Memory Inherent in
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Present Crisis in Science
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.
Model of Eternal Laws
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.
Christian Neo-Platonism, as formulated by Saint Augustine, the
eternal Platonic forms were ideas in the mind of God. And for
the founding fathers of modern science—Copernicus, Kepler,
Galileo, DesCartes, and others—science was about finding out
the eternal mathematical truths which were these ideas in the
mind of God. God begins to be conceived as an ultimate
mathematician, and this is a perennially popular idea with
mathematicians even to this day.
the idea that the laws of Nature are eternal has a strong
theological and metaphysical background. Most scientists do not
actually discuss it; it is simply taken for granted, built into
the foundations of the scientific method as we know it. The idea
that any experiment should be repeatable anywhere, at any time,
follows from this idea, as the practical application of it. The
reason scientific experiments are supposed to be repeatable at
any time is because the laws of Nature are supposed to be the
same at all times and in all places.
course, these laws are not things you actually meet or
encounter. You do not see E=MC2
written in the sky. You do not find it under stones. These are
things that are abstract ideas. They are not made of energy or
matter; they are not part of the physical universe in fact. They
are part of a cosmic dualism built into mechanistic science
since the Seventeenth Century: on the one side, eternal laws;
governing eternal matter and energy on the other.
way of thinking is deeply imbedded in the mentality of
scientists. It is one of the most fundamental paradigms or
models of Western science.
Model of Evolution
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.
most ancient peoples, the Jews believed that the historical
process involved a development in time. Most ancient peoples,
like the Greeks, the Hindus, and the Buddhists, believed that
time was essentially cyclical. Things just repeated in cycles .
. . including great cycles of cosmic repetition. But the Jews
emphasized the nature of the historical process as a
journey—the prototypic journey being the journey of the Jews
out of Egypt through the wilderness and to the promised land.
And in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature this promised
land became the Millennium, the kingdom of God, the time in the
future when history would end.
idea was subsequently secularized in the Seventeenth Century and
gave rise to the idea of progress through science and
technology. And it is of course the same idea that underlies
systems as diverse as Marxism and the New-Age movement. In
Marxism it is thought there is an evolution to an end of history
when the state withers away. Well, Marxist states have withered
away, but history has not ended. And the entire New-Age movement
is another way of thinking of history leading to some kind of
these originally Jewish ideas of change and development in time
led to the idea of human progress. By the end of the Eighteenth
Century, most people agreed that human beings progressed and
society progressed, but the rest of Nature was still thought to
be static. By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the idea of
biological evolution was gaining ground. Darwin's theory was
generalized so that human development was seen as part of a much
larger process of biological development, biological evolution.
Some philosophers began to suggest that maybe the whole cosmos
the physicists quickly contradicted them. They said the cosmos
was not evolving, that it was an eternal machine that is in fact
running out of steam, heading toward a thermodynamic heat death.
So it was generally held that the cosmos is going downhill
whereas evolution on earth was a progressive development, a kind
of momentary fluctuation in a universe headed nowhere.
was not until the 1960s that physics finally adopted an
evolutionary cosmology. This occurred with the introduction of
the Big-Bang theory—the idea that the cosmos started small and
has been growing ever since. With its corollary that the cosmos
is continually forming new patterns and forms within it as it
grows, the Big-Bang theory gives us a model of the cosmos that's
far more like a developing organism than like any machine we
know of. So we now have an evolutionary cosmology. All Nature is
evolving. Human development is in the context of biological
evolution. Biological evolution is part of a vastly greater
evolutionary process, cosmic evolution.
