In the Presence
of the Past
"The regularities of nature I think of as
more like habits, than as things governed by eternal mathermatical
Rupert Sheldrake is best known for his controversial theory of
"formative causation " which implies a non-mechanistic universe, governed
by laws which themselves are subject to change. Born in Newark-on-Trent,
England, Rupert studied natural sciences at Cambridge and philosophy at
Harvard, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow. He took a Ph.D in biochemistry
at Cambridge in 1967, and in the same year became a Fellow of Glare
College, Cambridge. He was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell
biology there until 1973.
He was a Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society and at
Cambridge he studied the development of plants and the aging of cells.
From 1974 to 1978, he was Principal Plant Physiologist at the
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
in Hyderabad, India, and he continued to work there as a Consultant
Physiologist until 1985.
Rupert is the author of
A New Science of Life and
The Presence of the Past, in which he presents his theory for
explaining the mysterious process of
morphogenesis. In 1981 the British science magazine, Nature
described A New Science of Life as "the best candidate for burning
there has been for many years, " while the New Scientist called it
"an important scientific inquiry into the nature of biological and
physical reality. "
The Rebirth of Nature, Rupert examines the philosophical
implications of morphogenesis, and in
Trialogues on the Edge of the West, which he wrote with
and Ralph Abraham, he debates and
interweaves many ideas concerning the nature of reality.
On September 15, 1989, we met with the Sheldrakes and their young son
Merlin at the Esalen institute, where Rupert's wife, Jill Pearce, was
teaching a workshop in the art of overtone chanting. Rupert spoke to us
about the subtle processes involved in the evolution of nature through
time, painting a simultaneously intricate and simple picture of a dynamic
universe where previously unrecognized functions of space-time are
constantly at work interacting with every aspect of life on earth.
DJB: Rupert, what was it that originally inspired your interest
in biochemistry and
RUPERT: I did biology because I was interested in animals and
plants, and because my father was a biologist. He was a natural historian
of the old school, with a microscope room at home and cabinets of slides,
and so on. And he taught me a lot about plants, and I learned about
animals through keeping pets. I was just very interested in biology. One
reason I did biochemistry was because it was one of the very few sciences
you could do which was still covering all of biology. Biochemistry covered
plants, animals, and microorganisms. That appealed to me. It was a kind of
universal biological science. I saw, of course, quite soon, that
biochemistry was no way of understanding the forms of animals and plants,
and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the bridge between
embryology, plant development, and what was going on on the biochemical
level. And this was the subject of research for some ten years that I did
DJB: Just so that everyone is familiar with your theoretical
work, can you briefly define for us the basic intention behind, and the
basic elements of, the theory of formative causation?
RUPERT: The theory of formative causation is concerned with how
things take up their forms, or patterns, or organization. So it covers the
formation of galaxies, atoms, crystals, molecules, plants, animals, cells,
societies. It covers all kinds of things that have forms, patterns,
structures, or selforganizing properties.
You see, all these things organize themselves. An atom doesn't have to
be put together by some external agency. It organizes itself. A molecule
and a crystal are not assembled by human beings bit by bit, they
spontaneously crystalize. Animals spontaneously grow. All these things are
different from machines, which are artificially put together by human
So, what my theory is concerned with is self-organizing natural
systems, and it deals with the cause of form. And the cause of all these
forms I take to be organizing fields, form-shaping fields, which I call
morphic fields, from
the Greek word for form. The original feature of what I'm saying is that
the forms of societies, ideas, crystals and molecules depend on the way
that previous ones of that kind have been organized. There's a kind of
built-in memory in the morphic fields of each kind of thing. So the
regularities of nature I think of as more like habits, than as things
governed by eternal mathematical laws that somehow exist outside nature.
RMN: Could you give a specific example of, and describe the
morphogenetic process in terms of, the development of a well-established
species, like a potato, for example?
