Re: Morphic fields

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Sun Aug 19 2001 - 15:37:44 BST

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    [Had some probs sending this one (it might appear twice).
    Joe got in in the meantime too, but what the hell...]

    > > Yeah but...
    > >
    > > Although Goodwin goes on about phenotypic inheritance and info from
    > > outside the genome (mitochondria, whatever thet funny little thing that
    > > phenotypically inherited its pellicle was), these are direct and
    > > measurable effects, passing info *directly* from one generation to the
    > > next, contiguously. There is no need for an ancient referent there.
    > You've got Goodwin all wrong. He's not a materialist. Genes merely direct
    > the organism toward the appropriate morphogenetic field, which then
    > determines the organism's final structure. Though it's not directly
    > observable, the field has an independent reality. Not chemicals but a
    > "logical relational order is what defines the distinctive organization
    > properties of living organisms." A rational taxonomy is "based on the
    > logical properties of the generative process rather than a genealogical
    > taxonomy based upon the accidents of history." Goodwin believes in math,
    > not history. Morphogenetic fields are "generative field equations." While
    > Goodwin's fields are eternal equations that generate organisms, Sheldrake's
    > fields are influenced by-- and evolve in accord with-- the organisms they
    > influence. It's a question of eternity versus memory.

    Point is, Goodwin's fields are like the crystal structures of various
    minerals - just 'out there' because of the structure of matter etc., cf.
    the coat patterning thing (stripes v spots). If an organism is at a
    certain size scale, it must do certain things because of the way the
    world is. These, as you say, are constants, as much a property of the
    universe as a vortex round a plughole, therefore outside the realms of
    which you speak. If he's 'branched out' into MR, which I'm not sure that
    he has,
    then that's a pity.

    > > As for the 'biologists throw their hands up' snippet from the mag, I
    > > think they're just acknowledging that the interactions between genes can
    > > be wildly nonlinear (1) and that (2) we still don't know about all the
    > > extended effects of all our genes.
    > It used to be that the blueprints of the body were stored sequentially in
    > genes. As I learned in my cell biology class in college, this is no longer
    > taken seriously by most researchers. Now it's believed that genetic
    > information is somehow lodged in the nonlinear "dance" of genes with each
    > other and with proteins. The whole point of reducing the organism to
    > molecular storage of information was to get around having to define life on
    > its own terms. Then it turns out the storage device is itself animated,
    > alive, free. This is akin to
    > neuroscientists conceding that memories aren't really contained in the brain
    > like data in a computer but are somehow dynamically stored in the
    > continually shifting arrays of synaptic transmission. First life is reduced
    > to machine, and then the machine springs to life.

    That's science for you. And I don't think the memory thing is best
    charaterised as a concession; they just inherited some stuff from the
    neural networks people and applied it.

    > Clearly, the theory is shot. The white flag has gone up over the citadel.

    All you did was list the successive theories - I believe the last one is
    alive and well.

    > > Using field theories in developmental
    > > biology is fine, but those fields are (almost exclusively) made up of
    > > concentration gradients of gene products, set up by diffusion or
    > > frequently by cytoskeletal transport, and no (uh-oh) developmental
    > > biologist would say otherwise.
    > Goodwin is a developmental biologist. So's his side-kick, Webster.

    Like I said, uh-oh.

    > > Modellers do use fields as a shortcut (nothing wrong with that as any
    > > mean-field-approximating physicist will attest) but these approximations
    > > have no independent reality.
    > Even Waddington was ambiguous on this point. One of the creators of
    > morphogenetic field theory, Paul Weiss, completely flip-flopped more than
    > once on this issue.

    No I mean that mean field approximations are an accepted *modelling
    technique* across the sciences.

    > > The whole thing (MF) still seems too elaborate really, I mean, doesn't
    > > it imply that there are time bridges that are presumably exploitable?
    > > Should we not be able to find out what dinosaurs really looked like if
    > > we could tap into this etherial thing (I'm not ridiculing, just trying
    > > to explore the scope of the implications - would be cool actually,
    > > finally kill off 'walking with dinosaurs'[ack]).
    > It's called, "atavism." Ancient traits crop up all the time.

    Unlocked by changes in homeobox genes (or the next layer of control
    down), which encode proteins possessed of DNA-binding domains that
    switch other genes on and off; for example antennapedia mutations, or
    the chicken with teeth and a scaly tail.

    > > Also, while you're here, I didn't get a good answer to the MF version of
    > > descent with modification...
    > Formative causation is a theory of memory, not origins.
    > But it should be noted that origins are much easier to explain according to
    > the morphic model. Life began from the interaction of organic compounds
    > that were already stabilized in their structure through resonance with
    > similar, past compounds. This helps to bridge the chasm between simple,
    > organic material and the first bacteria. And rather than relying on blind,
    > genetic mutation, organisms can pass on to future generations their creative
    > adaptations to changing environmental circumstances.

    This is not a source of novelty. The only answer anyone has given to
    this (here) was that previous 'patterns' hybridise somehow to give new
    patterns (another unprovable I suppose), so would you posit particulate
    inheritance from ancestral patterns? The alternative (blending
    inheritance) leaves you with decreasing variance in stuff over time.

    Change of thread (twice)...

    A miscasting of the state of things need some light shed on it. That
    proteins need chaperones (inter alia) to fold correctly, but that
    chaperones are proteins, so who folds the folders, is not a problem.
    These systems have been ongoing since the first replicators and so the
    chicken and egg thing doesn't apply.

    On the protein thing, I want to break it down and see where you object.
    1) An extended linear configuration is an unstable configuration for a
    chain of amino acids.
    2) The chain will self-attract where oppositely charged regions drift
    near to each other.
    3) Water-water H-bonds are the best, and statistically the most likely
    state of a system like this is that most of the H-bonds will be
    4) Therefore the globular state of the protein is most likely.
    5) The particular state of the globule is determined in part by
    self-self interactions and in part by interactions with other molecules.
    6) Genetically coded choices of a.a. sequences exploit the properties of
    the products of the various ways a protein can be predisposed (remember
    lots misfold and are disposed of!) to fold.

    And incidentally, the fact that it'll take a ridiculous amount of thyme
    to simulate a folding protein is not a problem with theory/knowledge,
    just with horticulture.

    Bye for now. Chris.

     Chris Taylor ( »people»chris

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