In the 1960s, the American orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert O. Becker tried to find out what lessons could be learned for medical science from the legendary (but also very real) regenerative powers of the salamander. He found that these powers were electromagnetic in nature even though the received medical wisdom of the time tried to deny this. He faced an uphill battle to have his work accepted, although he was eventually proven right.1 The main reason that the medical establishment was so resistant to his findings was that they smacked of vitalism which harked back to the ancient idea of a life force that animates all living beings. This idea, in turn, is closely related to that of the soul an aspect of which has also been considered to be the life force since ancient times.Implicit in the idea of ‘life force’ is the interconnectedness of living beings both with each other and with the environment. This is because the animating force must pervade all of nature and have the purpose of giving life in all its myriad forms. This then explains why there is such a close fit between the living organism and the environment that it inhabits. The work of successive thinkers, however, from William of Ockham to Descartes and Darwin removed all traces of purpose from nature. The world increasingly came to be seen as a machine, comprised of largely unrelated parts, which move according to strictly mechanical and mathematical laws. Life then has become reformed and organised in the way that it has by happy random accidents. In this way, the purpose-driven human being is very much an anomaly in the nature he or she inhabits. Moreover, many attempts to find the life force have failed. Over the centuries it has been variously attributed to air, blood, ether, radioactivity, and most famously electricity, as dramatized by Mary Shelley in her book Frankenstein.
Furthermore, discoveries in chemistry demonstrated that life itself was not needed to make organic substances as scientists created organic from inorganic material. Nevertheless, the idea of the life force survived late into the nineteenth century. This is because there is a huge gulf between the simple chemicals that provide the building blocks for life and the processes that go towards weaving together and regenerating complex living forms. This was recognised by the German embryologist Hans Dreich in the 1890s who noted how embryos mutilated early on in their growth may still recover in order to develop normally. This, and other remarkable properties of organic processes, led Dreich to propose that the development of the correct form of an organism must take place under the auspices of some guiding force. He termed this force entelechy which derives from the Greek meaning to have a goal and was a term widely used by Aristotle to describe the underlying purposeful activity that he believed was inherent in nature.2
Dr. Becker’s work was very much in the spirit of that of Hans Dreich. He showed beyond all doubt that the body is electric, and many of its processes rely on very weak direct electrical currents. It also highlighted the pivotal role of the nervous system in mediating electromagnetic processes. The regenerative powers of salamanders, for instance, exist due to the capacity of the cells that sheath nerves to conduct current to the site of injury. This current prompts cells near the injury to revert to a more ‘primitive’ state. Once in this state, they can then re-specialise, divide and grow (even very badly damaged hearts) in much the same way that an embryo develops. Human bone fractures knit in the same way. This does not mean that Dr Becker had discovered that Mary Shelley had been scientifically accurate in her portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, but he had shown that life is intimately tied up with electromagnetism and electromagnetic fields. Indeed, (and here we may recall the words of Sir William Crookes quoted in the previous chapter) electromagnetic force under the operation of invisible hypothetical and localised ‘fields’ has come to be accepted as an explanation for action that takes place across space at a distance from material bodies (like iron filings around a bar magnet), largely supplanting the idea of a universal transmitting substance called ether. Dr Becker has this to say about fields:
“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. A field is represented by lines of force, another abstraction, to indicate its direction and shape. Both kinds of field decline with distance, but their influence is technically infinite. Every time you use your toaster, the fields around it perturb charged particles in the furthest galaxies ever so slightly”.3
Thus, the electric currents in our bodies generate electromagnetic fields that are theoretically capable of provoking movement within certain other materials that are physically distant from the current itself. Moreover, electromagnetic fields are affected by other fields, so outside fields may couple directly with the currents running within the body: through the cells of the nerve sheaths themselves. Dr Becker states: “all living things having such a system would share the common experience of being plugged into the electromagnetic field of the earth, which in turn vary in response to the moon and the sun.” 4
So, rather than being completely separate entities, we are floating in, and interpenetrated by, an energetic sea which pulsates with ‘tidal magnetic rhythms’ that not only dictate our basic biological processes but which are also implicated in the instinctive functioning of all life on earth. It is clear, for instance, that some birds are able to navigate migratory courses across thousands of miles using the earth’s electromagnetic currents that are not much stronger than a fridge magnet, and that they find man-made electromagnetic radiation sometimes disastrously disorienting.5
Many people assume that scientists know how matter puts itself together in order to provide us with life in the shapes to which we have become accustomed. In other words, we know how form arises. This is quite simply not true. Indeed, there are many mysteries that remain unexplained about life as we know it, and even where people think that science has found explanations for things this is often not the case. How is it that living things have become formed in the way that they have? And how is this form transmitted from one generation to the next? How is the instinctive life of animals passed from parents to offspring? In other words, why is a tree tree-shaped and a mosquito, mosquito-shaped? How does a spider know how to spin a web? And how does a lioness know that licking her cub facilitates the bonding process that ensures that her offspring will thrive? The short answer is that no one knows.
