Monday 26 September 2011

Implications of fields of influence


When social influence is conceptualized in terms of fields, as described in an earlier posting,

then this has many implications at many levels.


One is a revival of the idea, articulated by Aquinas, that the soul contains the body, which means that the field of ourselves extends beyond the surface of our bodies; and the same applies to all people, animals, plants and (presumably) other entities.

The medieval world view would also stress the influence of the heavens - planets and stars - and of angels and demons.

So, if your soul, the field of yourself, extends beyond your body then you may affect other persons or entities around you without touching them - indeed without sensory contact of any kind.

And conversely, you may be affected by such fields, without being able to unravel the cause using your senses.


As an hypotheses, this make it easy to conceptualize different kinds of interactions between humans and their environments.

The idea seems to have been that such 'field' interactions influence thought-content and emotions - they can 'put ideas into peoples' heads', they can change the way people feel.

On the other hand these field interactions do not control other people - do not affect free will, nor reasoning ability.


These fields (like other fields in physics - like gravity or electromagnetism) are not detectable in themselves, but by their action.

A photon (a particle of light) has no mass (it must have zero mass or else it could not travel at the speed of light); therefore it is 'not there' according to common sense.

How do we know a photon exists? By the quantum event (action) when it leaves the sun and the quantum event (action) when it reaches the earth a few seconds later.

Yet although this takes a few seconds from our perspective as observers; from the perspective of the photon, there is zero time between the quantum event in the sun and that at the earth - there are simultaneous (because when travelling at the speed of light, time does not pass).


If electromagnetic fields are made of photons that have no mass and do not exist except when they act; and yet we use these theories without problem in modern physics - then it may help get our brains around the idea of immaterial fields that go beyond human bodies, and are detected only by their actions.


(Insofar as it is true), This idea means that we are (potentially) in actual contact with the world around us, including other people - not merely in communication with the world, but our personal fields are 'blended' with the fields of other persons, animals, plants and other things - the fields inter-penetrating, influencing.

We are in the world and the world is in us, we are not mere observers.

I say 'potentially', because I think there must be some act of consent for these interactions.


So, the idea is that a human's primary mode of relationship, as he moves through the world, is via the field that encloses and organizes his own body.


What can we make of this hypothesis - which I get from Rupert Sheldrake, and which has been adapted from a philosophical tradition going back to Aristotle?

Sheldrake has been very active in trying to test this theory by studying evidence that that fields extend beyond the body in a way that is not explicable by the five senses.

The problem with this approach is that each specific piece of evidence taken one at a time, each observation or experiment, is on the one hand necessarily inconclusive (as always in science), and on the other hand susceptible of innumerable alternative ad hoc explanations.

In the end, scientific evidence is orthogonal to metaphysics, science is consistent with all metaphysical theories and does not distinguish between them - and the idea of fields (or souls) is metaphysical.


The most compelling reason for assuming that Sheldrake's ideas about fields are correct is therefore that they are much closer to spontaneous, natural human belief: we are born into the world with a perspective that assumes that our own nature extends beyond the surface of our bodies:

...that other people know when we are present even if they cannot perceive us, that we know what other people are thinking and they know what we are thinking, that our fear draws that which is feared, that staring at someone or thinking about them will attract their attention, that we know things which happen remotely, that we make our own luck and - in a sense - 'deserve' what happens to us...

...and that having an idea, especially a strong idea - in one's own mind - in and of itself creates a tendency for this idea to spread and be adopted, whether or not this idea is explicitly communicated...


I personally take spontaneous, natural human 'beliefs' very seriously indeed - and I fell that we deny these in-built dispositions only at extreme peril - often at the cost of psychotic irrationality and incoherent relativism.

So I take this as prima facie evidence of the validity of something much along the lines of Sheldrake's field concepts.

And there is a whole complex of beliefs and phenomena which may conveniently be dealt with by this idea of fields extending beyond our bodies; so therefore it seems perfectly reasonable to deal with these phenomena in a unitary way using one over-arching hypothesis - rather than as, at present, either denying the reality of these phenomena or explaining each one using an unlimited number of specific ad hoc theories based on the necessity for sensory contact.



Cantillonblog said...

One route to being able to appreciate the influence and impact of one important kind of field on society is the socionomic theory of Robert Prechter. He has had a mixed record as a pure forecaster but, having applied his work for some years to the study of society and to financial markets, I do believe there is something to it.

Under the socionomic thesis there is a shared spirit (called 'mood', a name which is at the same time both enlightening and obscuring)that grows and declines according to certain rules of structure. This spirit is reflected immediately in financial markets and, with a lag, in human action - in commerce, in politics and in art. When confidence is rising the stock market rallies, and 8ish months later we see a boom in capital expenditure, hiring and consumption. When confidence is declining, stocks rally, and with a lag we see a decline in capex, hiring and consumption.

There is much more to this, and I cannot do justice to this here. Prechter's two volume thesis on Socionomics is at some point worth a read (one may be able to read parts for free via Google Books, particularly if going via a US proxy).

He can come across sometimes as a very talented charlatan, but I think that would be an unfair assessment. He overstates the usefulness of his ideas and perhaps the originality of his contribution, but he does have something there. Serious investors do take his work seriously, although it is not something everyone is ready to discuss in public.

Wm Jas said...

Which Sheldrake book would you recommend that someone unfamiliar with his theories begin with?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Probably there is enough here:

plus some fairly detailed talks on YouTube.

Other than that, The Rebirth of Nature would be of most interest to you, I think - with a history of ideas approach.

Cantillonblog said...

Better explanation of socionomics from the comment of a big NY bank (quoting Prechter):-

"According to Gallup, 49% of those polled thought the federal government an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms or ordinary citizens. That's an amazing poll reading [IMHO] especially as we believe in the basic premise of Socionomics, which theorizes that social mood determines the character of social activity - The essence of the socionomic hypothesis is that fluctuations in social mood—waves of optimism and pessimism—are a natural result of human association and have consequences in social action. Social mood is not conscious, rational and objectively reactive but unconscious, non-rational and subjectively active. While people almost universally believe that the character of social events determines social mood, socionomics recognizes that the causality is the reverse: social mood determines the character of social activity. The causality of social mood is unidirectional; there is no feedback loop of events back to social mood. Events do stimulate brief emotional reactions, but they are transient and independent of social mood. And that as Robert Prechter writes, "stock indexes are the benchmark sociometers because they are broad in scope, contain plenty of clean data and rapidly reflect social mood"

Cantillonblog said...

Re Sheldrake - Presence of the Past - might be of particular interest to those trying to understand Tradition

Daniel said...

This is exactly in agreement with my own spontaneous experience in life, Bruce. I have never heard of Sheldrake or his work. But now I will read his website and from there order some books.

It is absolutely possible to feel "outside oneself," as it were. I'm excited to encounter a serious discussion of this (and not mere new age-y hooey, of which I've also read plenty).