theory differ from the traditional mechanistic explanations of morphogenesis?
The mechanistic explanation of morphogenesis attempts to explain it in terms of molecules and interactions between them, particularly in terms of DNA and protein synthesis. This is a bottom-up approach, and can not explain the emergence of form. For example, genes code for the sequence of amino acids in proteins, but this can not even explain how the proteins fold up in the correct way to give the right three-dimensional structure.
Still less does it explain how proteins form cells, cells forms tissues, tissues form organs, and organs form organisms. The focus of research in conventional developmental biology is on genes, gene activation and proteins, but no more explains the development of form than the study of the delivering of building materials at a building site explains the structure of the house that is built there. For a detailed discussion of the mechanistic theory of morphogenesis, and how it differs from my own views, see my book The Presence of the Past.
Do you see organisms as being greater than the sum of their parts?
Organisms are greater than the sum of their parts, and it is this wholeness which makes them organisms rather than mere aggregates. This is an an essential part of any holistic view of nature, whether expressed in terms of system theory or other holistic philosophies, or in terms of the Hypothesis of Formative Causation. It is this wholeness that is greater than the sum of their parts that I think is contained within the Morphic Field.
Do you suspect that extraterrestrial life will resemble life on earth due to the effects of morphic fields?
I think morphic resonance should link life here to similar forms of life on other planets. So if there are forms of life on other planets that resemble mammals, insects, algae, and other life forms on this planet, I would expect them to interact by morphic resonance. However, there is no reason to assume that forms of life on other planets would closely resemble life on this planet, and they may therefore not be influenced by morphic resonance, which always depends on similarity.
Even on this planet, I would not expect morphic resonance from algae to have much effect on the behavior of primates because they are so different. We know nothing about the diversity of life on other planets, but my expectation is that there might well be earth-like planets throughout the universe, where morphic resonance from earth, and to earth, plays a role in the evolutionary process. But there may well be planets with quite different ecosystems, and quite different forms of life with which we would not be resonating.
Have any of the scientific advances that were made since you wrote A New Science of Life caused you to reconsider any aspects of your theory?
Although there have been many advances in developmental biology, and much more information is now available about which genes are switched on at which stages of development, for example in the nematode worm Caenorhabdytis, and the fruit fly Drosophila, this detailed knowledge about gene activation still does not address the fundamental question of morphogenesis.
The existence of gradients of morphogens, chemicals with morphogenetic effects, was known long ago in plants, and my own work on auxin established the existence of such gradients and explored the mode of their formation and transport within plants.
Morphogens have now been identified in various animal systems, but this does not affect my basic argument, since the existence of chemical gradients is simply another way of switching on genes. It provides a way of switching on or switching off genes, and still leaves the actual question of the development of form and the building of structures unexplained.
The main changes in my thinking about morphic fields have come more from quantum physics than from biology. In discussions with the late David Bohm, one of which is reprinted in the appendix to A New Science of Life, it became clear that some of the phenomena I am talking about in terms of morphic resonance and formative causation could perhaps be explained in terms of non-locality in quantum physics. Further discussions of non-locality in quantum physics have lead me to think that a new theoretical framework should be possible within which quantum non-locality and morphic fields can be integrated.
I do not think that the quantum physics of sub-atomic particles can be directly extrapolated to account for the morphic fields of living organisms. After all, even existing quantum physics is hard to extrapolate to complex molecules or crystals because the calculations are impossibly difficult and complex. Nevertheless, it seems to me very likely that quantum non-locality and the kinds of effects I'm talking about do have some kind of common source or origin.
What do you think the repercussions would be if your Hypothesis of Formative Causation were to be vindicated?
It would be a big step towards a holistic paradigm, a non-reductionist view of nature. The shift from a mechanistic to holistic paradigm of nature has been happening in stages for several decades, but mainstream science is still committed to mechanistic and reductionist view of nature. This transition is described and documented in my book The Rebirth of Nature.
Empirical evidence and a more widespread acceptance of the existence of morphic fields could help to move mainstream science in this more holistic direction. And a more holistic science would have many implications for the way we relate to each other, and to the natural world, as discussed in my book The Rebirth of Nature.
What are some of the practical applications that you foresee as being possible through a greater understanding of morphic resonance?
The most obvious application would be in the realm of education. If it is easier to learn things that many people have learned before, educational methods that enhance the process of morphic resonance could lead to accelerated learning and more effective educational methods. I think that the understanding of inheritance in the plant and animal kingdoms, and also the inheritance of cultural and family patterns in the human realm would be deepened, and this could probably lead to much more effective forms of therapy. It could also lead to an integration of therapeutic systems, such as that of Jung, which already depend on the idea of collective memory with more mainstream science.
It is also possible that morphic resonance could occur between machines with indeterminate or truly random elements within them, for example quantum computers. If this happened, new forms of telecommunication would become possible and a much more organic technology would emerge. This could become one of the dominant technologies of the new millennium and open up technological possibilities that are at present undreamt of.