The average person in the street is conditioned to think that the shape and functioning of the natural world are somehow encoded in the genes. The great promise of the Human Genome Project was that it would give us the key to understanding the innermost workings of humanity. Unfortunately for mainstream biologists, however, this did not happen. One of the greatest surprises was that the human being doesn’t have many more genes than the average fly (25,000 as opposed to 13,600).6 It is hard to see how so few genes could contain all the information necessary for the immensely complex transformation of a single fertilised egg into the multiform, multipurpose human being that is composed of tangible elements, such as toenails and nose hairs, and extends to more abstract capacities such as an ability to write The Merchant of Venice. In order to make this remarkable achievement, each gene must carry out multiple different tasks, but how does each gene ‘know’ how to do this? Something must be telling the genes to do x in this location and under these circumstances but y somewhere else, or under differing circumstances. So, if the intelligent, creative and diverse dynamism of the natural world does not come entirely from the genes, where does it come from? Dr Becker points out there must be some sort of ‘control system’.
The control system we’re seeking unites all levels of organization, from the idiosyncratic yet regular outline of the whole organism to the precisely engineered traceries of its microstructure. The DNA-RNA apparatus isn’t the whole secret of life, but a sort of computer program by which the real secret, the control system, expresses its pattern in terms of living cells.7
In order to explain how matter consistently organises itself in all the various shapes that make up the natural world, biologists now talk of organic development in terms of both genes and fields. Certain genes are called ‘field selector genes’ in order to describe how they can ‘choose’ to go down any number of developmental paths that might be open to them—that is, for instance, to become an eye or a wing. The idea of the morphogenetic field was originally developed in the early twentieth century to explain how regenerating limbs ‘knew’ how to grow in the correct place and in the correct form in relationship to the rest of the organism. One of the early researchers of morphogenetic fields was Harold Saxton Burr, a professor of anatomy at Yale University. He had proposed an electrodynamic field which he called the life or L-field. This field holds the shape of an organism in the same way that a mould holds the shape of a jelly. Burr eventually fell victim to a sort of bioelectrical determinism, and his work was largely ignored until Robert Becker attempted to replicate his measurements of electric fields and found that many of his measurements, whilst crude, had detected actual phenomena. But even though the electric L-field seems to exist, Becker could find no way to explain where it came from or how it acted on cells. Yet, if morphogenetic fields exist as part of the control system for the guidance of the development and regeneration of natural forms, (such as embryos and salamander legs) then it seems likely that they are in some way related to Burr’s electrodynamic force.
The controversial English biologist, Rupert Sheldrake has further developed the idea of morphogenetic fields. For Sheldrake, these ‘fields’ are a kind of spatial template, which are not energetic in their own right, but which pass down form (to like members of the same species and genus) across time through a kind of resonance, which he terms morphic resonance.8 He likens living organisms to radio sets able to tune into outside frequencies. In this case, the organism is able to ‘tune in’ to transmissions of form which are ‘broadcast’ from previous similar systems. The late physicist David Bohm compared these morphic ‘transmissions’ to the energies proposed by physics which underlie the undeniable order of form in the physical universe, the so-called implicate order. For physicists, ever more subtle levels of energy must be behind the emergence of concrete physical forms. The originating forces are so subtle that they:
would not ordinarily even be counted as energies, and those implicate energies are giving rise to the production of electrons and protons and to the various particles of physics. And these particles have been replicating so long that they are pretty well determined or fixed in ‘cosmic memory.9
The possibility that our electrodynamic environment may be able to hold and ‘transmit’ complex information, even related to consciousness itself, is gaining some support from modern researchers. In one piece of research, a Dutch team studied 344 patients who were declared to be clinically dead. They had no brain stem function, flat EEGs, indicating that there was no electrical activity in the cortex, and had stopped breathing. All these patients were then revived. Twelve per cent (over forty) of them reported that they had had a near-death experience (NDE) even though their brains had been technically ‘dead.’ NDEs typically involve the conscious experience of being out of the physical body and being able to observe one’s physical self. People are often able to report the scenes that occur around them after death, including, for instance, accurate reports of the conversations between doctors and relatives and a sense of being embodied even though some report being able to pass through walls.
