Ranan Banerji (http://www.swcp.com/~hswift/swc/contribs.htm#banerji)
In discussions of Science Within Consciousness we pay a lot of attention to quantum uncertainly. But occasionally we delve also into a concept that is closely related to this - the concept of the Morphogenetic Field. The concept has been discussed at length by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. It is an idea on which he and a few of his colleagues have based much of their work. Unfortunately, his ideas so far have not had the influence in his field that we feel they justifiably deserve in view of the data and interpretation that have been accumulated. The major reason, we believe, lies in a continuous resistance in the scientific fields to any ontology other than materialism or perhaps to some grudging acceptance of dualism, leaving any study of the non-material carefully out of science. A very revealing example of this, sadly reminiscent of the days of Galileo´s inquisition by the Roman Church, appeared as an editorial in Nature (September 24, 1981) which described Sheldrake´s book, A New Science of Life as, "..the best candidate for burning there has been for many years".
It is our belief that materialism is on the wrong track. Of course, given enough determination one can extend any consistent system of hypotheses to explain phenomena. There were no logical flaws in the calculations of the Ptolemaic astronomers - their epicycles did explain the motions of the planets. It is just that their theories were getting very convoluted and had little predictive power. In some cases, materialism may have a similar fate and efforts to shore it up may be costly and difficult. The time may have come to see if a clearer, more concentrated study of the Morphogenetic Fields and their properties may be more useful in the study of morphogenesis and parapsychology than the studies along more classical materialistic lines. But if science is continuously discouraged from this alternative path then clearly such new studies will take much longer to develop - at higher social and national cost. Similar phenomena have held back progress in many areas of alternative medicine also. In this article we are in no position to dwell on this latter. However, in view of the close similarities that exist between Sheldrake´s ideas and the idea of quantum uncertainty, we feel that further comments on his work will be useful. This is one thing we shall do in what follows.
As we do this it becomes clear that many of the thoughts espoused by us in SWC will bear scrutiny. We do not apologize for this. No science is ever complete in its ability to explain the world, nor does any science appear completely developed. The most we can do is to point out those places where we feel further clarification and unification is necessary and attempt them when feasible. This is also a part of the purpose of this article.
Let us start with the Morphogenetic Fields. What follows is a summary of Sheldrake´s ideas as they appear in his book A New Science of Life, as well as his later books, Seven Experiments that could Change the World and Dogs that Know When their Masters are Coming Home.
Materialistic Science is not a unified whole. As we study systems of greater and greater complexity, they appear to develop their own sets of axiomatic properties. Materialistic science, of course, has insisted that from the quantum mechanics of subatomic particles one can derive the quantum mechanics of atomic and molecular structures and from these one can deduce the chemical properties of substances, which in their turn could give rise to our understanding of vital phenomena and on to psychology, sociology, economics and cosmology. Wherever feasible, such transitions have been studied, in many cases with success. However, there are reasons why the study of these boundaries (between disciplines) is fraught with great difficulty. In the case of quantum mechanics, the difficulty seems to be inherent in the theory itself - the transition from potentia to reality is not bridgeable within quantum mechanics as it stands. The other transitions, involving non-linear interactions of constituents, give rise to insurmountable computational difficulties which make it necessary to circumvent these calculations by new axioms regarding the macro-structures which emerge from these complex interactions. We study nuclear physics, atomic physics, classical physics - including physical optics and geometrical optics, molecular physics, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, all as if they are distinct subjects with their own laws. Let us return to these now with a view to integrating our view with that of Sheldrake.
As Sheldrake points out, when one tries to predict the behavior of large assemblages in terms of the behavior of their components, one is faced with the fact that the assemblage can exhibit many stable configurations of relative minimum energy. As to which configuration an assemblage actually takes depends in very sensitive ways on the initial conditions one imposes on the system: chaos theory shows how very small changes in these conditions can produce very large changes in the result, so that it is practically impossible to predict as to which configuration the assemblage will actually take up.
This is true whether we are talking of crystals, of enzymes, of animal behavior or of societies (compare Rene Thom´s discussion of Catastrophe Theory). "......there is no evidence that (existing physical theories)...can account for the fact that one rather than another of these possible structures is realized". Sheldrake postulates that this determination of the actual structure is determined by an external field of influence associated with the process of formation of the structure involved. This so-called Morphogenetic field carries the "blueprint", so to speak of the process of formation.
Sheldrake postulates that this blueprint is developed in the field by previous structures formed under the guidance of the field. This is highly reminiscent of the way brain cells give rise to individual consciousness in the picture (given by Goswami) of the separation of the universal and individual consciousness.
However, there is a major difference in the two mechanisms postulated: the one given initially by Goswami (i.e. transition from universal to individual consciousness) and in Sheldrake´s picture. In both cases the structures involved have classical properties - whence the memory: In the case of neurons or individual cells it arises out of the non-linear term in the approximate, many-body Schroedinger equation. In Sheldrake´s case it arises out of the complexity of the organism´s structure. The uncertainty of the structure is quantum-mechanical in the case of cells, but due to the chaos-theoretic nature of the emergent structure in the case of organisms.