RUPERT: Well, the idea is that each species, each member of a
species draws on the collective memory of the species, and tunes in to
past members of the species, and in turn contributes to the further
development of the species. So in the case of a potato, you'd have a whole
background resonance from past species of potatoes, most of which grow
wild in the Andes. And then in that particular case, because it's a
cultivated plant, there's been a development of a whole lot of varieties
of potatoes, which are cultivated, and as it so happens potatoes are
propagated vegetatively, so they're clones.
So each clone of potatoes, each variety, each member of the clone will
resonate with all previous members of the clone, and that resonance is
against a background of resonance with other members of the potato
species, and then that's related to related potato species, wild ones that
still grow in the Andes. So, there's a whole kind of background resonance,
but what's most important is the resonance from the most similar ones,
which is the past members of that variety. And this is what makes the
potatoes of that variety develop the way they do, following the habits of
Usually these things are ascribed to genes. Most people assume that
inheritance depends on chemical genes and
DNA, and say there's no problem, it's all just programmed in the DNA.
What I'm saying is that that view of biological development is inadequate.
The DNA is the same in all the cells of the potato, in the shoots, in the
roots, in the leaves, and the flowers. The DNA is exactly the same, yet
these organs develop differently. So something more than DNA must be
giving rise to the form of the potato, and that is what I call the morphic
field, the organizing field.
An example of how you'd test the theory would depend on looking at some
change in the species that hadn't happened before, a new phenomenon, and
seeing how it spreads through the species. So, for example, if you train
rats to learn a new trick in one place, then rats of that breed should
learn it more quickly everywhere in the world, just because the first ones
have learned it. The more that learn it, the easier it should get.
RMN: What about how the morphic field develops in a new system,
like a newly synthesized chemical, or a drug? How would the field evolve
RUPERT: Well, the first time the chemical is crystallized, there
won't be a morphic field for the crystals, because they would not have
existed before. As time goes on, it should get easier to crystallize,
because of morphic
resonance from previous crystals. So, however the first pattern is
taken --this is a question of creativity, but assume, for example, it's
random--whenever the first lot of crystals crystallize that way, out of
the other possible ways they could have crystallized, then that pattern
will be stabilized through morphic resonance, and the more often it
happens, the more likely it will be to happen again, through this kind of
invisible memory connecting up crystals throughout the world. There's
already evidence that new crystals, new compounds, do get easier to
crystallize as time goes on.
DJB: What are
morphic fields made of, and how is it that they can exist everywhere
all at once? Do they work on a principle similar to
RUPERT: Well, you could ask the question, what are any fields
made of? You know, what is the
electromagnetic field made of, or what is the
gravitational field made of? Nobody
knows, even in the case of the known fields of physics. It was thought in
the nineteenth century that they were made of ether. But then
Einstein showed that the concept of the ether was superfluous; he said
the electromagnetic field isn't made out of ether, it's made out of
itself. It just is. The magnetic field around a magnet, for example, is
not made of air, and it's not made of matter. When you scatter iron
fillings, you can reveal this field, but it's not made of anything except
the field. And then if you say, well maybe all fields have some common
substance, or common property, then that's the quest for a
unified field theory.
Then if you say, "Well, what is it that all fields are made of?" the
only answer that can be given is space-time, or space and time. The
substance of fields is space; fields are modifications of space or of the
vacuum. And according to Einstein's
general theory of relativity, the gravitational field, the structure
of space-time in the whole universe, is not in space and time; it is
space-time. There's no space and time other than the structure of fields.
So fields are patterns of space-time. And so the morphic field, like other
fields, will be structures in space and time. They have their own kind of
ontological status, the
same kind of status as electromagnetic and gravitational fields.
DJB: Wait. But those are localized aren't they? I mean, you
sprinkle iron fillings about a magnet, and you can see the field around
it. How is it that a morphic field can exist everywhere all at once?
RUPERT: It doesn't. The morphic fields are localized. They're in
and around the system they organize. So the morphic field of you is in and
around your body. The morphic field around a tomato plant is in and around
that plant. What I'm suggesting is that morphic fields in different tomato
plants resonate with each other across space and time. I'm not suggesting
that the field itself is delocalized over the whole of space and time.
