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Fields in Nature

To take a one week course with David Peat

In the spring of 1998 Earl Davis arranged a three day meeting so that Basil Hiley, Ervin Laszlo, Rupert Sheldrake and David Peat could discuss together in private and without feeling under any pressures to come to conclusions. The theme of the meeting was prompted by Davis's quest for a theoretical understanding of synchronicity and his conviction of its ultimate paradigmatic and social implications. Davis had chosen to participants to explore whether what appear to be the comment elements between their various ideas would lend themselves to a shared vocabulary or whether they would be found to be mutually exclusive and even competitive.

During the meeting each participant took time to present their ideas and respond to questions in an unhurried manner. The final day took more the form of a round-table discussion.

Sheldrake presented his hypothesis of formative causation. This includes the proposal that the growth of various forms in nature, from crystals to animals, as well as instincts and habits, are partially the result of fields that control their growth and development by means of morphic resonance. The fields themselves are initially built up though the repetition of forms and the growth of habits. (It is generally objected that, as regards the development of organisms, Sheldrake's fields are redundant and everything can be explained by the "blueprint" of DNA. Sheldrake would argue that while it is true that DNA controls the switching on and off of protein synthesis in cells, to attribute everything to DNA is like suggesting that the final form of an automobile is determined by the schedule whereby the raw materials arrive at the factory!)

Laszlo has also produced a theory in which the quantum vacuum state becomes a carrier of information. An inclusion of the interfering scalar wavefronts generated in the vacuum in the presence of quantized particles completes the concept of an electromagnetic zero-point field responsible, in the light of recent work, for inertia and gravitation, with a complex ZPF endowed with both electromagnetic and scalar waves. According to Laszlo, such a field is capable of conveying information over finite distances at supraluminal velocities and can account for quantum non-locality as well as anomalous (quasi-instant) interconnections amongst organisms and minds. In turn, the brain is able is access the information content of this field. In this way a variety of phenomena such as precognition and telepathy can be explained.

Hiley was a long-term collaborator of David Bohm. Their explorations of the conceptual difficulties that arise in attempting to understand the quantum formalism convinced them that a coherent explanation based on the traditional Cartesian Order was not possible. By Cartesian Order they meant that physical processes should be explained in terms of a 'single-view reality' based on local, causal relations in space-time using either particles-in-interaction or fields-in-interaction. Bohm proposed a radically new notion, the Implicate Order. This order recognized that the essential wholeness of quantum phenomena demanded an explanation based on the notion of 'process', not a process in space-time but a process from which space-time itself was to be abstracted. Furthermore it was not a 'single-view reality' but required sets of 'explicate' orders. These orders were enfolded in the implicate order and any given order could be made manifest by an appropriate act of participation, a feature demanded by the wholeness of the phenomena.

While the primary motivations of the new order came from quantum phenomena, it also opens up the possibility for including an explanation of mind and consciousness. It provides a conceptual structure required by neutral monism. Certain aspects of this approach suggested a similarity with Sheldrake's proposals based on the notion of 'morphic resonance,' which was explored during the meeting. Also the notion of 'pre-space' introduced in the implicate order approach opened up the possibility of a connection to Laszlo's views on the vacuum state which was also discussed.

Peat's view was that fundamental structuring principles may be common to both matter and psyche. One criterion of such principles could, perhaps, be called "clinging to form" or the persistence of order. While a variety of field theories had been applied in psychology to explain, for example, the deep link between therapist and patient Peat was reluctant to attribute these to what could be called an exclusively causal, material or local level, even the term "field" has perhaps too many associations from the physical science to be truly appropriate to psychic experience. On the other hand he was willing to admit that such underlying structural experiences do at times appear to manifest themselves in what could almost be described as a "field", or cloud of influence, that exists within a particular region of time and space between two people.

Do each of these theories represent a radically different position, Earl Davis asked, or are there points of connection and a common ground between the participants?

The three days were stimulating and cordial, although no final statement or overview emerged. My own feeling was that for much of the time we were seeking connections though the barriers of language and methodology. For example, the term "field" is congenial to some psychotherapists and some biologists. However, physicists would generally feel that, in these contexts, it is being misused and misunderstood. "Fields" are the descendents of Maxwell's electromagnetic theory and carry a heavy resonance with classical physics. They are defined on a continuous space time using local coordinates. What seems to be required by the biologists and therapists is something with a non-local quality - a non-local connection if you like.

Peat was asked to comment on the way these ideas could relate to psychological phenomena such as the deep connection between patient and therapist. For his part he felt that it was important to hold on to the vivid nature of the experiences themselves and not rush too quickly to closure via some theory or physical explanation. Yet clearly questions of meaning are being investigated in both psychology and physics. A continued dialogue along these lines is of obvious importance.

And what about the building up of "habits" in biological systems. Does anything similar exist in physics? Maybe it does, maybe the nature of the fundamental constants, and even the "laws of nature", are "habits" that formed during the earliest stages of the universe and have since become totally fixed.

By the end of the meeting connections seemed to have been made. Laszlo wrote up a further version of his theory for publication. Peat and Sheldrake planned to write a joint paper exploring the notion of "habits" in biology and physics and Hiley expressed his willingness to look over the paper and make additions.

Clearly this discussion is worth continuing, both as an exploration of common ground within speculative ideas, and as an act of translation across the boundaries that exist between disciplines.

Contact F. David Peat