"In his book The Hundredth Monkey, Ken Keyes, Jr. wrote about scientists who had been observing monkeys in the wild for thirty years.
In 1952, on the island of Koshima, when there was a serious drought & famine, they provided monkeys with sweet potatoes which they had dropped in sand.
The monkeys liked the taste of the potatoes but found the sand unpleasant. One day, an eighteen month old monkey washed the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught the trick to her mother and her playmates, who taught it to their mothers.
As the story is told, perhaps 99 monkeys learned to wash their sweet potato between 1952 and 1958. One day the 100th monkey learned to wash the potatoes. Suddenly, almost every monkey on the island began to wash their potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this 100th monkey had somehow created a behavioral breakthrough.
But, more amazing, the scientists observed that the act of washing sweet potatoes had jumped over the sea, because the colonies of monkeys on other islands, as far as 500 miles away, began washing their sweet potatoes.
This phenomena is known as "critical mass." When a limited number of people know something in a new way, it remains the conscious property of only those people. However, there is a point at which if only one more person tunes in to a new awareness, that new awareness is picked up by everyone."
Nature As Alive:
Morphic Resonance and Collective Memory*
Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.d.
ABSTRACT: Memory is inherent in Nature, and what we think of as the laws of Nature may be more like habits. The basis of this memory process is morphic resonance, which is the influence of like upon like through or across space or time. Its implication, in the realm of heredity, is that inheritance depends not only on the chemical genes coded in DNA but also on morphic resonance from past members of the species. Other implications are an accelerated rate of evolution of new patterns of form and behavior; memory in individuals being based on self-resonance and not stored in the brain; the existence of a collective memory, to which we all contribute and on which we all draw; and providing understanding of past-life memories, survival of bodily death, telepathy, and ritual.
This hypothesis is part of a wider change in paradigm in which all of Nature, the entire cosmos, is viewed as being alive. This new sense of the life of Nature connects with the morphic resonance idea in the idea of the memory of place, or field, exemplified by the sense of places both haunted and sacred, which is the basis of such human activities as pilgrimage. Regardless of the ultimate validity of morphic resonance, a return to the sense and idea of Nature as alive and animate is absolutely essential to coming into a better relationship with the environment, on which we depend, and therefore is probably essential for our very survival.
Memory Inherent in Nature
I suggest that there is a memory inherent in Nature and that what we usually think of as the laws of Nature may be more like habits.
I will give an example. When you make a new chemical compound, the first time it crystallizes it is usually assumed that the crystal form, the lattice structure, is completely determined in advance by the laws of Nature, electromagnetic laws, Schrodinger's equation, the laws of thermodynamics, and so on. It is assumed that these laws fully determine the crystal's structure. Therefore the way a crystal forms the first time, the thousandth time, or the millionth time should be exactly the same, because the laws of Nature never change and they are not themselves influenced by the events they determine.
This is the standard view. By contrast I suggest that the first time a compound forms there will not already be a habit developed for its structure. It may actually take a long time for that to happen. Still, the second time it forms there will be an influence on it from the first time it formed by a process I call morphic resonance. The third time there will be an influence from the first and second times, and so on. These events contribute to a cumulative memory, which is expressed all around the world. So the new compound should become easier to crystallize as time goes on, all around the world. A memory, a habit, is building up.
In fact new chemicals do generally get easier to crystallize around the world as time goes on. And chemists usually explain this, not in terms of rigorous theories, but in anecdotes which are part of the folklore of chemistry. The most common anecdote is that this happens because fragments of previous crystals get carried from lab to lab on the beards of migrant chemists. Another explanation that is heard is that fragments of crystals get wafted around the world in the atmosphere.
Obviously, I am suggesting that this increased rate of crystallization happens even without migrating chemists and even if dust particles have been filtered from the laboratory air. So, the formation of crystals is one example of the buildup of habits in Nature, which we mistakenly assign the status of laws.
