Volume 1 on one page


[ Skip introduction and go to table of contents ]

How Things Come Together is a collection, in three parts, of essays and occasional writings by Hanna Newcombe.

In these chapters, which started out as separate essays written at different times, sometimes prompted by something I read, I try to express my view of the world. It is gathered from science, religion, and mythology, sometimes deliberately mixing elements which many consider immiscible. I believe that science and religion should not merely coexist coolly and distantly as two solitudes, but come to share a warm embrace.

Linking passages were written to make transitions between chapter themes a little smoother. Also, cross-references are frequently made from one essay to another. This helps to make the whole into a “hypertext” (as on the Internet), and helps overcome the difficulty of deciding where to place each essay. To some extent this collection is “non-decomposable” into sections and chapters. The whole now fits together somewhat better, although contradictions may still be detected. This is unavoidable and real, since I am still forming my view of the world, and my conclusions have not yet jelled into a consistent whole. Perhaps they never will; I am a seeker, not a finder. Remember: these are essays, which means trial balloons floated in the knowledge-seekers’ skies — i.e. the noosphere.

This is not a philosophical system, because the various assertions are not always proved or substantiated (unless the authors I am quoting have done so), either from empirical data or from a systematic survey of philosophical writings. As well, much of it is based on metaphor or analogy, essentially poetic devices, rather than on hard facts or close reasoning. Poetry, too, has its place in the marriage of science and religion/mythology. Nevertheless, it is plausible as a scheme of how things might come together, whether it corresponds to reality (Truth) in all respects or not.

The scheme is highly personal. I have selected what is meaningful to me from what I have read or heard or thought. It is an attempted synthesis of wide-ranging thinkers’ conclusions, but the assembling of “how things come together” is mine alone.

The sequence of chapters may be somewhat jumbled, but I try to provide cross-references for readers who may wish to read the chapters in a different order.

I should explain the logic of the sequence. The essays begin with speculation about the nature of time and space, the basic framework of our universe. In these chapters, it is made clear that time is not what it seems to be, and especially that its nature changes radically in the state which is called “eternity”, to which we normally have no access while we are alive. But there may be occasional insights, both into the future and into a past we did not perceive.

There follows speculation about the contents of this space-time framework. It is certainly confusing that I have entitled the whole section “The Four Essences” and the first chapter under this heading The Three Essences. The reason is this: I am still vacillating between the three (matter, energy, information) and the four (matter, energy, information, and meaning). In fact, even the “Three Essences” essay enlarges on “meaning” to a considerable extent, without calling it a fourth essence. I am even wondering about the four; are they sufficient, or should. one also add “Mind” and “Spirit” as separate essences? It is all a matter of classification, for all these “essences” are ultimately inter-related, and it is only a question where one draws the dividing line between them. If we choose too few, the categories are too comprehensive and the distinctions grow unclear. If we choose too many, we lose the holistic feel of the universe as a seamless unity.

In any case, the sequence of sections (see the table of contents for Volume 1) follow the logic of Six Essences: Matter, Energy, (here discussed together as representing the physical side of the universe), Information (as the first of the non-conserved essences), Meaning and its corollary Knowledge (logic, linguistic, and mathematics), Mind, and Spirit. There follows then a large section on Life, seen poetically as a “Love Union” of Matter, Mind, and Spirit. I am fascinated by the phenomena of Life, which is why I devote so much attention to it here.

The section on “Levels of Being” still belongs conceptually under the phenomena of Life, but it is separated out because of its length. I try to flesh out in more detail the levels that I see in the continuously intensifying Mind content of Living Matter. I also deal with the mysteries of sex and reproduction.

From a description of the “Essences”, however many there might be, I proceed to the dynamic time dimensions of Change. Here I see a definite pattern of Rise and Run, a series of alternating rapid changes and quiet plateaus, already discussed in the essay Religion for the Coming Age in the section on Spirit. There is also a pattern of cycles, appearing in a series of phenomena. The essay called The Key may not appeal to some readers, being based on a mathematical equation not fully explained here; but it is very meaningful to my way of thinking. The role of symmetry-breaking (bifurcation), contingency, and pruning is also explored.

The section on “Passages” is another view of time stages, put allegorically and symbolically in terms of astrology and other esoteric systems, without fully accepting their truth. claim (but keeping an open mind). This is perhaps an instance of applying poetic insights to the merger of science and religion. Amazingly, some of the symbolic systems fit together rather well, which may strengthen their claim to truth. However, sometimes I have a feeling of forcing them into a Bed of Procrustes. One essay, Pilgrim’s Progress, is put into a form of a story — again, applying poetic licence. A poetic form is also used to explain the Angel’s Staircase.

Fittingly, the attempt of perceiving How Things Come Together is reserved for the conclusion. However, I do not yet have a sense of closure, of a complete system or a finished edifice. In one of my old school texts, the introduction stated that some scientific accounts of a field have the feel of a growing structure still hidden by scaffolding, while in other fields we can describe a completed cathedral. My conclusion still has many elements of scaffolding in view.

If asked to pick out the main points in this whole book, I would choose the following:

  1. Time as a dimension of Space.
  2. A limited number of interrelated Essences.
  3. The importance of only some being conserved.
  4. The “windmill” model of the road to truth.
  5. The Mind as a room with many doors.
  6. The new science-based religion.
  7. The origin and nature of Life.
  8. Patterns: levels, rhythms, cycles, passages, bifurcations, mandalas.
  9. The Great Wrap-around: God as Created and Creator.

Some minor points might also be noted:

  1. Spectra, e.g. from the very small to the very large (in Macro-Micro Convergence); from the very hot to the very cold (in The Temperature Zoom).
  2. Degrees and gradations in reality and in consciousness, e.g. Degrees of Reality, The Mirror World, Levels of Consciousness.
  3. Alternative conceptions: e.g. of God (Between Deism and Taoism), of life after death (Thanatology), and of quantum theory.
  4. Metaphoric representations, e.g. Psyche, the Kabbala Emanations, and Passages.

The total emerges as much more of a point of view than an integrated philosophical system. It is nevertheless an attempt at synthesis, from the viewpoint of a generalist rather than a specialist. It might therefore be very wide and comprehensive, but not very deep and penetrating.

Hanna Newcombe

Contents of Volume 1 and introductory notes


Considerations of Time and Space precede discussion of Matter, Energy, Information and Meaning which follow in the next sections. This implies a sense of the prior importance of Time and Space, as the framework of “bones” in which dwells the “flesh” of the Four Essences named. This may eventually turn out to be inappropriate, since Time and Space may not have this kind of priority, but it can suffice to justify the sequence of sections for the moment.

The first essay on Simulations introduces a fundamental background to subsequent essays, especially Degrees of Reality in Section II. Time and Eternity brings in the notion of time as a dimension similar to space, yet different in some ways. This is picked up in the next essay on The Arrow of Time. Subsequent essays delve into various aspects of possible futures, and, in case of Mindfire, possible imagined pasts.



It may seem strange that the first essay in a section on “Four Essences” is entitled The Three Essences. The essay discusses Matter, Energy, and Information. The Fourth Essence, Meaning, is discussed in Section IV, in the essay How Does ‘Mere Information’ Acquire Meaning?. However, “The Three Essences” already discusses “meaning” in a rather detailed way, in fact breaking it down into steps leading right into linguistics, semantics, and logic.

Degrees of Reality and The Mirror World are a little more tentative about the “reality” of the “essences”, and quite in line with the tentative views of “time” versus “eternity” expressed in Section I. Preconditions of Existence expresses the anthropic sense of “reality” in a system of multiple worlds, picked up again in the essay Multiple Worlds in Section III.

“Degrees of Reality” contain some personal experiences to illustrate the point. However, the essays “The Twilight Zone” and “Changeling of the Universe” to which reference is made there are not included in this collection, being even more intensely personal.



This section, on Matter and Energy, as the first two of the Four Essences, is one of the largest sections. The first essay, on States of Matter, is drawn from my experience as a student of chemistry. The next two, on Phases and the temperature zoom, come from later reading in various popular science journals. There follow 6 essays on quantum theory, where matter and energy are both implicated. Micro-Macro Convergence considers the evolution of the universe as a convergence from subatomic particles and galaxies toward more human-size dimensions. Matter and Form, Relationship, and From Fungibility to Personality discuss some supra-material properties evolving from matter. Nucleo-genesis makes a grand sweep from the Big Bang to the present, indicating an uncertain future.

Originally I wanted to have separate sections for each of the four Essences, but I found it impossible to separate matter and energy in my own writings, and so they are presented here in a joint section.