Laws of Nature
follows that until the 1960s the question I am raising did not
come up. If the universe was eternal, the idea of eternal laws
of Nature made sense. But if Nature were evolving, why should
the laws of Nature not evolve as well? Why should we think of
the universe as governed by a cosmic Napoleonic code which was
fixed at the outset rather than being governed by evolving
principles. As a matter of fact, as soon as you begin to think
about laws of Nature you realize that this is an extremely
anthropocentric concept. In the Seventeenth Century the image
was clear. God was lord of the universe, and His laws applied to
everything. Not only did He make up the laws, but He was
omnipotent and provided the role of the all-powerful
most scientists no longer bring God into their thinking. And if,
from a scientific point of view, we no longer think of God as a
cosmic legislator, then why should we think of laws
of Nature at all? As the English writer C. S. Lewis said,
"To say that a stone falls to earth because it is obeying a
law makes it a man and even a citizen." So this concept of
law is intensely anthropocentric. And I think it is much better
to change our metaphor than to continue this. The metaphor I
suggest instead is habit.
may have the regularity they do and Nature may have its patterns
of regularity because of habits that build up within Nature
according to what has already happened and according to how
often it has happened. Furthermore, habits are subject to
natural selection. They can evolve. Only successful patterns of
activity are capable of being repeated, and only the ones that
are repeated become habits.
Resonance and Morphic Fields
if there are habits in Nature, then there must be a memory in
Nature. Our own habits depend on memory, largely unconscious
memory. There is no need to assume the habits of Nature are any
more conscious than our own. So what I am suggesting is an
inherent memory process in Nature. The basis of it is the
process I call morphic resonance.
Morphic resonance is the
influence of like upon like through or across space and time.
Similar things resonate with subsequent similar things on the
basis of similarity of pattern and, particularly, of vibratory
patterns of activity. A chemical of a given kind resonates with
previous chemicals of that kind and is influenced by it. A
member of a given species, like a giraffe, is subject to morphic
resonance from previous giraffes. Each giraffe draws upon a
collective memory of the species and in turn contributes to it.
Each organism, I propose, is organized by a morphic field, morphic
from the Greek word meaning form: morphi.
morphic field is the organizing field of a system. Each crystal has
its own kind of morphic field; each species has its own kind of
morphic field. Then, say, within the body, each organ has a
morphic field, each tissue, each cell, each kind of organelle,
each molecule. There are nested hierarchies of fields within
fields. The whole of Nature is built up of systems within
systems: solar systems within galaxies, the Earth within the
solar system, ecosystems within the Earth, and so on. Each of
these, I suggest, has a morphic field which organizes it in
accordance with habit, in accordance with the habits of that
kind of thing.
that have been around for hundreds of millions of
years—hydrogen atoms, for example, or salt crystals—have
habits that are so repetitive that they become effectively
fixed. They behave as if they are governed by eternal laws.
where we see the difference between the conventional theory and
the one I am putting forward is when we look at new systems, new
patterns of behavior, new patterns of activity. There, according
to morphic resonance theory, it should be possible to see new
habits building up, and this should be testable by experiment.
have already mentioned a possible test with crystals. But the
same theory applies in animal behavior, in biological
morphogenesis, the development of form, and in many other areas.
For example, the theory predicts that if you train rats in a new
trick in Prague, then rats all around the world should learn the
same thing quicker just because the rats have learned it in
there is already evidence from studies done on rats in
laboratories that this kind of effect actually happens. I have
summarized this evidence in my books, A
New Science of Life and The
Presence of the Past. In fact, it is surprising how much
evidence there already is for this principle.
hypothesis also applies to human beings. It should be getting
easier for children to solve or play video games of a particular
kind just because so many have learned them . . . or for people
to learn new sports, new skills like windsurfing. In the human
realm I am suggesting that what we learn is facilitated by
morphic resonance from all those who have learned it before.
is the area where the theory has been tested most extensively.
Some of the first experiments were done in response to an
international competition organized by the Tarrytown group in
New York, sponsored by Bob Schwartz. The Tarrytown group offered
prizes—twenty-thousand dollars in prizes—for the best tests
of the morphic resonance theory, which could either support or
go against it. The results were very interesting. There were
some very good experiments done in human psychology; these are
summarized in my book, The
Presence of the Past.