The Present Crisis in Science
This idea of a memory inherent in Nature is obviously a very radical, controversial, and unconventional view. The reason I think we need to consider it seriously is that science is at present in crisis because two of its most fundamental models of reality have come into conflict with each other.
The Model of Eternal Laws
The first model is the idea of eternity: nothing really changes. This model has dominated the physical sciences for a very long time, beginning in ancient Greece with the Pythagorean who thought that the realm of mathematics—the realm of number and proportion—was an eternal truth and that the changing world we live in was a reflection of that eternal order. Plato incorporated these ideas into his well-known philosophy of eternal forms or Ideas. And with the revival of Platonism in the European Renaissance, these Platonic forms or Ideas were built into the foundations of modern science.
In Christian Neo-Platonism, as formulated by Saint Augustine, the eternal Platonic forms were ideas in the mind of God. And for the founding fathers of modern science—Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, DesCartes, and others—science was about finding out the eternal mathematical truths which were these ideas in the mind of God. God begins to be conceived as an ultimate mathematician, and this is a perennially popular idea with mathematicians even to this day.
So the idea that the laws of Nature are eternal has a strong theological and metaphysical background. Most scientists do not actually discuss it; it is simply taken for granted, built into the foundations of the scientific method as we know it. The idea that any experiment should be repeatable anywhere, at any time, follows from this idea, as the practical application of it. The reason scientific experiments are supposed to be repeatable at any time is because the laws of Nature are supposed to be the same at all times and in all places.
Of course, these laws are not things you actually meet or encounter. You do not see E=MC2 written in the sky. You do not find it under stones. These are things that are abstract ideas. They are not made of energy or matter; they are not part of the physical universe in fact. They are part of a cosmic dualism built into mechanistic science since the Seventeenth Century: on the one side, eternal laws; governing eternal matter and energy on the other.
This way of thinking is deeply imbedded in the mentality of scientists. It is one of the most fundamental paradigms or models of Western science.
The Model of Evolution
The other fundamental assumption of Western science is the model of evolution, which is the idea that everything changes and develops in time. This one came to us not from the Greek but from the Jewish part of our cultural heritage.
Unlike most ancient peoples, the Jews believed that the historical process involved a development in time. Most ancient peoples, like the Greeks, the Hindus, and the Buddhists, believed that time was essentially cyclical. Things just repeated in cycles . . . including great cycles of cosmic repetition. But the Jews emphasized the nature of the historical process as a journey—the prototypic journey being the journey of the Jews out of Egypt through the wilderness and to the promised land. And in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature this promised land became the Millennium, the kingdom of God, the time in the future when history would end.
This idea was subsequently secularized in the Seventeenth Century and gave rise to the idea of progress through science and technology. And it is of course the same idea that underlies systems as diverse as Marxism and the New-Age movement. In Marxism it is thought there is an evolution to an end of history when the state withers away. Well, Marxist states have withered away, but history has not ended. And the entire New-Age movement is another way of thinking of history leading to some kind of new culmination.
Anyway, these originally Jewish ideas of change and development in time led to the idea of human progress. By the end of the Eighteenth Century, most people agreed that human beings progressed and society progressed, but the rest of Nature was still thought to be static. By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the idea of biological evolution was gaining ground. Darwin's theory was generalized so that human development was seen as part of a much larger process of biological development, biological evolution. Some philosophers began to suggest that maybe the whole cosmos evolves.
However, the physicists quickly contradicted them. They said the cosmos was not evolving, that it was an eternal machine that is in fact devolving—slowly running out of steam, heading toward a thermodynamic heat death. So it was generally held that the cosmos is going downhill whereas evolution on earth was a progressive development, a kind of momentary fluctuation in a universe headed nowhere.
It was not until the 1960s that physics finally adopted an evolutionary cosmology. This occurred with the introduction of the Big-Bang theory—the idea that the cosmos started small and has been growing ever since. With its corollary that the cosmos is continually forming new patterns and forms within it as it grows, the Big-Bang theory gives us a model of the cosmos that's far more like a developing organism than like any machine we know of. So we now have an evolutionary cosmology. All Nature is evolving. Human development is in the context of biological evolution. Biological evolution is part of a vastly greater evolutionary process, cosmic evolution.
