The new science of life, morphic fields and Rupert Sheldrake

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posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 08:14 AM
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Rupert Sheldrake keeps coming up. And despite his controversial 'anti christ of science' image in popular culture after watching a few of his talks to see his points I can't help warming to him, and can't help thinking the initial reaction to his theory was too reactionary for the reasons given below.

To give some background, Sheldrake was a world authority on auxin in plants and plant hormones in the 1970s and 80s with numerous publications in nature and other journals. Then he shocked the scientific community by publishing a new theory of life based on field theory. He called the field a morphogenetic field, a self organizing field that can be used at all levels of complexity to explain mechanical biology. He claims that since matter is less fundamental than fields and energy (my cursory year studying physics at uni is in agreement with this proclamation), and materialism is based on the philosophy that the most fundamental thing is matter, materialism is no longer a philosophy with scientific support.

To try to explain the morphology and evolution of complex life Sheldrake is essentially expanding field theory used every day in physics into biology and life sciences. He defines morphogenesis as the coming into being of form, the way that animals plants and even crystals come into being via some formative process. He posits that molecular biology, DNA genes and chemicals alone can not explain morphogenesis, and the morphogenetic field provides a kind of blueprint for the chemicals and biological material to follow.

The reason why his theory has proven popular with some biologists seems to be the fact that fields in general are inherently holistic, that meaning you can not take a slice out of the Earths gravitational field, or if you chop the north pole off a magnet you dont end up with an isolated north pole you end up with end up with two magnets. The Earths magnetic field is shown below. Although you can not see the field with any methodology you can study the effect it has on physical things.



Magnets behavie totally different to how machines work; machines are made of parts put together that work together without an overall organizing field that makes it a whole, if you cut a machine up into small pieces all you get is a broken computer. If you cut a magnet up you just get lots of little magnets.

Sheldrake's observation after studying biology for years was that life is much more like field phenomena than machines, if you cut an embryo containing egg in half you don't get a broken embryo you still have a fully functional embryo that develops in one half, so you end up with a complete yet smaller embryo.

This is a dragonfly egg that has been cut in two:



This half sized embryo now has a complete morphogenetic field even though it is half the size; no machine would do that. The same goes for plants, you can cut a plant up into lots of little bits and each cutting could become a new plant, you can make thousands of cuttings from a willow tree. You can cut up a flatworm into three bits at the head and tail and it generates a new head and tail from the middle part, if you cut it length ways it regenerates a new half. Each of these new frangments has the field of the complete worm associated with it which leads to this regenerative process.

This is an Earth worm regeneration process:



Humans have far less regenerative powers than say newts or other animals, but far from negligible else we would not heal after injury. If you chop the arm off a newt it will regenerate until it completely grows back, and this can be understood in term of the field associated with the limb even though the limb is no longer materially there. This could be an explanation to what has become known as phantom limb phenomenon, what people feel is the fields habit of regeneration where there is no longer any limb. Newts can even regenerate the entire lens of an eye (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...). In a laboratory the lens was surgically removed, producing a form of damage that would lever usually happen in nature, and what happens is the edge of the iris forms a new lens and regenerates a perfectly functional eye, whereas in the embryonic formation of the eye the lens does not form the edge of the iris but from a flap of skin on the outside. So it has formed a completely new lens in a completely new way using a different tissue than it would normally arise from, showing that there appears to be a blueprint for the complete eye that allows the regenerative process to occur.

Newt lens regeneration process:



Newt limb regeneration:



The part of the theory that some find controversial is the 'attractor' nature of the morphogenetic fields, that there is a end state that attracts matter until the organ has fully embryonicly developed or an attractor that uses the physiological ability of the organism to regenerate to try to grow back a limb from the field blueprint.

A main property of a morphogenetic field is that they are hierarchically organized.



Such as with atoms in molecules and molecules in crystals, the same goes for cells, cells in tissues, tissues in organs, organs in organisms, organisms in societies; everywhere you look in nature there are levels of organization, the parts of one are wholes at another level. Appreciating the totality and wholeness of nature is what a holistic perspective is, whereas a reductionist perspective tries to reduce everything to the smallest possible thing.

Attempting to counter reductionism with a holistic perspective Sheldrake assigns a nested heirchy to the morphogenetic field so the field of an organelle cell is inside the field of the cell, the field of the cell is inside the field of the tissue, the field of the tissue is inside the field of the organ; and these fields work on the lower level fields of the system, giving them morphology and pattern. Sheldrake also states that the morphogenetic field is only one kind of organizing field, the nervous system is highly indeterminate in its behavior and is moderated by another set of fields, behavioral fields. Mental activity is moderated by mental fields. Social groups like flocks of birds or termites are moderated by social fields. All these fields Sheldrake refers to as morphic fields, and morphic fields are the general category of which morphogenetic fields are only one species, the kind of field for the development of form of life as we know it on Earth.

Sheldrake claims that the mathematics of the field is chaos theory and other branches of modern dynamics, including some intrinsic field probability properties, as everything we associate with life in science is pretty much indeterminate over a long time frame. Just like the weather is a chaotic system so does not obey definite laws life is more probabilistic than deterministic, if you look at all the different leaves on a specific tree they all gave the same mechanical building blocks they all have the same genes and the same morphogenetic fields yet every leaf is different.




posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 08:14 AM
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They all have the same general form, the same probability structure, but they are individually different, and the morphic fields impose patterns on probabilistic processes, they impose patterns of form onto developing organisms and patterns on the activity of the nervous system, so they underpin behavior and social organization as well.

A materialist may ask what gives the morphogenetic fields their form, is it the genes? Sheldrake says no, we know what genes do, they encode for proteins and are involved in protein synthesis, they don't explain the form of an organism they give us the parts to make it, a bit like the components in a TV set.

Sheldrake rejects comparisons between morphic fields and platonism, the philosophy that platonic equations exist outside time and space, because fields evolve. Dinosaurs came into being they are now extinct, animals and birds fields evolved from dinosaurs, they weren't all there at the time of the Big Bang or the origin of life on Earth. He explains this as the fields having a kind of memory of previous forms that arises from morphic resonance; the influence of similar patterns of activity on subsequent similar patterns of activity across space and time. So what matters is similarity, like other fields like the gravitational field or quantum field, it doesn't matter about the distance in space and time. Einstein (I think) called this spooky action at a distance, as every atom in the universe is acted on simultaneously by such fields. Any form that has happened before in the self organised biological system will make it easier to happen again.

This creates what could be referred to as a kind of collective memory in each kind of field, each species of plant has a kind of collective memory, as will each species of animal, a memory of form as the organism develops and an epigenetic memory of behavior, the collective heritable memory for animals and their instincts and patterns of behavior. This implies many laws of nature are more habits than anthropomorphic laws, the longer the habit is re-enforced the harder it is to break. I would not be happy extending Sheldrakes theories into laws of physics as readily as he does, however, he seems to have subject specific bias in this regard. According to him everything has this kind of memory, including crystals for example. If you make a new crystal that has never existed before there will not be a morphogenetic field for it you have to wait for one to come into being, but if you keep doing the same thing and make crystals all over the world it becomes easier to crystallize, things will form more readily.

This is known to happen when it comes to crystals, they are easier to crystallize the more often they are made. This happens in part because chemists share appropriate techniques, but the common conventional explanation for this phenomenon is that fragments of crystals are carried around the world from lab to lab where they serve as 'seeds' for subsequent crystallizations. The folklore of chemistry is littered with anecdotes on this subject. The carriers for these seeds are usually migrant scientists, especially chemists with beards, which can 'harbor nuclei for almost any crystallization process'. An easy way to test the morphic resonance theory for this would be to separate a crystallization laboratory from contamination and ensure the technique and staff stayed the same.

A few experiments that relate to this have been done with mutant fruit-flies where their balancing organs have been transformed into an extra pair of wings.