effort was preceded by a competition in the British magazine, Scientist,
which offered a more modest prize for suggestions of inexpensive
ways of testing the theory. One of the things that has happened
as a result is that I have been led to see that really
interesting research can very often be done on very small
budgets. With an idea as radical as this, that is a very
convenient finding, because as you can imagine it is difficult
to get conventional grant giving agencies to fund this kind of
research. But if it is so cheap that anyone can do it, you do
not need funding. Some of the most interesting experiments have
actually been done by students. Research in morphic resonance is
now going on at universities in Europe, in New Zealand, and in
does not allow summarizing all the work that is happening at
present. I will just mention one experiment done recently. It is
not, in fact, the best experiment, but it is the easiest to
explain. This was done with crossword puzzles in the psychology
department at Nottingham University. The young woman who did it,
Monica England, reasoned as follows: If morphic resonance is
happening, it should be easier to do today's newspaper crossword
puzzle tomorrow than it would have been yesterday.
we managed to persuade a London newspaper, The
Evening Standard, to supply its crossword puzzle in advance
for the purpose of this experiment. Students were tested in
Nottingham the day before and the day after the crossword was
published in London. They were also tested with a control
crossword which was not published during that period. This of
course involved testing different groups of students before and
after. The control crossword gave a measure of each individual's
ability to do crossword puzzles of that kind.
turned out that students' performances on the test crossword did
indeed improve by about 25 percent after it had been published,
compared with the control crossword. This result is
statistically significant and is, of course, very interesting.
other experiments have subsequently been done through the media,
including magazines. Previous experiments have been done in
Britain on television—the results of these are summarized in
the Appendix to the new edition of A New Science of Life. Other tests are under way. Obviously this is
an area where if the hypothesis is supported by evidence, as it
seems to be so far, it could lead quite soon to applications in
the realm of training and education. For if we could facilitate,
if we could improve the way that we tune into the experience of
others through morphic resonance, we could learn things quicker.
hypothesis has a great many implications. In the realm of
heredity it suggests that inheritance depends not only on the
chemical genes coded in DNA but also on morphic resonance from
past members of the species. In fact, I think that chemical
genes have been grossly overrated and that what they actually do
is what we know they do, that is, code for the sequence of minor
acids in protein. They give organisms their chemical heredity.
They are able to make particular chemicals. But the way those
chemicals are organized, the form they take up, and the way
organisms behave—all that I believe is primarily controlled
through morphic fields and morphic resonance.
heredity involves both genetic changes and morphic resonance. If
you think of the rat example I mentioned—rats learning things
quicker in London after rats have learned them in Prague—there
is no need of change in the DNA of the rats here or the rats
there. The rats tune in on the basis of their chemical
similarity, but what they pick up doesn't depend on genetic
also gives us a new view of evolution, because it allows new
patterns of form and behavior to spread much more quickly than
they could on the basis of conventional, neo-Darwinian
evolutionary theory based on random genetic mutation followed by
generations of natural selection. Rats learning a new trick in
one place could enable rats elsewhere to learn it much quicker,
within days; it would not take many generations of natural
the human realm this, of course, has many interesting
implications for change. It suggests that new ideas and new
attitudes spread much more quickly than they might otherwise.
Over and above the influence of the media and so on, morphic
resonance enables these new things to spread much more quickly
the realm of evolution there are some examples that suggest this
really happens. The best known of them concerns the behavior of
certain birds, blue tits, in stealing cream from milk bottles.
In England at the beginning of this century a system of milk
delivery began where people had bottles of milk delivered to
their doorsteps. After about twenty years in one city,
Southhampton, blue tits started tearing off the tops of the milk
bottles and drinking the cream from the bottle. This was a very
successful habit. It spread by imitation throughout the whole
city, and usually it worked very well. There were a few tragic
cases where blue tits were found drowned, headfirst, in people's
milk bottles, but most of these birds got a free breakfast.
After a while this turned up in another city far away. The rate
at which the habit spread throughout Britain was carefully
monitored by observers all over the country.
blue tits are home-loving birds. They move very short distances
from their homes, so at the time it was concluded that the habit
was being independently discovered again and again in different
parts of the country. Yet the rate of discovery was
accelerating. The professor of Zoology at Oxford, Sir Alistair
Hardy, suggested this was so remarkable that it perhaps depended
on telepathy. I would say, however, this is exactly the kind of
effect you would expect with morphic resonance in evolution.
most interesting developments actually came from Holland. After
British blue tits had started stealing milk, Continental ones
began doing it, too. And in Holland the habit spread as it had
in England, until by the time of the Second World War, all over
Holland blue tits were stealing milk. Then unfortunately for the
Dutch blue tits, the Germans invaded and milk delivery stopped.