Evolving Laws of Nature
It follows that until the 1960s the question I am raising did not come up. If the universe was eternal, the idea of eternal laws of Nature made sense. But if Nature were evolving, why should the laws of Nature not evolve as well? Why should we think of the universe as governed by a cosmic Napoleonic code which was fixed at the outset rather than being governed by evolving principles. As a matter of fact, as soon as you begin to think about laws of Nature you realize that this is an extremely anthropocentric concept. In the Seventeenth Century the image was clear. God was lord of the universe, and His laws applied to everything. Not only did He make up the laws, but He was omnipotent and provided the role of the all-powerful law-enforcement agency.
However most scientists no longer bring God into their thinking. And if, from a scientific point of view, we no longer think of God as a cosmic legislator, then why should we think of laws of Nature at all? As the English writer C. S. Lewis said, "To say that a stone falls to earth because it is obeying a law makes it a man and even a citizen." So this concept of law is intensely anthropocentric. And I think it is much better to change our metaphor than to continue this. The metaphor I suggest instead is habit.
Things may have the regularity they do and Nature may have its patterns of regularity because of habits that build up within Nature according to what has already happened and according to how often it has happened. Furthermore, habits are subject to natural selection. They can evolve. Only successful patterns of activity are capable of being repeated, and only the ones that are repeated become habits.
Morphic Resonance and Morphic Fields
Obviously, if there are habits in Nature, then there must be a memory in Nature. Our own habits depend on memory, largely unconscious memory. There is no need to assume the habits of Nature are any more conscious than our own. So what I am suggesting is an inherent memory process in Nature. The basis of it is the process I call morphic resonance.
Morphic resonance is the influence of like upon like through or across space and time. Similar things resonate with subsequent similar things on the basis of similarity of pattern and, particularly, of vibratory patterns of activity. A chemical of a given kind resonates with previous chemicals of that kind and is influenced by it. A member of a given species, like a giraffe, is subject to morphic resonance from previous giraffes. Each giraffe draws upon a collective memory of the species and in turn contributes to it. Each organism, I propose, is organized by a morphic field, morphic from the Greek word meaning form: morphi.
The morphic field is the organizing field of a system. Each crystal has its own kind of morphic field; each species has its own kind of morphic field. Then, say, within the body, each organ has a morphic field, each tissue, each cell, each kind of organelle, each molecule. There are nested hierarchies of fields within fields. The whole of Nature is built up of systems within systems: solar systems within galaxies, the Earth within the solar system, ecosystems within the Earth, and so on. Each of these, I suggest, has a morphic field which organizes it in accordance with habit, in accordance with the habits of that kind of thing.
Things that have been around for hundreds of millions of years—hydrogen atoms, for example, or salt crystals—have habits that are so repetitive that they become effectively fixed. They behave as if they are governed by eternal laws.
Therefore where we see the difference between the conventional theory and the one I am putting forward is when we look at new systems, new patterns of behavior, new patterns of activity. There, according to morphic resonance theory, it should be possible to see new habits building up, and this should be testable by experiment.
Testing Collective Memory
I have already mentioned a possible test with crystals. But the same theory applies in animal behavior, in biological morphogenesis, the development of form, and in many other areas. For example, the theory predicts that if you train rats in a new trick in Prague, then rats all around the world should learn the same thing quicker just because the rats have learned it in Prague.
Now, there is already evidence from studies done on rats in laboratories that this kind of effect actually happens. I have summarized this evidence in my books, A New Science of Life and The Presence of the Past. In fact, it is surprising how much evidence there already is for this principle.
The hypothesis also applies to human beings. It should be getting easier for children to solve or play video games of a particular kind just because so many have learned them . . . or for people to learn new sports, new skills like windsurfing. In the human realm I am suggesting that what we learn is facilitated by morphic resonance from all those who have learned it before.
