SHELDRAKE, R. (1987): A New
Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation, 2nd Ed.
(1st Ed. Blond & Briggs. London and J. P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1981),
287 pp., Collins. London.
"...The idea that morphogenetic fields contain an inherent memory is the starting point for the hypothesis of formative causation ..."
"..If Gaia is in some sense animate, then she must have something like a soul, an organizing principle with its own ends or purposes ..."
...All research scientists know that this process is artificial; they are not disembodied minds, uninfluenced by emotion. The reality is very different..."
"...Indeed, behind its scientific facade,
it [the neo-Darwinian theory] appears
to have become for many of its followers remarkably like a
religion. This seems to be the reason why they propagate their
dogmas so zealously, guard against heresies so vigilantly, and deny the truth of
all other faiths so vehemently."
Glossary of Terms
(from Presence of the Past)
adaptation: An attribute of an organism that appears to
be of value for something, generally its survival or
reproduction. The purposive, or seemingly purposive,
nature of adaptations can be thought of in terms of
teleology or teleonomy (q.v.).
allele: Each gene (q.v.) occupies a particular region of
a chromosome, its locus. At any given locus, there may
exist alternative forms of the gene. These are called
alleles of each other.
atavism: The reappearance of characteristics of more
or Im remote ancestors. Also called reversion or
atom: In the philosophy of atomism (q.v.), the eternal,
invariant, impenetrably hard, homogeneous, ultimate
unit of matter. In chemistry, the smallest unit or part of
an element that can take part in a chemical reaction. In
modern physics, a complex structure of activity, with a
central nucleus orbited by electrons. Nuclei and their
constituent particles are in turn complex structures of
atomism: The doctrine that all things are composed of
ultimate, indivisible atoms of matter endowed with
motion. These ultimate particles are the enduring basis
of all reality. In the modern form of this philosophy,
atoms have been superseded by fundamental subatomic
attractor: A term used in modern dynamics to denote a
limit towards which trajectories of change within a
dynamical system move. Attractors generally lie within
basins of attraction. Attractors and basins of attraction
are essential features of the mathematical models of
morphogenetic fields due to Rene Thom.
chreode: A canalized pathway of change within a
chromosomes: Microscopic, threadlike structures found
in the nuclei of living cells, and also in cells without
nuclei such as bacteria. They are made up of DNA and
protein and contain chains of genes.
cybernetics: The theory of communication and control
mechanisms in living systems and machines.
dialectical materialism: A form of materialism that
sees matter not as something static, on which change and
development have to be imposed, but as, containing
within its own nature those tensions or "contradictions"
that provide the motive force for change.
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid, a molecule consisting of
a large number of chemical units called nucleotides
attached together in single file to form a long strand.
Usually two such strands are linked together parallel to
each other and coiled into a helix. DNA is the material
of genetic inheritance, but in higher organisms only a
small proportion of the DNA appears to be in genes.
DNA contains four kinds of nucleotide, and the
sequence of the nucleotides is the basis of the genetic
code. DNA strands pass on their structure to copies of
themselves in the process of replication, and the genetic
code of genes can be "translated" into the sequences of
amino acids which are joined together in chains to form
proteins. Protein synthesis takes place on the basis of
strands of RNA (ribonucleic acid), which serve as
templates. These are "transcribed" from the DNA of
dominance: In genetics, a dominant gene is one that
brings about the same phenotypic (q.v.) effects whether
it is present in a single dose along with a specified
allele (q.v.), or in a double dose. The allele that is
ineffective in the presence of the dominant gene is said
to be recessive.
dualism: The philosophical doctrine that mind and
matter exist as independent entities, neither being
reducible to the other (cf. materialism).
energy: in general, the capacity or power to produce an
effect. in the technical sense of physics, energy is the
property of a system that is a measure of its capacity for
doing work. Work is technically defined as what is
done when a force moves its point of application.
Energy can be potential or kinetic, and it comes in a
variety of forms: electrical, thermal, chemical, nuclear,
radiant, and mechanical.
entelechy: In Aristotelian philosophy, the principle of
life, identified with the soul or psyche. The entelechy is
both the formal or formative cause and the final cause,
or end, of a living body; thus there is always an
internalized purpose in life. In the vitalism (q.v.) of
Hans Driesch, entelechy is the nonmaterial vital
principle, a directive, teleological causal factor which
brings about harmonious developmental, behavioural,
and mental processes (cf. genetic program and morphic
epigenesis: The origin of new structures during
embryonic development (cf. preformation).
evolution: Literally, a process of unrolling or opening
out. In biology, originally applied to the development of
individual plants and animals, which according to the
doctrine of preformation depended on the unrolling or
unfolding of pre-existing parts. Only in the 1830s was
this word first applied to the historical transmutation of
organisms; by the 1860s and 1870s it had come to refer
to a general process of transmutation, which was
generally assumed to be directional or progressive.
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection
enabled this process to be thought of as blind and
purposeless, and this interpretation is central to
neo-Darwinism (q.v.), the dominant orthodoxy in
modern biology. A variety of other evolutionary
philosophies postulate an inherently creative principle
in matter or in life; and some see in the evolutionary
process the manifestation of a directional or purposive
principle. According to modern cosmology, the entire
universe is an evolutionary system.
field: A region of physical influence. Fields interrelate
and interconnect matter and energy within their realm of
influence. Fields are not a form of matter; rather, matter
is energy bound within fields. In current physics,
several kinds of fundamental field are recognized: the
gravitational and electromagnetic fields and the matter
fields of quantum physics. The hypothesis of formative
causation broadens the concept of physical fields to
include morphic fields as well as the known fields of
force: In general, active power; strength or energy
brought to bear. In physics, an external agency capable
of altering the state of rest or motion of a body.
form: The shape, configuration, or structure of
something as distinguished from its material. In the
Platonic tradition, the term Form is used to translate the
Greek term eides and is interchangeable with the term
Idea. Particular things we experience in the world
participate in their eternal Forms, which transcend
space and time. By contrast, in the Aristotelian
tradition, the forms of things are immanent in the things
themselves. From the nominalist point of view, forms
have no objective reality independent of our own minds.
formative causation, hypothesis of: The hypothesis
that organisms or morphic units (q.v.) at all levels of
complexity are organized by morphic fields, which are
themselves influenced and stabilized by morphic
resonance (q.v.) from all previous similar morphic
gene: A unit of the material of inheritance. Genes
consist of DNA and are situated in chromosomes; an
individual gene is a short length of chromosome that
influences a particular character or set of characters of
an organism in a particular way. Alternative forms of
the same gene are called alleles. The unit of the gene is
defined in different ways for different purposes: for
molecular biologists it is usually regarded as a cistron,
a length of DNA that codes for a chain of amino acids in
a protein. For some schools of neo-Darwinism, the gene
is the unit of selection, and evolution is the change of
gene frequencies in populations.
genetic program: A program is a plan of intended
proceedings, as in a concert or computer program. The
concept of the genetic program implies that organisms
inherit plans of intended proceedings; these plans are
assumed to be carried in the genes. The genetic program
is the principal metaphor through which conceptions of
purposive activity and of formative causes are
introduced into modern biology (cf. entelechy).
genotype: The genetic constitution of an organism (cf.
gestalt: A German term roughly meaning form,
configuration, shape, or essence. The term is used to
refer to unified wholes, complete structures or totalities
which cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts.
habit: A bodily or mental disposition; a settled
tendency to appear or behave in a certain way,
generally acquired by frequent repetition; a settled
practice, custom, or usage. The word habit also means
dress or attire, as in a monk's habit. In biology, it is
used to refer to the characteristic mode of growth or
appearance of a plant or animal; and crystallographers
refer to the habits of crystals, meaning the characteristic
forms they assume. On the hypothesis of formative
causation, the nature of morphic units at all levels of
complexity tends to become increasingly habitual
through repetition, owing to morphic resonance.
heredity: The transmission of characters from ancestors
to their descendents. Originally understood in a broad
sense which included the inheritance of acquired
characteristics and habits of life; restricted in modern
biology to mean the inheritance of genes (see Mendelian
inheritance, neo-Darwinism). According to the
hypothesis of formative causation, heredity includes
both genetic inheritance and the inheritance of morphic
fields by morphic resonance.
holism: The doctrine that wholes are more than the sum
of their parts (cf. reductionism).
holon: A whole that can also be part of a larger whole.
Holons are organized in multi-levelled nested
hierarchies or holarchies. This term, due to Arthur
Koestler, is equivalent in meaning to morphic unit
homoeotic mutation: A mutation causing one part of the
body to develop in a manner appropriate to another
part: for example, a leg growing where an antenna
normally does in a fruit fly.
information: To inform literally means to put into form
or shape. information is now generally taken to be the
source of form or order in the world; information is
informative and plays the role of a formative cause, as
for example in the concept of "genetic information."
information theory: A branch of cybernetics (q.v.) that
attempts to define the amount of information required to
control a process of given complexity. Information in
this narrow technical sense is measured in bits. A bit is
the amount of information required to specify one of two
alternatives, for example to distinguish between 1 and 0
in the binary notation used in computers.
interactionism: A form of dualism (q.v.) according to
which mental events can cause physical events, and vice
Lamarckian inheritance: The inheritance of acquired
characteristics. Until the late nineteenth century, it was
generally believed that characteristics acquired by
organisms in response to the conditions of life or as a
result of their own habits could be inherited by their
descendents, and both Lamarck and Darwin shared this
general opinion. The possibility of this type of
inheritance is denied on theoretical grounds by the
current orthodoxy of genetics (cf. Mendelian
materialism: The doctrine that whatever exists is either
matter or entirely dependent on matter for its existence.
matter: That which has traditionally been contrasted
with form or with mind. In the philosophy of
materialism, matter is the substance and basis of all
reality, and is usually conceived of in the spirit of
atomism. In Newtonian physics, matter, distinguished by
mass and extension, was contrasted with energy.