It was not until 1948 that deliveries began again. But blue tits
do not live more than three or four years, so there could have
been no blue tits around in 1948 that remembered the golden age
of free cream before the war. Nevertheless the habit
reestablished itself all over Holland within two or three years.
this is the kind of effect we would expect with morphic
resonance. There are not many examples where people have studied
behavioral evolution in animals; but this is one of the few
well-documented cases, and it fits very well with the ideas I am
area where this hypothesis has many implications is in the realm
of memory. Morphic resonance depends on similarity. The more
similar something is to something that has happened before, the
more effective, the stronger the resonance will be. It is a
general principle that organisms in general are most like
themselves in the past. I am more like me half an hour ago than
like you. I am more like me ten years ago than like you ten
years ago. In general the most specific morphic resonance acting
on an organism from the past will be from its own past states.
Thus, self-resonance is the predominant kind of morphic
the realm of form, this self-resonance enables organisms to
retain their form through the stabilizing of the morphic field
even though the chemicals and the cells within the body may be
changing over time. In the realm of behavior it enables
organisms to tune in to their own past patterns of activity. If
I get into a car, for example, and start driving it, then I come
into morphic resonance, through similarity of the condition and
of my activities, with all the previous times I have driven
cars. There is a kind of habit memory that is transmitted
through morphic resonance.
think the same also applies to remembering events or acts. If I
remember the last time I came to Prague, which was in 1971, that
memory is also accessed in the same way, suggesting that these
memories depend on morphic resonance, on tuning-in to ourselves
in the past. We are the transmitters in the past. Morphic
resonance moves through time; the tuning-in involves a resonance
through time with ourselves in the past.
other words I am suggesting it is not necessary for memories to
be stored inside the brain. I am not ruling out the possibility
that this can happen. Tony Soipler from Saint Petersburg, for
example, has developed a kind of hybrid theory of memory
bringing together a conventional molecular basis of memory and
morphic resonance. That is possible. But what I am suggesting at
the moment for purposes of clarity is the most extreme form of
morphic resonance: that memory depends on morphic resonance
through tuning-in to the activities of the brain in the past,
but it is not necessary for your brains to store memories as
may be difficult to imagine because we have all been brought up
with the idea that memories are stored inside the brain as
memory traces. This just shows how much we are influenced by the
dominant paradigms of science. This is very much part of the
materialistic, mechanistic theory of the mind. From this
outmoded view, the mind is just an aspect of the brain. We have
memories, therefore they must be in the brain. This is taken for
granted by a great many people. Many people, who have never
studied science at all, take it for granted as an act of faith.
it is not something borne out by a great deal of evidence. In
fact throughout this century many scientists have looked at
brains to try to find memories in them, to find localized memory
traces, and they have failed repeatedly to find them. The
evidence for memory storage in the brain is, if anything, weaker
than it was fifty years ago, through repeated failures where
millions of animals were sacrificed on the altar of science and
vast amounts of money spent in research.
failure to find localized memory traces is what led Karl Lashley,
the great investigator of memory, at the end of his career to
despair of finding it. He said, "Memory ought to be
impossible, yet it happens." Someone else who worked in
this field, Boycott, said, "Memory seems to be both
everywhere and nowhere in particular in the brain." And
this is the context in which Karl Pribram (1971) put forward his
well known holographic theory of memory storage to account for
the failure to find localized memory traces.
I am suggesting that memory may well be holographic in the
general sense of David Bohm's (1980) implicate order theory. It
may not be present in the brain as memory traces at all. If I
came to your house and analyzed the wires and transistors of
your television set to try to find out what programs you had
been watching last week, I would not be able to find any traces
of them. That is because the television does not leave traces.
