Memory Fields, Attention, and the Resonance of Narrative

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 119)


Cambridge biochemist Rupert Sheldrake has written extensively, challenging with scientific rigor the dominant materialist theories of evolution and consciousness. His approach merits serious interest in the study of phenomenology and literature for several reasons. It is a carefully reasoned attempt by an accomplished scientist to free us from the overreaching influence of mechanistic and reductionist science. Having found in his own and others’ research that the genetic code cannot explain how organisms take the forms they do, Sheldrake posits that all self-organizing systems, from molecules to plants to human societies, inherit a collective memory that influences their form and behavior. His works explore the possibility that organisms, including our minds, depend on memories stored in nonphysical morphic fields. We tune in to these memories and habits of formation by means of what he calls morphic resonance. Sheldrake sees human evolution as an interplay of habit and creativity, rather than survival of the fittest. This essay applies some of Sheldrake’s ideas to the study of literature, focusing on Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House. Narrated by the 13-year-old son of a Native American woman who is raped and nearly killed by a white man, the novel invokes a painful history of broken treaties, land loss, dislocation and prejudicial injustice by the dominant American society and its laws. Erdrich’s novel develops the ‘morphic resonance’ of a short story discussed earlier in Analecta Husserliana (Vol. CXII), about the rapist’s deformed twin sister, abandoned at birth and adopted by a Native American family. This story becomes the novel’s kernel, extending root and branch into an effulgent probing of love, hate, trauma, loyalty, revenge, and the mystery of creativity. The young narrator’s candor throws light onto obscure connections between the quality of attention a child receives early in life, tribal-societal culture and family upbringing, and the pathways of good and evil. The essay concludes that Sheldrake’s hypothesis widens the perspective of phenomenological inquiry, pointing to the plausible existence of non-physical memory fields or cultural imprints of previously focused attention—in the structures of organisms as well as the impact of human thought and feeling. Openness to the possibility of emotional and ideational memory fields could deepen our exploration of the breadth of human experience, especially our study of narrative.

[W]hen we try in good faith to believe in materialism, in the exclusive reality of the physical, we are asking our selves to step aside, we are disavowing the very realm where we exist and where all things precious are kept—the realm of emotion and conscience, of memory and intention and sensation. – John Updike (Self-Consciousness: Memoirs New York: Random House, 2012 [1989], 250)


Phenomenology of cultural memory Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields Louise Erdrich’s The Round House Morphic resonance in literature Narrative quality of attention 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New YorkUSA

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