In 1988, British biologist Rupert Sheldrake wrote a controversial book called The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature. Morphic fields “organize systems at all levels of complexity, and are the basis for the wholeness that we observe in nature, which is more than the sum of the parts.” Sheldrake contends that morphic fields possess memory that is akin to Jung’s collective unconscious.
A simple example of morphic resonance is bicycle riding. Back at the turn of the twentieth century, when bicycles were new, kids had trouble learning how to ride a bike. But now, more than a century later, most kids hop on their new bikes and pedal off into the sunset. It’s not that we’ve gotten smarter or more athletic, but that the cumulative knowledge of all these kids who have learned to ride bikes makes it easier for each generation to do so.
Another example is found in sports. Up until 1954, it was considered impossible to break the record for a four-minute mile. Then Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, broke that record. 3:59:4 With each person who beats the four-minute mile these days, a bit more information is added to the morphic field and it becomes easier for each person who attempts to break it. The current record is now 3:43:13, held by a Moraccan, Hicham El Guerrouj.
Today, I ran across an article that reminded me of all this and it’s about dolphins. Along the southern coast of Australia, near Adelaid, there’s a pod of wild dolphins who are being taught to tail-walk by a female member of the group. Anyone who has ever seen dolphins in captivity has seen this trick. But until now, dolphins in the wild have never been observed tail-walking. According to an article in BBC News, scientists studying the pod can’t figure out why they do it.
In the 1980s, one of the dolphins, Billie, spent time in a dolphin center while recovering from an illness and scientists think she may have learned it there. Even though she wasn’t trained to do this trick, she “may have seen others tail-walking.”
Yes, she probably did. But watching someone perform an activity doesn’t necessarily mean you can immediately do, especially if your observation occurred twenty years ago. Other females in the pod have picked it up.
Mike Bossley from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, one of the scientists studying the pod, says “These are things that groups develop and are passed between individuals and that come to define those groups, such as language or dancing; and it would seem that among the Port River dolphins we may have an incipient tail-walking culture.”
It seems plausible that with so many dolphins in captivity being taught this trick for human entertainment, that morphic resonance may be at work. It won’t be surprising if other pods of wild dolphins in different parts of the world are observed tail-walking fairly soon.