What you tune into goes through the set. It is not stored within it. And I am suggesting the
brain might be more like a TV receiver than like a video
you may wonder, why is it then if we have accidents, brain
damage, there can be loss of memory. This is not difficult to
understand. Think again of the TV set. If I came and cut out
bits of your TV set in the sound circuit, the TV set could no
longer produce sound, but it could still give pictures. In other
words you would have an aphasic TV set. This would not prove
that all the sounds, the music, or the voices rose inside the
bit of the set that was damaged. It would merely show that part
was important for the reception of the information that was
coming from somewhere else. Likewise, brain damage leading to
loss of memory does not prove that memories are stored inside
the damaged brain. It simply shows that those bits of the brain
play some role in the recovery or the tuning-in to the memories.
we tune into our own memories, why do we not tune-in to other
people's? Well of course, I think we do. The whole basis of this
theory is that we tune into the memories of many other people, that there is a collective memory on which
we all draw. This is something that many people are already
familiar with from Jung's theory of the collective unconscious.
From the point of view of morphic resonance, if the collective
unconscious did not exist as a theory it would have to be
invented, because it fits very well with this way of thinking.
Jung was suggesting the collective unconscious only in the human
realm. I am suggesting that this is part of a much more general
process throughout all Nature.
a conventional, scientific point of view, a mechanistic point of
view, Jung's theory does not make sense. And it is not taken
seriously by most scientists. It is regarded as a flaky,
marginal theory, which might appeal to people with literary
educations but not to anyone with a proper scientific way of
thinking. Of course it is of great value in many forms of
psychotherapy and is one of the important ingredients in
transpersonal psychology. However, from the point of view of
morphic resonance Jung's theory becomes absolutely central, no
longer on the margins of scientific psychology. It becomes
absolutely central to an understanding of the human mind.
Collective memory is an important ingredient of what we are.
also leads to several other rather surprising implications. One
is that if we tune into lots of people in the past, occasionally
we could tune into particular people in the past who are now
dead and through morphic resonance pick up memories of past
this note, there is quite good evidence from the work of
Professor Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia that some
young children remember incidents from previous lives. They have
memories which can not be explained normally and which seem to
be valid when checked up on. There is also some evidence, which
I think is less reliable, from hypnotic regression of past-life
this evidence produces a polarized response: on one side, a lot
of people, usually dogmatic mechanists, say this is impossible
therefore the evidence is wrong. We can not explain it,
therefore it can not happen. That is one reaction I am sure
everyone is familiar with. On the other side are people who say
this is reincarnation, which is exactly what we believe anyway.
But I am suggesting a middle path. It is possible to accept this
evidence for past-life memories in terms of people tuning-in to
people in the past, but it does not necessarily prove that you
were that person. That is another question. It leaves that
question of memory has many other implications. It has a great
relevance to all religious theories of survival. All religions
that I know of suggest that there is some form of bodily
survival of death, some kind of personal survival—either in
some shadowy ancestor realm or underworld; or through
reincarnation or rebirth; or as in the Judaic, Christian, or
Islamic traditions, through some kind of after-life. None of
these theories would make sense if memories are stored in the
brain, because obviously when the brain decays, all memories
would be obliterated. Materialists like the idea of memory
storage in the brain—not because it is strongly supported by
evidence, it is not—but because it is such a simple and
convenient argument which can be used to refute almost all
religions. If memory is in the brain, the brain decays at death
and that is the end. It would not make much sense if you arrive
at the Last Judgment, for example, and you have totally
forgotten who you are and what you have done.
if memories are not stored inside the brain, then the question
of survival of bodily death is left open. This is one of those
areas where changing the boundaries of science changes the
boundaries between science and religion.
this change in perspective shifts the boundaries between the
so-called normal and the paranormal as well. In a world in which
morphic resonance occurs, telepathy also ceases to be shocking.
You could even see where some people could say to me, "Well
what's so new about morphic resonance? Isn't this just
telepathy?" However, from a scientific point of view that
would not be quite accurate. I think morphic resonance may be
very akin to telepathy, but morphic resonance is a more general
principle. We would not, for example, speak of a crystal
influencing another crystal by telepathy, which means thought
transference. Still, in a world with morphic resonance,
telepathy would cease to be a shocking, paranormal phenomenon.
