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The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature Paperback – 21 Jun 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd; 2nd edition (21 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848313063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848313064
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Engaging, provocative ... a tour de force' --New Scientist

'One of the most profound and far-reaching books of modern scientific philosophy ... eminently accessible to the general reader.' --Fortean Times

From the Back Cover

Why are rabbits rabbit-shaped? Once blue tits began pecking the tops off milk bottles, why did the habit spread magically across Europe? After Roger Bannister ran the four-minute mile, why did it begin to be broken everywhere?

In 'The Presence of the Past' Rupert Sheldrake's explosive scientific theory provides a new and radical solution to the conundrums of life. Dr Sheldrake's hypothesis is that memory is inherent in nature – all natural systems from crystals to man inherit a collective memory of their kind. Thus, rabbits are rabbit-shaped not only because their DNA encodes their proteins, but also because nature has a 'morphic field', in their case, a rabbit-habit, that informs their growth and instinctive behaviour. According to Dr Sheldrake's theory of 'formative causation', this inherent memory depends on 'morphic resonance', a process that involves action at a distance in both space and time. Far from being stored as material traces within our brains, our own memories result from our tuning in to ourselves in the past.

"…few of us recognize revolutions in the making. Anyone who wants to be able to say in the future, 'I was there', had better read 'The Presence of the Past'
NICHOLAS HUMPHREY

"engaging, provocative … a tour de force"
NEW SCIENTIST

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Ben Finn on 19 May 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am sympathetic to Sheldrake's startling if somewhat vague theory of morphic fields. However, if (like me) you have read other books of his such as the one that started it all off, A New Science of Life, you might find this one a bit familiar, repetitive and maybe dull.
It doesn't feel like there's a whole lot of new material here. Rather, each section follows a rather predictable pattern: Sheldrake describes some scientific phenomenon that is currently not well understood, such as how memories are stored in the brain or how flocks of birds are so well co-ordinated. He then gives the rather vague standard scientific explanation and points out its weaknesses, e.g. that there is little evidence to support it (though also usually little to rule it out either).
Then a sentence appears such as 'However, according to the hypothesis of formative causation...' followed by Sheldrake's routine explanation of the phenomenon in terms of morphic fields. This explanation is so vague - not much more than saying there are 'morphic fields' from other similar organisms in the past guiding the phenomenon so that it all works as described - as to be no more satisfactory than the standard scientific explanation. In fact a friend pointed out to me that the morphic field explanation often seems little more than a restatement of the problem: 'the reason it behaves as it does is there is some special thing [labelled a morphic field] which makes it behave like that'.
Sheldrake also often backs up his theory by quoting some curious long-forgotten early 20th century research into or theorizing about the topic (and I wonder how much credibility scientific literature of that vintage can have).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback
The Presence of the Past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature by Rupert Sheldrake, William Collins, London, 1988, 412 ff.

Just as we learn practically and historically from the past so, Sheldrake claims, do we also learn spiritually from the past from the morphic field. This book is nearly twice the size of its predecessor, A New Science of Life, which introduced readers to the notion that there exists a spiritual energy field that was only just beginning to be recognized by science. This energy field was known to eastern mystics as the Akashic field - a term subsequently taken up by Ervin Laszlo. Scientists today, whose minds are open enough to accept the existence of psychic phenomena, describe this as the quantum energy field, expanded on at some length by Lynne McTaggart.

If you think this book is full of unscientific mumbo-jumbo, think again. Unlike Sheldrake's previous book that the Editor of Nature suggested should be burned as `scientific heresy', this book is described by New Scientist as an `engaging, provocative tour de force' and his work has been endorsed by, amongst many others, Professor of Physics, Paul Davies. There is quite a lot of biology in this book, for the author after all is a former Director of Studies in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Cambridge University.

The central theme of the book is how the morphic field holds the memories of past events to influence similar events in the future. Thus `nature' influences our lives through our DNA, as suggested by Darwin and Wallace (though before the role of genes was known), and `nurture' has its influence though the morphic field, thus substantiating the Lamarckian view of inheritance of acquired characteristics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jonone100 on 18 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had a familiarity with Sheldrake's ideas prior to reading Presence of the Past, gained in the main through his and other websites. I'd also read 'Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home' which I have to say I didn't really enjoy. Sheldrake ideas are fascinating but I found 'Dogs' somewhat repetitive and whilst some of the stories are interesting they served to illustrate the constraints of a mechanistic understanding of phenomena rather than to elucidate Sheldrake's theories. The same can be said for 'Presence of the Past', however in terms of the depth of coverage and the explanation of ideas it is far superior.

I find Sheldrake's writing a little variable. For example, his discussion of the philosophy of science is very well written. He clearly explains complex ideas and shows their limitations without being dismissive. The weakness in his writing comes when he discusses his own theories. He seems to tag them on as an afterthought. I found myself wanting him to put a bit more meat on the bones of his theories and to worry a little less about appearing as an observer who seeks evidence one way or the other to confirm or deny his hypothesis. Personally, I'd prefer him to write with belief rather than detachment.

Having not been hugely positive about the book, I must say I do have a great admiration for Sheldrake. This is partly why I've given 4 stars. The main reason for the score though, is that despite its flaws the book does point towards a new way of understanding reality. That's no small thing. I have the Science Delusion sitting on my shelf and will read that shortly, but I expect that to really get tune into Sheldrake's morphic field I'm going to have to read 'A New Science of Life'.
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