One of the greatest mysteries in the natural world is the amazing ability of certain animals to develop what can only be called technology, ranging from simple burrows and crude nests to the dams and canals built by beavers and the complex structures and the farming and ranching activities of some social insects. No conventional explanation for this is adequate—there is something going on here that modern materialist/reductionist science cannot understand.
As far back as the late pre-Cambrian, in the Ediacaran period (635–543 million years before the present) very simple multi-celled animals, some resembling modern sponges, appeared. There are traces in the rock that seem to indicate that some of these at least burrowed in the mud. It’s easy to take this for granted, but even the simplest burrow is a manufactured structure. How did such behavior “evolve”? Of course, contemporary animals like voles make more complex underground homes, often with multiple entrances as escape routes, and prairie dog “cities” are even more elaborate.
The tendency of some animals, like certain primates, to use simple tools like rocks to break nuts or twigs or grass stems to pull termites out of holes is relatively easy to explain. These are intelligent animals, and one individual might have “invented” the idea and taught it to others.
We take bird nests for granted, but these are, after all, manufactured structures and hence, in the broad sense, technology. And some are quite elaborate. Swallows build nests of hardened mud, suspended under the eaves of buildings and under bridges (human technology has been quite a boon for them). Male bowerbirds build elaborate and highly decorated structures to attract females. It’s all very well to say that all of this is merely “instinct,” but giving something a name does not explain it. How is this behavior passed on from generation to generation? Above all, how did it begin in the first place?
When it comes to technology, however, birds and their nests must take a back seat to beavers. There are two species of these rodents: Castor canadenis in North America and Castor fiber in Eurasia. Both species build dams, often very, very large, of logs, sticks, and mud, to dam small streams and create large ponds. They must then labor constantly to repair the dams as they erode away. In the pond they build their lodges—large, domed structures with underwater entrances, making them fairly safe from predators, with ventilation holes near the top. How could such complex behavior “evolve”? How could they “know” how to do all of these things? On top of that, beavers dig canals to float heavy logs to the pond. And they can modify their behavior if necessary; not five blocks from where I sit writing this is the American River, too deep and swift for a dam or a lodge, yet trees on its banks show the unmistakable tooth marks of beavers, who live in burrows under the bank, with underwater entrances. This is the same kind of home built by muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), which, although they are rodents, are not closely related to beavers. Yet muskrats also at times build crude lodges called “push-ups,” smaller and less elaborate than those made by beavers. This, it seems, is also an example of parallel “evolution,” at least in terms of behavior.
Many solitary wasps build mud nests not unlike those made by swallows; and social wasps, with a queen, drones, etc., build large and complex nests of paper, which they manufacture by chewing up wood, bark, and vegetation. Of course, bees manufacture beeswax and use it to build equally complex nests (both bee and wasp nests are composed of hexagonal cells) where they store the honey they make from nectar and tend their eggs and feed their larvae. Their complex social structure consists of an egg-laying queen, drones to fertilize her, and workers to gather nectar, tend the eggs and larvae, and defend the hive.
But this is “low tech” compared to some ants. Leaf-cutter ants, common in Central and South America, cut pieces from leaves and carry them back to their underground nests where they chew them to a pulp and use them to grow a species of fungus that is their food. They are, in a sense, farmers. There are some 47 species of leaf-cutter ants in the Acromyrex and Atta genera—yet another example of parallel “evolution.” Some of their nests are up to 260 feet across and contain as many as eight million ants. Incredibly, there are several species of ambrosia beetles that dig nests in trees and use wood pulp to grow fungus as their food. As if this wasn’t enough, Macrotermes natalensis, termites native to Africa, build huge above-ground nests of hardened mud containing up to two million termites in one nest. The nests are designed (they live in a hot part of the world) to allow hot air to rise and escape and cause cool air to be sucked in. And they chew up wood and vegetation and use it to grow their food, another kind of fungus.
And some ants herd and protect aphids that feed on plants and secrete honeydew, which the ants eat. They bite the wings off the aphids so they cannot escape, and bring them into their warm nests in cold winter weather.
The materialist science of the neo-Darwinists cannot explain any of this. But then neither can it explain the development of any living organisms, since DNA merely tells a cell which proteins to produce. It does not explain how tissues differentiate, or how a developing plant or animal “knows” which tissues to grow where, to build different organs in the right places. Author and biologist Rupert Sheldrake has developed the idea of morphic fields. He has proposed that a mysterious field, analogous to an electrical field, provides the scaffolding on which tissues can develop. In other words, part of an organism’s inheritance is in the DNA, and part is in the field (those in plants and animals are called morphogenetic fields), which is also inherited from the parents. The DNA and the field interact. Note that this resembles the “astral body” proposed by spiritualists. So, for example, a human fetus in the womb is surrounded by a field that already contains the structure of eyes, limbs, internal organs, and so forth; and as cells divide, this field “tells” them how to specialize and where to grow. Sheldrake further proposes that much animal behavior is also inherited via these morphogenetic fields.