It would seem quite normal. This is another one of the reasons
why my hypothesis is so controversial.
hypothesis has many other implications. We can think of
societies as governed by morphic fields, and I go into this in
some detail in my book, The
Presence of the Past. Here I will simply mention one
implication, which has to do with ritual. All societies have
rituals, and rituals are patterns of activity which are done
usually in order to recall or relate to some previous event. The
Jewish Passover Festival, for example, is a re-creation of the
original Passover dinner, which Jewish people have celebrated
every year since then. The Christian Holy Communion is another
example like this, and so is the American national ritual of the
rituals people deliberately do things in as similar a way as
possible to the way they were done before: the same words, the
same language. In Hindu ceremonies, for example, the Sanskrit
language, their ancient language, is used. There exists a great
conservatism of ritual language; the same smells, the same
places, the same gestures, the same food, and so on, are
employed. I think that through ritual people are deliberately
re-creating a particular pattern of activity, consciously
re-creating this pattern of activity, in order to connect with
those who have done it before. Through ritual, people claim
there is a presence of the past, that the past becomes present
to those participating in the ritual, that there is a kind of
collapse in time. In the Christian Holy Communion, for example,
it is believed there is a presence of the original Last Supper
in the spirit of Christ and also of all those who have partaken
of this ritual since—the Communion of Saints.
kinds of ideas are found all around the world in all societies.
From the point of view of conventional rationalism, this is just
another example of meaningless mumbo-jumbo and superstition; but
from the point of view of morphic resonance, these ideas make
perfect sense because the conservatism of rituals creates
exactly the right conditions for a morphic resonance between the
present participants and those who have done it before. There
really would be some kind of influence through time brought
about by the ritual, which is exactly what those who do the
rituals believe they are doing.
hypothesis is part of a wider change in paradigm that is going
on, which I summarized in my most recent book, The
Rebirth of Nature, the idea of Nature as alive. This idea is
not only that of the Earth being alive, as Gaia, but of the
entire cosmos as alive, akin to a developing organism. Through
science the mechanistic theory of Nature is being transcended.
Science is returning us, I believe, to a new sense of the life
of Place, Field
summarize one way where this new sense of the life of Nature
connects with the morphic resonance idea, I wish to introduce
the idea of the memory of places. All traditions have ways of
thinking about the quality of place. Each place has its own kind
of quality or character. The Romans spoke of the genius
loci (spirit of the place). We all know that different
places have different feelings or atmospheres; but there is
nothing in mechanistic science, with its universalistic laws,
that enables us to understand this very well. In terms of
morphic resonance theory, however, I think it is possible to
think of places as having fields.
Places can have morphic fields, and morphic fields can have an
inherent memory through self-resonance.
my first thinking of morphic fields this way I thought, thinking
of the fields of places is going too far. It is taking the
concept beyond its legitimate limits. Then I realized that the
concept of fields in the first place comes from placed bits of
land in the countryside with hedges around them. The field
concept was introduced into science by Farraday who borrowed it
from the ordinary English usage of the word field—the
primary use of which is agricultural. It has to do with a region
of land. The most general definition of field
is a region of influence, a region of activity.
thinking of the fields of places on the one hand makes it easy
to understand traditions of geomancy, which are ways of
understanding the relations of different parts of a place in
terms of its field. It also enables us to think in terms of the
memory of places. The place itself can have a memory. There can
also be a memory through going to a place. You are in the same
environment other people have been in before so you can tune
into the collective memory of other people in that place.
