Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems. In its most general formulation, morphic resonance means that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. The hypothesis of mophic resonance also leads to a radically new interpretation of memory storage in the brain and of biological inheritance. Memory need not be stored in material traces inside brains, which are more like TV receivers than video recorders, tuning into influences from the past. And biological inheritance need not all be coded in the genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes; much of it depends on morphic resonance from previous members of the species. Thus each individual inherits a collective memory from past members of the species, and also contributes to the collective memory, affecting other members of the species in the future.
This hypothesis was first put forward in my book A New Science of Life in 1981, and discussed in my detail in my main theoretical work, The Presence of the Past, published in 1988. See Morphic Fields for a general introduction to the theory.
A new fully updated edition of A New Science of Life was published in the UK in 2009 (Icon Books, London) and in the US under the title Morphic Resonance (Inner Traditions International, Rochester, VT). In this new edition, Appendix A (PDF) describes the results of experimental tests since the first edition of the book was published in 1981, and discusses ten new tests. In Appendix B (PDF) there is a dialogue about morphic fields and quantum physics with the physicist David Bohm.
Watch this excerpt from A Glorious Accident
In which Rupert discusses the habits of nature
Scientific Papers on Morphic Resonance
The hypothesis of formative causation predicts that as animals of a given species learn a new pattern of behaviour, other similar animals will subsequently tend to learn the same thing more readily all over the world, a a result of a process called morphic resonance. The more that learn it, the easier it should become for others. This possibility was tested with day-old chicks using a simple learned response, a conditioned aversion. The test took place in the laboratory of Steven Rose, a sceptic, following a standard procedure used routinely in his laboratory, and was carried out blind by a summer student who knew nothing of the purpose of the experiment nor of morphic resonance. The chicks were exposed either to a test stimulus, a small yellow light-emitting diode (LED), or a control stimulus, a chrome bead. Half an hour after pecking the stimulus, the control chicks received an injection of saline solution, and the test chicks an injection of lithium chloride, which made them mildly sick. They were then tested three hours later, each chick being exposed sequentially to the control and the test stimulus, when most test birds were averse to pecking the yellow LED, but not averse to pecking the control bead. The response of the chicks was measured by recording the latency, the time delay in seconds before they first pecked the stimulus. The same experimental procedure was repeated for 37 days. If morphic resonance were occurring, successive batches of chicks should have shown an increasing aversion to the yellow LED, even in the initial training procedure, by morphic resonance from their averse predecessors. The controls should have shown no such increasing aversion. I think the results are consistent with such an effect, which shows up with a high degree of statistical significance (p < 0.01) when the aversion to the yellow bead is measured relative to the control. Rose disagrees with this interpretation.
Sheldrake's paper claims that the results of the experiment which we jointly planned, and which was conducted by myself and Ms Harrison, are in conformity with the hypothesis he describes as "formative causation". Before demonstrating that Sheldrake's interpretation of these results is invalid, and that they by no means confirm his hypothesis, I wish to comment briefly on the background to the experiment. His book A New Science of Life seemed when I first read it, and still seems, to propose an entirely empty hypothesis. The circumstances in which novel hypotheses (paradigms) become important in science have been well described by Thomas Kuhn; they emerge when there is an accumulation of observational anomalies which existing hypotheses cannot account for, or when a theory becomes excessively cumbersome and "inelegant" and the alternative seems to handle the same material more coherently. To Kuhn's account we can, at least in the particular context of the present discussion, add the well-worn view that to have utility, a hypothesis should be capable of disconfirmation.
Rivista di Biologia - Biology Forum 85 (3/4), 1992, 455-460
by Rupert Sheldrake
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Rose's predictions about the outcome of this experiment were refuted by the empirical data. His aggressive tone and extravagant rhetoric conceal this simple fact. I will not attempt to answer his polemic, ranging from Nietzsche to ley-lines, but simply start by looking again at his predictions about the chicks: "No secular trends apparent; latencies to peck the illuminated bead after ten weeks are no different from those on week I, and the differencies between latencies for illuminated and chrome beads, if they occur, are also unchanged". In fact secular trends were very apparent, latencies to peck the illuminated bead after ten weeks were very different from those on week I, and the differences between latencies for illuminated and chrome beads were not unchanged. Rose and I discussed various interpretations of the data over a period of eighteen months. At the outset, he seemed certain that the hypothesis of formative causation would be disconfirmed. He had already publicly denounced it in the strongest terms. He appeared to have no doubt that when tested in his own laboratory, under his own supervision, in my absence, by an experimenter working blind, the data would reveal no trace whatever of morphic resonance. But it soon became clear that there had been an effect of the kind predicted by the hypothesis of for- mative causation. (I discuss below Rose's alternative interpretation of this effect in terms of "floors" and "ceilings"). After lengthy delays, Rose withdrew from our agreement to write a joint paper, and no longer wanted to publish the results.
Ranchers throughout the American West have found that they can save money on cattle grids by using fake grids instead, consisting of stripes painted across the road. Real cattle grids, usually made of a series of parallel steel tubes or rails with gaps in between, which make it physically impossible for cattle to walk across them. However, cattle do not usually try to cross them; they avoid them. The illusory grids work just like real ones. When cattle approach them, they "put on brakes with all four feet", as one rancher expressed it to me.
In this essay, I am going to discuss the concept of collective memory as a background for understanding Jung's concept of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious only makes sense in the context of some notion of collective memory. This then takes us into a very wide-ranging examination of the nature and principle of memory-not just in human beings and not just in the animal kingdom; not even just in the realm of life-but in the universe as a whole. Such an encompassing perspective is part of a very profound paradigm shift that is taking place in science: the shift from the mechanistic to an evolutionary and wholistic world view.
The approach I am putting forward is very similar to Jung's idea of the collective unconscious. The main difference is that Jung's idea was applied primarily to human experience and human collective memory. What 1 am suggesting is that a very similar principle operates throughout the entire universe, not just in human beings. If the kind of radical paradigm shift 1 am talking about goes on within biology ? if the hypothesis of morphic resonance is even approximately correct ? then Jung's idea of the collective unconscious would become a mainstream idea: Morphogenic fields and the concept of the collective unconscious would completely change the context of modern psychology.
This is the third in our series of essays by Rupert Sheldrake on the implications of his hypothesis of Formative Causation for the psychology of C. G. Jung. The intense controversy this hypothesis generated with the publication of his first book, A New Science of Life (1981), has stimulated a number of international competitions for evaluating his ideas via experimental investigations.