In this book, which is less technical in style,
I place the hypothesis of formative causation in its broad
historical, philosophical, and scientific contexts, summarize
its main chemical and biological implications, and explore
its consequences in the realms of psychology, society, and
culture. I show how it points towards a new and radically
evolutionary understanding of ourselves and the world we
live in, an understanding which I believe is in harmony
with the modern idea that all nature is evolutionary.
The hypothesis of formative causation proposes that memory
is inherent in nature. In doing so, it conflicts with a
number of orthodox scientific theories. These theories grew
up in the context of the pre-evolutionary cosmology, predominant
until the 1960s, in which both nature and the laws of nature
were believed to be eternal. Throughout this book, I contrast
the interpretations provided by the hypothesis of formative
causation with the conventional scientific interpretations,
and show how these approaches can be test ed against each
other by a wide variety of experiments. Sheldrake begins
this essay with an interesting insight regarding the evolution
of Jung's and Freud's conceptions of the unconscious out
of the previous world view of Soul. He then explores a number
of provocative ideas about "mind extended in time and space"
that give us fresh perspectives on power, prayer, and consciousness.
We've all been brought up with the 17th century Cartesian
view that our minds are located inside our brains. In this
view, our minds are completely portable and can be carried
around wherever we go, packaged as they are inside our skulls.
Our minds, therefore, are essentially private entities associated
with the physiology of each of our nervous tissues. This
idea of the contracted mind, a mind which is not only rooted
in the brain but actually located in the brain, is an idea
that is so pervasive in our culture that most of us acquire
it at an early age. It is not just a philosophical theory
(although, of course, it is that); it is an integral part
of the materialistic view of reality.
SOUL, MIND, AND CONSCIOUSNESS
Our understanding of the concepts of mind and soul is
actually a question of how we define the word consciousness.
I prefer to view the attribute of consciousness as being
restricted to human beings and, perhaps, some of the higher
order of animals in which one could say there was some kind
of self consciousness. Much of the behavior which we consider
to be mentally organized, however, actually arises out of
unconscious processes. Riding bicycles with great skill,
for example, does not involve conscious memory; it does
not involve conscious thought. Bike riding utilizes a body
memory that involves a great deal of unconscious action
and doing. We acquire many complex skills on an unconscious
level skiing, swimming, piano playing, and so on.
Such learning is notoriously difficult to describe in
words because it does not involve conscious thought in the
normal pattern of thought as a directed intellectual activity.
A more useful concept that is difficult for us to use nowadays
because its meaning is obscure to most people is the concept
of the soul. In Aristotle's system, animals and plants had
their own kind of soul, as did nature as a whole. This was
the animistic view: the idea that there was an "anima" or
soul in all living things. (Inanimate matter did not have
a soul.) The very word animal, of course, comes from the
word anima, meaning soul: animals are beings with soul.
Actually, prior to the 17th century, it was believed that
all of nature, and the earth as a whole, had a soul; the
planets all had a soul. But the concept of soul was banished
by 17th century mechanistic science.
The older view of soul is, I think, a better concept than
that of consciousness. The word closest to it in modern
usage is mind. The modern usage of mind, however, is almost
identical with the word consciousness; mind incorrectly
implies consciousness. We then have to use the term, unconscious
mind, as Jung and Freud did. This usage has appeared to
be a contradiction in terms to the academic world, so they
have tended to reject it (and Jung's and Freud's conceptions
of it, as well). The concept of soul, however, does not
necessarily imply consciousness. The vegetative soul, which
is the kind of soul that organizes the embryo and the growth
of plants, was not viewed as functioning on a conscious
level. When we grow as embryos, we don't have any memory
of the process. We don't consciously think out, "the heart
comes here, and I know I'll develop a limb out there, teeth
here," and so forth. These things just seem to happen in
a way that is tacit, implicit, or unconscious but yet soul
like in the way they are organized.
Until the time of Descartes, three levels of soul were
conceived. The vegetative soul contained the form of the
body and governed embryology and growth; all animals and
plants were viewed as having it. Then there was the animal
soul, which concerned movement, behavior, instincts, and
so on; all animals as well as humans were seen as having
this level soul. Over and above the vegetative and animal
soul in human beings was the rational soul, which was experienced
as the more intellectual, conscious mind.
Descartes contended that there was no such thing as vegetative
or animal souls. All animals and plants were dead, inanimate
machines. The body itself was viewed as nothing more than
a machine. It did not have an animal soul governing unconscious
instincts and patterns. Those processes were entirely mechanical
in nature. The only kind of soul human beings had, on the
other hand, was the rational, conscious soul: "I think;
therefore I am." Thinking thus became the very model of
conscious activity or mental activity, and in this way,
Descartes restricted the concept of soul or spirit to the
conscious, thinking, rational portion of the mind, which
reached its highest pinnacle in the proofs of mathematics.