IMPLICATE ORDER (a prose poem).
MACRO-MICRO CONVERGENCE (From Jantsch’s “Self-Organizing Universe”)


There are only four essays here. The first two deal with the non-conservation of information, which is the striking new property which distinguishes it from matter and energy. The first essay deals largely with loss of information and the second one mainly with the creation of information. The third essay forms a transition to the next section, in that it asks “How does mere information acquire meaning?” It dips into linguistics, among other things, and proposes the Fourth Essence as Mind. The last essay deals with other non-conserved or “non-diminishing” entities, mainly Love, and exhorts us to disperse it widely, since the stock is never depleted.



This rather large section consists of 17 essays, of which the first is the longest. It provides a map of human cognitive development, especially the development of scientific knowledge. The other essays deal with such branches of knowledge as free will, logic, scientific method and its limits, linguistics, mathematics, rationality and its modification by human psychology, as well as various kinds of paradoxes.

The patterns observed here illuminate the various meanings of “meaning” in different fields of knowledge.

The reader should also turn to the essay The Mind as a Three-Way Plug in Section VI, which also contains some speculations on meaning.


Section VI. MIND

This is a collection of 16 essays and 2 poems under the heading of “Mind”. While Mind is not one of the four essences named in Section II, it can be considered as a further elaboration of Meaning, or as an attribute of Life (the title of Section VIII), or as a separate entity.

The Realm of the Mind is the first and the most extensive. The idea of multiple rooms should be read as a metaphor, but throwing some light on reality. Another metaphor is the “the three-way plug”. Mind as Interiority harks back somewhat to the previous essay on Degrees of Reality in Section II. A poem commenting on a story told in “Interiority” and pointing out the essential unity of life is interposed between the essays. Three essays deal with the phenomena of sleep. The next three essays deal with levels of consciousness in humans and the evolution of mind in the animal kingdom. There follow five essays on theories ofthe human mind by various authors, with my comments. Then two essays and a poem touch on beauty, music and the arts. The section closes with a brief speculation on “psychic fields”.

SOUL OF WILLOW. (From a folk tale.)


Under the heading of “Spirit” are essays on religion, several attempts to synthesize the beliefs of various faiths, theories of afterlife (a comparative summary of various beliefs without a final commitment to any), brief speculations on mandala patterns, one very personal essay (The Fifth Yoga) on my own experiences, four on the nature of God (and the Devil), and a closing poem.

I have no training as a theologian, no firm personal faith (though I lean in certain directions)==*==, and probably no right to speak on these matters. Yet again, I remind the reader that these are trial balloons, not dogmas or doctrines, and therefore I feel justified in exploring religious matters, as a lay person and a citizen.

* Although in “The Fifth Yoga” I express a conviction that God exists and is even communicating with me, I don’t yet have a feeling of His Presence. Perhaps I am too ambitious. There are no burning bushes, even though there is sacred ground.


Section VIII. LIFE

This very long section on “Life” reveals my intense interest in the nature and origin of life. These essays deal with evolution and development (they are not the same), teleology, social development and evolution, origin of life, and even the interpretation of a myth (that of Psyche).

Life uses all the essences (matter, energy, information, meaning), as well as mind and spirit as in the preceding Section headings. It is somehow an amalgam of all of these, or giving rise to an emergence of mind and spirit from matter. It is a very mysterious and holy phenomenon. I have written poems about it, but decided to include here only one near the end, The Mind and the Body.



After a brief introductory essay on Intertwining Levels follows a long essay on various information systems in a living organism, illustrating its Levels of Being. It is a natural sequel to the previous section on “Life”. Perhaps readers will feel that this information is already provided in biology textbooks and that this essay is unnecessary. However, I have never seen it drawn together quite like this. To me, it puts various separate islands of knowledge into a common context.

This is followed by essays on the evolution of reproduction, the roles of women and men, and the nature of homosexuality. Not everyone will agree with these. Nor will all readers concur with the essays on social evolution. But I hope we can all be inspired by the longish book review of Peter Russell’s The Awakening Earth. Finally, Our Common Essence provides a firm non-theological basis for ethical behaviour, so that atheists and agnostic can also follow it.



While parts of previous sections dealt with patterns in space, the essays in this section deal with patterns in time: staircases, cycles, sudden transitions, and phases. There is also one essay on a very fundamental differential equation (which I call The Key), which connects exponential growth or decay with sinusoidal waves and oscillations. The role of contingency and pruning in evolution also receives attention.

Concepts such as “Crisis”, “Catastrophe”, “Chaos”, and “The Devil’s Staircase” sound quite ominous, but are not; they are only phenomena occurring in rapid transitions, continuous or discontinuous, orderly or unpredictable.

This links up with ideas already presented in a previous essay, Religion for the Coming Age.



This section on Passages is mainly about astrological signs, Tarot cards, and Chakras, used as metaphors for certain stages in the human life-cycle. Possibly some of the relationships are somewhat forced as if into a bed of Procrustes, but I find them insightful and instructive.

To make the passages more vivid, they are retold as a story in Pilgrims’s Progress, which is definitely not autobiographical. The Angel’s Staircase is a further comment on the Tarot Major Arcana; the title is meant as a counter to the fractal curve known as The Devil’s Staircase.



This concluding section tries to pull it all together, in five essays, a brief meditation, and two poems.

The first essay summarizes some insights from science. It was originally written for a discussion group on science and religion. The second essay tries to remove some contradictions among previous essays, but fails to provide a “theory of everything”. It concludes with a religious meditation. The third essay, which provided the title for this whole collection, tries to pull together some of the main concepts from previous sections’ essays. The fourth essay takes us through the entire past and future history of the Universe, with some rather far-fetched speculation about a closed cycle even of an “open” Universe. The brief speculations draw some wide-ranging comparisons between cosmic and earthly structures. And the two poems are self-explanatory.



If we want to know how a point moves in a plane, we can often write a simple equation. For example, y = ax+b defines a straight line, y = ax2 + bx + c a parabola, an equation with x3 in it a curve with a maximum and a minimum, and so on. More complex equations define more complex curves. We can go three-dimensional and use x, y, and z to generate surfaces of various shapes.

If we want to know how different physical factors interact, we can often obtain empirically, by experiment, a relationship which becomes a physical law. We know that the pressure of a gas is proportional to the absolute temperature if the volume is kept constant. We know that a massive body released in a vacuum will fall to the earth with a constant acceleration. We know how the density of water varies with the temperature; this is more complex, with a maximum at 4 degrees C. We also know how the viscosity, surface tension, heat conductivity, electric conductivity and a host of other properties, of water and other liquids, vary with the temperature, pressure, and the presence of dissolved substances. We know when water converts to steam and when to ice; these are sudden phase changes, not continuous as the preceding examples. We know this for many different substances. We even know how mixtures and solutions (bi- and multi-component systems) act; that the components lower each other’s melting point and raise each other’s boiling point, i.e. have an effect on the phase changes.

However, note that some of these things we know only WHEN OTHER THINGS ARE KEPT CONSTANT, as in the gas example. Simplifying assumptions are made, as in releasing massive objects IN A VACUUM, or assuming that the water is 100% pure. Such limiting conditions are artificial; they never occur in nature. In nature we encounter mixtures, not pure substances. We encounter multiple variables, none of which remain constant; we encounter synergistic or inhibitory effects, whereby the independent variables interact among themselves as well as affecting the dependent variable. The whole can often be either larger or smaller than the sum of the parts, depending on the nature of these interactions.

Laboratory experiments are artificial little bits of reality, in which we try to isolate a single cause and relate it to a simple outcome. It can be a bit more complicated in multi-variate experiments, but not much, or we would lose our way in the welter. Experiments give us the truth and nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. The WHOLE truth is a SYSTEM, which is probably too complex for us ever to understand in all its rich detail.

Nature gives us, for example, the weather; with many factors, such as local air pressure and air temperature differences, humidity, wind speeds in many directions, input of sunlight which depends on cloud cover which depends on all the above, mixing in to produce ever-changing momentary outcomes, which never reach equilibrium in the sense of settling down to constant values without further change, or even to predictable periodicities. We no longer have linear causes and effects, but branchings and cycles, where the effect may in turn become the cause of further events, or provide feedback (positive or negative) within its own cycle. We are now far away from drawing simple geometric curves or inducing simple physical laws that can be written down as a single concise equation.

Before the invention of computers, it took meteorologists so long to figure out, by complex calculations, what tomorrow’s weather will be, that before they finished, tomorrow’s weather was here. They can keep ahead of the game now, with faster calculations by machine. But how are the data actually manipulated in nature that tomorrow’s weather comes on time, with unmistakable single-valued outcomes of all the variables?

In the computer, calculations like this are performed by a process called “simulation”: we specify as many simple binary relationships between variables as we can, in the form of equations (linear or otherwise), put them all in, enter the initial values of the variables, and let the machine run through all the branchings and cycles of causes and effects that we specify. In the machine, it is done by very fast switchings (on and off) by tiny electrical circuits. HOW IS IT DONE OUT THERE IN NATURE? The variables interact DIRECTLY, you might say, without being “simulated” as electric currents; but what does “directly” mean? Is it not really a vast super-simulation, with even more variables than we can manage to feed into the computer? What is the difference between reality and simulation? More variables and more complexity, sure; but at least as a thought experiment, we can imagine our simulations increasing in complexity, until they approach that level. THEN will there be a difference?

Sometimes students play simulations of international relations. Most such “games” on the market are relatively simple, with few variables; yet they can be fairly “realistic”. Again, we can imagine increasing the complexity by adding more variables and more subtleties, until we approach “reality”.

In the film “The War Game”, the young student unknowingly tapped into the U.S. armed forces computer and asked it to play a game called “thermonuclear war”. When the student found out that this was “real”, he asked the computer to stop. “Why?” asked the machine. “Because this is reality, not a game”, said the human. “What is the difference?” said the machine, in genuine chilling ignorance. But the human KNEW that the difference is VAST in its consequences. Is this only because the only game the computer knew was incomplete? But what IS complete reality? In the war-game “reality”, it includes all the suffering and destruction. In the game, the victor and loser would walk away and play again some day; in reality, they would not. Is it only that in the game there were missing variables, that all outcomes were not taken into considerations? Or is the difference something more? I would now say, 5 years later, that the main difference between virtual reality and “real” reality is that in virtual reality you cannot be killed, but in “real” reality you can.

The universe is by definition vaster than any other system we know. Its process is an interplay of uncountable variables (not truly infinite, but uncountable by humans). It is ever changing, like the weather, though more slowly in most respects. It may or may not eventually come to equilibrium — a dead stop — when all the interactions are played out. In the meantime, it runs on in complex webs of causes and outcomes, according to pre-existing natural laws. The ability theoretically to predict its future, if only we knew the position and velocity of all particles at a given time (Laplace), is meaningless; no computer could keep up with the calculations in real time. (Also, by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, we CANNOT know the position and velocity of even ONE particle at the same time.) The universe would evolve faster than the computer program, just as the weather appeared before meteorologists could predict it.

As I walked alone one day thinking about this, it hit me. The universe could not be anything other than a vast simulation. Its creator set the physical laws and the initial conditions, like a super-programmer, and now is letting it run, to see what will happen. A vast experiment by an unimaginably superior (but perhaps not truly infinite) mind. Perhaps God runs several universe-simulations at the same time (whatever “time” may mean in this context), each set with different physical laws (programs) and initial conditions (starting data). Perhaps God runs billions of them.

But is our Universe “real” if it is a simulation? What else could be “more real”? Theologians say that we are thoughts in the mind of God. We are more real than OUR thoughts, because God’s mind is orders of magnitude more real than our minds. There must be degrees of reality. Hindu theology considers the world to be “maya” (appearance, illusion), or “lila” (a game). How close to the idea of a simulation! We have merely put it in a modern idiom.

The visible world is like quickly changing computer graphics in three dimensions — a hologram in all its shimmering beauty — a playful dance of Shiva.

But what could be more real? The mystics have an answer — God is the ultimate reality, the ground of all Being, “begotten, not created”. Not a simulation at all, but a rock-hard “diamond being” (Jung). All else is Lila.


Is “eternity” time extending forever without limit, just as “infinity” is space or number extending without limit? Or is “eternity” timelessness, the eternal “now”, a mode of existence somehow at right angles to time as we know it, a state of being rather than becoming?

Time is a strange concept. It moves past us, or we move along it, at a constant speed which we cannot control (speed up, slow down, stop or reverse). In this sense, it is quite unlike a space dimension (up-down, left-right, front-back), along which we have reasonable freedom of movement, a choice. There are physical limitations to movement in space: we can move only as fast as present technology permits, cannot move down through solid rock, or up too far without a rocket; but these relative limitations are quite different from the absolute lack of control regarding movement through time.

In Einstein’s theory of relativity, time is a dimension in the four-dimensional space-time continuum. A point in the continuum is an event, which has three space coordinates defining the place and one time coordinate. An object that persists for a while is represented by a “life-line” in the continuum; so is a human being. A life-line has a beginning and an end (e.g. conception and death). A life-line is geometrically a line segment, not an infinite line.

Yet if we look at Einstein’s equations specifying the continuum, time is different from the three space dimensions. While the space dimensions are simply x, y, z in some units like centimeters, the fourth dimension, to be made commensurate with the first three, and to “work” in the equations, must be put as “ict”, where t is time in seconds, c is the velocity of light in a vacuum in cm/sec, and i is the square root of minus one, which mathematicians call the “unit of imaginary numbers”.

It is not surprising that c appears as a proportionality constant, for we would not expect independently defined units like centimeters and seconds to have a proportionality constant of one. (We might still ask “why the velocity of light?”, but that is a different question.) What is significant here is the imaginary unit i. Does that make time, after all, in some sense an “imaginary” dimension? No; mathematicians explain that calling the square root of minus one and its multiples “imaginary numbers” is only a historical accident in the development of mathematics. Imaginary numbers are as “real” as real numbers. Both result from the mathematicians’ basic definitions of them. It is only that the imaginary numbers were defined later than the real numbers.

Still, there is a reason for this lateness in defining them. Real numbers are an extension of the counting numbers (integers) which grew out of commonsense applications. In that sense, the real numbers HAD to be defined first, before the imaginary numbers. Though both kinds of numbers are abstractions, the imaginary numbers are abstractions-once-removed, at a greater distance from commonsense reality than the real numbers.

In any case, the fact that i is part of time’s proportionality constant in Einstein’s equations does make time a DIFFERENT dimension, qualitatively different, from the space dimensions. That seems to confirm common sense, where, as we have seen, we are relatively free to control movement along space dimensions, but not along the time dimension.

Yet, another concept in the theory of relativity gives us pause. For an observer in a different state of motion (say moving at a uniform velocity along a straight line relative to the first observer), the frame of coordinates in the continuum is rotated, so that time is no longer in the same direction; it now partakes of some of the direction of the previous space dimensions, and the new space dimensions partake of some of the direction of what was previously time. This would indicate that these dimensions are not different in basic nature, but the same. Most of the paradoxes in relativity theory stem from this coordinate frame rotation, called the Lorentz transformation; and perhaps in our consideration of the role of imaginary numbers in the time dimension, we have hit another paradox which is really deep. However, let us now leave it aside without resolving it.

Let us suppose that being in a state of eternity means that the time dimension stops being “i” and permits us free movement along it backwards and forwards, at a wide range of speeds. One consequence is that “past” and “future” become equally accessible — not just as a memory or prediction, but ACTUALLY, with the same immediacy as the “present” is accessible to us now. Events are THERE, in past, present and future, and we can “visit” them to experience them. (Language becomes difficult in explaining this, because “are there” is present tense, and we want to generalize it; but our language is “time-bound” and we have to do the best we can with it.)

Suppose that we enter the state of eternity after death, and we gain access to our whole life-line, though perhaps not to its extensions before our birth or after our death. We can then “relive” any of our life experiences, or all of them as a panorama of the whole, and see all the events, our actions, and their consequences, which we may not have even known while alive. If we had acted selfishly or irresponsibly or foolishly, with bad consequences for ourselves and others, we will suffer remorse, which could be a very acute pain in a state of eternity. We will be in a hell of our own making — not a punishment, but a natural consequence (karma) of our actions. If we had acted selflessly, responsibly, wisely, we will see and experience all the good consequences of our behaviour, feel a high state of bliss, and will be in heaven — not as a reward, but as a direct outcome.

Note that these are suppositions, not assertions. I began the previous paragraphs with “let us suppose”. I do not dogmatically BELIEVE them, only consider them possible.

Now let us explore, still on a hypothetical basis, the place of God in this scheme. The Bible states that God created the world (universe), therefore he pre-existed. Teilhard de Chardin (1965) talks about humanity evolving toward an “omega-point”, in a sense creating God as a pinnacle of evolution.

But in eternity, past and future are equivalent, as we assumed. If God had not existed before us, we would not be here. But if we (and all earthly nature before us and after us) had not evolved to the omega-point, God would not exist. It is a circle, like a snake swallowing its own tail — an old religious symbol in the East, called the Uroborus.