What progress have you made with the research that you proposed in Seven Experiments That Could Change the World?
The greatest progress has been in made in research on unexplained powers of animals, such as the ability of dogs and cats to know when their owners are coming home. I now have a database with over two thousand reports from pet owners, surveys have been conducted in England and the United States on people's experience of perceptive pets, and detailed empirical studies carried out with a number of animals.
Some of this research has been written up for publication in scientific journals, and I bringing together the large body of evidence collected since the publication of my book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World and a new book, to entitled Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals.
There have also been very significant advances in research on the sense of being stared at, some of which is soon to be published in scientific journals. Over 18,000 trials have been conducted so far, and the odds against this effect being due to chance are currently 1037 to 1. In other words, this effect is phenomenally significant.
New experiments involving staring through windows are described on this web site (click here to participate), and I hope that more experiments will be done following the procedures suggested there. This makes an ideal topic for student projects.
Research on the experimenter effect has shown that blind and double-blind methods are rarely used in most branches of science, and this research has been published, and can be seen on this web site. Papers on the Experimenter Effect In these papers I propose a new experiment, which I have thought of since the publication of my book, which can be carried in any laboratory in any subject, and I would encourage visitors of this site to consider doing these experiments.
There has also been significant progress in research on phantom limbs and other projects suggested in my book, especially on homing pigeons, including an experiment carried out on board a ship of the Royal Dutch Navy in 1996, with a pigeon loft on board which moved over 6,000 miles.
Why do you think it is that some pets appear to anticipate their owner's arrival?
Their ability to anticipate this arrival seems to depend on a kind of telepathic bond. We have found by experiment that it can not be explained in terms of routine times, familiar sounds, or clues given by people at home. I explain this effect in terms of a morphic field connecting pet to owner, through which the owner's intentions to come home are transmitted to the pet.
Why do you think it is that people seem to be able to sense when someone is staring at them?
This depends on the way in which perception works. I suggest that when we are looking at somebody or something the image we form is not located inside our brain but projected out to the place where it seems to be. In other words, our mind reaches out to touch what we are looking at. This means that we can effect what we are looking at. So if we look at somebody from behind, and they do not know we are there, they can feel this unseen gaze if they're in a sufficiently receptive state. A fuller discussion of this phenomenon is given in my book The Sense of Being Stared At , and can be read on this web site by clicking Seven Experiments
How has your research been accepted within the scientific community?
There is a great variety of opinion and openness within the scientific community. Many scientific colleagues are friendly and supportive of this work, and help me with advice and in other ways. However, there are some scientists who are far from open-minded and have a dogmatic certainty that nothing like telepathy or morphic resonance is possible. I have found such people show little interest in empirical evidence.
What do skeptics say about your work?
There are several different kinds of skeptics. Some have a healthy skepticism which involves questioning new ideas, looking critically at evidence, but includes an open-mindedness and willingness to accept new ideas or evidence if the case is persuasive. I have no problem with skeptics of this kind, and this healthy skepticism is an essential part of scientific discovery. However, there is another kind of skeptic, the dogmatic skeptic or scientific fundamentalist, who is more concerned to defend a materialist ideology than to pursue scientific inquiry in an open-minded manner.
Such skeptics tend to oppose the kind of research I'm doing on principle, on the grounds that these questions should not be asked in a scientific way, and that subjects like the sense of being stared at, psychic pets, and memory in nature lie outside the scope of science. This kind of skeptic has made materialistic science into a kind of religion, and in my experience is not open to reason or evidence, although they often call themselves rationalists. In my opinion the correct approach in science is to put forward hypotheses, and to look at evidence in a rational manner, rather than rule out whole areas of inquiry and dismiss evidence out of hand because of some preconceived dogma.
Does the 100th monkey story support your ideas?
The 100th monkey story is often told and appears to support the idea of morphic resonance. However, I never use this myself because most of the versions of it that are in circulation have drifted a long way from the actual facts. It is then easy for sceptics to debunk.
The original story appears in Lyall Watson's book LIFETIDE, where he describes research on Japanese macaque monkeys, which have been studied intensively for more than four decades in a number of wild colonies. In 1952, a researcher first provided monkeys in one colony on the island of Koshima with sweet potatoes, which were thrown onto the beach and hence were covered with sand. One of the monkeys, an 18-month old female, called Imo, solved the problem of the sand on the potatoes by carrying them down to a stream and washing them before feeding. This new form of behaviour spread through the colony. By 1958 all the juveniles were washing dirty food and some of the adults learned to do so by imitating their children.