It's suggesting that one field influences another field through space and
time. Now, the medium of transmission is obscure. I call it morphic
resonance, this process of resonating. What this is replacing in
conventional physics is the so-called "laws of nature," which are believed
to be present in all places, and at all times.
So, what is the substance of a law of nature? And how are laws of
nature present in all places and at all times? These are the alternative
questions to the idea of morphic resonance. It's not as if ordinary
physics has something that's more "common sense" than morphic resonance;
it has something that's less common sense. It has the idea of invisible
mathematical laws, which are not material or energetic, yet present
everywhere and always, utterly mysterious. Morphic resonance is
mysterious, but it involves not a pattern imposed from outside space and
time everywhere, but rather a pattern that can spread through space and
time, by the process I call morphic resonance.
RMN: You suggest that the hypothesis of formative causation does
not refute orthodox theory but actually incorporates and complements it.
How is this so?
RUPERT: The orthodox theory in biology and in chemistry, and
indeed in science, is the mechanistic theory of nature that says all
natural systems are like machines, and are made up of physical and
chemical processes. What I'm saying is that you can, if you like, think of
aspects of nature as being machine-like, but this doesn't explain them.
Nature isn't a machine. You and I are not machines. We may be like
machines in certain respects. Our hearts may be like pumps, and our
brains, in some sense, like computers.
Mechanistic theory is providing machine analogies for nature, and it's
true that you can look at some aspects of organisms in this machine-like
way. But in other important respects, nature in general, and organisms in
particular, are not machines or machine-like. So, what I'm suggesting is
that the mechanistic theory is alright as far as it goes. Its positive
content is alright when it tells us about the physics of nerve impulses,
or the chemistry of enzymes; that's fine, this is useful information, and
is part of the picture.
If it says that life is nothing but things that can be explained in
terms of regular ordinary physics, that already exist in physics
textbooks, if it says life is nothing but that--and this is what most
mechanistic biologists do say--then I think it's wrong, because it's too
limited. It's taking a part of the picture, and assuming it's the whole.
It's a half-truth.
RMN: You've incorporated that into your theory, and just taken
it to another level...?
RUPERT: Yes. There are still enzymes and nerve impulses in the
kind of world I'm talking about; all the things that are in regular
biochemistry and biophysics are still there. What isn't still there is the
assumption that these aspects of the process are all there is. To take an
analogy, it's like trying to understand a building. If you want to
understand a building, one level of looking at it is to say, well it's
made of wood and other things, metal and frames, and so on. And then you
can say we can measure, we can analyze the wood and other components.
You can find out exactly what chemicals are in the wood, the exact
molecular composition, the exact constituents of the whole building. But
when you grind it up or break it down to analyze the parts, the form of
the building, the structure of the room, the plan disappears when
you're analyzing the constituents, especially if you have to knock it down
to do that. And usually to analyze the chemical constituents within an
organism, first you have to kill and destroy it. So the plan of the
building is also part of the building, it's the formative aspect of the
building, the form. And you’ll never understand the plan of a building,
its form or its function for that matter, just by analyzing the
constituents. Although without the constituents, the wood and stuff, you
can't have a building.
DJB: What are the implications of the theory of formative
causation? How do hypothetical morphic fields affect things like the
sciences, the arts, technologies, and social structures?
RUPERT: Well, I've written an entire book on this subject--The
Presence of the Past--so it's difficult to answer it extremely
briefly. But, first of all, it gives a completely different understanding
of formative processes in biology and in chemistry. It gives a new
understanding of instincts and behavioral patterns, as being organized by
morphic fields. It gives a new understanding of social structure, in terms
of morphic fields, and cultural forms, and ideas. All of these I see as
patterns organized by these fields with an inherent memory.
