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The term "morphic fields" or "morphogenetic fields" was coined by the biologist Rupert Sheldrake. In A New Science of Life (1981) Sheldrake presents his Hypothesis of Forming Causation or Morphic Resonance, which postulates the existence of so-called morphogenetic fields which influence the development of form in nature.
The biologist Adolf Portmann also expressed basically similar ideas on shape formation in plants and animals . And there are similarities to the anthroposophical idea of a shape-forming formative forces body or etheric body of all organisms and to certain views of Goethean Science. Ultimately, the concept stands in the tradition of Vitalism, but expands it to a much more comprehensive regularity and places the emphasis not on energy but on formation in the sence of an informational field, which in many respects has a greater explanatory value.
Since the first proposal in 1981, Sheldrake's hypothesis has undergone various extensions. For example, morphogenetic fields should not only extend to forms, but to the “laws” of nature themselves, which thus become "habits of nature". With the morphogenetic fields Sheldrake gives an extended meaning to a term from developmental biology coined in the 1920s. Following on from the morphogenetic fields, Sheldrake investigated the extrasensory abilities of humans and animals.
Sheldrake's model of morphogenetic fields' has found a very broad acceptance in philosophically open-minded circles, especially in the 90s in the so-called New Age movement, and has since served – also independently and outside the scientific version presented by himself – as a popular explanatory model for many connections between spirit and nature.
- ”Self-organising systems including molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies and minds are made up of nested hierarchies or holarchies of holons or morphic units. At each level the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and these parts themselves are wholes made up of parts.
- The wholeness of each level depends on an organising field, called a morphic field. This field is within and around the system it organises, and is a vibratory pattern of activity that interacts with electromagnetic and quantum fields of the system. The generic name ‘morphic field’ includes
- Morphogenetic fields that shape the development of plants and animals.
- Behavioural and perceptual fields that organise the movements, fixed-action patterns and instincts of animals.
- Social fields that link together and co-ordinate the behaviour of social groups.
- Mental fields that underlie mental activities and shape the habits of minds.
- Morphic fields contain attractors (goals), and chreodes (habitual pathways towards those goals) that guide a system towards its end state, and maintain its integrity, stabilising it against disruptions.
- Morphic fields are shaped by morphic resonance from all similar past systems, and thus contain a cumulative collective memory. Morphic resonance depends on similarity, and is not attenuated by distance in space or time. Morphic fields are local, within and around the systems they organise, but morphic resonance is non-local.
- Morphic resonance involves a transfer of form or in-form-ation rather than a transfer of energy.
- Morphic fields are fields of probability, like quantum fields, and they work by imposing patterns on otherwise random events in the systems under their influence.
- All self-organising systems are influenced by self-resonance from their own past, which plays an essential role in maintaining a holon’s identity and continuity.”
- Adolf Portmann: An den Grenzen des Wissens, Econ, Vienna 1974, p. 136ff and elsewhere, ISBN 3-430-17599-2
- Rupert Sheldrake – The Science Delusion, 2012, E-book 297ff, ISBN 978 1 444 72795 1