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Arden, M. (1988). The pattern which connects. Free Associations, 1(11):73-85.

(1988). Free Associations, 1(11):73-85

The pattern which connects

Margaret Arden

A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (new edition, including comments and controversies), by Rupert Sheldrake, Anthony Blond, 1985, 288 pages, hb £12.50, pb £8.95

Sheldrake's theory of formative causation is an evolutionary theory which explains those processes of growth and development which are not so far explicable by scientific knowledge. For example, it can be demonstrated that after rats in one laboratory have learned a new trick, similar rats in other places learn the same trick more quickly than they would have done before. When new chemical compounds are synthesized, it is often very difficult to get crystals to form. The more often a compound is made, the easier the crystallization process becomes. Sheldrake's theory proposes the existence of a ‘force’ which he calls morphic resonance, which influences all natural processes in a non-energetic way. There are many ‘gaps’ in our knowledge where it is usually assumed that scientific explanations will one day be found. Sheldrake's theory directs attention to those gaps in a new way which challenges the assumptions of science.

I have a layperson's interest in evolutionary theory and the history of ideas, which has grown out of the questions I ask myself as a psychoanalyst about how the mind works. My particular interest is in reformulating psychoanalysis in terms which are compatible with recent ideas in other disciplines. It seems to me a matter of some importance to find a new language for psychoanalysis which does not depend on detailed knowledge of how Freud's ideas have been developed. If we could do this, aspects of Freud's thinking which have been overlooked for historical and political reasons would become available for study.

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