In the human realm, for example, it leads to the idea of a collective
human memory on which we all draw, which is very like Jung's idea of the
unconscious. In terms of social groups, it gives rise to the idea that
the whole social group is organized by a field. And that that field is not
just an organizing structure in the present, but also contains a memory of
that social group in the past, a group memory---and also, through morphic
resonance, a memory of other similar social groups that have existed
So, a football team, for example, will tune into its own field in the
past. The individual players on the football team will be coordinated not
just by observing each other, but by a kind of group mind that will be
working when the game's going around. And this will in turn have as a kind
of background resonance the morphic fields of other similar football
RMN: On the one hand it is reassuring that a certain pattern or
order is being maintained, and yet options must be available for change if
that pattern ceases to function effectively. In what ways does nature
supply the necessary conditions for this balance of repeatability and
RUPERT: Well, the universe is not in a steady state; there's an
ongoing creative principle in nature, which is driving things onwards.
Cosmologically speaking, this is the expansion of the universe. If the
universe had been in a steady state at the moment of the
Big Bang, it'd still be at billions
of degrees centigrade. We wouldn't be here. The reason we're here is
because the Big Bang involved a colossal explosion, an outward movement of
expansion of the whole universe, such that it cooled down, and virtually
created more space for new things to happen. And in the ongoing
evolutionary process, there's a constant destabilization of what's there
through the fact that the universe is not in equilibrium.
This ongoing process in the whole of nature in itself tends to break up
old patterns, and prevent things just stopping where they were. You see it
in the history of the earth, the ongoing evolutionary process, through the
catastrophic changes that have happened to the earth through the impact of
asteroids and so on.
The cumulative nature of the evolutionary process, the fact that memory
is preserved, means that life grows not just through a random
proliferation of new forms, but there's a kind of cumulative quality. You
start with single-celled organisms, and you end with complex
multi-cellular ones, like there are today. New species arise usually when
new opportunities appear, and the biggest bursts of speciation that we
know about in the history of the earth are soon after great cataclysms,
like the extinction of the dinosaurs, which create new opportunities, and
all sorts of new forms spring up. Thereafter they tend to be fairly
stable. So, quite often, the reasons for creativity depend on accidents or
disasters that prevent the normal habits being carried out.
RMN: When a system hits an evolutionary dead end, an organism
becomes extinct or an object obsolete. What happens to its field? Does it
kind of just breakup and merge with other similar fields?
RUPERT: Well, I think in a sense the ghosts of dead species
would still be haunting the world, that the fields of the dinosaurs would
still be potentially present ... if you could tune into them. If a
dinosaur egg could be reconstituted, you could get them back again. I
think that in the course of evolution these past forms do indeed reappear.
They're known in the biological literature as atavisms, the process by
which the forms, or patterns, or behaviors of extinct species reappear in
living ones. Like babies being born with tails.
DJB: Or parallel evolution?
RUPERT: Well, parallel evolution would involve a similar
process, but what I'm talking about is the influence of extinct species
traveling across time and these features reappearing. Parallel evolution
would be where you have the features of some species traveling across
space, and similar patterns evolving somewhere else like, for example, the
evolution of forms among marsupials in Australia that parallel those of
placental mammals elsewhere.
DJB: You said before that there could be a sort of collective
memory, and you said that was analogous to Jung's notion of the collective
unconscious. Do you think it's possible then that morphic fields are, or
can be, actually conscious?
RUPERT: I don't think that morphic fields are conscious. I think
that some aspects of morphic fields could become conscious in human
beings. I think that the underlying patterns of mental activity that are
ideas, thoughts, etc., depend on our morphic fields. I think they become
conscious in us. But most of the collective unconscious, most of our
habits, and most of the habits of nature, I think, are unconscious, and
most of nature, I think, works much more like our unconscious minds than
like our conscious minds. And after all, 90%, maybe 99%, of our own
activity is unconscious. We don't need to assume that the kind of
unconscious memories that we ourselves have are any different from the
rest of nature.