At this point in human evolution, we are not sure that we are going to make it; we might destroy ourselves in a nuclear war or ruin our environment and the biosphere. Yet we might make it, as world unity grows and spiritual powers increase. In the temporal world order (as opposed to the eternal), there is no way to know which will happen. But in the eternal world order, there is an answer…IF our assumptions are correct.

The very fact that we are here now proves that there was a God before us. And in order for that to be true, the omega-point must have been reached. So we (or our successor species) did (will) make it, in that snake-tail circle. Otherwise the whole system would have crashed and nothing would be here. This sounds very strange, because it makes no sense at all in the temporal order; but it is perfectly obvious in the eternal order. I call it “the back way to hope”, because of an incident I experienced which it would take too long to recount. (It is told in “The Fifth Yoga” in Section VII.)

Hope is foolish in the temporal order, but it has its own logic in eternity.


Time is “only” a dimension in space time, and so should be reversible like the other three dimensions; except that, in the Lorentz transformation equations of Special Relativity, the time dimension is “ict”, where t is time, c (the velocity of light) functions as a conversion constant between the units of measurement, seconds and centimeters, and is the “imaginary” unit, the square root of minus one. It is the “i” that makes time different — not really “imaginary” in the sense of “unreal”, but different nevertheless. The direction in which time points in the continuum depends on the state of motion of the observer, which accounts for the paradoxes of Special Relativity.

Though “different” in this sense from space dimensions, time remains (theoretically) reversible between past and future, in both relativistic (Einsteinian) and classical (Newtonian) physics. However, let us look now at the “Man-dala of the Sciences” presented in a previous essay “The Unfinished Road to Knowledge”. Classical physics occupies the centre of the Mandala, relativity theory is to the left, quantum theory is to the right, thermodynamics/statistical mechanics is up, and complexity (life systems) theory is down. Time reversal remains theoretically possible along the horizontal, from relativity theory through classical physics to quantum theory, but the arrow of time (unidirectionality from past through present to future) appears necessary at both poles of the vertical, in thermodynamics and in complexity theory.

Time becomes irreversible in thermodynamics because of the unidirectional increase in entropy. Time is also irreversible and unidirectional for anti-entropic (i.e. living) beings like ourselves. The direction of time is the same in thermodynamics and in living systems.

We should not be surprised, however, to find examples of reverse flow of time in some physical phenomena that do not belong to thermodynamics or to complex living systems. An example is the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment, in which electrons originating from the same “creation” event (from radiation) retain coordinated spins even after they have diverged so far that they can no longer communicate, the velocity of light being the absolute limit for the speed of communication. One interpretation is that they can “look” back in time to their point of origination, where they MUST have had coordinated spins. They must be able to go back to that point, coordinated, even if “later” in time the spin of one of them is deliberately flipped by an experimenter.

The mechanism is one in which the cause (the deliberate spin flipping of one electron) comes later in time than the effect (the spontaneous spin-flipping of the other electron at its origination). In our perceptual framework, a cause must precede its effect in time; but if we step out of this framework and allow time to be reversible, the effect can precede the cause. The E-P-R experiment, after all, is in the realm of quantum physics, along the horizontal dimension in our mandala of the sciences, where time reversal is permissible. Our only problem is that we are part of one of the vertical poles, the living systems, where such a perceptual framework is very difficult. (“Nature is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than wev CAN think.)

Parenthetically, it should be mentioned that other explanations of the E-P-R experiment are possible: one having to do with playing with space rather than with time, speaks of “non-locality”, imagining the two electrons to remain connected by a non-local linkage even after their physical separation. In reality they are still “identical twins”, even though distant in space; part of the same unity, though dislocated and discontinuous, like pieces of the same gene located on different chromosomes but “turned on” together.

Alternatively still (but perhaps this is a part of the same type of explanation), David Bohm has invoked the theory of “implicate order” (which others call “hidden variables”) to explain the E-P-R experiment. The implicate order is seen as “enfolded” in the observable (explicate) order as a kind of “hidden ground of being”, like the immanent God of pantheism; but it can be “unfolded” again to become explicate and capable of being observed.

Bohm’s theory and the theory of time reversal can be reconciled. The condition in which time is reversible we have called (in another essay) “eternity”, in opposition to the “temporality” of ordinary life. If there is a soul separate from the body, it may enter into eternity after the death of the body, i.e. enter the horizontal dimension in the Mandala of the Sciences by leaving behind the world of living systems. (I picture it, with poetic licence, as the flattened horizontal line on the heart-lung monitor of a patient who has expired in the operating room.) In the world of eternity, which we temporal beings cannot imagine, we can experience all the events of our earthly life “simultaneously”, or in any sequence desired or presented, back and forth. We shall feel guilty and “punished” in some permanent way if we have done wrong, and be in Hell; we shall feel happy and rewarded if we acted right, and be in Heaven — both by our own self-judgment. (Perhaps people with an over-sensitive conscience more often end up in Hell than people with a more “flexible” moral code.)

In any case, if we now equate our concept of “eternity” with Bohm’s concept of “implicate order”, we can unify the two theories. The implication of Bohm’s “unfolding” of the implicate into the explicate order is that the eternal order can intervene in the temporal order, i.e. God can intervene in history, as postulated in the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Enfolding” (explicate into implicate order) would mean that the temporal can influence the eternal, i.e. what we do in history does affect God. And indeed, in the Judeo-Christian Bible, God repeatedly reacts to the doings of humans.

Enfolding and unfolding also provides a mechanism for the “Ultimate Wrap-around” which we postulated in another essay: that we create God and He creates us, in a closed circle like the snake eating its own tail (Ouroborus). God is part (or All) of the eternal order, we are part of the temporal order, and we mutually need each other, like the spiral with an open and a hidden half-turn.

To return to the cause-effect reversal: This can also account for clairvoyance, a faculty which some exceptional people possess, of seeing the future as if it were the past. Cause-effect reversal can thus happen in the mental realm as well as in the physical realm. This may mean that the mind of clairvoyants is able to detach itself somewhat from the body, which functions necessarily in the anti-thermodynamic world of temporality. The mind, if it is partly eternal soul and partly an emergent quality of the brain, may possess eternal as well as temporal qualities.

Has the mind pre-existed the body and joined to it at some point (at birth or in the womb), or is the mind an emergent quality of the brain-body? This might be a meaningless question “in eternity”, where there is no “before” and “after”. We must accept both explanations as mutually compatible, somewhat as in the “Ultimate wrap-around”.

Synchronicity (unusual and meaningful “coincidences”) may be another example of time reversal. The “coincidence” occurs for a specific “purpose” (also a time-reversal term, as we shall see), and “causes”, going back in time, the “antecedent events” which converge at the occurrence.

This brings us to the consideration of our own purposeful (goal-oriented) behaviour, and that of all non-human life as well, at all levels of being, down to the metabolic level. It might be useful to accept teleological explanations of physiological events alongside of purely mechanistic or evolutionary ones.

We routinely and usually fix attention on some desired end to be achieved in the future, then plan the actions (backward in time from the desired end) necessary to achieve the end. This is the opposite (in the direction of time flow) of acting because of antecedent causes, as Skinnerian behaviourism would have it. Exercises in future imaging, e.g. imaging a future peaceful disarmed world, also use the schema of working backwards in time toward a desired end, writing a “history of the future”, as it is sometimes put. It is our common Modus Operandi as human beings, except when we force ourselves into the Procrustean bed of being “scientific” and thinking only of causal mechanisms pushing us from behind.

Whether or not evolution is goal-directed in this sense we do not yet know. Darwin’s variation-selection model is quite convincing in most cases. And yet, a teleological explanation is often shorter, simpler, more straightforward, and should perhaps be chosen as preferable by Occam’s razor.

Then again, maybe we should not ask, as above, “whether or not”, but “to what extent”. Evolution may be more deterministic (pushed from behind by causes) in the beginning stages, and get to be more and more goal-oriented (teleological) as mind or consciousness brightens, in a sort of a positive feedback loop.

And, of course, causes and purposes can coexist and interact; there is no need for “either-or” dilemmas. Aristotle posited four kinds of causes, two of which being “effective cause” and “final cause”. These two together might constitute some kind of a push-pull mechanism. The past and the future both influence the present. These are not necessarily alternative explanations between which we have to choose; they may be complementary.

Introspectively, we feel as if we are choosing a future goal by an act of free will. Looking at behaviour exclusively from the outside, ruling out introspection as scientifically inadmissible evidence, Skinner would tell us that free will is an illusion. But perhaps the two views are not mutually exclusive, are merely different perspectives on the same phenomena.

We can have both our temporal and our eternal perspectives; can live simultaneously on this beautiful Earth and “sub specie Aeternitatis” in Heaven.


“How many transistors can dance on a microchip?”

Silica (silicon dioxide) is the most common constituent of the Earth’s crust and mantle — the main ingredient of rocks and clay minerals. It forms the backbone of intricate structures, some flat and some tri-dimensional, in which metal ions (aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium…many others in trace amounts) are housed in cages or interstices between the main silicon and oxygen atoms, in a variety of crystalline (regularly ordered) or glassy (more or less random) arrangements. There are periodic structures on the surface of clay minerals on which life may have originally developed, because the inter-atomic spacings fit the spacings in organic carbon compounds. Silica-based minerals are also the main constituents at deeper layers, in the Earth’s mantle, with a distinct phase change (crystal reorientation) from olivine to perovskite between the upper and lower mantle.

Carbon and silicon are chemical cousins, since silicon lies vertically below carbon in the 4th column of the periodic table of elements. This means that they have similar properties, the main of which is the ability to form four covalent bonds with other elements. Carbon, the basis of life because of its propensity to form chains and rings that can grow to macromolecular size, is in its elemental form a non-conductor of electricity (an insulator) in two of its allotropes, crystalline diamond and amorphous carbon; the third allotropic form of elemental carbon, graphite, conducts electric current somewhat in two of its dimensions (along the crystalline sheets of linked benzene-like rings with alternating double and single bonds), but not in the third dimension (between the crystalline sheets). (These graphite sheets are somewhat reminiscent of the sheet-like crystals of some of the clay minerals.)

Elemental silicon, on the other hand, is the semi-conductor par excellence, the original and still prevalent basis of electronic and computer devices — and thus perhaps the breeding ground of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This could be the Earth’s “second origin of life”. Below silicon in the periodic table is germanium, also a semi-conductor, which has found some uses in electronic devices. Below germanium (skipping the transition metals) in Group 4 lie the metals tin and lead. So in the middle column of the periodic table, proceeding downward to increasing atomic numbers, we go from a non-conductor to semi-conductors to conductors, i.e. from non-metals to metals through some
intermediate forms. It seems that the dividing line between metals on the left side of the periodic table (the first 3 columns) and the non-metals on the right side (columns 5, 6, and 7) runs slightly askew from upper left to lower right, rather than straight up and down. (Column 8, the rare or inert gases, are in a class by themselves.)

Silicon, too, can be a chain-former like carbon, in the form of silicone polymers (oils and rubbers), but in a much more limited way than carbon. The really stable chains, nets and cages in silicate minerals are built from alternating silicon and oxygen atoms, not silicon-to-silicon bonds. That is, they are silica-based, not silicon-based — an important distinction. Silicate minerals might be complex enough to create life forms, but in fact have not done so, on Earth at least. Rock creatures on other planets have been the subject of speculation in science fiction, however.

But the real “second life” may be based on elemental silicon after all — not in chains or rings at molecular level, nor in nucleic acid or protein-like macromolecules, but in microchips on a much larger scale, manufactured by humans. Its evolution, if it takes off, will have been originated by humans even if it somehow becomes self-sustaining eventually. (This is a large jump of imagination.) Humans will have acted as God to this second life. Will AI creatures worship us and pray to us? But we are not God, because we did not originate ourselves by our own bootstraps. (Or did we, as in Jantsch’s self-created universe?) AI creatures may figure out that there is a creator beyond their creator, or maybe a creator beyond the God we worship — Demeter (Dei Mater) — or Mother of God. However, before we get into an infinite regress, we had better abandon this line of thought. (A North American Native speaker, who maintained that in their religious tradition the world rests on the back of a giant turtle, was irritated when asked on what that turtle stands. He said, seeing the infinite regress, “It’s turtles all the way down.”)

In any case, the second life (AI) will be quite differently constituted than the first life; not carbon-based, no metabolism, no reproduction — pure Mind. (Or will it have to develop metabolism and reproduction if it is to be self-sustaining?) Yet there is nothing “artificial” about “artificial intelligence”, because we are natural creatures and we will have given rise to it. So it is a continuous line of development. We are only Gaia’s children continuing to do Her creative work — Her hands, doing Her bidding, whether we know it or not.

Gaia. the Earth, is composed largely of silicates, except for the iron core. Perhaps She tried, early on, to construct life from silicon-oxygen chains and sheets, but this attempt failed (“zeroth life”). Rocks remained inert. However, first life (carbon-based) got its start on the surfaces of silicate clay minerals. After eons of evolution, carbon-based humans are giving rise to second life, based on elemental silicon. If this takes off and becomes independent of humans (it would have to either learn reproduction or be immortal), its potential is enormous, since silicon is much more abundant on Earth than carbon, so that “food” resources for AI creatures would be almost inexhaustible.

However, there is a problem. The binding energy between silicon and oxygen is very high, much higher than between carbon and oxygen. That is, the Si-O bond is very difficult to break to get the elemental silicon needed. Either humans will have to continue doing it by industrial methods (in which case second life remains dependent on first life), or a highly reducing atmosphere will be needed (which means stopping photosynthesis which produces oxygen, but then carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere and the Earth would become a hot furnace like Venus — a condition that even silicon chips cannot tolerate), or a very rich new energy source would have to be harnessed. The last alternative seems the most promising: perhaps a “photo-reduction” by sunlight, or utilizing the internal heat of the Earth’s core and mantle through magma outlets (volcanoes, spreading ridges, and hot spots).

In any case, if Gaia can “quicken” Her most abundant element into life with our help, She would become truly alive in a very thick outer layer of Her body (all but the core), no longer just a thin veneer of a biosphere. If She is trying to do this through humans, through this eons-long vast detour, then perhaps this is our true purpose in life — to be a midwife at the birth of Super-Gaia.


This is not about the immediate or even medium-range future; nothing about technical advances in the next century, or political changes, or even ecological disasters. This is about the long-range outlook for the human species. The basic assumption is that we cannot take long-range survival for granted, as we used to blithely assume, although, of course, it remains a possibility, with an uncertain probability. As a grammarian once observed: “Past imperfect, future conditional.”

Four possible futures are outlined below. Some of these are better than others.

  1. Extinction without leaving any trace.
  2. Evolving to a different species with a higher fitness before the extinction of humans. This seems rather hopeful, as these new creatures would still be our descendants in a way, though we might not recognize them (or they us).
    The possibilities are:
    1. A race with a higher consciousness, a heightened spirituality and moral sense, of which prophets and avatars such as Jesus and Gautama Buddha were forerunners. This was proposed e.g. by Canadian physician Richard M. Bucke (1837-1902) in his book “Cosmic Consciousness”, and is now propagated by the founder of the Canadian Peace Research Institute Norman Alcock in his forthcoming book “Trumpets of Angels”.
    2. A race with greater mental and extrasensory capabilities, as in the science fiction story “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clark. This is not an attractive picture, in fact it is very frightening. These estranged children were at first catatonic while gathering their strength, and then started to move the planets out of their orbits. One might call them “super-tech” with new technologies, mental rather than physical, but sociopaths in the moral sense.
  3. The development by humans of “artificial life”, i.e. smart robots, based on silicon rather than carbon, who would take over from humans after their creation. This idea is expanded in the preceding essay “Silicon: the Second Life”. The take-over could be violent and sudden, as in the play by Czech writer Karel Capek called “R.U.R.” (which coined the English word “robot”, meaning “worker” in Czech); but more likely it would be gradual, by competition and natural selection, as probably happened in Homo sapiens taking over from Neanderthals.
  4. The last possibility, of course, is survival more or less as we are. Actually, I think that the possibility of 2.(a) would be better.

If we count the subdivisions under choices (2) and (3), there are really six alternative futures.


The dinosaurs have not disappeared. Every time you hear a bird sing, you hear one of their descendants. Over long eons of time, your descendants may no longer resemble you. They may have evolved into a new species, while you may be gone, as well as your own species.

In “The Fate of the Earth”, Jonathan Schell wrote at length about “the second death”, namely human extinction. He was writing about the consequences of nuclear war, but others have evoked this concept in connection with environmental disasters or unstoppable plagues.

Giving these notions further thought, it seems that there are seven kinds of death, each with an increasingly greater scope.