This difference in the mechanism of the collapse does not have to be basic, however. When Goswami discusses Evolution, he ascribes the morphogenetic field to the individual cells, so that quantum-mechanical considerations sufficed to lead to the uncertainty. However, Sheldrake´s field deals with the entire organism - which is more in line with the morphogenetic phenomenon it explains. Hence, at least for morphogenesis, it may be more reasonable to postulate that the collapse occurs, not at the level of the individual cell, but of the organism. The basic uncertainty is quantum mechanical still - brought about by the sensitivity of the structure to small changes in the initial conditions, at the level of the constituent atoms.
Goswami deals with two phenomena dealing with the individual - the individual consciousness and morphogenesis (attached to what he often refers to as the Vital Body - individual consciousness having the Mental Body as a component). We shall refer later to another phenomenon dealt with by him, i.e. evolution. For the present we would like to remind ourselves of the fact that his discussion of evolution deals more with the evolution of new species as well as morphogenesis during the development of an embryo. However, in Sheldrake´s morphogentic field, the influence between members of the species is dealt with through the phenomenon of morphic resonance, akin to telekinesis. With Sheldrake telekinesis is a theoretical construct. SWC, with its picture of simultaneous quantum collapse could well explain this phenomenon. Sheldrake has discussed the relationship between classical heredity and morphic resonance.
Sheldrake´s discussion of morphogenesis explains more than just the existence of the morphogenetic field; it includes the mechanism by which a partially formed biological structure (the 'morphogentic germ") gets attached to the morphogentic field of a species, which then guides the growth of the rest of the form. No investigation has been made so far as to whether the quantum mechanical explanation of the vital body can extend itself to this phenomenon.
The Vital Body in Dreams
Another point that needs to be discussed in connection with the vital body, other than its connection to morphogenesis, is the interpretation of the vital body as the carrier of emotions, as Goswami does in his interpretation of dreams. To our mind, to look at the vital body both as a carrier of morphognesis and as a carrier of emotions would leave a lot to be desired, unless further assumptions are made. Sheldrake´s picture seems to carry the assumptions needed, provided they can be unified with the quantum mechanical picture. Sheldrake postulates that every structure carries its own morphogentic field. If a structure like an organism incorporates sub organisms of different nature, then the morphogenetic field of the organism would also incorporate the fields of the sub organisms. That is, there is not a unique morphogentic field - the fields of individuals are incorporated in the field of the species - fields of different aspects of an individual interact and their interaction gives rise to fields. Fields form what may almost be described as a continuum. From this point of view one can perhaps suggest that what we call emotions are determined partly by the mental body and partly by the vital body - a product of their interaction. Goswami bases his interpretation of dreams almost directly on the concepts of the Vedanta, in which he felt justified because of its close connection with the concepts of the Universal and Individual consciousness . However, it may not be either necessary or desirable to tie ourselves down to the exact model of the Vedanta. The latter, after all is the beginning of an important science - it can not be expected to have all aspects tied down neatly. Nor can anything being done in Science Within Consciousness be expected to be the final neat answer. It may well be meaningful to suggest that the five bodies referred to in the Vedanta is a convenient approximation for practical purposes to the continuum of bodies (fields) just as words like, "blue", "red" "yellow" break up the optical spectrum into practically useful divisions. If such a view has to be taken seriously, a lot more work on the phenomenon of collapse (quantum mechanical or chaos-theoretical) needs to be carried out. What people have so far been able to do is to paint a picture with very broad brush strokes. A complete theory will take a long time to emerge. For this, a much larger number of scientists have to take the picture seriously.
A Problem with Evolution
SWC has tried to use the concept of Universal Consciousness to remove some of the puzzlements that beset biologists when they discuss evolution in the Neo-Darwinian way. The phenomenon of punctuated equilibrium has been discussed in some detail there. It is often seen that, after a period of homeostatic changes in a species through natural selections, a new species suddenly arises. This species can not be explained as caused by changes in a few genes in an old species - a rather large number of genes are changed simultaneously. No single one of these changes would give rise to a meaningful change in an evolutionary sense. One describes this phenomenon as arising out of many potential changes in the structure occurring over a long period of time till a meaningful potential structure emerges, which consciousness then collapses into an actuality.
This picture ascribes to Consciousness a property which was not among the ones used by us in the explanation of other phenomena like the individual consciousness or the origin of the morphogenetic field. Here we are visualizing Consciousness as having a specific structure "in mind" as worth waiting for. This property does not agree with the Vedantic concept of the undifferentiated unity which is an important guiding principle in our model.
It is possible that such punctuations in the equilibrium occur to give rise to many new species, some of which pass the test of natural selection and others do not. But then one can also ask as to how the collapses occur only when a meaningful combination of genes are ready in potentia. Should one stipulate that if a collapse occurs before all the genes are in place, the corresponding species do not occur just because the laws of biology does not allow such a specie to exist? Or perhaps one should take recourse to that rather puzzling concept in Vedanta, namely that Consciousness, being without duality, seeks duality through meaningful creations? We can only say at the present state of our understanding that there are some properties of consciousness which need to be clarified and some more meat needs to be added to the skeletal theory of evolution that we have started here.
1) SWC Web Site: www.hswift.swcp.com/swc (http://www.swcp.com/~hswift/swc/index.html)