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OK, but not as good as his other books
on 19 May 2004
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).
That's not to say there isn't something to Sheldrake's theory; but it's a very vague theory, and this book doesn't make it more convincing. What is needed is experimental evidence for it; a few possible experiments are outlined here, but they haven't been carried out. More interesting from this viewpoint are his other books "7 experiments that could change the world" and particularly "Dogs that know when their owners are coming home", which provides quite convincing evidence of animal telepathy, though whether this has anything to do with morphic fields is an open question.
So my verdict: read his other books in preference, particularly if you're new to Sheldrake's theories.