A New Zoology

the formative field body

The following passage is from Dr Hermann Poppelbaum's A New Zoology, pp.7-8:


The contrast between minerals and plants stands out clearly for unprejudiced observation and thinking. A stone, rock, or mineral, offers to our direct perception all the elements which are requisite to understand its shape. This shape is stationary until destroyed from without. A living plant, however, changes its shape of its own accord. What we see at any given moment is obviously not the whole plant. The leaf withers, the blossom falls, the seed perishes as it gives rise to a new plant. All these parts and phases together, and none of them alone, deserve the name "plant". Even the outline of the plant is not its real borderline in space because all the surrounding conditions lend their cooperation to the living actual shape. We must even include the life-story of the whole species as a part which literally belongs to the plant in a no less real sense than any of its appearing parts and organs.

When asked, then, to imagine the whole plant, the student has to plunge with his imagination into the flux of time and realize that only a section of the whole appears before him at any moment. Further, he finds himself compelled to pass from the single specimen to the species and from there to the family and type in order to grasp an ever widening range of "belonging" shapes, a vast multiplicity spread out through time.

Some recent biologists, among them Holger Klingstedt, have tried to satisfy this need by adding a time-extension to the total picture of the living being and have spoken of a time-body. But it is not enough to think of the insertion of the living body in an abstract time-space continuum. We have to acknowledge the existence of a specific structure-bestowing field out of which the living being takes on its growing and propagating shape. We can speak of a morphogenetic field that comprises the visible and changing form of everything which lives.

To imagine such a morphogenetic field realistically requires a serious mental effort. Such a field is a mani/oldness which contains all the antecedent and sucessive phases which the plant has taken on before and will have in the future, or even might assume if conditions were changed. It is in fact an invisible body of past, future, and potential shapes in an organized manifoldness that transcends ordinary space and reaches out into the realm of time backwards and forwards.

The living being, plant, animal, or man, somehow carries with itself this invisible and time-extended multiplicity. It cannot be thought without it, because this multiplicity is active in every step of growth, however minute, in every formation of new organs, and in the reduplication of the shape in propagation. Without it, the living individual would become at once a disorganized jumble of substances and forces. In fact it would die without it.

Thus in imagining realistically this superadded multiple "body" of shapes we are closer to the problem of living than by an abstract definition of what life "means". To be alive means, to possess such a body of morphogenetic forces.

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page uploaded 12 December 1999, relocated, last modified 23 December 2001