According to relativity theory, mass and energy are
mutually transformable, and material systems are now
regarded as forms of energy.
mmechanics: In its broad, traditional sense, the body of
practical and theoretical knowledge concerned with the
invention and construction of machines, the explanation
of their operation, and the calculation of their
efficiency. In physics, the study of the behaviour of
matter under the action of force. in the present century,
Newtonian mechanics has been substantially modified
by relativity theory and has been replaced by quantum
mechanics as a method of interpreting physical
phenomena occurring on a very small scale.
mechanistic theory: The theory that all physical
phenomena can be explained mechanically (see
mechanics), without reference to goals or purposive
designs (cf. teleology). The central metaphor is the
machine. In the seventeenth century, the universe was
conceived of as a vast machine, designed, made, and set
running by God and governed by his eternal laws. By
the late nineteenth century, it was commonly regarded as
an eternal machine which was slowly running down. In
biology, the mechanistic theory states that living
organisms are nothing but inanimate machines or
mechanical systems: all the phenomena of life can in
principle be understood in terms of mechanical models
and can ultimately be explained in terms of physics and
meme: A term coined by Richard Dawkins, who
defines it as "a unit of cultural inheritance, hypothesized
as analogous to the particulate gene and as naturally
selected by virtue of its 'phenotypic' consequences on
its own survival and replication in the cultural
memory: The capacity for remembering, recalling,
recollecting, or recognizing. From the mechanistic point
of view, animal and human memory depend on material
memory traces within the nervous system. From the
point of view of the hypothesis of formative causation,
memory in its various forms, both conscious and
unconscious, is due to morphic resonance.
Mendelian inheritance: Inheritance by means of pairs
of discrete hereditary factors, now identified with
genes. One member of each pair comes from each
parent. The genes may blend in their effects on the body,
but they do not themselves blend and are passed on
intact to future generations.
mind: In Cartesian dualism, the conscious thinking mind
is distinct from the material body; the mind is
non-material. Materialists derive the mind from the
physical activity of the brain. Depth psychologists point
out that the conscious mind is associated with a much
broader or deeper mental system, the unconscious mind.
In the view of Jung, the unconscious mind is not merely
individual but collective. On the hypothesis of
formative causation, mental activity, conscious and
unconscious, takes place within and through mental
fields, which like other kinds of morphic fields contain
a kind of in-built memory.
molecule: A chemical unit. The smallest amount of a
chemical substance that is capable of independent
existence. Each kind of molecule has a characteristic
atomic composition, a specific structure, and specific
physical and chemical properties.
morphic field: A field within and around a morphic unit
which organizes its characteristic structure and pattern
of activity. Morphic fields underlie the form and
behaviour of holons or morphic units at all levels of
complexity. The term morphic field includes
morphogenetic, behavioural, social, cultural, and mental
fields. Morphic fields are shaped and stabilized by
morphic resonance from previous similar morphic units,
which were under the influence of fields of the same
kind. They consequently contain a kind of cumulative
memory and tend to become increasingly habitual.
morphic resonance: The influence of previous
structures of activity on subsequent similar structures of
activity organized by morphic fields. Through morphic
resonance, formative causal influences pass through or
across both space and time, and these influences are
assumed not to fall off with distance in space or time,
but they come only from the past. The greater the degree
of similarity, the greater the influence of morphic
resonance. in general, morphic units closely resemble
themselves in the past and are subject to self-resonance
from their own past states.
morphic unit: A unit of form or organization, such as an
atom, molecule, crystal, cell, plant, animal, pattern of
instinctive behaviour, social group, element of culture,
ecosystem, planet, planetary system, or galaxy. Morphic
units are organized in nested hierarchies of units within
units: a crystal, for example, contains molecules, which
contain atoms, which contain electrons and nuclei,
which contain nuclear particles, which contain quarks.
morphogenesis: The coming into being of form.
morphogenetic fields: Fields that play a causal role in
morphogenesis. This term, first proposed in the 1920s,
is now widely used by developmental biologists, but the
nature of morphogenetic fields has remained obscure.
On the hypothesis of formative causation, they are
regarded as morphic fields stabilized by morphic
mutation: A sudden change. Mutations are observed in
the phenotypes of organisms, and can generally be
traced to changes in the genetic material. The term
mutation is now generally taken to mean a random
change in a gene.
nature: Traditionally personified as Mother Nature.