This is the area where the theory has been tested most extensively. Some of the first experiments were done in response to an international competition organized by the Tarrytown group in New York, sponsored by Bob Schwartz. The Tarrytown group offered prizes—twenty-thousand dollars in prizes—for the best tests of the morphic resonance theory, which could either support or go against it. The results were very interesting. There were some very good experiments done in human psychology; these are summarized in my book, The Presence of the Past.
This effort was preceded by a competition in the British magazine, Scientist, which offered a more modest prize for suggestions of inexpensive ways of testing the theory. One of the things that has happened as a result is that I have been led to see that really interesting research can very often be done on very small budgets. With an idea as radical as this, that is a very convenient finding, because as you can imagine it is difficult to get conventional grant giving agencies to fund this kind of research. But if it is so cheap that anyone can do it, you do not need funding. Some of the most interesting experiments have actually been done by students. Research in morphic resonance is now going on at universities in Europe, in New Zealand, and in America.
Space does not allow summarizing all the work that is happening at present. I will just mention one experiment done recently. It is not, in fact, the best experiment, but it is the easiest to explain. This was done with crossword puzzles in the psychology department at Nottingham University. The young woman who did it, Monica England, reasoned as follows: If morphic resonance is happening, it should be easier to do today's newspaper crossword puzzle tomorrow than it would have been yesterday.
So we managed to persuade a London newspaper, The Evening Standard, to supply its crossword puzzle in advance for the purpose of this experiment. Students were tested in Nottingham the day before and the day after the crossword was published in London. They were also tested with a control crossword which was not published during that period. This of course involved testing different groups of students before and after. The control crossword gave a measure of each individual's ability to do crossword puzzles of that kind.
It turned out that students' performances on the test crossword did indeed improve by about 25 percent after it had been published, compared with the control crossword. This result is statistically significant and is, of course, very interesting.
Several other experiments have subsequently been done through the media, including magazines. Previous experiments have been done in Britain on television—the results of these are summarized in the Appendix to the new edition of A New Science of Life. Other tests are under way. Obviously this is an area where if the hypothesis is supported by evidence, as it seems to be so far, it could lead quite soon to applications in the realm of training and education. For if we could facilitate, if we could improve the way that we tune into the experience of others through morphic resonance, we could learn things quicker.
Implications of Shared Memory
Heredity and Genetics
This hypothesis has a great many implications. In the realm of heredity it suggests that inheritance depends not only on the chemical genes coded in DNA but also on morphic resonance from past members of the species. In fact, I think that chemical genes have been grossly overrated and that what they actually do is what we know they do, that is, code for the sequence of minor acids in protein. They give organisms their chemical heredity. They are able to make particular chemicals. But the way those chemicals are organized, the form they take up, and the way organisms behave—all that I believe is primarily controlled through morphic fields and morphic resonance.
So heredity involves both genetic changes and morphic resonance. If you think of the rat example I mentioned—rats learning things quicker in London after rats have learned them in Prague—there is no need of change in the DNA of the rats here or the rats there. The rats tune in on the basis of their chemical similarity, but what they pick up doesn't depend on genetic change.
This also gives us a new view of evolution, because it allows new patterns of form and behavior to spread much more quickly than they could on the basis of conventional, neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory based on random genetic mutation followed by generations of natural selection. Rats learning a new trick in one place could enable rats elsewhere to learn it much quicker, within days; it would not take many generations of natural selection.
In the human realm this, of course, has many interesting implications for change. It suggests that new ideas and new attitudes spread much more quickly than they might otherwise. Over and above the influence of the media and so on, morphic resonance enables these new things to spread much more quickly and effectively.
In the realm of evolution there are some examples that suggest this really happens. The best known of them concerns the behavior of certain birds, blue tits, in stealing cream from milk bottles. In England at the beginning of this century a system of milk delivery began where people had bottles of milk delivered to their doorsteps. After about twenty years in one city, Southhampton, blue tits started tearing off the tops of the milk bottles and drinking the cream from the bottle. This was a very successful habit. It spread by imitation throughout the whole city, and usually it worked very well. There were a few tragic cases where blue tits were found drowned, headfirst, in people's milk bottles, but most of these birds got a free breakfast. After a while this turned up in another city far away. The rate at which the habit spread throughout Britain was carefully monitored by observers all over the country.
Now, blue tits are home-loving birds. They move very short distances from their homes, so at the time it was concluded that the habit was being independently discovered again and again in different parts of the country. Yet the rate of discovery was accelerating. The professor of Zoology at Oxford, Sir Alistair Hardy, suggested this was so remarkable that it perhaps depended on telepathy. I would say, however, this is exactly the kind of effect you would expect with morphic resonance in evolution.
The most interesting developments actually came from Holland. After British blue tits had started stealing milk, Continental ones began doing it, too. And in Holland the habit spread as it had in England, until by the time of the Second World War, all over Holland blue tits were stealing milk. Then unfortunately for the Dutch blue tits, the Germans invaded and milk delivery stopped. It was not until 1948 that deliveries began again. But blue tits do not live more than three or four years, so there could have been no blue tits around in 1948 that remembered the golden age of free cream before the war. Nevertheless the habit reestablished itself all over Holland within two or three years.
So this is the kind of effect we would expect with morphic resonance. There are not many examples where people have studied behavioral evolution in animals; but this is one of the few well-documented cases, and it fits very well with the ideas I am suggesting here.
Another area where this hypothesis has many implications is in the realm of memory. Morphic resonance depends on similarity. The more similar something is to something that has happened before, the more effective, the stronger the resonance will be. It is a general principle that organisms in general are most like themselves in the past. I am more like me half an hour ago than like you. I am more like me ten years ago than like you ten years ago. In general the most specific morphic resonance acting on an organism from the past will be from its own past states. Thus, self-resonance is the predominant kind of morphic resonance.
In the realm of form, this self-resonance enables organisms to retain their form through the stabilizing of the morphic field even though the chemicals and the cells within the body may be changing over time. In the realm of behavior it enables organisms to tune in to their own past patterns of activity. If I get into a car, for example, and start driving it, then I come into morphic resonance, through similarity of the condition and of my activities, with all the previous times I have driven cars. There is a kind of habit memory that is transmitted through morphic resonance.
I think the same also applies to remembering events or acts. If I remember the last time I came to Prague, which was in 1971, that memory is also accessed in the same way, suggesting that these memories depend on morphic resonance, on tuning-in to ourselves in the past. We are the transmitters in the past. Morphic resonance moves through time; the tuning-in involves a resonance through time with ourselves in the past.
In other words I am suggesting it is not necessary for memories to be stored inside the brain. I am not ruling out the possibility that this can happen. Tony Soipler from Saint Petersburg, for example, has developed a kind of hybrid theory of memory bringing together a conventional molecular basis of memory and morphic resonance. That is possible. But what I am suggesting at the moment for purposes of clarity is the most extreme form of morphic resonance: that memory depends on morphic resonance through tuning-in to the activities of the brain in the past, but it is not necessary for your brains to store memories as traces.
This may be difficult to imagine because we have all been brought up with the idea that memories are stored inside the brain as memory traces. This just shows how much we are influenced by the dominant paradigms of science. This is very much part of the materialistic, mechanistic theory of the mind. From this outmoded view, the mind is just an aspect of the brain. We have memories, therefore they must be in the brain. This is taken for granted by a great many people. Many people, who have never studied science at all, take it for granted as an act of faith.
Yet it is not something borne out by a great deal of evidence. In fact throughout this century many scientists have looked at brains to try to find memories in them, to find localized memory traces, and they have failed repeatedly to find them. The evidence for memory storage in the brain is, if anything, weaker than it was fifty years ago, through repeated failures where millions of animals were sacrificed on the altar of science and vast amounts of money spent in research.
