Part I: Mmd, Memory, and Archetype Morphic Resonance and the
Rupert Sheldrake is a theoretical biologist whose book, A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (Tarcher, 1981) evoked a storm of controversy. Nature described it as “the best candidatefor burn- ing, ” while the New Scientist called it “an important scientific inquiry into thenatureofbiologicalandphysicalreality.” Becausehisworkhasimpor- tant implicationsfor Jung’s conceptsofthe archetypeand the collectiveun- conscious, we have invited Sheldrake to present his views in a series offour essays which will appear in successive issues of PsYcHoLoGicAL PERSPEC- TIVES. These essays will be updates of his presentation on “Morphic ResonanceandtheCollectiveUnconscious,” whichhegaveinMayof1986 at the Human Relations Institute in Santa Barbara. Audio recordings were made by Alpha Omega Cassette Enterprises of Pasadena, California.
In this essay, I am going to discuss the concept of collective memory as a background for understanding Jung’s concept of the collective uncon- scious. The collective unconscious only makes sense in the context of some notion of collective memory. This then takes us into a very wide-ranging
examination of the nature and principle of memory-not just in human beings and not just in the animal kingdom; not even just in the realm of life-but in the universe as a whole. Such an encompassing perspective is part of a very profound paradigm shift that is taking place in science: the shift from the mechanistic to an evolutionary and wholistic world view.
The Cartesian mechanistic view is, in many ways, still the predominant paradigm today, especially in biology and medicine. Ninety percent of biol- ogists would be proud to tell you that they are mechanistic biologists. Although physics has moved beyond the mechanistic view, much of our thinking about physical reality is stil1 shaped by it-even in those of us who would like to believe that we have moved beyonh this frame of thought. Therefore, I will briefly examine some of the fundamental assumptions of
the mechanistic world view in order to show how it is still deeply embedded in the way that most of us think.
It is interesting that the roots of the 17th-century mechanistic world view can be found in ancient mystical religion. Indeed, the mechanistic view was a synthesis of two traditions of thought, both of which were based on the mystical insight that reality is timeless and changeless. One of these tra- ditions stems from Pythagoras and Plato, who were both fascinated by the eternal truths of mathematics. In the 17th century, this evolved into a view that nature was governed by timeless ideas, proportions, principles, or laws that existed within the mind of God. This world view became dominant and, through philosophers and scientists suchasCopernicus, Kepler, Descartes, Galileo and Newton, it was incorporated into the foundations of modern physics.
Basically, they expressed the idea that numbers, proportions, equa- tions, and mathematical principles are more real than the physical world we experience. Even today, many mathematicians incline toward this kind of Pythagorean or Platonic mysticism. They think of the physical world as a reification of mathematical principles, as a reflection of eternal numerical and mathematical laws. This view is alien to the thinking of most of us, who view the physical world as the “real” world and consider mathematical equations a man-made, and possibly inaccurate, description of that “real” world. Nevertheless, this mystical view has evolved into the currently predominant scientific viewpoint that nature is governed by eternal, change- less, immutable, omnipresent laws. The laws of nature are everywhere and always.
The second view of changelessness which emerged in the 17th century stemmed from the atomistic tradition of materialism, which began in the fifth century B.C. The atomists addressed an issue which, even then, was already deep-rooted in Greek thought: namely, the concept of a changeless reality. Parmenides, a pre-Socratic philosopher, had the idea that only being is;not-being is not. If somethingis,it can’t change because, in order to change, it would have to combine being and not-being, which was impos-
Mind, Memory & Archetype 11
sible. Therefore, he concluded that reality is a homogenous, changeless sphere. Unfortunately for Parmenides, the world we experience is not homogenous, changeless, or spherical. In order to preserve his theory, Par- menides claimed that the world we experience is a delusion. This wasn’t a very satisfactory solution, and thinkers of the time tried to find a way to resolve this dilemma.
The atomists’ solution was to claim that reality consists of a large number of homogenous, changeless spheres (or particles): the afoms. Instead of one big changeless sphere, there are a great many small, change- less spheres moving in the void. The changing appearances of the world could then be explained in terms of the movements, permutations, and com- binations of the atoms. This is the original insight of materialism: that real- ity consisted of eternal atomic matter and the movement of matter.
