Development of the Enformy Theory

Donald E. Watson — Updated January 18, 1998

In my 62 years, I've enjoyed three major careers. In the first, I studied neurophysiology, membrane biophysics, computer science, information theory, ecology, and physics. Then I took a psychiatric residency, and practiced psychiatry for several years. Now, I'm in my third career: mulling over and writing about what I've learned through the years.

Have I changed careers because I'm restless? Yes and no. My curiosity makes me restless; I'm constantly driven to learn new things. On the other hand, I'm very patient: I've been seeking an answer to two questions I first asked when I was five years old. But time and experience have shown me that no academic discipline held the answers to my questions. Now I know that an explorer can't find new lands by staying on the roads built by others. Nor can he find the new lands by remaining in one place, expecting them to come to him. That's why I've traveled through many disciplines.

When I was five, I realized I was self-aware. I wondered, "How can I be aware of my own existence?" I also pondered non-awareness, and whether that meant non-existence. So I asked, "What does it mean to die?" These are not unusual questions, of course. But I was determined to find their answers on my own, instead of believing what anyone told me. And that is unusual—especially for a child.

I found luck in my search on my first day of kindergarten. That's when I met Jack Hetherington. Neither of us had siblings, so we became as close as brothers. Jack, too, wanted to find out about the real world, so we started doing science in grade school—asking questions, making observations, performing experiments. Jack's interests tended mainly toward Physics (he's now Professor of Physics at Michigan State University) and mine tended more toward Biology and Psychology. Yet despite our special interests, each of us maintained our transdisciplinary interests in everything.

In high school, Biology was disappointing to me. We studied all sorts of life forms, but not life itself. Turns out, that's true of Biology in general; it doesn't explain life or death. Then I discovered Neurophysiology. I was seduced by the promise of understanding self-awareness by studying how the brain works. But at 19, when it was time to apply for graduate school (I had accelerated my schooling) I made the most consequential decision of my professional life. Knowing my transdisciplinary worldview, I reasoned, "If I take a PhD in Physiology, I'll probably do Physiology for the rest of my life. But if I take an MD, I can do Physiology—and a lot of other things!" So I chose medical school, and I've never regretted it.

As soon as I finished my internship, I went to Albert Einstein College of Medicine for a postdoctoral fellowship in Neurophysiology. I enjoyed the subject—which didn't surprise me—but after a couple of years, I experienced an epiphany—which did surprise me. I told my office mate, "We'll never figure out how the brain thinks because the brain doesn't think. The person thinks. And we're not studying persons." I decided that Neurophysiology, as interesting as it is, was simply not suited to the job at hand. Since no one wanted to talk about my questions, I proceeded to change my research direction—alone again.

It might seem surprising that I didn't begin studying persons at that time, but it isn't. I believed, as most scientists do, that reducing things to their smallest parts will eventually illuminate the big picture. So I went to the University of Washington in Seattle to study membranes for another two years of postdoctoral fellowship. Still, no enlightening insights on self-awareness or life and death emerged.

In 1963, I took a position as Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLL). There, my research focused—even more reductively—on the electrochemistry of ion-selective electrodes far from equilbrium. That research interested me, but I realized I was straying farther and farther from answering my propelling questions. Yet still determined to find the key reductively, I studied ecology, quantum physics, and computer science. The resources and people at LLL, especially my collaborator, Don Yee, made that quite easy.

Then, in about 1965, Jack Hetherington suggested that I consider Claude Shannon's discovery that information was isomorphic with entropy—and hence negentropy. Studying information theory excited me, because my intuition told me that something about information-as-negentropy could eventually lead to understanding life and self-awareness—and it has, though not directly.

I finally admitted to myself that I couldn't go any further until I studied persons. It wasn't easy to plan to go back to school; I had a family to support. But I was driven by my questions, and residency salaries were sufficient to live on. This option was available to me only because of my decision of many years before; taking an MD instead of a PhD proved to be a consequential decision, indeed. So, at 40, I entered a psychiatric residency at the University of California, Irvine.

Did I learn about persons in psychiatry? I certainly did. Did I learn the conceptual roots of self-awareness? I did not. That's not what psychiatry is about. Nevertheless, I persisted in mulling the problems. Intuition told me that the two topics of my quest—self-awareness and life itself—are deeply related to organization. And my ideas about the importance of information kept badgering me. I figured it was important, but information couldn't provide a deep explanation of life and self-awareness for four reasons: It is passive, it isn't fundamental, it isn't conserved, and it can't organize anything. In other words, information is the product, not the origin, of organization.