We needn't assume that just because we have some conscious memories,
all of the memory of nature must be conscious. In fact, most of our
memories are unconscious, as are most of our habits, like the habit of
speaking English, for example, the way one speaks, one's mannerisms, one's
accent, or the habit of driving a car. When you drive a car, you don't
have to be conscious of every muscular movement, or everything you're
doing. Those habits unfold spontaneously. And the more deep-seated
biological habits, like the functioning of our bodies, and our heartbeat,
and the way our guts our working are completely unconscious to most of us.
DJB: In your book The Presence of the Past you offer the
suggestion that memories are not actually stored in the brain, but rather
they may be stored in an information field that can be accessed by the
brain. If this should prove to be true, do you believe then that human
consciousness, our personal memories and sense of self, may survive
biological death in some form?
RUPERT: Well, certainly the idea that memories aren't stored in
the brain opens the way for a new debate or new perspective on the
question of survival of death. Most people assume memories are stored in
the brain, simply because this is the mechanistic paradigm that's very
rarely challenged. There's hardly any evidence for memory storage in the
brain, as I show in my book, and what evidence there is could be
interpreted better in terms of the brain as a tuning system, tuning into
its own past. So that we can gain access to our own memories by tuning
into our own past states. The brain is more like a TV receiver than like a
tape recorder or a video recorder.
If memories are stored in the brain then there's no possibility of
conscious, or even unconscious survival of bodily death, because if
memories are in the brain, the brain decays at death, and your memories
must be wiped out through the decay of the brain. No form of survival in
any shape or form, even through reincarnation, would be possible in such a
scenario. That's one reason why materialists are so attached to the idea
of memory storage in the brain, because it refutes all religions in a two
line argument. But, in fact, there's very little evidence they're stored
in the brain.
So if they're not stored in the brain then the memories won't decay at
death, but there'll still have to be something that can tune into them, or
gain access to them. So could some tuning system, could some non-physical
aspect of the self survive death and still gain access to the memories?
That's the big question. I regard it as an open question. I myself think
that we do survive bodily death in some form, and that some aspect of the
self does survive with access to memories. And that's a personal opinion.
The theory as such leaves this question quite open.
DJB: Do you think there is a morphic field for dreams, mystical
experiences, and other states of consciousness?
RUPERT: I think that any organized structure of activity--which
includes dreams and some mystical experiences, and altered states of
consciousness--any pattern of activity has a structure, and in so far as
these mental activities or states have structures, then these structures
could indeed move from person to person by morphic resonance. And indeed,
in many mystical traditions, it's thought that people through initiation
are brought into that particular tradition and resonate, or in some sense
enter into communion with, or connection with, other people who followed
in the tradition before.
So, in Hindu and Buddhist lineages, you often get the idea that through
initiation and the transmission of the right mantras, and so on, the
initiate comes into contact with the guru, the teacher, and the whole line
of those who'd gone before. There is a similar idea in Christianity, the
idea of the communion of saints. Those who participate in the Christian
sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are in contact, not just with
other people doing it now, or other people who happen to be around, but
somehow in some kind of resonant connection with all those who've done the
same thing before.
RMN: What have your ideas been on the hierarchical systems of
morphic fields, of the fundamental fields of nature or life, and the basic
morphic fields that have influenced that, or the morphic fields of morphic
fields? I've been wondering about that.
RUPERT: I think all such fields are organized holorarchically or
hierarchically. They're hierarchical in the sense of nested hierarchies.
Cells are within tissues, and tissues are within organs, and organs are
within your body. There's a sense in which the whole, the body and the
mind, the whole of you, is greater than the organs in your body, and those
in turn are greater than tissues, those in turn greater than cells, those
in turn greater than molecules. The greater is a spatial context, the more
If you think about the way nature is organized, you can see the same
pattern at every level. Our earth,
Gaia, is included in the
solar system, the solar system is in the galaxy, the galaxy within a
cluster of galaxies, and ultimately everything is included within the
cosmos. So you could say the most primal basic field of nature is the
cosmic field, and then the galactic fields, and solar system fields,
planetary fields, continental fields, and so on in this nested hierarchy.
At each level the whole organizes the parts within it, and the parts
affect the whole; there's a two-way influence.
DJB: Do you think it's possible that morphic fields from the
future may be influencing us, as well as those from the past? If not, why?
RUPERT: Well, I think that is related to the question of
creativity; how do new patterns come into being? There may possibly be
some influence from the future. But the habitual fields, which I'm mainly
talking about, are not influenced by the future, at least as far as this
theory is concerned. It would be possible to have a theory that said the
future and the past exerted equal influences, but that theory would be
different from the one I'm suggesting, which is that the past is
influencing the present through morphic resonance. If future and past
influenced it equally, the theory would be virtually untestable, because
we don't know what will happen in the future, so we wouldn't know what
influences we'd be testing for.
If the future influenced things as much as the past, then the
experiments I'm suggesting, like rats getting better at learning something
all around the world, shouldn't work. Rats should start off just as good
as they continue, because they'll always be limitless numbers in the
future, which would be influencing them. So this is actually a testable
I think that habits and memories come from the past. This is just
common sense. We have memories of the past, and we don't have memories of
the future in the same way. Occasionally some people have pre-cognitive
flashes. But we don't have memories of the future. We may have hopes,
plans, desires, inspirations, insights, etc., but they're not memories in
the same sense that memories from the past are memories. We don't get
habits from the future, we get them from the past.
RMN: Could the presence of the future be described as the
potential state of the system, the virtual state, as it moves along the
pathways or access routes towards it?
RUPERT: Yes, I think so. I think there are two ways of thinking
about it. One is there's a kind of aura around the present stretching out
into the future, which is the realm of hopes, fears, possibilities,
dreams, imaginings about what can happen. But then there's a further
question, and a more fundamental one, as to whether the whole evolutionary
process is being pulled from the future, rather than being pushed from the
past. And the idea that it's all being pulled from the future is a very
traditional view, and so is the idea it's being pushed from the past.
The traditional Judeo-Christian view of history is that history is
being pulled from the future, there's something in the future--which
Terence McKenna calls
the transcendental object, Teilhard de Chardin calls the omega point, what
the Book of Revelation calls the new creation, what metanarians
have thought of as the millennium. That some future state of perfection is
drawing the whole cosmic evolutionary process towards itself in some
mysterious way. And that, therefore, the whole cosmic evolutionary process
has a kind of goal or purpose. Well that's a view which many people
subscribe to, and it's a view that lies at the root of the doctrine of
progress, which dominates our whole society.
So this view isn't just a philosophical view; in a secularized form, it
dominates both capitalist and communist societies--the dream of a better
future. Most traditional societies haven't had that dream, they haven't
been motivated by that, they looked to the past for a model of the way
things should be, how it used to be in the golden age. They haven't tried
to create a new kind of future golden age. And our society represents an
ambitious global attempt to do just that through conquering nature by
means of science and technology. The inspirational basis for the
destruction of the environment, the development of the tropical forests,
etc., is this dream of a future state on earth that progress will lead us
towards, where there's peace, prosperity, and plenty through man's
conquest of nature.
And many of us now think that dream is a kind of chimera, a vision that
is utterly destructive in its consequences. But the fact is that it still
comes from that same dream of a future pulling things along. I think all
forms of western thought are under the influence of this particular
attractor, as one could call it. The idea of a future goal attracting
things towards it is utterly dominant in almost every area of western
thought I know. The New Age communists with their millenarian vision--it's
just part of our culture.
RMN: Yeah, that leads on to the next question I have about how
to use the concept of attractors, as expressed in the current research of
in the theory of formative causation.
RUPERT: Well, the idea of attractors, which is developed in
modern mathematical dynamics, is a way of modeling the way systems
develop, by modeling the end states toward which they tend. This is an
attempt to understand systems by understanding where they're headed to in
the future, rather than just where they've been pushed from in the past.
