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No. 31: Jan-Feb 1984

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The hypothesis of formative causation lives!

Rupert Sheldrake's hypothesis has been roundly condemned by many scientists, presumably because it departs so radically from current thinking. Basically, the hypothesis maintains that the forms of things (from crystals to life forms) and the behavior of organisms is influenced by "morphic resonance emanating from past events." Convergent evolution, wherein human eyes closely resemble squid eyes, might well be explained by the hypothesis.

Sheldrake has been testing his idea in various ways. One experiment involves the accompanying illustration containing a hidden image. Once the solution of this illustration is learned, it is hard to forget, but few people see the answer right off. The hypothesis of formative causation insists that once one or more persons learn the drawing's secret, the easier it will be for others to see the solution. Actual tests consisted of broadcasting the illustration and its solution (that is, the hidden image) on English television combined with before-and-after checks elsewhere in the world outside TV range. The results strongly supported the hypothesis, for it was far easier for people outside England to identify the hidden images after the broadcast.

(Sheldrake, Rupert; "Formative Causation: The Hypothesis Supported," New Scientist, 100:279, 1983.)

Comment. With all this prior publicity, the hidden image should pop immediately into the reader's mind. But if it doesn't, look under the Psychology Section -- an appropriate spot since telepathy might be involved rather than Formative Causation! Of course, Formative Causation can explain telepathy, too.

Illustration containing a hidden image
(Click on image to view hidden image)

From Science Frontiers #31, JAN-FEB 1984. 1984-2000 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