Sunday, February 05, 2006
Nature As Alive: Morphic Resonance and Collective Memory Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.d.
This article was originally presented at the International Transpersonal Association Conference on "Science, Spirituality, and the Global Crisis: Toward a World with a Future," which was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was delivered on 25 June 1992. It was originally published in Primal Renaissance: The Journal of Primal Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring, 1995.
Memory Inherent in Nature
I suggest that there is a memory inherent in Nature and that what we usually think of as the laws of Nature may be more like habits. I will give an example. When you make a new chemical compound, the first time it crystallizes it is usually assumed that the crystal form, the lattice structure, is completely determined in advance by the laws of Nature, electromagnetic laws, Schrodinger's equation, the laws of thermodynamics, and so on. It is assumed that these laws fully determine the crystal's structure. Therefore the way a crystal forms the first time, the thousandth time, or the millionth time should be exactly the same, because the laws of Nature never change and they are not themselves influenced by the events they determine.
This is the standard view. By contrast I suggest that the first time a compound forms there will not already be a habit developed for its structure. It may actually take a long time for that to happen. Still, the second time it forms there will be an influence on it from the first time it formed by a process I call morphic resonance. The third time there will be an influence from the first and second times, and so on. These events contribute to a cumulative memory, which is expressed all around the world. So the new compound should become easier to crystallize as time goes on, all around the world. A memory, a habit, is building up.
In fact new chemicals do generally get easier to crystallize around the world as time goes on. And chemists usually explain this, not in terms of rigorous theories, but in anecdotes which are part of the folklore of chemistry. The most common anecdote is that this happens because fragments of previous crystals get carried from lab to lab on the beards of migrant chemists. Another explanation that is heard is that fragments of crystals get wafted around the world in the atmosphere.
Obviously, I am suggesting that this increased rate of crystallization happens even without migrating chemists and even if dust particles have been filtered from the laboratory air. So, the formation of crystals is one example of the buildup of habits in Nature, which we mistakenly assign the status of laws.
The Present Crisis in Science
This idea of a memory inherent in Nature is obviously a very radical, controversial, and unconventional view. The reason I think we need to consider it seriously is that science is at present in crisis because two of its most fundamental models of reality have come into conflict with each other.
The Model of Eternal Laws
The first model is the idea of eternity: nothing really changes. This model has dominated the physical sciences for a very long time, beginning in ancient Greece with the Pythagorean who thought that the realm of mathematics—the realm of number and proportion—was an eternal truth and that the changing world we live in was a reflection of that eternal order. Plato incorporated these ideas into his well-known philosophy of eternal forms or Ideas. And with the revival of Platonism in the European Renaissance, these Platonic forms or Ideas were built into the foundations of modern science.
The Model of Evolution
The other fundamental assumption of Western science is the model of evolution, which is the idea that everything changes and develops in time. This one came to us not from the Greek but from the Jewish part of our cultural heritage.