The combination of this materialistic tradition with the Platonic tra- dition finally gave rise to the mechanical philosophy which emerged in the 17th century and produced a cosmic dualism that has been with us ever since. On the one hand we have eternal atoms of inert matter; and on the other hand, we have changeless, non-material laws which are more like idem than physical, material things. In this kind of dualism, both sides are changeless-a belief that does not readily suggest the idea of an evolution- ary universe. In fact, physicists have been very adverse to accepting the idea of evolution precisely because it fits so poorly with the notion of eternal matter and changelesslaws. In modern physics, matter is now seenasa form of energy; eternal energy has replaced eternal matter, but little else has changed.
Nevertheless, the evolutionary paradigm has been gaining ground steadily for the past two centuries. In the 18th century, social, artistic, and scientific developments were generally viewed as a progressive and evolu- tionary process. The Industrial Revolution made this viewpoint an economic reality in parts of Europe and America. By the early 191h century there were a number of evolutionary philosophies and, by the 1840’s, the evolution- ary social theory of Marxism had been publicized. In this context of social and cultural evolutionary theory, Darwin proposed his biological theory of evolution which extended the evolutionary vision to the whole of life. Yet this vision was not extended to the entire universe: Darwin and the neo-
I2 Psychological Perspectives
Darwinians ironically tried to fit the evolution of life on earth into a static universe, or even worse, a universe which was actually thought to be “run- ning down” thermodynamically, heading toward a “heat death.”
Everything changed in 1966 when physics finally accepted an evolu- tionary cosmology in which the universe was no longer eternal. Instead, the universe originated in a Big Bang about 15 billion years ago and has evolved ever since. So we now have an evolutionary physics. But we have to remem- ber that this evolutionary physics is only just over 20 years old, and the implications and consequences of the Big Bang discovery are not yet fully
Physics is only just beginning to adapt itself to this new view, which,
as we have seen, challenges the most fundamental assumption of physics since the time of Pythagoras: the idea of eternal laws. As soon as we have an evolving universe, we are confronted with the question: what about the eternal laws of nature? Where were the laws of nature before the Big Bang? If the laws of nature existed before the Big Bang, then it’s clear that they are nonphysical; in fact, they are metaphysical. This forces out into the open the metaphysical assumption that underlay the idea of eternal laws all along.
There is an alternative, however. The alternative is that the universe is more like an organism than a machine. The Big Bang recalls the mythic stories of the hatching of the cosmic egg: it grows, and as it grows it under- goes an internal differentiation that is more like a gigantic cosmic embryo than the huge eternal machine of mechanistic theory. With this organic alternative, it might make sense to think of the laws of nature as more like habits; perhaps the laws of nature are habits of the universe, and perhaps the universe has an in-built memory.
About 100 years ago the American philosopher, C. S . Pierce, said that if we took evolution seriously, if we thought of the entire universe asevolv- ing, then we would have to think of the laws of nature as somehow likened to habits. This idea was actually quite common, especially in America; it was espoused by William James and other American philosophers, and was quite widely discussed at the end of the last century. In Germany, Nietzsche went so far as to suggest that the laws of nature underwent natural selec- tion: perhaps there were many laws of nature at the beginning, but only the
Mind, Memory & Archetype 13
successful laws survived; therefore, the universe we see has laws which have evolved through natural selection.
Biologists also moved toward interpreting phenomena in terms of habit. The most interesting such theorist was English writer Samuel Butler, whose most important books on this theme were Life undHabir (1878) and Unconscious Memory (1881). Butler contended that the whole of life involved inherent unconscious memory; habits, the instincts of animals, the way in which embryos develop, all reflected a basic principle of inherent memory within life. He even proposed that there must be an inherent memory in atoms, molecules, and crystals. Thus, there was this period of time at the end of the last century when biology was viewed in evolution- ary terms. It is only since the 1920’s that mechanistic thinking has come to have a stranglehold upon biological thought.
The hypothesis of formative causation, which is the basis of my own work, starts from the problem of biological form. Within biology, there has been a long-standing discussion of how to understand the way embryos and organisms develop. How do plants grow from seeds? How do embryos develop from fertilized eggs? This is a problem for biologists; it’s not really a probiem for embryos and trees, which just do it! However, biologists find it difficult to find a causal explanation for form. In physics, in some sense the cuuse equals the effect. The amount of energy, matter, and momentum before a given change equals the amount afterwards. The cause is contained in the effect and the effect in the cause. However, when we are consider- ing the growth of an oak tree from an acorn, there seems to benosuch equivalence of cause and effect in any obvious way.