The cardiologist and lead researcher, Pim van Lommell posed the question:
“How can a clear consciousness outside one’s body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death? …Near-death experience pushes at the limits of medical ideas about the range of human consciousness…The current concept …states that consciousness is a product of the brain [But] could the brain be a kind of receiver for consciousness and memories, functioning like a TV, radio or a mobile telephone? What you receive is not generated by the receiver but rather electromagnetic informational waves …that are always around you and are made visible or audible to you by the brain and your sense organs.”10
The idea that the body’s electromagnetic (EM) fields may have a role to play in consciousness is beginning to gain some ground. They may, for instance, provide the solution to the so-called binding problem. One of the mysteries of consciousness is how our minds are able to integrate the massive quantities of information that we receive from our environment —smells, sight, sound, tactile sensations and so on—in order to weave them together into a cohesive sensory experience. Sensory information, whether it be the smell of newly mown grass or the visual delights of a palm-fringed beach, enters and travels through the nervous system as electrical impulses or blips, like the dot-dot-dash of a telegram. No one knows how these blips are ‘bound’ together in the brain in order to form one cohesive palm tree, let alone the tree, the soft breeze on your skin, the sand beneath your toes or the smell of the salt air in order to form your coherent experience of the whole scenario. Even less do we understand how the idea of the situation is formed—how we interpret it to ourselves: what makes it more pleasing than a wind-swept British high street on a cold winter’s day? Some physicists now think that at least part of the answer may lie in the brain’s EM field.11
There does not appear to be one structure in the brain where all the various ‘blips’ traveling through the nerves come together in order to blend all of the received sensory information into one cohesive experience. The separate strands of olfactory, auditory, tactile and visual blips effectively remain trapped in their separate blipping neurons. On the other hand, all of this information and electrical activity are unified in the brain’s EM field. This does not of course definitively prove that all of our sensory experience is being blended, and indeed filtered, by the EM field, but recent experiments have demonstrated that external EM fields, of similar strength and structure to those that the brain itself generates, do indeed influence nerve firing. This means that the field could potentially act as the conductor of our cerebral and sensory orchestra—synchronising the firing of our nerves so that they all work together to weave our disparate sensory information into a harmonious symphony of experience.
The physicist Jim Al-Khalili highlights:
“The findings suggest that the brain’s own EM field, generated by nerve firing, also influences nerve firing, providing a kind of self-referencing loop that many theorists argue is an essential component of consciousness. Synchronization of nerve firing by the brain’s EM field is also very significant in the context of the puzzle of consciousness because it is one of the very few features of nerve activity that is known to correlate with consciousness.”12
He gives the example of spotting an object for which we are searching in a jumble of objects. When we are looking for the object but do not consciously see it, then our brain neurons fire asynchronously. When we spot the lost object, they fire synchronously. The EM field seems to be playing some role in generating synchronous firing, perhaps orchestrating the transition between unconscious and conscious thoughts. These are very early findings as regards the role of EM fields in consciousness, yet they obviously begin to have some potentially interesting implications. Given that EM fields tend to interact with and affect each other, there is a clear temptation to look to them for potential answers to parapsychological phenomena. Indeed, Al-Khalili, with a wary eye to those who may precipitously draw unwarranted conclusions, is careful to specifically point out that these tentative explorations of the role of EM fields in consciousness do not in any way prove such phenomena. This is quite clearly the case, but what we are beginning to see is the gradual acceptance that human consciousness is not entirely constrained within the strictly material boundaries of the body.
In his work with heart transplant recipients, the late neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall found that about ten per cent of people were ‘cardio sensitive’. That is, after transplantation, they became aware of some of the memories of the donor, and, in some cases, took on that person’s preferences which ranged from tastes in food and music to sexual proclivities. Most of these sensitive transplant recipients were already very much in touch with the feeling sense and were ‘body aware,’ including musicians, dancers and athletes. However, by far the most startling case was that of a young girl recounted by a psychiatrist at a conference (at which Pearsall gave a presentation) of an international group of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers in Houston, Texas. I will quote at length:
“…following my presentation, a psychiatrist came to the microphone during the question and answer session to ask me about one of her patients… The case disturbed her so much that she struggled to speak through her tears.