So, the attractor, as
the name implies, pulls the system towards itself. A very simple,
easy-to-understand, example is throwing marbles, or round balls into a
pudding basin. The balls will roll round and round, and they'll finally
come to rest at the bottom of the basin. The bottom of the basin is the
attractor, in what mathematicians call the basin of attraction.
The basin is, in fact,
their principal metaphor. So the ball rolls down to the bottom. It doesn't
matter where you throw it in, or at what speed you throw it in, or by what
route it takes--what this model does is tell you where it's going to end
up. This kind of mathematical modeling is extremely appropriate, I think,
to the understanding of biological morphogenesis, or the formation of
crystals or molecules, or the formation of galaxies, or the formation of
ideas, or human behavior, or the behavior of entire societies. Because all
of them seem to have this kind of tendency to move towards attractors,
which we think of consciously as goals and purposes. But, throughout the
natural world these attractors exist, I think, largely unconsciously. The
oak tree is the attractor of the acorn. So the growing oak seedling is
drawn towards its formal attractor, its morphic attractor, which is the
mature oak tree.
RMN: So, it is like the future in some sense.
RUPERT: It's like the future pulling, but it's not the future.
It's a hard concept to grasp, because what we think of as the future
pulling is not necessary what will happen in the future. You can cut the
acorn down before it ever reaches the oak tree. So, it's not as if its
future as oak tree is pulling it. It's some kind of potentiality to reach
an end state, which is inherent in its nature. The attractor in
traditional language is the entelechy, in Aristotle's language, and in the
language of the medieval scholastics. Entelechy is the aspect of the soul,
which is the end which draws everything towards it. So all people would
have their own entelechy, which would be like their own destiny or
purpose. Each organism, like an acorn, would have the entelechy of an oak
tree, which means this end state--entelechy means the end which is within
it--it has its own end, purpose, or goal. And that's what draws it. But
that end, purpose, or goal is somehow not necessarily in the future. It is
in a sense in the future. In another sense it's not the actual future of
that system, although it becomes so.
RMN: Perhaps the most compelling implication of your hypothesis
is that nature is not governed by eternally fixed laws but more by habits
that are able to evolve as conditions change. In what ways do you think
the human experience of reality could be affected as a result of this
RUPERT: Well, I think first of all the idea of habits developing
along with nature gives us a much more evolutionary sense of nature
herself. I think that nature-the entire cosmos, the natural world we live
in--is in some sense alive, and that it's more like a developing organism,
with developing habits, than like a fixed machine governed by fixed laws,
which is the old image of the cosmos, the old world view.
Second, I think the notion of natural habits enables us to see how
there's a kind of presence of the past in the world around us. The past
isn't just something that happens and is gone. It's something which is
continually influencing the present, and is in some sense present in the
Thirdly, it gives us a completely different understanding of ourselves,
our own memories, our own collective memories, and the influence of our
ancestors, and the past of our society. And it also gives an important new
insight into the importance of rituals, and forms through which we connect
ourselves with the past, forms in which past members of our society become
present through ritual activity. I think it also enables us to understand
how new patterns of activity can spread far more quickly than would be
possible under standard mechanistic theories, or even under standard
psychological theories. Because if many people start doing, thinking, or
practicing something, it'll make it easier for others to do the same
RMN: And the way different discoveries are found simultaneously.
RUPERT: Yes. I mean, that's another aspect. It will also mean
things that some people do-will resonate with others, as in independent
discoveries, parallel cultural development, etc.
RMN: When you were talking about the individuals' destinies
being ruled by some kind of morphic field of their own.
Individuality--does that resonate through their ancestral heritage and
RUPERT: Well, it was in a quite limited sense that I was using
the term. When you're an embryo there's a sense in which the destiny of
the embryo is to be an adult human being. There's a sense in which the
growth and development of an embryo and a child are headed toward the
adult state. That's a relation to time, of heading towards an adult or
mature state that we share in common with animals and plants. This is a
basic biological feature of our life.