In the 17th century, the main mechanistic theory of embryology was simply that the oak tree was contained within the acorn: inside each acorn there was a miniature oak tree which inflated as the oak tree grew. This theory was quite widely accepted, and it was the one most consistent with the mechanistic approach, as understood at that time. However, ascritics rapidly pointed out, if the oak tree is inflated and that oak tree itself produces acorns, the inflatable oak tree must contain inflatable acorns which contain inflatable oak trees, od infinitum. ,
If, on the other hand, more form came from less form (the technical name for which is epigenesis),then where does the moreform come from?
I4 Psychological Perspectives
How did structures appear that weren’t there before? Neither Platonists nor Aristotelians had any problem with this question. The Platonists said that the form comes from the Platonic archetype: if there is an oak tree, then there is an archetypal form of an oak tree, and all actual oak trees are simply reflections of this archetype. Since this archetype is beyond space and time, there is no need to have it embedded in the physical form of the acorn. The Aristotelians said that every species has its own kind of soul, and the soul is the form of the body. The body is in the soul, not the soul in the body. The soul is the form of the body and is around the body and contains the goal of development (which is formally called enielechy). An oak free soul contains the eventual oak free.
IS DNA A GENETIC PROGRAM?
However, a mechanistic world view denies animism in all its forms; it denies the existence of the soul and of any nonmaterial organizing prin- ciples. Therefore, mechanists have to have some kind of preformationism. At the end of the 19th century, German biologist August Weismann’s theory of the germ-plasm revived the idea of preformationism; Weissman’s theory placed “determinants,” which supposedly gave rise to the organism, inside the embryo. This is the ancestor of the present idea of genetic programming, which constitutes another resurgence of preformationism in a modern guise.
As we will see, this model does not work very well. The genetic pro- gram is assumed to be identical with DNA, the genetic chemical. The genetic information is coded in DNA and this code forms the genetic program. But such a leap requires projecting onto DNA properties that it does not actu- ally possess. We know what DNA does: it codes for proteins; it codes for the sequence of amino acids which form proteins. However, there is a big difference between coding for the structure of a protein-a chemical con- stituent of the organism-and programming the development of an entire organism. It is the difference between making bricks and building a house out of the bricks. You need the bricks to build the house. If you have defec- tive bricks, the house will be defective. But the plan of the house is not con- tained in the bricks, or the wires, or the beams, or cement.
Analogously, DNA only codes for the materials from which the body is constructed: the enzymes, the structural proteins, and so forth. There is no evidence that it also codes for the plan, the form, the morphology of the body. To see this more clearly, think of your arms and legs. The form of
Mind,Memory & Archetype 15
the arms and legs is different; it’s obvious that they have a different shape from each other. Yet the chemicals in the arms and legs are identical. The muscles are the same, the nerve cells are the same, the skin cells are the same, and the DNA is the same in all the cells of the arms and legs. In fact, the DNA is the same in all the cells of the body. DNA alone cannot explain the difference inform; something else is necessary to explain form.
In current mechanistic biology, this is usually assumed to depend on what are called “complex patterns of physio-chemical interaction not yet fully understood.” Thus the current mechanistic theory is not an explana- tion but merely the promise of an explanation. It is what Sir Karl Popper has called a “promissory mechanism”; it involves issuing promissory notes against future explanations that do not yet exist. As such, it is not really an objective argument; it is merely a statement of faith.
The question of biological development, of morphogenesis, is actu- ally quite open and is the subject of much debate within biology itself. An alternative to the mechanist/reductionist approach, which has been around since the 1920s, is the idea of morphogenetic (form-shaping) fields. In this model, growing organisms are shaped by fields which are both within and around them, fields which contain, as it were, the form of the organism. This is closer to the Aristotelian tradition than to any of the other traditional approaches. As an oak tree develops, the acorn is associated with an oak tree field, an invisible organizing structure which organizes the oak tree’s development; it is like an oak tree mold, within which the developing organism grows.