This failure to find localized memory traces is what led Karl Lashley, the great investigator of memory, at the end of his career to despair of finding it. He said, "Memory ought to be impossible, yet it happens." Someone else who worked in this field, Boycott, said, "Memory seems to be both everywhere and nowhere in particular in the brain." And this is the context in which Karl Pribram (1971) put forward his well known holographic theory of memory storage to account for the failure to find localized memory traces.
Well, I am suggesting that memory may well be holographic in the general sense of David Bohm's (1980) implicate order theory. It may not be present in the brain as memory traces at all. If I came to your house and analyzed the wires and transistors of your television set to try to find out what programs you had been watching last week, I would not be able to find any traces of them. That is because the television does not leave traces. What you tune into goes through the set. It is not stored within it. And I am suggesting the brain might be more like a TV receiver than like a video recorder.
Now, you may wonder, why is it then if we have accidents, brain damage, there can be loss of memory. This is not difficult to understand. Think again of the TV set. If I came and cut out bits of your TV set in the sound circuit, the TV set could no longer produce sound, but it could still give pictures. In other words you would have an aphasic TV set. This would not prove that all the sounds, the music, or the voices rose inside the bit of the set that was damaged. It would merely show that part was important for the reception of the information that was coming from somewhere else. Likewise, brain damage leading to loss of memory does not prove that memories are stored inside the damaged brain. It simply shows that those bits of the brain play some role in the recovery or the tuning-in to the memories.
If we tune into our own memories, why do we not tune-in to other people's? Well of course, I think we do. The whole basis of this theory is that we tune into the memories of many other people, that there is a collective memory on which we all draw. This is something that many people are already familiar with from Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. From the point of view of morphic resonance, if the collective unconscious did not exist as a theory it would have to be invented, because it fits very well with this way of thinking.
However, Jung was suggesting the collective unconscious only in the human realm. I am suggesting that this is part of a much more general process throughout all Nature.
From a conventional, scientific point of view, a mechanistic point of view, Jung's theory does not make sense. And it is not taken seriously by most scientists. It is regarded as a flaky, marginal theory, which might appeal to people with literary educations but not to anyone with a proper scientific way of thinking. Of course it is of great value in many forms of psychotherapy and is one of the important ingredients in transpersonal psychology. However, from the point of view of morphic resonance Jung's theory becomes absolutely central, no longer on the margins of scientific psychology. It becomes absolutely central to an understanding of the human mind. Collective memory is an important ingredient of what we are.
This also leads to several other rather surprising implications. One is that if we tune into lots of people in the past, occasionally we could tune into particular people in the past who are now dead and through morphic resonance pick up memories of past lives.
On this note, there is quite good evidence from the work of Professor Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia that some young children remember incidents from previous lives. They have memories which can not be explained normally and which seem to be valid when checked up on. There is also some evidence, which I think is less reliable, from hypnotic regression of past-life memories.
Usually this evidence produces a polarized response: on one side, a lot of people, usually dogmatic mechanists, say this is impossible therefore the evidence is wrong. We can not explain it, therefore it can not happen. That is one reaction I am sure everyone is familiar with. On the other side are people who say this is reincarnation, which is exactly what we believe anyway. But I am suggesting a middle path. It is possible to accept this evidence for past-life memories in terms of people tuning-in to people in the past, but it does not necessarily prove that you were that person. That is another question. It leaves that question open.
Survival After Death
This question of memory has many other implications. It has a great relevance to all religious theories of survival. All religions that I know of suggest that there is some form of bodily survival of death, some kind of personal survival—either in some shadowy ancestor realm or underworld; or through reincarnation or rebirth; or as in the Judaic, Christian, or Islamic traditions, through some kind of after-life. None of these theories would make sense if memories are stored in the brain, because obviously when the brain decays, all memories would be obliterated. Materialists like the idea of memory storage in the brain—not because it is strongly supported by evidence, it is not—but because it is such a simple and convenient argument which can be used to refute almost all religions. If memory is in the brain, the brain decays at death and that is the end. It would not make much sense if you arrive at the Last Judgment, for example, and you have totally forgotten who you are and what you have done.
