Are you a scientist? A biologist? A parapsychologist?

I am a scientist, and more specifically a biologist. I started my research career working on the development of plants and the ageing of cells, then I worked in an international agricultural research institute in India on crop physiology. In 1981 I published my hypothesis of formative causation in my first book, A New Science of Life, principally about the causes of form in living organisms, based on my hypothesis of morphic resonance and memory in nature. I have been doing research on morphic resonance ever since. As part of this research, I became interested in the bonds between members of social groups and realised that the morphic field of the social group could lead to telepathic connections between members of the group. I then investigated telepathy in animals, starting from this biological perspective, and later investigated telepathy and other unexplained powers of humans, particularly telepathy between mothers and babies and telepathy in connection with telephone calls. I have also researched the sense of being stared at, which I think is a normal biological phenomenon that probably evolved in connection with predator-prey relations. Prey animals that could tell when a hungry predator was looking at them would stand a better chance of escaping than ones that couldn't. Some of these areas of research overlap with parapsychology, but I am a biologist not a parapsychologist. Unlike parapsychologists I do not start from laboratory studies, but from biological phenomena and from natural history.

Do you do research?

Yes, much of my activity is concerned with research. At the time of writing (2013), I'm doing research on morphic resonance in cell biology, morphic resonance in human learning, telepathy in connection with telephone calls, the growth of plants, and the adaptation of tree species to climate change in a long-term experiment in a forest in British Columbia, Canada.

Do you follow the scientific method?

Yes. I put forward hypotheses, test the hypotheses by experiment, and publish the results in peer-reviewed journals. In areas where there has been almost no previous scientific research, for example in relation to telepathy in animals and between mothers and their children, I start by investigating the natural history of the phenomena by collecting stories from people about their experiences, and then doing surveys to find out how common these experiences are. I then investigate these phenomena by means of experimental tests wherever possible.

Do you submit to peer reviewed journals?

Yes. I have published more than 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Of these papers, about half are on plant development, crop physiology, cell biology and the plant hormone auxin, and about half, published from the 1980s onwards, are on experimenter effects, the sense of being stared at, morphic resonance, and telepathy in animals and people. I have published in a wide range of journals, including several papers in Nature.

Do you have evidence for your hypotheses?

Yes. For the hypothesis for morphic resonance, several other scientists and I have tested it in the realms of human and animal behaviour over the last 30 years. This evidence is summarised in the third edition of my book A New Science of Life (2009), called Morphic Resonance in the US, and I propose 10 new tests in the Appendix to this book. In addition, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence from experiments with crystals, cell cultures, fruit flies, rats and humans which I summarize in The Presence of the Past (1988; new edition 2011).

For my hypotheses about the extended mind and telepathy, much evidence is summarized in my papers on these subjects, and in my books Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At.

Are your hypotheses falsifiable?

In principle, yes. In one experiment, done jointly with a skeptic, Steven Rose, I thought the data supported the hypothesis of morphic resonance, and he thought the data falsified it. Those who are interested can read our different interpretations of the data. There have already been many other tests of this hypothesis, and the evidence from most of them supports it. This is summarised in the third edition of my book A New Science of Life (2009), called Morphic Resonance in the US. For the hypothesis that the mind is extended beyond the brain, and that the direction of attention to people or animals could result in their feeling they were being looked at, there is already evidence from experimental tests by myself and by others. For the hypothesis that closely bonded members of animal groups can be in telepathic communication with each other at a distance, there is evidence from studies of dogs and other animals, as well as experimental tests with people. This evidence is summarised in my books Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At. Ironically, it turns out that the skeptical hypotheses that none of these phenomena exist are unfalsifiable, because skeptics ignore or dismiss any evidence that goes against their beliefs. I have had many experiences of this attitude, and have summarized my debates with skeptics

When an organism dies, what happens to its morphic fields?

Morphic fields are local and and are within and around the systems they organise. An oak tree's fields are within and around the tree. When it dies, they disappear from that place. But the oak's fields can affect other oak tees by morphic resonance, even after it is dead. Morphic resonance involves a transfer of information across space and time from the past to the present. The source of the resonance is in the past. The hypothesis is that similarity with an organism in the present enables this resonance to occur.

Some of your hypotheses have no physical explanation. How can you consider them?

This question depends on what we mean by physical. If we take physics to mean existing textbook physics, then phenomena like morphic resonance and telepathy have no explanation in terms of standard physical theories, which is why they are controversial. But I am not proposing that these are supernatural phenomena, outside the natural order of things. I am proposing that they depend on physical effects not yet recognised by science. Morphic resonance is a testable hypothesis that proposes a transfer of information from past to present self-organising systems on the basis of similarity. The physicist David Bohm thought that this effect could be explained in terms of his interpretation of quantum physics in terms of the implicate order. In 2012, the physicist Lee Smolin put forward a similar hypothesis, also based on an extension of quantum physics, called the principle of precedence, which he summarised by saying, "Nature is developing habits as it goes along." This is very similar to my own proposal, so although morphic resonance is not explained by current textbook physics, I think it may well be part of the physics of the future.

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 in 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 on this web site: Scientific Papers on Morphic Resonance.

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 from 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 led 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 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 brought together the large body of evidence collected since the publication of my book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World in a new book 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.

There has now been a lot of research on the sense of being stared at, and a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies was devoted to it. You can read my review of the experimental studies in The Sense of Being Stared At - Part 1: Is it Real or Illusory? (PDF). And you can take part in a staring experiment yourself.

Research on the experimenter effect has shown that blind and double-blind methods are rarely used in most branches of science. 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 out 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 affect 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.

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 [1958] 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 do 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 participate section of this web site there are several online experiments which I invite anyone who is interested to try.

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 papers 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?

See upcoming appearances.

How can people reach you?

You can contact me by email, 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 p.e.smart@btinternet.com