Has anyone heard of 'morphic resonance' before? Nor had I, until I listened to a new comedy/panel show on Radio 4 last night - The Museum of Curiosity - where panel guests suggest some 'curiosities' or exhibits to add to the 'museum'. It was full of animal references, and had me chortling with laughter - you must listen to it if you can (see end for link).
One of the guests was Richard A. Fortey - palaeontologist, member of the Royal Society, President of the Geological Society Of London and author of many books, including Dry Store Room No.1 : The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum (2008) - for 30 years he was their 'Trilobite man'. I've ordered the book after hearing the stories he told.
Shaun Locke, the comedian, was also on the programme telling a story about being a goatherder in Central France for a few months - the most stressful job he'd ever had! Later Shaun was talking about the 'new' way of wearing scarves which seems to have taken the UK (and probably the world) by storm - folded in half and then ends put through the loop - and they mentioned 'morphic resonance' to explain the fact that the behaviour had spread so rapidly.
Well, it was actually a phrase coined by Rupert Sheldrake in the 1980s and I will try to explain its meaning: animals inherit instinct from previous members of their own species. This collective memory is inherent in fields, called morphic fields, and is transmitted through both time and space by morphic resonance, a process which takes place on the basis of similarity - got it?! It (supposedly) helps to explain these types of behaviours:
* rats of a particular breed learn a new trick in a laboratory in Harvard, and then rats of that breed learn the same trick faster all over the world, say in Harvard and Melbourne.
* cattle on American ranches who avoid 'painted' faux-cattle grids on the ground; as they would avoid the real thing because of morphic resonance from other cattle that have learnt by experience not to cross them.
* a flock of Japanese crows who learnt to crush walnuts by placing them in the path of oncoming cars - this behaviour is now seen in flocks of crows in California.
* (as the 'Museum of Curiosity' announced) Sheep on one side of Australia learning to roll over cattle grids and, after a short while, the same behaviour being seen in sheep on the other side of Australia. [I couldn't find any evidence of this, though I did read about Welsh sheep who learnt to roll over cattle grids in 2004]
[This may sound rather unbelievable (and I'm not really convinced, although I am open to different ideas) and Dr Lyall Watson' s Hundredth Monkey phenomena was proved to be fabricated...Watson reported that an unspecified number of monkeys on Koshima, Japan were washing sweet potatoes in the sea. (He continues...) Let us say, for argument's sake, that the number was ninety-nine and that at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday morning, one further convert was added to the fold in the usual way. But the addition of the hundredth monkey apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold, pushing it through a kind of critical mass, because by that evening almost everyone was doing it. Not only that, but the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously, like glycerine crystals in sealed laboratory jars, in colonies on other islands and on the mainland in a troop at Takasakiyama. This phenomena, as I said, has been de-bunked, but Watson maintains that he used the monkeys as a metaphor 'to draw attention to the possibility of critical mass in social behaviour and of stimulating discussion about it.']
Sorry, I went a little off piste there - so how does this communication of memory work? By a sort of telepathy (transmitting thoughts), of course. But is there any evidence of this? It's well known that pet owners frequently claim that their animals know when they are about to leave, when they are about to return home, etc and this is often explained via telepathy or a 'sixth sense'. I'm not sure about that - although it is difficult to explain how animals behave under certain circumstances. Take the Asian tsunami in 2004 (this extract is written by Sheldrake):
'Many animals escaped the great Asian tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004. Elephants in Sri Lanka and Sumatra moved to high ground before the giant waves struck; they did they same in Thailand, trumpeting before they did so. According to a villager in Bang Koey, Thailand, a herd of buffalo were grazing by the beach when they “suddenly lifted their heads and looked out to sea, ears standing upright.” They turned and stampeded up the hill, followed by bewildered villagers, whose live were thereby saved. At Ao Sane beach, near Phuket, dogs ran up to the hill tops, and at Galle in Sri Lanka, dog owners were puzzled by the fact that their animals refused to go for their usual morning walk on the beach. In Cuddalore District in South India, buffaloes, goats and dogs escaped, and so did a nesting colony of flamingos that flew to higher ground. In the Andaman Islands “stone age” tribal groups moved away from the coast before the disaster, alerted by the behaviour of animals.
How did they know? The usual speculation is that the animals picked up tremors caused by the under-sea earthquake. This explanation seems to me unconvincing. There would have been tremors all over South East Asia, not just in the afflicted coastal areas. And if animals can predict earthquake-related disasters by sensing slight tremors, why can’t seismologists do so?
Animals also seem to know when other kinds of calamities are about to strike...there is a large body of evidence for unusual animal behaviour before earthquakes...No one knows how some animals sense earthquakes coming. Perhaps they pick up subtle sounds or vibrations in the earth; maybe they respond to subterranean gases released prior to earthquakes, or react to changes in the Earth’s electrical field. They may also sense in advance what is about to happen in a way that lies beyond current scientific understanding, through some kind of presentiment. Animals can also anticipate man-made catastrophes such as air raids. In my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, I describe how during the Second World War, many families in Britain and Germany relied on their pets’ behaviour to warn them of impending air raids, before official warnings were given...Unusual animal behaviour also occurs before avalanches...
With very few exceptions, the ability of animals to anticipate disasters has been ignored by Western scientists, who dismiss stories of animal anticipations as anecdotal or superstitious. By contrast, since the 1970s, in earthquake-prone areas of China, the authorities have encouraged people to report unusual animal behaviour, and Chinese scientists have an impressive track record in predicting earthquakes. In several cases they issued warnings that enabled cities to be evacuated hours before devastating earthquakes struck, saving tens of thousands of lives.' The Ecologist, March 2005
It's such an interesting subject - telepathy/sixth sense and learned behaviour in animals - that I've spent a whole morning exploring when I should have been working on my novel (that just proves that my discipline can slip!). And all because of two words which I heard on the radio last night - please, do try and listen again to the show. It will be half an hour well spent!
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/ (left hand side - Listen Again - Choice of the Day - Wednesday)