Morphic Fields and the Edifice of Thought
Recently, Antonio Dias employed a phrase that I quite like: “the Edifice of Thought”. The painstakingly constructed modern edifice of thought now rests upon some pretty wobbly foundations — the metaphysical assumptions of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm that have now become very dubious and uncertain. Chief among these dubious assumptions is metaphysical dualism, or what is called “the mind-body problem”, which has become a major impediment to our resolving many of the crises of Late Modernity.
So, what Jacob Bronowski refers to as the “crisis of paradox” in his lectures on The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination very much affects the entirety of this “edifice of thought”. As Nietzsche also put it, invoking Heraclitus, this whole edifice of modern thought has been erected upon running water.
The conceit that the mind somehow existed in some different space of timeless abstraction and was as if outside our spacetime reality looking in wasn’t even credible in its own day. But since quantum mechanics has emerged to challenge the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm, it can no longer even be considered a sane assumption. But there are many people who still cleave to this anachronistic and obsolete paradigm, even if unconsciously, and as if life, the universe, and everything depended upon it. We will call this Cartesian mind, “the mind of timeless abstraction” or what was also called “Universal Reason” or “Pure Reason”. This is also what is implied in Kipling’s “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”.
Since Einstein’s achievement of spacetime integration, at least, this pretense and conceit about the mind has become unsustainable. We are embedded in the spacetime matrix or field and not outside of it looking in. Quantum mechanics especially has had to struggle with the implications of this in the so-called “Measurement Problem” or observer effects. That is to say, the real facts of our embodiedness and embeddedness within a field or milieu which is actually a part of us has also created a crisis for the “edifice of thought”. Consciousness is involved and implicated in the whole spacetime field, or matrix, or milieu, and this whole spacetime field is also involved or implicated or “entangled” with us, which has given rise to the field theory and the idea of the co-evolution of cosmos and consciousness.
So, Cartesian mind-body dualism is bust, and the whole edifice of thought that was erected upon that assumption is crumbling. And yet there are still many who still do not get it, or what this grand “edifice of thought” erected upon these dubious keystone assumptions over the last 400 years has become unsupportable. Not only does it no longer even make much sense to speak of “the mind body problem” because the paradigm shift also involves a shift to speaking rather in terms of energy and information and not mind and matter.
Energy and information — now we are into the Big League stuff!
So, I’m still rather astonished to see theories like Rupert Sheldrake’s “Morphic Field” theories dismissed as junk science or “pseudo-science”, which seems to be the favoured Cartesian objection to any kind of non-Cartesian logic. The fundamentals of Sheldrake’s Morphic Field theory are quite sound, though Sheldrake may go beyond what empirical and experimental data can presently corroborate. But Field Theories of every kind definitely non-Cartesian (or “perspectivist”) and do not conform to the Newtonian-Cartesian logic or paradigm which Blake rightly dismissed as “Single Vision”.
That is not to say that there are truly things called “pseudo-science” that belong to superstition and not science, but the whole mind-body dualism thing was itself a superstition to begin with. But just because something relies upon non-Cartesian modes of thought does not make it “pseudo-science”. That is sometimes just the judgement of old reactionaries who cannot fathom that effective reality may actually be non-Cartesian.
So let’s re-examine this idea of “Morphic Fields” because all kinds of field theory have emerged as a logical consequence of Einstein’s spacetime integration.
Carl Sagan once quipped that a recipe for apple pie must begin with “first create a Universe”. Nothing illogical about that. But not just any kind of universe. It has to be a cosmos so finely structured that it allows for the existence of creatures like us who can make apple pies. This is sometimes referred to broadly as “The Anthropic Principle” — that the structure of spacetime and the four fundemental cosmic forces of gravitation, electro-magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces must be so fine-tuned as to allow any form at all to exist, including the Earth and its life-forms.
So, the entirety of this very finely tuned spacetime structure constitutes an enormous “morphic field”. You couldn’t even start your car in the morning without the cosmos as a whole being involved, because the initial conditions for anything to exist at all are built into the very structure of spacetime itself. It is formative of us, and the four fundamental cosmic forces are formative forces.
So we are, in effect, already highly integrated with this entire spacetime structure, and this entire spacetime structure is less a thing of matter than it is of energy and information. So, the entire spacetime system is one enormous singular field of energy and information, and that is another reason why quantum reality differs so radically from the Newtonian-Cartesian reality.
So, what’s difficult to understand about a morphic field? Only the decayed habits of a Cartesian mentality would find the idea of the cosmos as a morphic field queer.
Our bodies themselves are highly integrated with the Earth and its processes. The Earth itself is another morphic field in that respect, which is what Lovelock describes as “Gaia” or Howard Bloom calls the real “Global Brain”. The same elements and processes that constitute the Earth climate are the same elements and processes of the body. Life itself is a singular field called “the web of life” which is differentiated into seemingly endless numbers of morphs or forms we call specimens and species of life. And there are plenty of physicists today that will tell you that life and energy are exactly the same thing — what we call “vitality”. Some even insist that the whole universe is alive in some sense. (Buddhists have always insisted that it is — down to every atom).
