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No. 17: Fall 1981

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What was, is, and shall be

Rupert Sheldrake, an English plant physiologist, has written a new book entitled A New Science of Life; The Hypothesis of Formative Causation. In it, he revives and expands the theory of morphogenic fields. Basically, this theory states that existing organized structures, such as crystals and organisms, establish fields that shape the future organization of matter into similar crystals and organisms in a probabalistic way. In other words, once a specific crystal (or life form) is synthesized, it sets up a morphogenic field that will make it easier to synthesize further the same, or nearly the same, crystal (or life form).

To support his ideas, Sheldrake claims that it is common knowledge that a brand-new crystal form is difficult to synthesize at first but that further syntheses become easier and easier. The prevailing "scientific" explanation of this amazing fact is that fragments (seeds) of the initial synthesis are carried from lab to lab by humans and even the air! Morphogenic fields, however, explain such phenomena very nicely without postulating tiny crystal seeds in scientists' beards.

Sheldrake then goes on to review McDougall's experiments in the 1920s in which trained rats from water mazes apparently passed their new knowledge on to their progeny. McDougall thought that he had proved the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Other biologists repeating his heretical experiments found that their first-generation rats solved the same water mazes much faster than had McDougall's rats. In addi tion, the progeny of untrained rats used as controls showed improved abilities in maze-solving with each generation, just as if their parents had been trained. Current theory has not explained these curious results, but they are consistent with Sheldrake's Theory of Formative Causation.

(Sheldrake, Rupert; "A New Science of Life," New Scientist, 90:768, 1981.)

Comment. The Theory also seems to explain the many cases of simultaneous invention and even telepathy, assuming it exists. Apparently, we are all immersed in overlapping morphogenic fields created by all other humans.

Maze errors made by rats in testing Decreasing number of maze errors made by rats selected for slowness in learning. One would expect dumber rats to do worse and worse; instead the reverse holds.

From Science Frontiers #17, Fall 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987