The creative and controlling power operating in the
physical world, and the immediate cause of all
phenomena within it. Or the inherent and inseparable
combination of qualities essentially pertaining to
anything and giving it its fundamental character. Or the
inherent power or impulse by which the activity of
living organisms is directed or controlled. From the
conventional point of view of science, nature is made
up of matter, fields, and energy and is governed by the
laws of nature, usually thought to be eternal.
neo-Darwinism: The modern version of the Darwinian
theory of evolution by natural selection. It differs from
Darwin's theory in that it denies the possibility of
Lamarckian inheritance (q.v.); heredity is explained in
terms of genes passed on by Mendelian inheritance
(q.v.). Genes mutate at random, and the proportions of
alternative versions of genes, or alleles, within a
population are influenced by natural selection. In its
most extreme form, neo-Darwinism reduces evolution to
changes of gene frequencies in populations.
organicism: A form of holism according to which the
world consists of organisms (or holons or morphic
units, q.v.) at all levels of complexity. Organisms are
wholes made up of parts, which are themselves
organisms, and so on; they are organized in nested
hierarchies. The parts of organisms can be understood
only in relation to their activities and functions in the
ongoing whole. Organisms in this sense include atoms,
molecules, crystals, cells, tissues, organs, plants and
animals, societies, cultures, ecosystems, planets,
planetary systems, and galaxies. In this spirit, the entire
cosmos can be regarded as an organism rather than a
machine (cf. mechanistic theory).
paradigm: An example or pattern. in the sense of T. S.
Kuhn (1970), scientific paradigms are general ways of
seeing the world shared by members of a scientific
community, and they provide models of acceptable
ways in which problems can be solved.
phenotype: The actual appearance of an organism; its
manifested attributes. Contrasted with the genotype,
which is the particular genetic material the organism has
inherited from its parents.
physicalism: A modern form of materialism. The
doctrine that all scientific propositions can in principle
be expressed in the terminology of the physical
sciences, including propositions about mental activity.
Platonism: The philosophical tradition that, following
Plato, postulates the existence of an autonomous realm
of Ideas or Forms or essences existing outside space
and time and independently of manifestations of them in
the phenomenal world.
protein: A complex organic molecule composed of
many amino acids linked together in chains, called
polypeptide chains. The sequence of amino acids is
specified by the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA of
genes. There may be one or more such chains in a
protein, and the chains are folded up into characteristic
three-dimensional configurations. Proteins are found in
all living organisms, and there are many different kinds
of protein molecule. Many proteins are enzymes, the
catalysts of biochemical reactions; others play a variety
of structural and other roles.
preformation: The theory (now known to be false) that
the entire diversity of structure of adult organisms
pre-exists in the fertilized egg. Embryonic development
supposedly consisted merely of the manifestation of this
preformed structure as it enlarged and unfolded, or
"evolved" (cf. epigenesis).
Pythagoreanism: The belief that the universe is
somehow essentially mathematical. its fundamental
mathematical reality transcends space and time.
Closely akin to Platonism.
reductionism: The doctrine that more complex
phenomena can be reduced to less complex ones (cf.
holism). In philosophy, the theory that human behaviour
can ultimately be reduced to the behaviour of inanimate
matter governed by the laws of nature. In biology, the
belief that all the phenomena of life can ultimately be
understood in terms of chemistry and physics. Closely
associated with the mechanistic theory, materialism, and
regulation: in embryology, the normal development of
an embryo, or part of an embryo, in spite of the
disturbance of its structure in some way, as by
removing some of it, adding to it, or rearranging it. For
example, half of a young sea-urchin embryo will
develop into a small but normally proportioned larva
and eventually into a normal sea urchin.
synapse: An area of functional contact between nerve
cells or between nerve cells and effectors such as
systems theory: A form of holism concerned with the
organization and properties of "systems" at all levels of
complexity. Much of the early inspiration for this
approach came from an attempt to establish parallels
between physiological systems in biology and social
systems in the social sciences. The systems approach
has been deeply influenced by cybernetics (q.v.). The
central metaphor in much systems thinking is the
teleology: The study of ends or final causes; the
explanation of phenomena by reference to goals or
teleonomy: The science of adaptation. "in effect,
teleonomy is teleology made respectable by Darwin"
(Dawkins, 1982). The apparently purposive structures,
functions, and behaviour of organisms are regarded as
evolutionary adaptations established by natural
vitalism: The doctrine that living organisms are truly
vital or alive, as opposed to the mechanistic theory that
they are inanimate and mechanical. Living organization
depends on purposive vital factors, such as entelechy
(q.v.), which are not reducible to the ordinary laws of
physics and chemistry. Vitalism is a less far-reaching
form of holism than organicism (q.v.), in so far as it
accepts the mechanistic assumption that the systems
studied by physicists and chemists are inanimate and
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