Now, because the Cartesian conceit could no longer be sustained, we see some seemingly peculiar collaborations between physicists and students of consciousness: The fruitful Jung-Pauli dialogue as described by Arthur Miller in Deciphering the Cosmic Number (even Einstein reportedly once consulted with Jung). We see the friendship that existed between Jean Gebser and the physicist Werner Heisenberg, and more recently the David Bohm — Krishnamurti dialogues (or the Bohm-Dalai Lama dialogues), or the very fascinating Matthieu Ricard and the Trịnh Xuân Thuận dialogues in The Quantum and the Lotus. People who don’t understand the significance of these intersections and collaborations between cosmology and consciousness simply don’t understand the real depth of the “paradigm shift” underway.
The emergence of field theories of all kinds (including the Jungian “collective unconscious” which Sheldrake also identifies with his Morphic Field) attests to the emergence of holism. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” and “cross of reality” model also belongs to field theory. Epigenetics also belongs to field theory — the recognition that formative factors external to the genes also play a major role in genetic expression (a direct challenge to Dawkins). Field theory is implicated in the neurodynamics of Iain McGilchrist and his research into the modes of perception of the divided brain — the “Master” and “Emissary” mode. The “field” as fundamentally an flowing energy and information field is what neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor discovered in her “Stroke of Insight”. Another morphic field is just the entire socio-cultural milieu which shapes us by a kind of projective geometry, but which is very often invisible to us and which is another aspect of the Jungian “collective unconscious”. We are embedded in all kinds of “morphic fields” that continuously shape us.
We are already so highly integrated with the field — the Earth climate, the fine-tuned spacetime structure itself — that it is astonishing to me that anyone can actually deny it. These are just elementary truths, but what is called “Enlightenment” or “satori” or “cosmic consciousness” is simply wakening up from the slumber of egoism to the realisation that we are already very higly integrated with the entirety of the field, and this sense is also something that some cosmonauts also feel as the transformative “Overview Effect”.
The “culture of narcissism”, which may be the most defective and deficient form of the Cartesian error, has struck deep deep roots into the mental structures of Modern Man. And the whole “edifice of thought” that has been erected upon this unstable foundation and error is now a house of cards that threatens to tumble down completely and that’s also why there’s such a sense of apocalypticism in today’s mood. But, of course, the word “apocalypse” actually means revelation or disclosure or uncovering, which is why Gebser describes it as a “double-movement”.
So this paradigm shift, largely from point-of-view to overview and to the integral field concept, is a true metamorphosis. This is divergent awareness from a Cartesian to a post-Cartesian consciousness, or what Gebser calls the shift from perspectival to aperspectival perception and consciousness (Bohm calls aperspectival perception “proprioception”) and the “field” he calls the holomovent and the “implicate order”. Not much different at all from what Sheldrake calls a “morphic field” or from what Jung calls “collective unconscious”.
Do you also not think that this is absolutely astonishing ignorance that we don’t understand our own embodiedness and embeddness within a comprehensive whole of which we can become increasingly aware? That’s the problem of egoism and the culture of narcissism, though. And I’m afraid that to get over this, we’ll have to rely upon Max Planck’s formula for progresss in knowledge — mortality. “Science progresses funeral by funeral”. Revolutionaries are very often impatient and in a hurry in that respect.
So,, our situation in the present “chaotic transition” is quite simple to understand. Something new wants to be born. Something old is standing in its way. Sometimes this is in one and the same individual which gives rise to strange mental phenomena like cogntive dissonance or the issue of “symbolic belief”. The thing that wants to be born we call “holism” or “aperspectival consciousness” or “integral consciousness” or “post-Cartesian” or “Johannine Age” and so on. It goes by many names. The old that stands in its way is the modern “Edifice of Thought” and its foundational assumptions about identity, human nature, reality, which it considers “eternal verities”. Therefore, we speak of our times as “divergent”, and as crisis and crossroads.
It is something of a paradox (actually, Dante’s paradox) that the way to what we call “transcendence” is not escaping the spacetime matrix or our own “morphic fields” but to enter into it in full lucid awareness.
So, why would there be any doubt about “morphic fields” when the entire spacetime structure is such a morphic field? The entire Earth is another morphic field. So are our socio-cultural milieus or affairs like “the collective unconscious”, and we spend much of our existence, actually, trying to ensure that they harmonise with one another according to the principle “as above, so below”.
So “chaotic transition” is both, divergence and emergence and that’s the nature of our paradox and of the “double-movement”. Can’t really have the one without the other.
Now, what Sheldrake calls “morphic fields” correspond to Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” as also being “civilisational types” — of which he identifies four so far realised — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational structures. These are particular structures of space and time, energy and information. They aren’t “things” so much as processes of ascent (or organisation) and decline (or disorganisation). Right now the Modern “Edifice of Thought” is undergoing a stage of disorganisation. Morphic fields are energy and information, and the visible manifestation of a morphic field and its energy and information is the organisation we call a “civilisation”. Is it not the case after all that a “civilisation” or a “civilisational type” is a description of a particular way a collective organises energy and information? We are creatures that more or less consciously, and more or less skillfully, organise the energy and information at large in the universe into cultural patterns.
What could be simpler to understand?