Descartes' perspective left us with the idea that the only
kind of consciousness worthy of the name was "rational consciousness"
especially mathematical, scientific consciousness. In a
sense, Descartes created the problem of the unconscious,
for within 50 years of his work, people started saying,
"Wait a minute, there's more to us than just this conscious
mind, because there are things that influence us that we
are not conscious of." Thus the idea of the unconscious
mind, which we generally regard as having been invented
by Freud, was actually invented again and again and again
after Descartes. By defining the mind as solely the conscious
part and defining everything else as dead or mechanical,
Descartes created a kind of void that demanded the reinvention
of the idea of the unconscious side of the mind (which everyone
before Descartes had simply taken for granted in the soul
concept). (There is an excellent book on this subject by
L.L. Whyte called The Unconscious before Freud, published
by Julian Friedman, London, 1979.)
The problem we are encountering now is that, having eliminated
the concept of soul in the 17th century, we are left with
concepts such as mind which are not really adequate for
what we mean. If we want to get closest to what people meant
by soul in the past, the modern concept of field is the
most accurate approximation. Prior to Isaac Newton's elucidation
of the laws of gravity, gravitational phenomena were explained
in terms of the anima mundi, the soul of the world or universe.
The soul of the world supposedly coordinated the movements
of the planets and stars and did al! the things that gravitation
did for Newton. Now from Einstein, we have the idea of space
time gravitational fields that organize the universe. In
this concept of fields one can see aspects of the anima
mundi (soul) as being of the universe. Souls were invisible,
nonmaterial, organizing principles. Fields, especially morphic
fields, are invisible, nonmaterial, organizing principles
that do most of the things that souls were believed to do.
MIND EXTENDED IN TIME AND SPACE
In Jean Piaget's book, The Child's Conception of the World,
he describes how by the age of about ten or eleven, children
learn what he calls the "correct view" that thoughts, images,
and dreams are invisible "things" located inside the brain.
Before that age they have the "incorrect view" (as do so-called
primitive people) that thoughts, images, and dreams happen
outside the brain.
The Cartesian view of the mind as being located in the
brain is so pervasive that all of us are inclined to speak
of our minds and brains as if they were interchangeable,
synonymous: "It's in my brain," rather than "it's in my
mind." In the 20's and 30's, various philosophers and psychologists,
particularly Koffka, Uhler, and Wertheimer of the Gestalt
school challenged this view.
I want to argue that our minds are extended in several
senses. In previous articles, we discussed how our minds
are extended in both space and time with other people's
minds, and with the group mind or cultural mind by way of
their connection to the collective unconscious. Insofar
as we tune into archetypal fields or patterns which other
people have had, which other social groups have had, and
which our own social group has had in the past, our minds
are much broader than the "things" inside our brains. They
extend out into the past and into social groupings to which
we are linked, either by ancestry or by cultural transmissions.
Thus, our minds are extended in time, and 't believe they
are also extended in space.
Throughout this article, I want to make a simple point
that is a very radical departure from traditional theory.
The traditional theory of perception is that light rays
reflected from objects travel through electromagnetic fields,
are focused by the lens of the retina, and thereby produce
an image on the retina. This triggers off electrical changes
in the receptor cells of the retina leading to nerve impulses
going up the optic nerve into the cerebral cortex. An image
of an object somehow springs into being inside my cerebral
cortex, and something or someone inside sees it. A "little
man in my brain" somehow sees this image in the cerebral
cortex and falsely imagines that the image is "out there,"
when, in fact, it is "in here." Personally, I find this
explanation extremely implausible. In my experience, my
image of an object is right where it seems to be: outside
of me. If I look out the window, my perceptual field is
not inside me but outside me. That is, the objects are indeed
outside me, and my perception of them is also outside me.
I'm suggesting that in our perceptual experience, the perceptual
fields extend all around us. While, as the traditional view
holds, there is an inward flow of light impulses which eventually
lead up to the brain, I also experience an outward projection
of the images from my mind. The images are projected out,
t and in normal perception, the projection out and the flow
in coincide, so that I see an image of an object where the
object really is located.
In hallucinatory types of perception, I can see images
whether they are there, in fact, or not. Consider "psychic
blindness": people can be hypnotized so that they no longer
see objects which are actually in their view. In such a
case of "psychic blindness," the inward flow is present
but not the outward projection. More normally, the movement
out and the movement in coincide with each other as part
of a coordinated process, creating a perceptual field that
embraces both the observer and the object.
This idea of the extended mind is a matter of common belief
in ancient and traditional societies. If this concept were
true, it would mean that we could influence things or people
just by looking at them. In India, for example, it is believed
that a person who either looks on a holy man, or is himself
looked on by the holy man, receives a great blessing. In
many parts of the world, including India, Greece, and the
Middle East, it is believed that if you look upon something
with the eye of envy - the "evil eye" - you therefore blight
it. People in many cultures still take great precautions
against this so-called evil eye. In India, it is considered
to be extremely unlucky for a childless woman to admire
a baby who belongs to another woman (whereas in our society,
this is merely good manners). This is because she is assumed
to be envious of the baby. Once a childless woman breaks
this taboo, rituals must be performed (such as making a
circle of salt around the baby and reciting various mantras)
to exorcise the harmful influence.