Sobbing to the point that the audience and I had difficulty understanding her, she said, “I have a patient, an eight-year-old little girl who received the heart of a murdered ten-year-old girl. Her mother brought her to me when she started screaming at night about her dreams of the man who had murdered her donor. She said her daughter knew who it was. After several sessions, I just could not deny the reality of what this child was telling me. Her mother and I finally decided to call the police and, using the descriptions from the little girl, they found the murderer. He was easily convicted with evidence my patient provided. The time, the weapon, the place, the clothes he wore, what the little girl he killed had said to him…everything the little heart transplant recipient reported was completely accurate.
As the therapist returned to her seat, the audience of scientifically trained and clinically experienced professionals sat in silence. I could hear sobbing and saw tears in the eyes of the doctors in the front row.”13
Pearsall claimed that this constitutes first contact with the soul, although he places the memories within the heart itself—a kind of cellular memory. I am more personally drawn by the knowledge that the heart’s EM field is five thousand times more powerful than that created by the brain. Thus, it is conceivable that as the brain generates an EM field that is then itself active in biological and psychological processes that the same mechanism could be at work in other EM fields generated by the body, particularly that of the heart which is the most powerful field of all. Indeed, we saw earlier that the ancient Egyptians saw the heart as the seat of personhood, and it was not removed from the body of the deceased for storage before mummification as were other organs. Likewise, if a person failed the judgement of the weighing of the heart, then it was devoured which resulted in the annihilation of the soul.
So, findings currently at the cutting-edge fringes of science are bringing our established views of reality into question. EM fields extend our experience beyond the perceived physical boundaries of the matter of our bodies and into a collective sea of electromagnetism: yet we are only consciously aware of a fraction of the information that our nervous systems are absorbing at any given moment. According to Dr Becker, we may even be receiving the most basic information that our bodies need to function via electromagnetic informational waves from a collective ‘control centre’ that, for instance, orders all the billions of micro-processes of cellular regeneration that maintain the organism in its original form. Indeed, it seems that all life may develop its form by tuning in to ‘transmissions’, from the universal control centre for that species. In this way, the fertilised egg begins life with a genetic code that is both unique but attuned (electromagnetically) to the universal form for that species. It is as if each form equates to a differently shaped radio set that may only be tuned to one station. If you are a pig, you are tuned to Pig FM, and, if a dolphin, Dolphin FM and so on. But because each genetic code is different this does not mean that we get multiple identical copies of one being—we are not like identical radio sets falling off the edge of a production line. Each radio set within the species shares the overall form and basic instructions for instinctual and species-specific functioning, but within this basic pattern, each radio set is different from the others. Human beings, for instance, have a head at the top and two feet at the bottom, a drive to reproduce and the species-specific capacity for language. Above and beyond all of this, however, we all have unique personalities. It is as if we all tune to the same radio station but each of us ‘hears’ the transmission slightly differently.
Where two members of the same species do share the same genetic code— that is, identical twins— this has thrown up some interesting anomalies. Since 1983, the University of Minnesota has studied identical twins in its studies into genetic and environmental influences on the development of psychological traits. In one study by the psychologist Tom Bouchard into twins separated at birth and/or raised apart, the researchers uncovered some strange coincidences in the lives of the people studied.14 Perhaps the most poignant and bizarre case was that of Oskar Stohr and Jack Yufe, identical twins born in Trinidad in 1933. Their story is so striking because their upbringings could not have been more different: Oskar being raised as a Nazi and a member of the Hitler Youth and Jack a Jew. Both men, however, shared some remarkable characteristics and habits. Both stored rubber bands around their wrist, flushed the toilet before using it, read magazines from back to front and dipped buttered toast into coffee. Both men affected loud sneezes in public in order to see how people reacted. But the reported coincidences also extended beyond odd characteristics and into life events that would appear to be much further beyond the control of genetics. A pair of British twins had both fallen down the stairs when they were fifteen and suffered from weak ankles as a consequence. One woman’s maiden name was Sandal and the other lived in Sandal. Another pair of twins had both been married five times. Yet another pair had had car accidents at the same time and suffered similar minor injuries. It would not be statistically improbable for the twins to uncover one or even two incidences of coincidental life events and shared characteristics, but the researchers often found evidence of chains of coincidences which are difficult to account for using our accepted models of causation.15
The list of improbable coincidences uncovered in the study is extensive and often bizarre but certainly did not show that genetics condemned one to a pre-determined destiny. Many aspects of the twins’ lives were not identical. For instance, psychological tests highlighted that both Oscar and Jack exhibited problems with explosive anger but that both men dealt with this psychological trait completely differently. Yet, there appears to be a level of synchronisation between the lives of the separated twins that is clearly independent of nurture and also of the nature that we think that we know. Can genes really determine when you have a car accident? A shared identical connection to a universal ‘form’ that may itself be part of a mysterious, interconnected electromagnetic ocean may begin to furnish us with the basis for an explanation. We may be receiving far more than biological information from the electromagnetic ocean in which our nervous systems are bathed. Yet, each twin has the potential for autonomous reactions to life circumstances which can significantly alter life’s events and experiences. For an explanation for this, we may turn to Jim AL Khalili’s description of the individual as a self-referencing loop. What this indicates is that even people with an identical genetic code that attunes them to the universal control centre or template in the same way (they ‘hear’ almost identical transmissions) constitute an autonomous individual (soul) in their own right. The body generates entirely individual EM fields that interact with the environment and in turn act upon the body by orchestrating our experiences and reactions to them. It is this dynamic relationship that gives us our essential personhood and which leaves us room for the exercise of choice and free will. The EM field then appears in some way to store our own individual tastes and preferences. This would explain why a heart transplant recipient could gain access not just to the memories but also to the personal tastes and preferences of the donor: because they now have not only the heart of the donor but access to the EM field of that heart.