The wings are a bit like the wings of an ancestor of flies; dragonflies, which adds credence to Sheldrakes hypothesis; through changes in genes it's as if the fluitfly flicked the channel or operating system back to an old one. And for reasons no body really understands you can produce the same effect by changing the environment of fruit-flies. If you expose three hour old fruitfly eggs to fumes of ether the flies that develop some of them develop with four wings instead of two, this experiment was first done by Waddington some 50 years ago ( onlinelibrary.wiley.com... ). He found if you keep doing this over the generations more and more flies develop abnormally. At the time he put this down to a genetic effect, but it has since been reproduced at the open university by Dr Mae-Wan Ho and colleagues and over a series of generations, with an inbred strain so you can have no genetic effect, the number of mutant flies increased roughly linearly with each generation up to 35% of the population until the ether treatment was stopped and still for generations, at a declining rate, they were forming four winged flies.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 08:15 AM
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On repeating the experiment with fresh flies each iteration produced a steeper trend, the flies mutated into the mutated form easier than before, even though the flies had no genetic link to the previous ones.

(sorry for the bad quality picture but here is her data)



The implication of this is that rats should learn a trick faster after a previous rat has worked it out, this idea has received some references in popular culture if I remeber correctly from the forum under the label 'hundredth monkey effect', based on the folklore about how monkeys on disparate islands in Japan all learned exactly the same behavioral technique of washing potatoes man had just recently introduced them to in the sea to make them taste nicer. According to Sheldrake's model, the more a new trait is practiced by the members of a given species, the more likely other individuals will pick it up through resonance, so the same should apply to human beings.

Countless people have learned to type on the QWERTY keyboard. If morphic resonance is real, we should expect people to learn this layout more readily than random layouts. This is indeed the case. Even the alphabetical layout, which should be easier to learn, is often harder to learn, though in a few experiments it was equally easy to learn as the QWERTY layout. (Norman and Fisher, 1982. Human Factors 24:509-519.) (Hirsch, 1970. Journal of Applied Psychology 54:484-490.)

Arden Mahlberg, a psychologist, carried out a test of the ability to learn Morse Code. He had one group of subjects learn actual Morse Code, while another had to learn a newly-invented code that closely resembled it. He found that subjects were able to learn the actual code far more rapidly than the alternative, and he interpreted this as evidence that the subjects were resonating with the millions of people who had already learned Morse code. Each time he replicated the experiment, he found that the difference in earning time between Morse code and the new one progressively decreased. This might mean that the initial results were false. But the fact that the decrease was progressive suggests that the morphic resonance of the new code was becoming progressively stronger as more and more students learned it. (Mahlberg, 1987. Journal of Analytical Psychology 32:23-34.)

This should mean that football, programming and skateboarding are all getting easier to master with time. This seems to be the case, but it equally could be improved education, improved training videos, new technology, anything; so to test this you need to have standardized experiments where the same test is done over and over again. Sheldrake soon realized that a good test of this would be IQ tests which have been conducted in much the same way for many many years. Morphic resonance predicts that people are get better with time at the tests, not because people are getting more intelligent but because more and more people had already done them.

James Flyn looked into this and found that just this was happening, which is now named the Flynn effect.



In every population that has been looked at since the same effect is apparent. The cause of this correlation is still disputed in the literature. Soon Sheldrake discovered that in Holland the exams come in three or four versions, questions 1-8 are on one paper and questions 9-16 on another, etc, to avoid cheating. In effect the entire dutch exam system is set up as a morphic resonance experiment. Dick Beerman from the university of Amsterdam has recently looked into the data from eight psychology exams and found that in seven out of eight the questions done afterwards had higher scores done before, his assistant is now looking into the archive data to avoid sample bias for a more statistically significant correlation.