One fact which led to the development of this theory is the remark- able ability organisms have to repair damage. If you cut an oak tree into little pieces, each little piece, properly treated, can grow into a new tree. So from a tiny fragment, you can get a whole. Machines do not do that; they do not have this power of remaining whole if you remove parts of them. Chop a computer up into small pieces and all you get is a broken computer. It does not regenerate into lots of little computers. But if you chop a flat- worm into small pieces, each piece can grow into a new flatworm. Another analogy is a magnet. If you chop a magnet into syall pieces, you do have lots of small magnets, each with a complete magnetic field. This is a wholis- tic property that fields have that mechanical systems do not have unless they
I6 Psychological Perspectives
are associated with fields. Still another example is the hologram, any part of which contains the whole. A hologram is based on interference patterns within the electromagnetic field. Fields thus have a wholistic property which was very attractive to the biologists who developed this concept of mor- phogenetic fields.
Each species has its own fields, and within each organism there are fields within fields. Within each of us is the field of the whole body; fields for arms and legs and fields for kidneys and livers; within are fields for the different tissues inside these organs, and then fields for the cells, and fields for the subcellular structures, and fields for the molecules, and so on. There is a whole series of fields within fields. The essence of the hypothesis I am proposing is that these fields, which are already accepted quite widely within biology, have a kind of in-built memory derived from previous forms of a similar kind. The liver field is shaped by the forms of previous livers and the oak tree field by the forms and organization of previous oak trees. Through the fields, by a process called morphic resonance, the influence of like upon like, there is a connection among similar fields. That means that the field’s structure has a cumulative memory, based on what has happened to the species in the past. This idea applies not only to living organisms but also to protein molecules, crystals, even to atoms. In the realm of crystals,
for example, the theory would say that the form a crystal takes depends on its characteristic morphic field. Morphicfield is a broader term which in- cludes the fields of both form and behavior; hereafter, I shall use the word morphic field rather than rnorphogenetic.
If you make a new compound and crystallize it, there won’t be a morphic field for it the first time. Therefore, it may be very difficult to crys- tallize; you have to wait for a morphic field to emerge. The second time, however, even if you do this somewhere else in the world, there will be an influence from the first crystallization, and it should crystallize a bit more easily. The third time there will be an influence from the first and second, and so Oil. There will be a cumulative influence from previous crystals, so it should get easier and easier to crystallize the more often you crystallize it. And, in fact, this is exactly what does happen. Synthetic chemists find that new compounds are generally very difficult to crystallize. As time goes on, they generally get easier to crystallize all over the world. The conven-
Mind. Memory & Archetype 17
tional explanation is that this occurs because fragments of previous crystals are carried from laboratory to laboratory on beards of migrant chemists. When there have not been any migrant chemists, it is assumed that the frag- ments wafted through the atmosphere as microscopic dust particles.
Perhaps migrant chemists do carry fragments on their beards and perhaps dust particles do get blown around in the atmosphere. Neverthe- less, if one measures the rate of crystallization under rigorously controlled conditions in sealed vessels in different parts of the world, one should still observe an accelerated rate of crystallization. This experiment has not yet been done. But a related experiment involving chemical reaction rates of new synthetic processes is at present being considered by a major chemical company in Britain because, if these things happen, they have quite impor- tant implications for the chemical industry.
A NEW SCIENCE OF LIFE
There are quite a number of experiments that can be done in the realm of biological form and the development of form. Correspondingly, the same principles apply to behavior, forms of behavior and patterns of behavior. Consider the hypothesis that if you train rats to learn a new trick in Santa Barbara, then rats all over the world should be able to learn to do the same trick more quickly, just because the rats in Santa Barbara have learned it. This new pattern of learning will be, as it were, in the rat collective memory-in the morphic fields of rats, to which other rats can tune in, just because they are rats and just because they are in similar circumstances, by morphic resonance. This may seem a bit improbable, but either this sort of thing happens or if doesn’t.
Among the vast number of papers in the archives of experiments on rat psychology, there are a number of examples of experiments in which people have actually monitored rates of learning over time and discovered mysterious increases. Inmy book, A New ScienceofLife,I describe one such series of experiments which extended over a 50-year period. Begun at Harvard and then carried on in Scotland and Australia, the experiment demonstrated that rats increased their rate of learning more than tenfold. This was a huge effect-not some marginal statistically significant result. This improved rate of learning in identical learning situations occurred in these three separate locations and in all rats of the breed, not just in rats descended from trained parents.
18 Psychological Perspectives
There are other examples of the spontaneous spread of new habits in animals and birds which provide at least circumstantial evidence for the theory of morphic resonance. The best documented of these is the behavior of bluetits, a rather small bird with a blue head, that is common through- out Britain. Fresh milk is still delivered to the door each morning in Britain. Until about the 1950s, the caps on the milk bottles were made of cardboard. In 1921 in Southampton, a strange phenomenon was observed. When people came out in the morning to get their milk bottles, they found little shreds of cardboard all around the bottom of the bottle, and the cream from the top of the bottle had disappeared. Close observation revealed that this was being done by bluetits, who sat on top of the bottle, pulled off the card- board with their beaks, and then drank the cream. Several tragic cases were found in which bluetits were discovered drowned head first in the milk!
This incident caused considerable interest; then the event turned up somewhere else in Britain, about 50 miles away, and then somewhere about 100 miles away. Whenever the bluetit phenomenon turned up, it started spreading locally, presumably by imitation. However, bluetits are very home-loving creatures, and they don’t normally travel more than four or five miles. Therefore, the dissemination of the behavior over large distances
could only be accounted for in terms of an independent discovery of the habit. The bluetit habit was mapped throughout Britain until 1947, by which time it had become more or less universal. The people who did the study came to the conclusion that it must have been “invented” independently at least 50 times. Moreover, the rate of spread of the habit accelerated as time went on. In other parts of Europe where milk bottles are delivered to door- steps. such as Scandinavia and Holland, the habit also cropped up during the 1930s and spread in a similar manner. Here is an example of a pattern of behavior which was spread in a way which seemed to speed up with time, and which might provide an example of morphic resonance.
But there is still stronger evidence for morphic resonance. Because of the German occupation of Holland, milk delivery ceased during 1939-40. Milk deliveries did not resume until 1948. Since bluetits usually live only two to three years, there probably were no bluetits alive in 1948 w h o had been alive when milk was last delivered. Yet when milk deliveries resumed in
1948, the opening of milk bottles by bluetits sprang up rapidly in quite separate places in Holland and spread extremely rapidly until, within a year
Mind, Memory di Archetype 19
or two, it was once again universal. The behavior spread much more rapidly and cropped up independently much more frequently the second time round than the first time. This example demonstrates the evolutionary spread of a new habit which is probably not genetic but rather depends on a kind of collective memory due to morphic resonance.
I am suggesting that heredity depends not only on DNA, which enables organisms to build the right chemical building blocks-the proteins-but also on morphic resonance. Heredity thus has two aspects: one a genetic heredity, which accounts for the inheritance of proteins through DNA’s control of protein synthesis; the second a form of heredity based on morphic fields and morphic resonance, which is nongenetic and which is inherited directly from past members of the species. This latter form of heredity deals with the organization of form and behavior.
The differences and connections between these two forms of heredity become easier to understand if we consider an analogy to television. Think of the pictures on the screen as the form that we are interested in. If you didn’t know how the form arose, the most obvious explanation would be that there were little people inside the set whose shadows you were seeing on the screen. Children sometimes think in this manner. If you take the back offthe set, however, and look inside, you find that there are no little people. Then you might get more subtle and speculate that the little people are microscopic and are actually inside the wires of the TV set. But if you look at the wires through a microscope, you can’t find any little people there either.
You might get still more subtle and propose that the little people on the screen actually arise through “complex interactions among the parts of thesetwhicharenotyetfullyunderstood.” Youmightthinkthistheorywas proved if you chopped out a few transistors from the set. The people would disappear. If you put the transistors back, they would reappear. This might provide convincing evidence that they arose from within the set entirely on the basis of internal interaction.
Suppose that someone suggested that the pictures of little people come from outside the set, and the set picks up the pichres as a result of invisi- ble vibrations to which the set is attuned. This would probably sound like
20 Psychological Perspectives
a very occult and mystical explanation. You might deny that anything is coming into the set. You could even “prove it” by weighing the set switched offand switched on; it would weigh the same. Therefore, you could con- clude that nothing is coming into the set.
I think that is the position of modern biology, trying to explain every- thing in terms of what happens inside. The more explanations forform are looked for inside, the more elusive the explanations prove to be, and the more they are ascribed to ever more subtle and complex interactions, which always elude investigation. As I am suggesting. the forms and patterns of behavior are actually being tuned into by invisible connections arising ouf- side the organism. The development of form is a result of both the inter- nal organization of the organism und the interaction of the morphic fields to which it is tuned.
Genetic mutations can affect this development. Again think of the TV set. If we mutate a transistor or a condenser inside the set, you may get dis- torted pictures or sound. But this does not prove that the pictures and sound are programmed by these components. Nor does it prove that form and be- havior are programmed by genes; if we find there are alterations in form and behavior as a result of genetic mutation.