However, if memories are not stored inside the brain, then the question of survival of bodily death is left open. This is one of those areas where changing the boundaries of science changes the boundaries between science and religion.
Indeed this change in perspective shifts the boundaries between the so-called normal and the paranormal as well. In a world in which morphic resonance occurs, telepathy also ceases to be shocking. You could even see where some people could say to me, "Well what's so new about morphic resonance? Isn't this just telepathy?" However, from a scientific point of view that would not be quite accurate. I think morphic resonance may be very akin to telepathy, but morphic resonance is a more general principle. We would not, for example, speak of a crystal influencing another crystal by telepathy, which means thought transference. Still, in a world with morphic resonance, telepathy would cease to be a shocking, paranormal phenomenon. It would seem quite normal. This is another one of the reasons why my hypothesis is so controversial.
This hypothesis has many other implications. We can think of societies as governed by morphic fields, and I go into this in some detail in my book, The Presence of the Past. Here I will simply mention one implication, which has to do with ritual. All societies have rituals, and rituals are patterns of activity which are done usually in order to recall or relate to some previous event. The Jewish Passover Festival, for example, is a re-creation of the original Passover dinner, which Jewish people have celebrated every year since then. The Christian Holy Communion is another example like this, and so is the American national ritual of the Thanksgiving dinner.
In rituals people deliberately do things in as similar a way as possible to the way they were done before: the same words, the same language. In Hindu ceremonies, for example, the Sanskrit language, their ancient language, is used. There exists a great conservatism of ritual language; the same smells, the same places, the same gestures, the same food, and so on, are employed. I think that through ritual people are deliberately re-creating a particular pattern of activity, consciously re-creating this pattern of activity, in order to connect with those who have done it before. Through ritual, people claim there is a presence of the past, that the past becomes present to those participating in the ritual, that there is a kind of collapse in time. In the Christian Holy Communion, for example, it is believed there is a presence of the original Last Supper in the spirit of Christ and also of all those who have partaken of this ritual since—the Communion of Saints.
These kinds of ideas are found all around the world in all societies. From the point of view of conventional rationalism, this is just another example of meaningless mumbo-jumbo and superstition; but from the point of view of morphic resonance, these ideas make perfect sense because the conservatism of rituals creates exactly the right conditions for a morphic resonance between the present participants and those who have done it before. There really would be some kind of influence through time brought about by the ritual, which is exactly what those who do the rituals believe they are doing.
Nature As Alive
This hypothesis is part of a wider change in paradigm that is going on, which I summarized in my most recent book, The Rebirth of Nature, the idea of Nature as alive. This idea is not only that of the Earth being alive, as Gaia, but of the entire cosmos as alive, akin to a developing organism. Through science the mechanistic theory of Nature is being transcended. Science is returning us, I believe, to a new sense of the life of Nature.
Memory of Place, Field
To summarize one way where this new sense of the life of Nature connects with the morphic resonance idea, I wish to introduce the idea of the memory of places. All traditions have ways of thinking about the quality of place. Each place has its own kind of quality or character. The Romans spoke of the genius loci (spirit of the place). We all know that different places have different feelings or atmospheres; but there is nothing in mechanistic science, with its universalistic laws, that enables us to understand this very well. In terms of morphic resonance theory, however, I think it is possible to think of places as having fields. Places can have morphic fields, and morphic fields can have an inherent memory through self-resonance.
Upon my first thinking of morphic fields this way I thought, thinking of the fields of places is going too far. It is taking the concept beyond its legitimate limits. Then I realized that the concept of fields in the first place comes from placed bits of land in the countryside with hedges around them. The field concept was introduced into science by Farraday who borrowed it from the ordinary English usage of the word field—the primary use of which is agricultural. It has to do with a region of land. The most general definition of field is a region of influence, a region of activity.
