This is the latest in a series of articles. It is essential to have read at least part 3, which contains links in footnote 1 to the earlier parts of the series.
At the end of part 3 I noted Paul Davies’ observation that particles as primary objects have been replaced in physics by fields, but that the field concept had made little impact on biology. This is presumably because such a suggestion would make Darwinian biologists feel uncomfortable. As Davies says: “A possible escape is to suppose that somehow the global plan is stored in the fields themselves, and that the DNA acts as a receiver rather than a source of genetic information”. Fields may therefore be the solution to the problems of morphogenesis, blueprints, and teleology.
My purpose now is to explore some of the history of the concept of fields in biology — a series of articles on biologists (or other scientists) who have stood outside the mainstream viewpoint, and taken the idea of fields seriously. Some of these will be Harold Saxton Burr, Rupert Sheldrake, and Robert Becker.
My starting point, however, is to note that, even though physicists don’t doubt the reality of fields, they still struggle to understand them and how they operate. They may belong to a hidden, underlying reality, which is an exciting suggestion for those coming from a spiritual perspective, since this would indicate that science is moving in that direction. Thus physicist Paul LaViolette says: “Our instruments can sense fields, but the underlying etheric processes that may or may not be producing them elude direct observation. Physicists have traditionally assumed that force fields and subatomic particles, both real particles and virtual particles, are forms that exist in their own right as closed systems requiring no ‘hidden processes’ to sustain them. As a result, modern cosmology has had to tolerate the chicken-egg problem that this closed-system view creates”¹. Robert Becker, surgeon and researcher in electromedicine, says: “Both electric and magnetic fields are really just abstractions that scientists have made up to try to understand electricity’s and magnetism’s action at a distance, produced by no known intervening material or energy, a phenomenon that used to be considered impossible until it became undeniable”².
So there is something very weird going on, which conventional, materialist science struggles to understand. This has led some biologists to adopt a spiritual worldview, for example Denis Noble³, and Bruce Lipton who says that “my study of cells turned me into a spiritual person”. Talking about “our spiritual essence and our immortality”, he says that “the conclusions were so unambiguous that I instantly went from nonbeliever to believer”. These conclusions were based upon scientific training, not from religious faith. He says that “conventional scientists may shy away from them because they involve the influence of invisible, matter-shaping energy fields that many refer to as Spirit”⁴.
Here is a brief taster of what will follow. Harold Burr, Professor Emeritus of Anatomy, Yale University School of Medicine, said: “The Universe in which we find ourselves and from which we can not be separated is a place of Law and Order. It is not an accident, not chaos, It is organized and maintained by an Electro-dynamic Field capable of determining the position and movement of all charged particles. For nearly half a century the logical consequences of this theory have been subjected to rigorously controlled experimental conditions and met with no contradictions”⁵.
Burr is echoing Albert Einstein: “Since the theory of general relativity implies the representation of physical reality by a continuous field, the concept of particles or material points cannot play a fundamental part”⁶. Is this continuous Electro-dynamic Field what spiritual people call the Divine Mind?
Burr says that in earlier times people were sustained by religion, but that in an era of materialistic science, evidence is now demanded for this: “Until some forty years ago this demand could not be met because the necessary electronic instruments and techniques had not been developed. When these became available, however, an entirely new approach to the nature of man and his place in the Universe became possible. For, these instruments revealed that man — and, in fact, all forms — are ordered and controlled by electro-dynamic fields which can be measured and mapped with precision.
“Though almost inconceivably complicated, the ‘fields of life’ are of the same nature as the simpler fields known to modern physics and obedient to the same laws. Like the fields of physics, they are a part of the organization of the Universe and are influenced by the vast forces of space. Like the fields of physics, too, they have organizing and directing qualities which have been revealed by many thousands of experiments.
“Organization and direction, the direct opposite of chance, imply purpose. So the fields of life offer purely electronic, instrumental evidence that man is no accident. On the contrary, he is an integral part of the Cosmos, embedded in its all-powerful fields, subject to its inflexible laws and a participant in the destiny and purpose of the Universe”⁷.
Such a viewpoint is, of course, in complete contrast to the bleak conclusions about humanity found in neo-Darwinism.
1. Genesis of the Cosmos, Bear & Company, 2004, p41–42
2. The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life, William Morrow, 1985, p81
3. See, for example, The Music of Life: Biology Beyond Genes, OUP, 2008
4. The Biology of Belief, Hay House UK Ltd., 2008, p153–4
5. Blueprint for Immortality: the Electric Patterns of Life, Neville Spearman Ltd., 1972
6. quoted by Peter Wilberg, The Science Delusion, New Gnosis Publications, 2008, p45
7. as footnote 5, p11–12