Watson goes on to say: "Then something extraordinary took place. The details up to this point in the study are clear, but one has to gather the rest of the story from personal anecdotes and bits of folklore among primate researchers, because most of them are still not quite sure what happened. ..... I am forced to improvise the details, but as near as I can tell, this is what seems to have happened." Watson then tells the original version of the 100th monkey story, making it clear that this is not literally what happened but a kind of dramatisation of it:
"In the autumn of that year  an unspecified number of monkeys on Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea, because Imo had made the further discovery that salt water not only cleaned the food but gave it an interesting new flavour. Let us say, for arguments sake. that the number was 99 and that at eleven o'clock on the Tuesday morning, one further convert was added to the fold in the usual way. But the addition of the 100th monkey apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold, pushing it through a kind of critical mass, because by that evening almost everyone in the colony was doing it. Not only that, but the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers to have appeared spontaneously, like glycerine crystals in sealed laboratory jars, in colonies in other islands and on the mainland in a troop at Takasakiama."
This story has been repeated by all sorts of new age speakers and writers, mutating as it is retold. I think that the observations to which Watson was referring does show something like morphic resonance, but exaggerated versions of the story often bear little relation to what really happened. I myself prefer the example of rats that learned a new trick in one laboratory (Harvard) and later groups of rats in other laboratories, in Scotland and Australia that learned the new trick quicker. The details are given in my book A New Science of Life chapter 11.
How can pet owners, students, and other interested people get involved in your research?
In the Experiments section of this web site there is a portal for online experiments which I invite anyone who is interested to try. There are also several suggestions for offline research projects.
How can people find out the results of your current research?
Much of it is published in scientific papers, which can be found on the list of Scientific Publications on this web site. The E-Newsletter helps to keep readers up to date with recent developments.
How can people find out your itinerary of scheduled appearances?
This is given on this web site at Schedule
How can people reach you?
You can contact me by email through my assistant Pam Smart, and you can also write to me by regular post at 20 Willow Road, London NW3 1TJ, England. I receive a great deal of correspondence and it is difficult to reply to all the emails and letters that come.
Generally speaking, the longer the email or letter, the longer the delay before I can reply. Some people send me lengthy manuscripts expecting comments within a matter of days. If I read all the manuscripts I'm sent I would not be able to do anything else. So if you want to get in touch, please keep it brief and I will try to reply to it.
What do you enjoy about your work?
I can work freely and follow up any leads I find interesting because I work independently. I have been exploring unexplained areas of animal and human behavior, such as the feeling of being stared at from behind, which most people brush aside. I have done over 20,000 simple trials that suggest this is indeed a very real phenomenon.
What aspects of science would you change if you could?
What upsets me most about science is the closed-minded dogmatism that is all too common, which makes a lot of scientists timid and afraid to go beyond convention. This affects cosmologists and physicists a lot less than biologists. After all, you can still be a cosmologist and speculate that the universe is one of an infinite number, or postulate extra dimensions of space and time. At one time, these were considered the realm of cranks, but now you can hold down a chair in a physics department. In biology, the atmosphere has become narrower and more intolerant as molecular biology and neo-Darwinism have squeezed out the traditional, holistic approach. Biology has become rather narrow and impoverished.
What was your first scientific experiment?
I must have been about seven or eight. I was fascinated by homing pigeons. I kept some, and my first experiment was to take one of them away and release it and find indeed that it came back.
What was your high-school science teacher like?
My biology teacher, Robin Thoday, was very inspiring. His father was a botany professor and his brother a geneticist, and he represented the older kind of biology, the traditional biology, where one actually knew the names of plants and animals and studied ecology. His approach encouraged me to look for explanations of things that were unexplained.
What is your proudest achievement?
There is not a single one, but when I was researching plant development, I discovered that auxin, the plant hormone, is made by dying cells, which sheds tremendous light on the developmental biology of plants. Secondly, in India, working out the basic physiology of the crops I was working on and finding new ways to grow them with high yields. Thirdly, the development of the hypothesis of "formative causation," which provides a larger framework for looking at nature.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
In India, I invented a new cropping system for growing pigeon peas as a perennial, and persuaded village farmers to take this up. It was a terrible failure because the peas were killed by disease that persisted on the perennial crop, which wouldn't have happened if the crop had been grown in the traditional way. I did arrange for the institute to compensate the farmers, though.
What advice would you give a younger scientist?
If they are interested in making discoveries, then they should explore the unexplained in biology, where no one is working at the moment. I wouldn't advise them to go into standard molecular biology, protein sequencing, genetic engineering. On the other hand, if they want a conventional career and to earn lots of money, that would be the way to go.
Who from scientific history would you like to meet?
The evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace. He's one of my heroes. He had a much more far-ranging mind than Darwin, and while we know exhaustively about Darwin, we know very much less about Wallace.
What would you ask him?
I'd like to ask him about the biology of Southeast Asia, where he studied extensively. He also had a very different view of evolution than Darwin; he considered there to be creative forces at work rather than just blind chance, and I'd want to know why he thought it was necessary.
Frequently Asked Questions was compiled by David Jay Brown. If you would like to submit a question to be included, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Top of Page