Sheldrake has developed the idea of “nested holons.” A holon is an individual component or being composed of smaller components or beings that is itself a component of a larger one. A brick is composed of molecules (themselves made of atoms that, in turn, are made of subatomic particles) and can be part of a wall…that can be part of a building, that is part of a city, and so on. Individual social insects are made of cells (which are composed of organelles, made of molecules, etc.), and the insects are part of a “super-organism,” the entire colony, held together by individual fields that connect into a larger field. The colonies link into a species field, which connects with the fields of other life forms, and ultimately forms a planet-wide Gaia field that is part of a universal field. Fields “resonate” with similar fields, explaining inheritance, including the inheritance of certain behaviors. Sheldrake believes that short-term memory may be encoded in the physical brain but that long-term memory may be in the morphogenetic field.
Sheldrake carries the idea even further, speculating that all the fields, including the universal one, have a kind of memory and that even physical laws and constants may be more like habits, developing over time, actually changing. Note that the very term “fields” is used for want of a better one, and while an organism’s field is fairly easy to visualize, as an astral body, larger fields and those governing inorganic processes are more like ever-higher levels of collective consciousness. This whole concept implies that philosophical idealism, rather than materialism, explains the universe most effectively. It fits perfectly with the theory of intelligent design in evolution, and, of course, the universal field is the universal mind, or God. This is not the place to speculate about the nature of a Supreme Being or to support or attack any religion.
Sheldrake also suggests that, in certain cases and within certain limits, acquired characteristics may be inherited via the morphogenetic fields. Early naturalists like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) believed this, and the idea is often referred to as “Lamarckism.” Even Charles Darwin believed that traits an individual animal acquired during its lifetime might be passed on to its progeny, but, although Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko briefly revived the idea, the neo-Darwinists who dominate the life sciences today do not accept it. Eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century Americans generally had a better diet with more animal protein than their European counterparts, and were generally taller; and heavier. Post WWII Europeans have enjoyed a better diet, and each generation has been taller… this looks like a good example of the heritability of acquired characteristics.
Sheldrake, in his various books, cites considerable evidence for morphic fields. For one thing, genes control only about five percent of human height; this is called the “missing heritability problem.” (See above.) He mentions the similar lives of identical twins separated at birth, and the fact that rats learn to get through mazes more quickly if other rats have previously experienced the same maze. A connecting group field may explain the uncanny ability of schools of fish and flocks of birds to maneuver together with perfect coordination—to some extent they may be a super-organism whose components communicate via the field. In the inorganic realm, Sheldrake points out that newly-developed compounds are notoriously difficult to crystallize, but after such a compound has done so once, other chemists can produce a sample, and it crystallizes much more quickly.
He also discusses parallel evolution, which is hard to explain with materialist science, but the resonance between morphic fields could cause similar organisms to “evolve” separately. Sheldrake cites the close similarities of marsupial sugar gliders and placental flying squirrels; they look very similar and both glide in the same manner. Then there are marsupial and placental moles, and marsupial and placental jerboas (a kind of jumping mouse). This might also explain such mysteries as the emergence of monkeys in both the Old World and the new after the continents had been separated by plate tectonics, which I discussed in a previous article for Atlantis Rising #104, “The Beasts of Beringia.” Since very primitive primates lived in both places, the morphic fields of monkeys in Africa might cause the development of monkeys in South America (or vice versa). Extending this idea further, we can speculate about parallel evolution on different planets, since morphic fields may not be limited by time and space.
But how can morphogenetic fields explain animal technology? For one thing, remember that social ants, bees, or termites can be seen as constituting a super-organism, and it is not unreasonable to suspect that such an organism may have a collective consciousness much more intelligent than any individual insect. If fields resonate with similar fields, even animals like beavers may be loosely connected with one another and with their ancestors. So the animals may, in a certain sense, be more intelligent than we commonly realize, and learned behavior may be inherited.
As to how the behavior, the technology, developed to begin with, consider human geniuses. Many great discoveries have been made by people who felt that their inspiration came from some higher source (hence the classical Greek belief in the Muses). A commonly cited example is the chemist Kekule, whose discovery that the benzene molecule is a ring, came to him in a vision when he was half asleep.
So imagine some early ancestor of modern beavers. From a higher source, the group mind of its ancestors and relatives, or the Gaia field, or from God, the beaver receives inspiration to build dams, lodges, and canals. These “discoveries” may have come all together at once, or piecemeal. The inspiration is passed on to its descendants and, with like fields resonating, to other beavers of the same kind, to another beaver species, and, to a limited degree, to muskrats. The same would be true of the social insects. If one species was inspired to grow fungus, for example, the idea could spread to the colony’s descendants and to other ant species, or from ant to termite (or vice versa), and even to the beetles.
Like many other mysteries that confound modern science, a full understanding of animal technologies will likely not come unless science abandons the knee-jerk materialism that has dominated it for so long.