Not content with what he had found Sheldrake felt the need to back up his very controversial theory with ways he could test morphic resonance himself, to try to win over the skeptics. The first experiment he conducted was with puzzle pictures broadcast on TV, where it's hard to make out what the picture is of. He tested people under controlled conditions in germany and other parts of europe and found out how many of them could recognize the hidden image. Then one was selected at random and 8 million people in the UK saw the image and answer on tomorrows world when someone had to solve it. The question was would people in Germany be able to get the image far faster in Germany than they did before, so the experiments were repeated, and they did. Then it was repeated on ITV in Britain and it worked a second time, these results were published in New Scientist. The Tomorrow’s World experiment was successful in Europe but not in North America.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 08:16 AM
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The rhyme experiment was again successful but many complained that the old rhyme was easier to learn than the new one, the same problem occurred with the language experiment. The reason why the old rhyme is nearly always easier to learn is a matter of contention.

Since then Sheldrake has conducted a number of experiments to try to prove his theory, in the name of testing a contentious theory. Most of these have been dismissed by skepics and many scientists as nonsense experiments, as they have not looked into the theory before they look at the experiments. Some of them include dogs that know when their owners are coming home, the sense of being stared at and other experiments that would be classified as parapsychology. Although the chance of errors in methodology are high for such experiments some of them have given a remarkable statistical significance. I would go into them here and keep typing had I not just stumbled upon a well written dissertation, that gives a far more comprehensive summary of Sheldrakes science and experiments at skeptico.com where the author examines all of Sheldrakes publications in light of scientific evidence and contrasts this with the skeptical cultures reaction and the scientists reaction for each. Here is the paper, with references to each study:

Rupert Sheldrake and the wider scientific community

I will quote the conclusion only:


The guiding philosophy of modern western science is an idea of being predominantly open minded, impartial and objective. These virtues are said to maintain ‘fairness’ in the scientific community, yet many of Dr. Sheldrake’s critics (most of who are well-respected in their fields) seem go against the norms of science. John Maddox seemed to become emotionally committed to denouncing Dr Sheldrake’s theories by using extreme language to attack his work. Such emotion against fellow scientists itself goes against the core values of science, and at the same time perhaps explains why so many scientists seem to lose objectivity in relation to Dr Sheldrake, and why they are compelled to break the norms of science.

When Peter Atkins admitted he hadn’t read the research on telepathy, he justified his criticism of it by saying “I’ve read [Sheldrake’s] experiments in the past on other off the wall ideas that [he’s] had.” During a debate at the Cambridge Science Festival in 2009, Lewis Wolpert said he wouldn’t trust Dr Sheldrake’s research ‘for a second’. Judging a scientist’s research based on their past work goes against the norm of universalism which is the view that research should be judged on its own merits.

The way in which Richard Wiseman presented the results of his dog experiment would seem to go against the norm of disinterestedness, as although his results matched those of Dr Sheldrake’s, Wiseman’s paper did not state this and instead the results were given in a way which support his view that the dog was not telepathic.



Institutions such as CSI (formally called CSICOP) claim to be good examples of organised scepticism, however many of their actions would seem to be more like those of the counter-norm organised dogmatism. Scientist David Marks unexpectedly repeated Dr Sheldrake’s results in a staring experiment, and then searched for and found a ‘flaw’ in his experiment which he went on to suggest was the reason for Sheldrake’s positive results as well. Although Marks spent a great deal of time critically scrutinising why he repeated Dr Sheldrake’s research, he did not do the same with his resulting theory on how he achieved positive results. Organised Scepticism is clearly applied to Dr Sheldrake’s work but not to the theories and research which disputed his results.

Perhaps, one day, the theory of morphic resonance will be vindicated and telepathic phenomena accepted. In which case Rupert Sheldrake will surely be remembered alongside Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, and his detractors looked upon with the same indifference as the Cardinals who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope. But even if Dr Sheldrake’s theories are disproved and his experimental results shown to be unsound, it still seems unlikely that those within the scientific community who have condemned Dr Sheldrake and his work will be looked on kindly by future generations of scientists. For surely the harsh rhetoric, the refusal to look at results before criticising them, and the misrepresentation of events and data is far more damaging to science than some incorrect theories and a few flawed experiments.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 08:17 AM
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I'm of the opinion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This would definitely need extraordinary independent proof, conducted over many many years. It seems a few phenomenon can be best explained by his theory on the face of it, but the small scale nature of the some of the experiments and his methodology deserves the full attention of skeptics and scientists, as Sheldrake says himself the informed skeptisism of scientifically minded skeptics is of paramount importance. It does not deserve dismissal by people before they have even read what he has to say and what evidence he gives, which is what happened in the thread I started at JREF before I got the chance to even post any worthwhile material.


