Went to a talk by the wonderful Rupert Sheldrake at the Globe at Hay Philosopy Festival last week – here is a quote about ‘Morphic Resonance’
Society as Superorganism
In Part II of this essay, I want to explore some ideas about the social and cultural aspects of morphic fields and morphic resonance. A familiar comparison might be that of a hive of bees or a nest of termites: each is like a giant organism, and the insects within it are like cells in a superorganism. Although comprised of hundreds and hundreds of individual insect cells, the hive or nest functions and responds as a unified whole.
My hypothesis is that societies have social and cultural morphic fields which embrace and organize all that resides within them. Although comprised of thousands and thousands of individual human beings, the society can function and respond as a unified whole via the characteristics of its morphic field. To visualize this, it is helpful to remember that fields by their very nature are both within and around the things to which they refer. A magnetic field is both within a magnet and around it; a gravitational field is both within the earth and around it. Field theories thus take us beyond the traditional rigid definition of “inside” and “outside.”
A superorganism concept of animal societies dominated behavioral biology until about the early 1960s. Then – as Edward O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology, notes in his book, The Insect Societies (1971) – there was a general shift in paradigm in favor of mechanistic reductionism, which explained animal societies purely in terms of interactions among genetically-programmed individuals. The superorganism concept has not been forgotten, however, and forces itself again and again upon people who think about animal societies.
There is an inherent problem in the concept: if one says that the animal society is a kind of organism, then what kind of organism is it? What is it that can possibly organize all the individual animals within it? I am suggesting that there is a morphic field which embraces all the animals, a field which literally extends around all the animals within it. This field coordinates their movements just as the morphic field of the human body coordinates the activities and movements of the cells and tissues and organs. This concept better describes the characteristic phenomena of animal societies than the idea that they are all individually interacting yet separate things.