This is an excellent book, a hypothesis on an unconventional theory that just as well can be completely acknowledged as science, as many of the conventional science theories always started with unproven hypothesis, such as Newton's gravitational fields until proven at a later time. Quantum physics, relativity, and many other ideas are true science without fully documented mechanistically determined answers all tested in line with Karl Popper. If your a science reader and interested in biology, physics and evolution, then this book is a must to read. It is the conventionalists and those who are unable to allow a paradigm shift that have attacked this theory as pseudo science. This book is from 1981 and since then there have been more experiments regarding this theory and also Sheldrake has another book from 1995 on the same with more details called The Presence of the Past.
The theory consists of an addition to the chemical and physical properties of materialism, something in addition to the DNA code in random mutations and non-random natural selection, an additional force what many vitialists have always acknowledged; the idea of higher organizational states. And here it is the theory of morphogenetic fields and formative causation. The idea of morphogenetic fields first developed by embryologists such as Conrad Waddington and later mathematically by theoreticians such as Rene Thomas.
The ideas starts with no answer to what causes the first change, but continues with a theory as to subsequent developments. As each thought is created, enlarged, elaborated on, taught, as each experience develops a certain particular field in a particular person, animal, and all organic and inorganic matter and energy, there is a change in that particular morphogenetic field. As each change takes place in this field, an accumulation takes place and an average is taken as a composite from the whole. Anotherwards each new idea that is learned in a human becomes part of the whole where other humans can now learn this thought much easier as it now exists in the same human morphogenetic field. Rats in London taught will now increase the percentage of other rats around the world completely removed with no contact from those in London. Each morphogenetic field takes in the formation, the ideas, the properties of the whole, where as all those connected in this field experience morphogenetic resonance or the effects that have now been contributed to this field. This is what Sheldrake calls causative formation.
Each cell, each atom, all are formed from these morphogenetic fields in addition to the energy fields, and the chemical and biological properties of mechanistic and causal definitions taught by conventional science. Like a radio receiver that tunes into a particular radio wave, the radio itself acts as a receiver and yet the energy waves that operate it is not the same as the radio waves and can also affect the properties of the sound from these waves. The radio itself can also affect the properties of the sound emitted from radio signals, however both the energy fields and the radio instrument are not the same as the radio waves. And such it is with morphogenetic fields. The mechanics of the biological properties that make up physical being, our cells, bodies, brains, act as receivers to the morphogenetic fields that we connect with. It is here we are changing and choosing to various different morphogenetic fields regarding body motor movement, thought contents and so forth. As each field is affected by others and as we make changes in these fields, all connected with these fields are affected in a composite nature. Past forms affect the current forms.
The last chapter of the book is what brings it on all home with four possible conclusions;one - a modified materialism, two - the idea of the conscious self that interacts with these morphogenetic fields in using the body, which is totally apart from materialism. And this idea is not simply a ghost in a machine with energetic fields/causation but the addition of morphogenetic/formation fields. Three - the idea of creative agencies apart from our conscious selves, which can be defined as inspiration as Plato suggested a tapping into a higher source or creative fields with goals. And four - a transcendent realty or tapping into fields that have no purpose or goals but rather the wholeness of organisms at all levels of complexity as a reflection of a transcendent unity on which they depend and are derived from. This idea then affirms the conscious self and the existence of a hierarchy of creative agencies immanent within nature and the reality of a transcendent source of the universe.
The end of the book appendix has both positive and negative reviews on the book and a enlightening conversation between Sheldrake and David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order.