There is another kind of mutation which is particularly interesting. Imagine a mutation in the tuning circuit of your set, such that it alters the resonant frequency of the tuning circuit. Tuning your TV depends on a resonant phenomenon; the tuner resonates at the same frequency as the fre- quency of the signal transmitted by the different stations. Thus tuning dials are measured in herfr, which is a measure of frequency. Imagine a muta- tion in the tuning system such that you tune to one channel and a differ- ent channel actually appears. You might trace this back to a single condenser or a single resistor which had undergone a mutation. But it would not be valid to conclude that the new programs you are seeing. the different people, the different films and advertisements, are programmed inside the com- ponent that has changed. Nor does it prove that form and behavior are programmed in the DNA when genetic mutations lead to changes in form and behavior. The usual assumption is that if you can show something alters as a result of a mutation, then that must be programmed by, or controlied by, or determined by, the gene. I hope this TV analogy makes it clear that that is not the only conclusion. It could be that it is simply affecting the tuning system.
A NEWTHEOROYF EVOLUTION
A great deal of work is being done in contemporary biological research on such “tuning” mutations (formally called homoeotic mutations). The animal most used in the investigations is Drosophila, the fruitfly. A whole range of these mutations have been found which produce various monstrosi- ties. One kind, called untennupediu, leads to the antennae being transformed into legs. The unfortunate flies, which contain just one altered gene, produce legs instead of antennae growing out of their heads. There is another mutation which leads to the second of the three pairs of legs in the
Drosophila being transformed into antennae. Normally flies have one pair of wings and, on the segment behind the wings, are small balancing organs called halteres. Still another mutation leads to the transformation of the seg- ment normally bearing the halteres into a duplicate of the first segment, so that these flies have four wings instead of two. These are called bithorux mutants.
All of these mutations depend on single genes. I propose that some- how these single gene mutations are changing the tuning of a part of the embryonic tissue, such that it tunes into a different morphic field than it normally does, and so a different set of structures arise, just like tuning into a different channel on TV.
One can see from these analogies how both genetics and morphic resonaiice are involved in heredity. Of course, a new theory of heredity leads to a new theory of evolution. Present-day evolutionary theory is based on the assumption that virtually all heredity is genetic. Sociobiology and neo- Darwinism in all their various forms are based on gene selection, gene fre- quencies, and so forth. The theory of morphic resonance leads to a much broader view which allows one of the great heresies of biology once more to be taken seriously: namely, the idea of the inheritance of acquired charac- teristics. Behaviors which organisms learn, or forms which they develop, can be inherited by others even if they are not descended from the original organisms-by morphic resonance.
A NEWCONCEPOTF MEMORY
When we consider memory, this hypothesis leads to a very different approach from the traditional one. The key conept of morphic resonance is that similar things influence similar things across both space and time. The
Mind, Memory & Archetype 21
22 Psychological Perspectives
amount of influence depends on the degree of similarity. Most organisms are more similar to themselves in the past than they are to any other organ- ism. I am more like me five minutes ago than I am like any of you; all of us are more like ourselves in the past than like anyone else. The same is true of any organism. This self-resonance with past states of the same organism in the realm of form helps to stabilize the morphogenetic fields, to stabi- lize the form of the organism, even though the chemical constituents in the cells are turning over and changing. Habitual patterns of behavior are also tuned into by the self-resonance process. If I start riding a bicycle, for example, the pattern of activity of my nervous system and my muscles, in response to balancing on the bicycle, immediately tunes me in by similar- ity to all the previous occasions on which I have ridden a bicycle. The experience of bicycle riding is given by cumulative morphic resonance to all those past occasions. It is not a verbal or intellectual memory; it is a body
memory of riding a bicycle.
This would also apply to my memory of actual events: what I did
yesterday in Los Angeles or last year in England. When I think of these particular events, I am tuning into the occasions on which these events happened. There is a direct causal conneciion through a tuning process. IF this hypothesis is correct, it is not necessary to assume that memories are stored inside the brain.
All of us have been brought up on the idea that memories are stored in the brain; we use the word bruin interchangeably with mind or memory. I am suggesting that the brain is more like a tuning system than a memory storage device. One of the main arguments for the localization of memory in the brain is the fact that certain kinds of brain damage can lead to loss of memory. If the brain is damaged in a car accident and someone loses memory, then the obvious assumption is that memory tissue must have been destroyed. But this is not necessarily so.