Therefore there are two senses in which places can have
memories: through the human collective experience in that place
and through the memory in the place itself.
this concept makes a lot of sense of beliefs found all over the
world. For example, it is believed in most parts of the world
that certain places are haunted, that there are ghosts or
spirits in those places because of bad things that have happened
there in the past. Ghosts are a kind of memory, if you like, of
what has happened there. It is also believed that certain places
can have a positive
effect through what has happened there. These are holy places,
where great men or women have been born or enlightened, or where
many people have prayed, as in the great cathedrals of Europe,
the great temples of Asia, and so on.
these sacred places are traditionally, all around the world,
places of pilgrimage. The Australian Aborigines with their song
lines, the American Indians with their power places, the
medieval Europeans with their great networks of pilgrimage all
over Europe—all were relating to the spirit of places through
a basic human tendency, this tendency to go on pilgrimage to
places of power because of the memory and the power in that
the only societies where pilgrimage has not happened are the
Protestant societies of northern Europe. Pilgrimage was
suppressed in the Protestant Reformation in England and
elsewhere because it was identified as being essentially pagan
by the reformers. I think they were right to see it as pagan in
its roots. However, they were wrong to see it as something
contrary to the spirit of religion. And I think that this
suppression of pilgrimage has a great relevance to us today.
Pilgrimage is such a basic instinct, it could not be suppressed
for long. And within a few generations the English had invented
is best understood as a form of secularized pilgrimage.
Tourists, you see, go to the great sacred places of the past,
the cathedrals, the temples, the holy mountain, the pyramids,
Stonehenge, and so on. But because they are modern people who
think they have risen above superstition and that kind of
thing—because they are rational, educated and modern—they
are alienated from the places they go to. They can not kneel
down and say a prayer, or light a candle in a cathedral. They
can not do a puja in a
Hindu temple. They can not invoke the gods or the goddesses, or
the patron saints of the place, because that would be
superstitious. So instead they have to pretend they are going to
these places for educational reasons and are primarily
interested in some figures about the place.
this is a profoundly ambiguous activity. If they really did not
feel anything about the power of the place, they would stay at
home. Yet people are drawn to these places. In fact in England
we call them "tourist attractions," and people come
there because of the power of the place. When they arrive, they
can not relate to the place adequately because the mechanistic
theory of Nature first of all treats Nature as entirely lacking
in any sacred power. There is nothing sacred in a mechanical
world. Second, there is nothing animate. It is seen as some
primitive animism to relate to places in this way.
we recover instead a sense of the life of Nature, the life of
the Earth, we can see that we can recover this sense not only
theoretically, as I have been describing in this article, we can
also recover it through a variety of actual practices. What
follows is just one of the ways that we can recover a sense of
the sacredness of the Earth. I suggest that one of the paradigm
shifts that could make a big difference in the way we relate to
the Earth is a very simple one—the shift from tourism to
pilgrimage. If only a small percentage of the tourists would go
as pilgrims, then the whole world would be linked up by networks
of pilgrimage encompassing the sacred places of each country in
the world. Already people are going there; already the
infrastructure is in place to get people there. I believe that
this would be one of the ways that this new paradigm, this new
spirit, could be expressed in practice in our own lives.
Nature's Aliveness Essential For Our Survival
ideas, you see, are part of a more general move, as I mentioned,
towards a recovery of the sense of our life in a living
world—Nature as alive.
The morphic resonance idea as a scientific hypothesis has to be
tested by the methods of science, but it is part of a more
general movement of the recovery of the sense of the life of
Nature. Regardless of whether morphic resonance turns out to be
right or wrong, I believe that this sense of the life of Nature
is absolutely essential for coming into a better relationship
with the environment, on which we depend. In fact I think these
changes in ideas are probably essential for our very survival.
Bohm, David. (1980). Wholeness
and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Pribram, Karl. (1971). Languages
of the Brain. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Sheldrake, Rupert. (1981). A
New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation.
Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Sheldrake, Rupert. (1988). The
Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of
Nature. London: Collins.
Sheldrake, Rupert. (1991). The
Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God. New
Copyright © 1995 by Rupert Sheldrake
SHELDRAKE received his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Cambridge and
was a research fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of Clare
College, Cambridge, and director of studies in cell biology and
biochemistry. He studied philosophy at Harvard, where he was a
Frank Knox Fellow, and has done research on tropical plants in
Malaysia and India. He is the author of the books, A New Science of Life, The
Presence of the Past, and The
Rebirth of Nature. He lives in London with his wife, Jill
Purce, and two sons.
* Editor's Note:
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 and was titled, "Morphic
Resonance and Collective Memory." It was
originally published in Primal Renaissance: The Journal
of Primal Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring, 1995.
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