  1. Individual or personal death, but leaving descendants in one’s own children. This ensures continuity in time.
  2. Individual or personal death without leaving descendants. This means a mini-extinction of that particular branch of the family — a dead end in a family tree, which may continue to grow around the dead branch.
  3. Death of a whole family tree, in one direction, though the relatives of in-laws may continue.
  4. Death of a whole isolated locality, which includes the in-laws’ family trees as well. But isolated localities are quite rare
  5. Extinction of all of humanity, as visualized by Schell. However, before that event, a new species — call it Son of Man — may have evolved, and is continuing. This is analogous to the dinosaur-bird situation. Such a death would still not be final.
  6. Human extinction without leaving a descendant species. This is almost certainly final. Even if the evolutionary tape is rewound, Stephen J. Gould (1989) argues that it would never run the same.
  7. Extinction of all life on Earth, which John Somerville called omnicide. Then there is no hope of ever re-starting, probably.

But life on other planets? Oh shush, Blind Hope, will you never stop plucking the one remaining string on your broken lyre?


The Holy Grail stands for an ideal to be reached, but almost impossible to reach. Its original meaning is the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper (which was a Passover Seder), and in which next day Joseph of Aramathea caught Christ’s blood from his wounds as he was dying on the cross. Various legends have the Grail deposited in various places in England or France, among them the fabled land of Avalon. However that may be, this holy object became invol-ved in the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

All of the Arthurian knights sought the Holy Grail, but is was to be attained only by one completely pure in heart. Lancelot was the foremost among the knights, but he could not attain the Grail because he was far from pure; he enter-tained an adulterous love for Arthur’s wife Guenevere. How-ever, on his trip to the Castle of the Grail, he met a beau-tiful maiden, who tricked him into sleeping with her by pre-tending to be Guenevere. The maiden wanted to bear Lance-lot’s child, which she did. He grew up to be the young knight Galahad, who was perfectly pure, and was able to a-chieve the Holy Grail.

The reason I retell this story is because I want to make an analogy. Humankind strives to achieve the Omega Point of Teilhard de Chardin, but is not pure enough to do it. Human crimes include war, genocide, and grievous damage to Mother Earth. What will have to happen is a qualitative change, like a generational or even species change, to a new pure creature called the Son of Man. Only then can the Holy Grail of Omega (transformation to divinity) be achieved. Present-day humans are like Moses, never to reach the Holy Land because of our sins. Nevertheless we can be thankful that our progeny will. Like Lancelot, we will be tricked into begetting Galahad.


The basic equation of population dynamics is

X = aX (1-X )

This is iterated over the succeeding generations. Each X represents the number of individuals in each generation.

This is also the basic equation of chaos theory, or at least one of them. (This one is a parabola, but any equation whose graph has an upward hump will produce chaos.)

The parameter “a” is low for slow growth, high for ra-pid growth. For “a” values between 1 and 3, there is a sin-gle attractor: the population will settle to a steady con-stant value. For values of “a” between 3 and 3.43, there are two attractors: the population will oscillate between two values, a higher and a lower one, as each adjustment “over-shoots”. (Cf. my essay The Key.) This is the first bifur-cation. For “a” values between 3.43 and 3.57, there are further bifurcations, to 4, 8, 16…attractors. For “a” greater than 3.57 there is an “infinite” number of attractors; we enter a state of chaos. The population will fluctuate wildly, seemingly unpredictably, though the results are strictly deterministic if we carry out the iterations.

It is as if at low speeds we have orderly laminar flow as in a liquid, but at a high speed, when we force it, we get into turbulence. The liquid molecules have no time to adjust.

I tried various values on my computer. Some I did by manual computation. I want to mention one that shocked me deeply.

When I chose a = 4 (which is in the chaos range) and X = .05 (X can range between 0 and 1, i.e. .5 is a middle range), then X = 1.0 (because it’s 4 times .5 times .5), which is the highest possible value — population at its peak. The next iteration gives X = 4 times 1.0 times 0 = 0;
that is zero population, or extinction. Further iterations will then always yield zero. It seems that this crash from maximum flourishing to total extinction will happen whenever that maximum value of 1.0 is reached. The population crashes when it hits the ceiling of sustainability. The chaotic re-gime may not always lead to 1 and then 0, but it may.

One can hardly imagine anything more dramatic. I hesi-tate to draw any real-life conclusions. The model (equation) may be too simplistic.


According to Terence McKenna, psilocybin (a drug ob-tained from a certain kind of mushroom) may have transformed emergent human culture on the African savannah (where it grew) from the dominant-male structure of ape society to a gentler human partnership society which flourished for the first long period of human pre-history and history. (The transformation to “make love not war”, which is a real al-ternative for planet Earth, situated as it is between Mars the God of War and Venus the Goddess of Love. Yet according to Greek mythology Mars and Venus were husband and wife. Is Gaia their child?). But later we lost the rite of the sacred mushroom and partly relapsed to patriarchy, from which we are just beginning to recover. Yet even patriarchy was never as savage as ape male dominance, where the newly-winning male would kill all the infants fathered by the previous lord of the harem.

According to John Anthony West, the Sphinx in Egypt shows signs of erosion by water, while situated in the desert. It is probably much older than commonly thought (some 5,000 years), possibly 10,000 or even 15,000 years old. The Sahara, originally a forest, was a savannah when humans originated, only later it became a desert. What intervened was the Flood, richly illustrated in Babylonian and Biblical legends. The Flood could have actually occur-red, and may have resulted from the melting of glaciers as the last Ice Age ended. Prior to this, the Mediterranean basin was dry (this is a fact known in archeo-geology) and the Flood has filled it to make the Mediterranean Sea. When the basin was dry, it may have been the site of ancient At-lantis, a civilization that perished when it was submerged by water. So perhaps it was the Atlantis people who built the Sphinx. This is an intriguing scheme merging the Baby-lonian and Biblical Flood stories with the Greek myth of Atlantis, and with the science of the Ice Ages (caused by the Sun’s activity cycles).

There were several successive glaciations in the Quaternary Era. Somehow in this era the Gaian temperature homeostasis partially failed. Instead of keeping the tempe-rature constant, as a good thermostat would, it allowed the temperature to oscillate periodically, like a thermostat with a sluggish response. This is like a pre-chaotic trans-ition (bifurcation) from a single attractor to two attrac-tors.

This leads to further intriguing speculation. Perhaps there was a great human civilization in all (or some of the later) interglacial periods, going on into the next ice age in subtropical regions like the Mediterranean, and then completely obliterated by a flood at the end of the glacial period, but with a few survivors to start the next cycle. We live in an interglacial period, and our civilization cycle (the only one we know) started after the Flood, when Noah saved only the breeding pairs from the end of Atlantis. My guess is that we had to start from scratch, with a stone-age culture of hunters and gatherers. The former inventions of agriculture and other technologies were gone and forgotten.

The books about Ayla and Jondalar stem from this time. The Flatheads (Neanderthals) were still around then, co-existing with Sapiens types, though in a state of acute ra-cist tensions. Now we are in the late interglacial, awaiting the next Ice Age and then the Flood.


(Based loosely on Science, March 19, 1993, p. 1692.)

Stage 0. The Universe is formed in the Big Bang.

Stage 1. Young galaxies form — dust and gas collapsing
gravitationally toward the centre of each.

Stage 2. This triggers the production of very large and short-lived stars (25 times Sun mass, 100 million years life-span) at about the same time, synchronized.

Stage 3. This birth and death of many stars within a short time-period is called STARBURST, and explains the luminosity of many quasars, except the super-bright ones. That is why they are at the outer edge of the Universe; they are very far distant in space because they are very early in time.

Stage 4. At the galaxy centre, a black hole starts forming, and begins to swallow near-by stars as well as dust and gas clouds.

Stage 5. The combination of galactic wind from the Active Galactic Centre (AGN) (i.e. the black hole and the glowing surroundings) and the rotation of the galaxy
forms spiral arms, at first extended rather wide.

Stage 6. Smaller stars (several Sun masses down to one Sun mass) form in the spiral arms under the influence of the galactic wind, which is creating compression waves in the dust and gas clouds.

Stage 7. Some of these Sun-like longer-lived stars (second or third generation stars) develop planetary systems, on some of which life may arise, using the heavier elements created by the first and second wave of supernovae.

Stage 8. As the galaxy rotates faster and faster, the spiral arms curl around tighter and tighter, like a skater in a pirouette. Eventually the arms are absorbed into the disk and the galaxy becomes an ellipse rather than a spiral. The Suns, planets, and life are now dead.

Stage 9. At the same time, the black hole in the AGN grows by accretion until it is millions of Sun masses large. The heat and radiation it emits in further ever-accelerating accretion accounts for the brilliance of the brightest quasars. [But why are THEY far away?]

Stage 10. Eventually (this has not happened yet) all dying galaxies will become super-huge black holes by swallowing all their stars and inter-stellar matter.