Then there's a sense in which there is a kind of biological destiny
that's common to all animals--you know, having children and reproducing.
Not everybody does it, but it's obviously pretty fundamental. Most people
do it. If they didn't we wouldn't have a population problem, and that's
something that's pretty fundamental to the human species today. Then
there's the more psychic, or personal, or spiritual kinds of destinies.
Here one gets a whole variety of opinions as to what these are.
RMN: Could you expand on that?
RUPERT: The thing is that most of us aren't at all original. We
mostly take on opinions from the available variety on the market, and when
you come to the question of individual destiny, you know, there's several
traditional theories. One is that when we die, that's it, everything just
goes blank, and so the only purpose of life is to enjoy it while it's
happening. There's nothing beyond. This is the classic materialist or
Epicurean view of life.
Then there are those who think that after death we go into a kind of
underworld, and our destiny is to join the ancestors, and that basically
we're just cycled back into a kind of eternally cycling pool of life. This
is found in traditional societies where it's not believed that things
change much over time, so the ancestors are constantly being recycled
among the living, and they're a living force. But people don't have any
individual destiny other than becoming merged with the ancestors. So that
would be another option.
Then there's the reincarnational theories, that you're reincarnated,
and that the ultimate destiny is liberation from the wheels of
reincarnation. The boddhisatva ideal in Buddhism is to become liberated
and then help others to become liberated. But if you don't aspire towards
that end, which is the ultimate human end, namely liberation, then through
karmic activities and involvement with this life you'll simply be reborn
and keep being reborn until you move towards this end or goal which may
take many lifetimes to achieve.
Then there's the view you find among Christians and Moslems, which is
that there's another realm after this life in which you can undergo
continued development or some further destiny, different destinies,
depending on how you behave and what you want in this life. So, I mean
there are many choices, and that's one of the areas in which choice or
freedom comes in. We choose which of these kinds of destiny we want to
align ourselves with. Or if we don't think about it or don't choose, then
we just fall to the lowest common denominator.
DJB: What types of research experiments do you think need to be
done that would either prove or disprove the existence of morphic fields?
RUPERT: Well, I outline quite a number of them in my books.
There's a series of experiments that can be done in chemistry with
crystals, in biochemistry with protein folding, in developmental biology
with fruit fly development, in animal behavior with rats, in human
behavior through studying rates of learning tasks that other people have
learned before. So there's a whole range of tests, the details of which I
suggest in my books, which could be done to test the theory in a variety
of areas: chemistry, biology, behavioral science, psychology. Some of
these tests are going on right now in some universities in Britain.
There's a competition for tests being sponsored by the Institute of Noetic
Sciences, tests to be done by students. The closing date's in 1990. So
these are just some of the tests that I'd like to see done to test the
DJB: Could you tell us about any current projects on which
RUPERT: Well, I'm doing two main things at present. One is that
I'm helping to coordinate research on morphic resonance, organizing tests
in the realms of chemistry and biology. And secondly I'm writing a book
The Rebirth of Nature. It's a book about the ways in which
we're coming to see nature as alive, rather than inanimate, and how this
has enormous implications: personally for people in their relationships
with the world around them; collectively, through our collective
relationship to nature; spiritually, the way this leads to a reframing or
re-understanding of spiritual traditions, and politically through the
Green Movement, which is now an influential political force, especially in
Europe. Moving from the exploitive mechanistic attitude to a
symbiotic attitude, we
realize that we're not in charge of nature, we're not separate from nature
and somehow running it. Rather we're part of ecosystems, and part of the
world, and our continued existence depends on living harmoniously with the
planet of which we're a part. It's an obvious thing, this Gaian
perspective, but it hasn't been taken seriously in politics. But now it is
being taken seriously, and so I would say the idea of nature as alive has
become a very important force in our society through its political
manifestations as well as its scientific ones.