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|Sheldrake, Rupert. Seven Experiments That Could Change the World. |
New York: Riverhead, 1995.
|"Günther Becker in Berlin has demonstrated in laboratory experiments that termites can influence each other by what he calls a 'biofield,' which could be electrical in nature....|
...Becker suggested the 'biofield' was probably an alternating low-energy electric field produced by the termites themselves.
However, given that electrical and magnetic fields can influence the building activities of termites, such fields are unlikely to be able to provide the blueprint for the entire nest.... Another, more mysterious, kind of field seems likely to be involved as well.
Experiments carried out by the South African naturalist Eugène Marais suggest that such a field exists. In the 1920's, Marais made a fascinating series of observations of the way workers of a Eutermes species repaired large breaches he made in their mounds. The workers started repairing the breach from every side, each carrying a grain of earth which it coated with its sticky saliva, and glued into place. The workers on different sides of the breach did not come into contact with each other, and could not see each other, being blind. Nevertheless, the structures built out from the different sides joined together correctly. The repair activity seemed to be coordinated by some overall organizing structure, which Marais attributed to the group soul, and I prefer to think of as a morphic field.
Take a steel plate a few feet wider and higher than the termitary. Drive it right through the centre of the breach you have made, in such a way that you divide the wound and the termitary into two separate parts. One section of the community can never be in touch with the other, and one of the sections will be separated from the queen's cell. The builders on one side of the breach know nothing of those on the other side. In spite of this the termites build a similar arch or tower on each side of the plate. When eventually you withdraw the plate, the two halves match perfectly after the dividing cut has been repaired. We cannot escape the ultimate conclusions that somewhere there exists a preconceived plan which the termites merely execute. Where is the soul, the psyche, in which this preconception exists?. . .Where [do the workers] obtain [their respective parts] of the general design? We can drive in the steel plate and then make a breach on either side and still the termites build identical structures on each side.
Marais's experiments imply the existence of an organizing field which, unlike the gallery-inhibiting field investigated by Becker, was not blocked by a metal plate, and was therefore unlikely to be electrical in nature.
Marais took this research further, with results that imply that the organizing field is intimately linked to the queen, and that the death of the queen causes an immediate disruption of the entire field.:
While the termites are carrying on their work of restoration on either side of the steel plate, dig a furrow enabling you to reach the queen's cell, disturbing the nest as little as possible. Expose the queen and destroy her. Immediately the whole community ceases work on either side of the plate. We can separate the termites from the queen for months by means of this plate, yet in spite of this they continue working systematically while she is alive in her cell; destroy or remove her, however, and their activity is at an end.
As far as I know, no one has ever tried to repeat Marais's experiments. The reductionist climate of modern biology is inhospitable to Marais's approach, and his work has been ignored by professional researchers. But in my opinion his findings provide the most startling point for a new wave of research on the organization of insect societies.
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