Stage 11. Finally, all the billions of dead galaxies will collapse together in the Big Crunch, as the expansion of the Universe slows and reverses.

Stage 12. Then a new Universe will be born in the next Big Bang.


The universe is constructed from 4 forces and 12 particles. But in another sense, it is made up of 3 “essences”; I don’t know what else to call them, because they are not substances.

The three essences are matter, energy and information. The main attributes of matter are mass and gravity; we used to also say “solidity”, but the view of the atom as mostly empty space made that untenable, and anyhow it never applied to gases. Still, matter is the “coarsest” of the essences, while the others are more and more “ethereal”. Matter is also the most basic, the deepest; the others are “higher”. Seeking the deepest and the highest is not the same thing; they are often at opposite ends, as the spatial metaphor itself suggests.

Energy is the ability to move matter. The definitions in physics on which this rests are: energy is the ability to do work, and work is done when a mass (piece of matter) is moved against a force, e.g. lifted off the ground against the force of gravity. Energy can take on different forms, such as mechanical, heat, electrical, light, and sound.

Information is the ability to move energy. This is a little less obvious, but consider: by knowing which button to push, we can cause 100 tons of TNT to explode, or send electric current through a province-wide network. Information is the most refined essence, and we often identify it with mind; so that our essences embrace both matter and mind, with energy in between. Is materialism or mentalism (idealism) a truer picture of our world? Both are just two different aspects of the same elephant.

The three essences are not entirely separate. Matter and energy are interconvertible with a conversion factor of c2 (as in E = Mc2 ), which is (3.1010)2 or 9.1020 centimeters per second, a very large number. This means that matter is a very concentrated, though relatively inert, form of congealed energy. It is difficult to convert it to active form, but when it is done, it produces prodigious amounts of energy. Matter-energy conversions occur in ordinary chemical reactions, but the mass changes are vanishingly small there, so that we accept the law of conservation of mass (matter) as a very close approximation. Matter-energy conversions become more noticeable in nuclear reactions, where the amounts of energy-mass involved are about 6 orders of magnitude (a million times) greater. Energy can also be converted back into matter, as in electron-positron pair-formation from gamma rays. So the law of conservation of energy (first law of thermodynamics) and the law of conservation of mass (chemistry) are subsumed together in one (perhaps absolutely accurate) law of the conservation of “mattergy”, as the common essence has been called.

Energy and information are also interconvertible. To arrive at the conversion factor, consider what entropy means in thermodynamics (an increase of heat energy divided by absolute temperature) and what it means in statistical molecular mechanics (a measure of the probability of a specific molecular configuration). The relevant proportionality constant at the macro-level (thermodynamics) is the ideal gas constant R. At the micro (molecular) level, it is Boltzmann’s constant k. The ratio R/k is Avogadro’s number (the number of molecules in a liter of ideal gas at standard temperature and pressure). Avogadro’s number is about 6.1023, and I would suggest this as the conversion factor from energy, which acts at the macro-level, to information, which acts at the micro-level. This is an even larger number (by 3 orders of magnitude) than the conversion factor of matter into energy.

If information is felt to be a property of the mental realm in some sense, then the preponderance of matter over mind seems overwhelming; a factor of 9.1020. 6.1023 comes to about 5.1044. But then we remember WHAT MOVES WHAT, and arrive at the concept of the double cybernetic relay.

A relay is an electric circuit in which a small amount of energy (just enough to close and open a switch) moves much larger amounts of energy in a bigger circuit which that switch controls. “Cybernetic” means “steering or directing”. Thus a tiny amount of the common “tri-une” essence (mat-erg-info), e.g. the human will, can move a huge amount of it through the double relay: controlling first the energy by an R/K multiplier and then matter by a c2 multiplier. This gives us the “mind-over-matter” pathway through which we normally operate — not any PSI magic, but ordinary everyday operations.

Yet before we too hastily consider “mat-erg-info” as a single essence, we are stopped by the fact that there is no law of conservation of information. (This is discussed from another angle in the essay on “The Importance of Being Saved” in Section IV.) Information, unlike matter or energy, can be created and destroyed, in everyday experience. Whether or not this is accompanied by minute energy changes is not known, because the amount of energy involved would be so small as to be undetectable. We do know that in heat engines entropy increases when energy is “degraded” to a form less useful for doing work (e.g. from high-temperature heat to low-temperature heat); and in information theory, “information” is identified with “negentropy” (the opposite of entropy). But whether this implies energy-information conversion under an overall conservation law is unknown. Normally we assume that degraded energy does not decrease in amount compared to high-grade energy, only in usefulness.

We were also much too hasty in equating “information” to “mind”. Raw information, in the sense of statistical mechanics and information theory, is only the removal of uncertainty. For example, will the next computer output be a 0 or a 1? This is at first uncertain; and if each is equally probable, then when it happens and one of them is chosen, we gain exactly one “bit” (binary digit) of information. Or if many quadrillions of molecular configurations are possible in a small cube of gas, and one of them materializes, we gain many bits of information, because so many other possibilities were discarded. But “information” in this sense is only “mere negentropy”. To acquire a mental status, it requires another property, namely “meaning”.

Whether the computer prints a 0 or a 1 has no meaning in itself, but it can acquire a meaning if we use it to signal, for example, the absence or presence of enemy military forces in a locality, as a spy would in wartime. (This is called “intelligence” in the sense of militarily useful information.) Or it could signal “0 if by land, 1 if by sea”. Or it could mean male or female, acid or base, metal or non-metal, sunny or cloudy weather — any number of dualities. A binary choice of “heads or tails” on a coin could mean “win or lose” something, ranging from a penny to a kingdom. In a way, we are using the meaningless “mere negentropy” to carry a metaphor of what we are REALLY choosing.

The choice is not always binary. With dice, there is a choice of 1 out of 6; with decimal digits, it is 1 out of 10; with base pairs of DNA, it is 1 out of 4; with musical tones in an octave, it is 1 out of 8; with letters of the English alphabet, it is 1 out of 26; with chemical elements, it is 1 out of about 100. The combinations that can be made from these relatively small numbers in consecutive choice is very great. Even with only a binary choice, even only 10 consecutive choices already give 210 = 1024 possible combinations. So the musical composers are not likely ever to exhaust all possible melodies, or the poets all combinations of letters or words, or the genetic code all possible individualities. With molecules in a gas, the numbers of configurations are large way beyond our imagination, though not truly infinite. Always, by choosing one melody, or one poem, or one genetic code, we gain or create large amounts of information, even as raw “mere” negentropy. The amount of information created is measured by all the combinations that were discarded.

But configurations of molecules in a gas do not have “meaning” for us; we lump together all the ones of equal probability, that’s all. With the assemblies of lesser numbers, like making words and sentences out of letters, or melodies or chords out of musical tones, or genes out of DNA base-pairs, we do assign meanings to particular configurations — or nature does. A particular base sequence (a codon) signifies a particular amino acid to be joined to a growing protein chain (e.g. ATG means methionine). A string of 0s and 1s, like “100”, means to us, in decimal notation, the number one hundred, or in binary notation the number eight. A set of musical tones with frequency ratios of 4/3 and 3/2 means a major triad (do-mi-sol). And so on.

“Mere information” would be ALL the possible combinations of ACTG (the 4 DNA bases) or 26 letters or 8 musical tones, while “meaning” would be possessed only by the viable gene (one coding for a useful protein), a word or sentence that communicates a real concept or thought, or an esthetically pleasing melody or chord. The permutations and combinations are very numerous in both “mere” information and “meaningful” information, but the latter is a subset of the former and much smaller in comparison.

How one passes from “mere information” to meaning is still controversial. The whole debate on Artificial Intelligence (“can computers think?”), featured for example in Scientific American, January 1990, hinges on it. John Searle (with his Chinese Room model) considers the gulf unbridgeable; this is an echo of Descartes’ views on the dualism of body and mind. The Churchlands argue that the leap is possible, and that meaning becomes an “emergent quality” when the computer program is richly complex enough and appropriate.

Language is a skill peculiar to humans. We can also use mathematics to communicate, but only a few of us acquire facility in its use, while all humans without exception use language. There are hundreds of languages, but all share characteristics as meaning-systems or semantic systems. Sign language of the deaf is of course included. All languages are a notch above information-as-mere-negentropy. Now we can further differentiate finer levels of “meaning” within the linguistic medium.

A “good sentence” must pass through successive “sieves” of qualification. First, it must be GRAMMATICAL, in two ways: (a) Lexical, i.e. using only words recognized as belonging to the particular language, and (b) syntactic, i.e. following the rules of syntax — putting the words together correctly.