This is clearly a very broad and speculative overview of morphogenesis. However, I would like to conclude by highlighting that, after much resistance, it is now being taken very seriously by modern science as a biological mechanism and developed in the discipline of synthetic morphogenesis. Synthetic morphogenesis takes existing living cells and effectively attempts to hijack the forming processes that enable it to develop in the way that is part of its innate nature. Moreover, it attempts to subvert the natural control processes described above by supplanting it with artificial electronic controls in a feedback mechanism. According to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) ( this
…allows the construction of two-way interfaces, especially opto-genetic and opto-electronic, between the living and the electronic, allowing unprecedented information flow and control between the two types of ‘machine’
This is not necessarily comforting on many different fronts, but I will highlight three that strike me as particularly worrying. First, if the electromagnetic processes of forming the natural world are fundamental to the laws of Nature themselves, then we are beginning to meddle in the foundational elements that bind our reality. We cannot possibly fully understand the implications of these actions. Secondly, if these processes go far beyond “simple” biological processes and really do reach into human consciousness, then this may have unimaginable spiritual implications.
Finally, I would point to an interview given by the biologist Michael Levin on the Lex Freidman podcast (posted on Alison McDowell’s YouTube channel). It is simply not good enough for biologists (as Levin does) to argue that this discipline will progress very nicely, thank you very much, if we see it at as an engineering (albeit bioengineering) issue and remove all of those pesky “philosophical” problems. One of the disciplines of philosophy is moral philosophy otherwise known as ethics. The United Kingdom government is currently looking to remove just about all limitations on human and human-primate embryo experimentation outside of the womb up until viability and possibly beyond. This is illegal in nearly every other country in the world precisely because it is morally reprehensible. Moreover, I would like to know what kinds of experiments they have in mind and does synthetic morphogenesis have any part to play? Are we looking to remodel the human being that was made in the image of God?
Robert O. Becker, M.D., and Gary Selden, The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life (Morrow, 1985)
Paul Davies The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin of Life (1998) Penguin Group ch1
Robert O. Becker, M.D., and Gary Selden, The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life (Morrow, 1985) p81
Becker and Selden, The Body Electric (1985) p81
Jim Al-Khalili Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology (2015) Transworld. Kindle Edition pp 3-4
James le Fanu, Why Us: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (Harper 2010) see chapter 6 for a fascinating discussion of the limitations of genetics in determining form and behaviour
Becker andSelden, The Body Electric(Morrow, 1985) p181-182
See Rupert Sheldrake, New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (2009) Icon Books. Kindle Edition
Sheldrake, New Science of Life (2009 Kindle location 4518)
Quoted in Michael A. Jawer with Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D., The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How feelings link the brain, the body and the sixth sense. (2009) p422
Al-Khalili Life on the Edge: (2015) Transworld. Kindle Edition pp 261-264
Al-Khalili Life on the Edge: (2015) Transworld. Kindle Edition p 263
Paul Pearsall, Ph.D. The Heart’s Code: Tapping the wisdom and power of our heart energy (Broadway Books 1999) Kindle edition Location 287
Peter Watson Twins: The remarkable report which proves that identical twins may really be identical people (1981) Hutchinson & Co.
Watson Twins(1981) For a discussion regarding the statistical probabilities of coincidences see chapter five.