Then one morning about 15 years ago, I awakened with another epiphany experience: There must exist a fundamental, conserved organizing principle—a capacity to organize, like energy, the capacity to perform work. This notion really excited me. I searched the literature trying to find out if anyone else had come up with this concept. But there was no mainstream literature at that time. For instance, David Bohm hadn't yet published his ideas about "active information" and "passive information." Instead, the ideas of self-awareness and life itself were dismissed as givens. They were considered fundamental to science, not subjects for scientific inquiry. So, I continued my lonely quest.

I named the organizing principle enformy (pronounced en'-fer-my; derived from Latin informare—to give form to). Then I began to explore the implications of the idea in earnest. In 1993, I published an essay, "Enformy: The Capacity to Organize," in Thinking on the Edge (Richard Kapnick and Aidan Kelly, eds. Burbank, California: Agamemnon Press, 1993).

I discovered the power of the enformy theory in a convincing way. First, I realized that it predicted a large number of phenomena that I didn't "believe in:" telepathy, psychokinesis, "ghosts" (apparitions), and other psychic and parapsychological phenomena. This troubled me because, like the vast majority of scientists, I dismissed such notions as fanciful. But I was in for a surprise because I had no idea how much literature was available on the subjects—until I began searching the web. There, I discovered a wealth of astonishing information, including the work of Helmut Schmidt, Dean Radin, the PEAR lab at Princeton, and many other scientists. In short, the literature produced by these researchers confirmed the predictions of my own theory—and made a "believer" of me!

I also made another exciting discovery on the web: The Society for Scientific Exploration. The SSE is an organization of scientists established to encourage scientists to perform work that is generally considered marginal—if it's considered at all. I applied for membership in SSE, and was accepted as a full member.

To stimulate my imagination further, I wrote the first draft of a novel, The Last Miracle. In the novel, a vastly superhuman entity, who is not material at all, helps a human scientist discover enformy, and demonstrates the things possible with the principle—e.g., telepathy, psychokinesis, healing, etc. (I'm currently rewriting the novel with the help of wonderful folks in the novel-writing workshop I was invited to join.)

Next I developed a general theory of systems based on enformy: I called it The Theory of Enformed Gestalts. This theory is extremely parsimonious, explaining not only self-awareness and life per se, but a wide range of other phenomena currently considered paranormal.

On June 5, 1997, I "went public" with the theory when I read a paper, "Enformy and Enformed Gestalts: A Radical Theory of Consciousness," at the annual meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration in Las Vegas.

At the SSE meeting, a wonderful synchronicity event occurred: I met Gary Schwartz and Linda Russek. We discovered that for many years, the three of us had been pondering the same questions. We've since discovered what appears to be a strong telepathic link between us: We are often develop the same new ideas at the same time—even though we're separated by several hundred miles. The upshot is: I'm no longer a lonely searcher!

Enjoying our unique rapport in Las Vegas, Gary, Linda, and I decided to collaborate in the future to develop the enformy notion, and this collaboration immediatedly bore fruit. Gary phoned the editor of Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health, who contacted me regarding a special issue on information and energy. I responded with my first journal article on the theory, "Enformy and Enformed Gestalts: A Model of Life, Mind, and Health," was published in the Autumn, 1997 issue.

Gary, Linda, and I then wrote "A Comprehensive Theory of Consciousness: Enformy and Enformed Systems." We also submitted two abstracts for the "Tucson III" conference, Toward a Science of Consciousness this April. We were invited to submit a poster for that conference. Notice that we replaced the term gestalts with systems. This change in terminology clearly connects the theory to systemics—the branch of science that addresses holistic systems.

Although the Theory of Enformed Systems is simple, it isn't easy to absorb at first because systemics is prephysical; i.e., it is a more basic science than physics. Hence it entails many new ideas that can't be explained in terms of familiar ideas. It must be approached anew.

Several scientists have joined us in a loose network to develop systemics further—and to participate in the next scientific revolution. If you would like to apply your special knowledge to developing systemics, feel free to contact us via email: