Monday, October 17, 2005

Morphogenic fields?

Amba writes about science and heresy with reference to the work of Rupert Sheldrake, promotor of a concept called "morphogenic fields." One denunciation gets brought up because it used religious language, minus the whole editorial, I'm only left wondering if there was substance to it or not.

In Amba's post itself, however, the scientific community's reaction is shown to be not so blindly dismissive:
The morphogenetic fields postulated by Sheldrake to be necessary to explain developmental processes have proven to be equally elusive and molecular biology, coupled with the physical diffusion of various chemicals, has proven to be far more successful in explaining, in a predictive manner, how organisms develop from a single cell. Nor are such fields needed to explain animal communciation in non-vocal species. See, for example, the recent article by Couzin et al. (Nature, 433, pp. 513–16, 2005) on how local mechanisms can explain rapid group decisions in animal collectives on the move (e.g. school of fish). No need for any spooky substances.
The rebuttal is not made with reference to any materialist dogma, but explanatory power and studies showing alternate explainations.

The first think to realize when dealing with these claims is it's easy to discover an imaginary effect through fairly innocent errors in experimental design, and if the experiments were even close to being repeatable, we'd have heard about it long ago. Unsuprisingly, a small bit of looking reveals that attempts to repeat the staring effect experiment have failed.

Wouldn't mind seeing the infamous "book burning" editorial, though. Hell, campus universities stock issues of Nature, could look it up if I really feel like it. Dunno.

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