Consider the TV analogy again. If I damaged your TV set so that you were unable to receive certain channels, or if I made the TV set aphasic by destroying the part of it concerned with the production of sound so that you could still get the pictures but could not get the sound, this would not prove that the sound or the pictures were stored inside the TV set. It would merely show that I had affected the tuning system so you could not pick up the cor-
Mind, Memory & Archetype 23
rect signal any longer. No more does memory loss due to brain damage prove that memory is stored inside the brain. In fact, most memory loss is temporary: amnesia following concussion, for example, is often temporary. This recovery of memory is very difficult to explain in terms of conventional theories: if the memories have been destroyed because the memory tissue has been destroyed, they ought not to come back again; yet they often do.
Another argument for the localization of memory inside the brain is suggested by the experiments on electrical stimulation of the brain by Wilder Penfield and others. Penfield stimulated the temporal lobes of the brains of epileptic patients and found that some of these stimuli could elicit vivid responses, which the patients interpreted as memories of things they had done in the past. Penfield assumed that he was actually stimulating memories which were stored in the cortex. Again returning to the TV analogy, if I stimulated the tuning circuit of your TV set and it jumped onto another channel, this wouldn’t prove the information was stored inside the tuning circuit. It is interesting that, in his last book, TheMysleryoffheMind, Pen- field himself abandoned the idea that the experiments proved that memory was inside the brain. He came to the conclusion that memory was not stored inside the cortex at all.
There have been many attempts to locate memory traces within the brain, the best known of which were by Karl Lashley, the great American neurophysiologist. He trained rats to learn tricks, then chopped bits of their brains out to determine whether the rats could still do the tricks. To his amazement, he found that he could remove over fifty percent of the brain–any SO%-and there would be virtually no effect on the retention of this learning. When he removed all the brain, the rats could no longer perform the tricks, so he concluded that the brain was necessary in some way to the performance of the task-which is hardly a very surprising con- clusion. What was surprising was how much of the brain he could remove without affecting the memory.
Similar results have been found by other investigators, even with inver- tebrates such as the octopus. This led one experimenter to speculate that memory was both everywhere and nowhere in particular. Lashley himself concluded that memories are stored in a distributed manner throughout the brain, since he could not find the memory traces which classical theory rcquired. His student, Karl Pribram, extended this,idea with the holographic theory of memory storage: memory is like a holographic image, stored as an interference pattern throughout the brain.
24 Psychological Perspectives
What Lashley and Pribram (at least in some of his writing) do not seem to have considered is the possibility that memories may nof be sfored inside fhebruin af all. The idea that they are not stored inside the brain is more consistent with the available data than either the conventional theories or the holographic theory. Many difficulties have arisen in trying to local- ize memory storage in the brain, in part because the brain is much more dynamic than previously thought. If the brain is to serve as a memory store- house, then the storage system would have to remain stable; yet it is now known that nerve cells turn over much more rapidly than was previously thought. All the chemicals in synapses and nerve structures and molecules are turning over and changing all the time. With a very dynamic brain, it is difficult to see how memories are stored.
There is also a logical problem about conventional theories of memory storage, which various philosophers have pointed .out. All conventional the- ories assume that memories are somehow coded and located in a memory store in the brain. When they are needed they are recovered by a retrieval system. This is called the coding, storage, and retrieval model. However, for a retrieval system to retrieve anything, it has to know what it wants to retrieve; a memory retrieval system has to know what memory it is look- ing for. It thus must be able to recognize the memory that it is trying to retrieve. In order to recognize it, the retrieval system itself must have some
kind of memory. Therefore, the retrieval system must have a sub-refrievul system to retrieve its memories from its store. This leads to an infinite regress. Several philosophers argue that this is a fatal, logical flaw in any conventional theory of memory storage. However, on the whole, memory theoreticians are not very interested in what philosophers say, so they do not bother to reply to this argument. But it does seem to me quite a powerful one.
In considering the morphic resonance theory of memory, we might ask: if we tune into our own memories, then why don’t we tune into other people’s as well? I think we do, and the whole basis of the approach I am suggesting is that there is a collective memory to which we are all tuned which forms a background against which our own experience develops and against which our own individual memories develop. This concept is very similar to the notion of the collective unconscious.