Dr Sheldrake went on to publish the findings of his experiments in a book appropriately entitled The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. In a USA Today article, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skepticmagazine, condemned the researchsaying “[Sheldrake] has never met a goofy idea he didn’t like”. Shermer went on to say that the seemingly anomalous phenomena described in the book “are perfectly explicable by normal means”.[38]

However, when Dr Sheldrake asked Shermer to give an example of the ‘normal means’ he described, Shermer could not, stating that he had ‘not gotten to’ reading the book or related papers.[39]

In March 2003, Dr Sheldrake challenged Shermer to a debate, which he accepted, and several times and venues were suggested, but all were rejected by Shermer. As of 2009, the debate has still not taken place.


Thanks for your time.

Now, someone slaughter my above post please



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 09:34 AM
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Very Interesting .

I think the "hundredth monkey" thing would serve well as an explanation for the many cases of synchronous invention in disparate locations throughout history.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 10:05 AM
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Wow thanks ZeuZZ for a stunning read/presentation, I'm bound to find out more about this Sheldrake character.

100xS&Fs!!


It would seem to me that Sheldrake's theory resonates beautifully with the work of Ebner and Schürch, as introduced to ATS by that other brilliant thread-of-the-month, The Primeval Code... Come to think of it.. it's been years since looking into Michael Talbot's "The Holographic Universe" theory...



and David Talbot's (!?) electric universe theory



guess the point is, these theories could be combined to form an alternative "Unified Theory of the Universe", where the totality of the universe exists before matter is formed. Exciting stuff

As intuitively right as these theories sound, I would love to see the experiments that vindicates it. It's about time humanity evolved past reductionist materialism to holism.

The Whole is in the Part, the Part is in the Whole
edit on 10/4/13 by PadawanGandalf because: ...because



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 10:11 AM
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I really dig Sheldrake. I've been a fan for a while. His theories are fascinating and compelling- and he is just a very likeable guy to boot!

I appreciate your bringing his work to our attention here!



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 10:55 AM
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Thanks for explaining what The Doctor is always talking about!

(and exposing me to an interesting new way to think things might work


As to the "ad-hominem approach to science," Ben Stein's movie "Expelled" is about this exact thing. Most people I've talked to about the movie (who didn't see it) don't *want* to see it because "it's about creationism vs evolution".

But the movie is *REALLY* about how the pursuit of observations that contradict "known theory" is shut down academically.

So it doesn't surprise me that Sheldrake is unsupported by his peers.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 11:17 AM
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Originally posted by theGleep
Thanks for explaining what The Doctor is always talking about!

(and exposing me to an interesting new way to think things might work


As to the "ad-hominem approach to science," Ben Stein's movie "Expelled" is about this exact thing. Most people I've talked to about the movie (who didn't see it) don't *want* to see it because "it's about creationism vs evolution".

But the movie is *REALLY* about how the pursuit of observations that contradict "known theory" is shut down academically.

So it doesn't surprise me that Sheldrake is unsupported by his peers.


Can you give some examples please? Most creationists are delusional. And ignore quite concrete evidence. I presumed Steins film was much the same, can you cite a couple of examples and what theories they violate?

Ok I just watched 30 minutes. What a pile of crap! Sorry but that really is pseudoscience, they completely misrepresent the elegance and beauty of evolutionary theory and then simply destroy their own strawman.
edit on 10-4-2013 by ZeuZZ because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 12:48 PM
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Nice Alex Grey Avatar. I've had that pic on my wall for years.