When new buildings go up in India, scarecrows are fixed
on the buildings; similarly, when there is a good crop of
wheat or rice, scarecrows are placed in the field. These
scarecrows are not intended to "scare away crows" literally,
but rather to attract the evil eye of people who might otherwise
blight the crop by looking upon it with envy. The scarecrows
act as "lightning conductors" because anything with a human
figure attracts the eye. The Indian people also put out
round pots with huge white spots stuck on sticks; the eyes
are drawn to the pots because the white spots took like
eyes. For similar reasons, people throughout the Middle
East wear talismans which contain eyes; in Egypt, the eye
of Horus serves a similar function. All this is done to
protect against the evil eye.
If we do affect things or people by looking at them, then
can people perceive when they are being looked at, even
when they cannot actually see some one looking at them.
In both realms of fictional literature and real-life experience,
many people claim to have had the experience of knowing
they were being watched and then turning round and seeing
someone staring at them. As undergraduates at Cambridge,
some of us had read a Rosicrucian advertisement about the
power of the mind. It said something about, "Try this simple
experiment: look at the back of someone's neck and see if
they will turn round after a few minutes." During boring
lectures we acted as suggested, and it often worked; we
found that we could fix our attention on the back of someone's
neck and after a minute or two, the person often looked
uncomfortable and turned round.
Although there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that
people sense when they are being watched, there is almost
no scientific investigation of this phenomenon. The entire
world literature on the subject that I've been able to find
consists of three papers: one written in 4896, the next
one in 1910, and a final paper in 1953. Two of the papers
show positive effects, although they were both done on very
small subject populations.
I've done some simple preliminary experiments over the
last few months in workshops. The way we conducted the experiment
was very simple. Four people volunteered and sat at one
end of the room, with their backs turned toward the audience.
We put each person's name on his or her back by way of identifying
them. Then, in a series of trials, I would hold up cards
in a random sequence containing the name of the person the
audience was to watch. For example, if I had selected "Tom,"
I would hold up a card reading, "Trial 1, Tom," and everyone
in the audience would stare at the back of Tom's neck for
fifteen seconds. At the end of each trial, all four subjects
would write down whether or not they thought they were being
looked at during that time period. At the end of the series
of trials, we compared when the volunteers thought they
were being looked at, with whether or not they really were
My results so far indicate that people vary tremendously
in their degree of sensitivity to being watched. In one
workshop I conducted in Amsterdam, there was a woman who
was 100 percent accurate; she knew each time she was being
watched. She was the best subject I've encountered. When
I asked if she knew why she had done so well, she said that
as a child she used to play this game with her brothers
and sisters. They practiced and she got very good at it;
she had volunteered because she was sure she'd still be
able to do it, even though she hadn't done it for 20 or
A friend of mine has been conducting this experiment in
one-on-one trials with friends and colleagues. In over 600
trials ping 65 - 70% of the time, which is statistically
significant. indicate that there is an outgoing influence
from the eyes or from the mind; perhaps mental influence
does extend beyond the boundaries of the physical body.
It has been suggested that this might be a telepathic rather
than a visual influence. There is a simple method of checking
that out. In some trials, the people doing the looking could
turn around so that they are facing away from the volunteers
and just think about the designated volunteer rather than
look at him or her. If there was greater effect when the
volunteers were actually being looked at than when they
were being thought about, then one could be type was functioning.
A variation of this experiment is to examine the effect
of distance on the perception of the subjects. Have the
person being looked at located at a considerable distance
from those looking at him (binoculars could be used) and
then see if the effect still works. If it does, then set
up trials using video or closed circuit television. Imagine
an experiment in which there were four people in a studio
(or even in different studios), with cameras running continuously,
and a randomized switching device so that the person being
looked at in each trial is randomly determined. Imagine
a typical television audience of millions of viewers. Now,
what if the subjects could distinguish when they were being
looked at by other people over television. There one would
have a massive, large-scale demonstration of extended mind
in a way that could be conclusive.
This format, too, could be extended. You could have people
looking at subjects in the Soviet Union via satellite linkups;
one could elaborate this pattern indefinitely. What happens
to actresses and actors, to prominent political figures,
when they are looked at by millions of people? Are they
affected by being in people's minds?
Large-scale experiments to test hypotheses could do more to
bring about a paradigm shift than any amount of lecturing
about the limitations of the mechanistic theory. Our perceptual
fields may reach far beyond our physical brains; when we look
at the stars, our minds may literally reach to the stars.
There may be almost no limit on how far this process can extend.