So thinking of the fields of places on the one hand makes it easy to understand traditions of geomancy, which are ways of understanding the relations of different parts of a place in terms of its field. It also enables us to think in terms of the memory of places. The place itself can have a memory. There can also be a memory through going to a place. You are in the same environment other people have been in before so you can tune into the collective memory of other people in that place. Therefore there are two senses in which places can have memories: through the human collective experience in that place and through the memory in the place itself.
Now, this concept makes a lot of sense of beliefs found all over the world. For example, it is believed in most parts of the world that certain places are haunted, that there are ghosts or spirits in those places because of bad things that have happened there in the past. Ghosts are a kind of memory, if you like, of what has happened there. It is also believed that certain places can have a positive effect through what has happened there. These are holy places, where great men or women have been born or enlightened, or where many people have prayed, as in the great cathedrals of Europe, the great temples of Asia, and so on.
And these sacred places are traditionally, all around the world, places of pilgrimage. The Australian Aborigines with their song lines, the American Indians with their power places, the medieval Europeans with their great networks of pilgrimage all over Europe—all were relating to the spirit of places through a basic human tendency, this tendency to go on pilgrimage to places of power because of the memory and the power in that place.
Almost the only societies where pilgrimage has not happened are the Protestant societies of northern Europe. Pilgrimage was suppressed in the Protestant Reformation in England and elsewhere because it was identified as being essentially pagan by the reformers. I think they were right to see it as pagan in its roots. However, they were wrong to see it as something contrary to the spirit of religion. And I think that this suppression of pilgrimage has a great relevance to us today. Pilgrimage is such a basic instinct, it could not be suppressed for long. And within a few generations the English had invented tourism.
Tourism is best understood as a form of secularized pilgrimage. Tourists, you see, go to the great sacred places of the past, the cathedrals, the temples, the holy mountain, the pyramids, Stonehenge, and so on. But because they are modern people who think they have risen above superstition and that kind of thing—because they are rational, educated and modern—they are alienated from the places they go to. They can not kneel down and say a prayer, or light a candle in a cathedral. They can not do a puja in a Hindu temple. They can not invoke the gods or the goddesses, or the patron saints of the place, because that would be superstitious. So instead they have to pretend they are going to these places for educational reasons and are primarily interested in some figures about the place.
Well, this is a profoundly ambiguous activity. If they really did not feel anything about the power of the place, they would stay at home. Yet people are drawn to these places. In fact in England we call them "tourist attractions," and people come there because of the power of the place. When they arrive, they can not relate to the place adequately because the mechanistic theory of Nature first of all treats Nature as entirely lacking in any sacred power. There is nothing sacred in a mechanical world. Second, there is nothing animate. It is seen as some primitive animism to relate to places in this way.
If we recover instead a sense of the life of Nature, the life of the Earth, we can see that we can recover this sense not only theoretically, as I have been describing in this article, we can also recover it through a variety of actual practices. What follows is just one of the ways that we can recover a sense of the sacredness of the Earth. I suggest that one of the paradigm shifts that could make a big difference in the way we relate to the Earth is a very simple one—the shift from tourism to pilgrimage. If only a small percentage of the tourists would go as pilgrims, then the whole world would be linked up by networks of pilgrimage encompassing the sacred places of each country in the world. Already people are going there; already the infrastructure is in place to get people there. I believe that this would be one of the ways that this new paradigm, this new spirit, could be expressed in practice in our own lives.
Recovering Nature's Aliveness Essential For Our Survival
These ideas, you see, are part of a more general move, as I mentioned, towards a recovery of the sense of our life in a living world—Nature as alive. The morphic resonance idea as a scientific hypothesis has to be tested by the methods of science, but it is part of a more general movement of the recovery of the sense of the life of Nature. Regardless of whether morphic resonance turns out to be right or wrong, I believe that this sense of the life of Nature is absolutely essential for coming into a better relationship with the environment, on which we depend. In fact I think these changes in ideas are probably essential for our very survival.