Regarding the post, its like a dissertation you did their. Can you make an abstract.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 12:50 PM
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Don't label people that disagree with you as delusional. Why is not possible God created all that you speak of in this post and how is that this man you quote possesses the true knowledge of the universe.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 01:01 PM
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Originally posted by LastStarfighter
Don't label people that disagree with you as delusional. Why is not possible God created all that you speak of in this post and how is that this man you quote possesses the true knowledge of the universe.


Have you seen gods facebook page? I'm so glad that with the internet now it's easy to finally see what a douche he is


I am sorry for using the term delusional, its just I have just watched a debate where a creationist tries to argue that the Earth is 6000 years old! Which is so absurd it's beyond words.

See the thread I started on this exact matter: Why mocking intelligent design believers scientifically is not fair

To give a historical precedent to what I just said let explain that we in the West are the inheritors of a very different understanding of the world. Loss of connection to the Tao has meant that the psychological development of Western civilization has been markedly different from the East’s. In the West there has been a steady focus on the ego and on the god of the ego, the monotheistic ideal.

Monotheism exhibits what is essentially a pathological personality pattern projected onto the ideal of God: the pattern of the paranoid, possessive, power-obsessed male ego. This God is not someone you would care to invite to a garden party. Also interesting is that the Western ideal is the only formulation of deity that has no relationship with woman at any point in the theological myth. In ancient Babylon Anu was paired with his consort Inanna; Grecian religion assigned Zeus a wife, many consorts, and daughters. These heavenly pairings are typical. Only the god of Western civilization has no mother, no sister, no female consort, and no daughter.

Modern religion in the West is a set of social patterns, or a set of anxieties centered on a particular moral structure and view of obligation. Modern religion is rarely an experience of setting aside the ego.

The global triumph of Western values means we, as a species, have wandered into a state of prolonged neurosis because of the absence of a connection to the unconscious. Our estrangement from nature and the unconscious became entrenched roughly two thousand years ago, during the shift from the Age of the Great God Pan to that of Pisces that occurred with the suppression of the pagan mysteries and the rise of Christianity. The psychological shift that ensued left European civilization staring into two millennia of religious mania and persecution, warfare, materialism, and rationalism.
edit on 10-4-2013 by ZeuZZ because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 01:06 PM
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Originally posted by LastStarfighter
Nice Alex Grey Avatar. I've had that pic on my wall for years.


Thanks, it's my favorite one of his pictures. I use it on all forums. I recently got suspended from JREF forum for unknown reasons, so I'm used to making my points as coherent and empirically referenced as possible.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 01:30 PM
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post removed because the user has no concept of manners

Click here for more information.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 01:57 PM
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Originally posted by LastStarfighter
My friend, your first sentence indicates you are just another pot head typing a lot.

Best to you.


Which first sentence?

And thanks for your input.



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 02:27 PM
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The thing about calling God a douche



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 02:54 PM
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From the evidence I have been presented with he seems to be. Do you have evidence to the contrary?



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 03:13 PM
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Amazing stuff, I'll be reading up on it that's for sure. Random question for you, what are you ideas on shapeshifting?

Does it just make you laugh or does it make you wonder?

Here's a thread I worked on a bit a few weeks ago:

Shapeshifting: Scientifically possible?



posted on Apr, 10 2013 @ 03:57 PM
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Originally posted by Time2Think
Amazing stuff, I'll be reading up on it that's for sure. Random question for you, what are you ideas on shapeshifting?

Does it just make you laugh or does it make you wonder?

Here's a thread I worked on a bit a few weeks ago:

Shapeshifting: Scientifically possible?


That was an interesting read, also interesting you brought up the mimic octopus, I started a thread here about it here that was highly rated. I lookedinto the science of how it does this at JREF forum here. I thought you were going to go David Icke on me for a second, as in shapeshifting humans ... which is extremely unlikely. Would make for a great movie though
edit on 10-4-2013 by ZeuZZ because: (no reason given)





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