Secondly, a “good sentence” must pass the SEMANTIC sieve, i.e. it must “make sense”. Not every grammatically correct stringing together of English words (for example) makes sense, as illustrated by examples chosen from my game of Scrabble solitaire. (I look at the words I made and try to make sentences out of adjacent ones. They often ALMOST make sense, but not QUITE.) Hofstadter quotes sentences of similar weird quality in his chapter on artificial intelligence in “Gödel, Escher, Bach”. My examples are: “Lawn elf gnaws the hag’s tame name”, and “If few emu star in toque, their IQ is OK”.

Third in the sequence of tests a sentence must pass is the LOGICAL one. The sentence must satisfy the rules of inference, i.e. rational thought. An example of a sentence that passed the semantic test but not the logical test would be “All computers are machines, therefore this computer is alive”.

The fourth and last test is the truth-value of the sentence. It could be grammatically, semantically and logically correct, and yet state a falsehood. (Our language abounds with such sentences, e.g. in propaganda. We sometimes call this “disinformation”.) An example might be “The laws of thermodynamics have been proved to be incorrect”.

There are similar sieves in other information systems, which successively sub-select ever smaller and more refined subsets from the vast numbers of configurations in “mere information”. It is like the process of refining a precious metal from a coarser ore, sifting gold grains from the river sand. Meaningless sequences are spliced out of RNA made from DNA in transcription, preserving only the true genes. Discords are avoided in music (though some composers have used discords to advantage). However, poets have experimented with breaking the rules of the linguistic sieves, e.g. Lewis Carroll who wrote whole poems made up of invented words. This was also done in children’s books, e.g. “The Owl and the Pussycat” and Dr. Seuss.

Jack Attali writes about another series of “information levels”.

  1. Non-significant (mere negentropy).
  2. Cybernetic (signal).
  3. Semantic (discourse).
  4. Relational (humanistic), addressing each other as “Thou” in Buber’s sense.

And then two degraded levels:

  1. Symbolic (degenerate relational).
  2. Semiologicall (manipulative).

“Information” does not always mean “mere negentropy” to all writers, however. In writing about “stages of learning”, Hayden Roberts, in CPREA Conference paper, Guelph University, 1984, quotes Masuda as outlining the following scale:

  1. Data (which comes close to “mere negentropy).
  2. Information, obtained by processing, selection and interpretation of data. Some data, considered irrelevant, are discarded at this stage.
  3. Knowledge, obtained by further processing and discarding of irrelevant information. Note that these “discarding” steps make learning a sort of a funnel — some information must be destroyed or disregarded in order to gain understanding, to make the patterns stand out free from dross.
  4. Intelligence (not necessarily only of the military kind), which is knowledge applied to action. Policy decisions are involved here, but are often “sub-optimized”, e.g. by benefitting only one-self or a narrow circle rather than everyone (ignoring equity), or going for short-range rather than long-range benefit (ignoring sustainability).
  5. Wisdom, which is knowledge/intelligence related to moral purpose (such as equity and sustainability), aiming at true optimization of decision-making.

We have gone a long way indeed from physical quantitites like matter and energy, to explore mainly mental qualities like meaning and intelligence. But the double relay still operates, and unless our decisions are wise, our language logical and rational, and truthful and unless certain redundant baggage is discarded, the energy may be degraded and the material balances of this world adversely affected.


I wrote about “essences” (in the essay on The Three Essences), but only hinted at “existence” puzzles, mainly related to what exists in “reality”. Several times already I have been driven to recognize that there may be degrees of reality, of the extent to which things “really” exist. I want to explore this theme a little further now.

There is more than the bare dichotomy of either A exists or A does not exist, as it would appear in logic. Take as an example the basic theorems of the optics of mirrors and lenses: there are objects, there are real images, and there are virtual images in those diagrams of the geometry of light rays. Real images are formed where the light rays really come together; virtual images are only the places where the dotted lines (light rays produced back through a straight mirror, for example) would converge, creating an illusion in our eyes that the rays emanate from there. So we have a series of three degrees of reality here: objects certainly exist as hard pieces of matter; real images sort of exist as convergence places of real light rays, but virtual images are only optical illusions created by our visual apparatus.

I wrote previously about “virtual particles” forming in a cloud around “real particles”. The virtual ones have not paid their energy debt and so cannot have a lasting existence, but they can wink in and out very briefly from the underlying vacuum (nano-seconds?) and have some physical effects (e.g. shielding the electric charge) on the real particle. Virtual particles have some kind of an intermediate reality between existence and non-existence.

The above mention of “energy debt” which must be paid within nano-seconds or you go bankrupt reminds me of getting a bill which must be paid within 30 days. Before I received the bill in the mail, I did not owe it. Within the 30 days’ grace, I owe it but I don’t feel I have to pay it. After the 30 days, I feel I have to pay it or I will be charged interest. After another period of time has elapsed, they may discontinue the telephone service or whatever the bill was for. There are degrees of reality or urgency with which I owe that bill.

Another example previously mentioned is a text typed into a computer that has not been “saved”. It is not in permanent memory and will vanish if the switch is turned off. Yet after talking with a computer expert the other day, I find that I am far from understanding the subtleties. Even when I erase a computer text, he tells me that it is still there and can even be recovered. I have seen him resuscitate all the files on an accidentally reformatted diskette; it’s like raising someone from the dead. “Where was it in the meantime?” I wanted to know. His answers were quite vague. He only knew that it could be done if you follow certain procedures.

And so it is with our own memories. There is supposed to be in our brain a “tape” with a complete record of all our life experiences; brain surgeon Penfield discovered it accidentally during a brain operation, when suddenly the patient relived an experience from his childhood in all its vividness when the scalpel touched that tape. However, we cannot always recall even a vague memory of past events; we seem to lose the access to that memory. But we know that it can be recovered if we just find the right trigger or key, and often eventually we do. In what state of existence or reality is a totally lost memory of a past event (erased from the brain tape by some disease or lesion), a memory which is there but we have not accessed it yet, a memory which we have recovered in bare outlines as usual, a total vividness recall as in Penfield’s patient, and the real experience as lived through? The real experience is like the hard material object in the optics example, but we have here five degrees of reality, not only three. Perhaps it is more than five if I understood memory better.

And what about dreams? They seem very real to the dreamer at the time, but fade in the harsh light of wakeful consciousness into a mere gossamer network, or even just a feeling. You try to hang on to the dream; you might get it back if you close your eyes again quickly; but usually it dissolves, slips through your fingers as you try to grasp it. Does the computer feel like that about its vanishing unsaved text? Is it that in dreaming the brain’s permanent memory is turned off? Is it memory that makes things “real” — i.e. continuity through the time dimension? That applies to some of the above examples, but not all; not to the object/real image/virtual image of optics.

Yet some dreams are “saved” (i.e. remembered), especially if you decide beforehand to save them. That may be like turning the memory on through some switch in the brain before you go to sleep.

There is a feeling of “unreality” about many things, at least in my experience. Some of them are described in my essay “The Twilight Zone”. I know some people who don’t share this feeling at all — the “super-rational”, I call them. Yet the feeling of unreality must be common enough, or radio programs like “The Twilight Zone” would not be so popular. Some would call it the sense of mystery. In one story, the man entering the haunted house says to the indwelling ghost who has just spoken to him: “But I don’t believe in ghosts. I can prove scientifically that you don’t exist.” To which the rich female voice of the ghost answers “But beyond all knowledge, there is experience.” A good statement of the fundamental principle of empirical science, actually.

A similar feeling of unreality, or perhaps of alternative realities, is encountered in our interpretations of past events; not only history, but recent events like car accidents or violent crimes. “What did you see?” the judge asks each witness, and they often report different occurrences, without deliberately lying. Or in recent history, the question “What caused the recent upheavals in Eastern Europe?” has multiple answers, depending on your ideology, sources of information and background. No historian is free of such bias, and it must get bigger the further we recede into the past. Not only the events, but the interpretations, get more and more hazy, just as we knew less about the planet Neptune from distance observations than we know now after the fly-by. But we cannot do a fly-by of historical events, because we lack a time machine, and probably always will. So history is always only one historian’s interpretation, based on a dubious selection of facts. The question “What REALLY happened?” seems to have no existential answer.

As a young person, I wanted a career and a family, both simultaneously, though I knew that for a woman this would be difficult. That is what I REALLY wanted. It did not prove possible, and so I settled for a contingency plan: I would do these things sequentially rather than simultaneously. I had my three children, but when I stepped from full-time child care into a teaching career, the career failed, for reasons that need not detain us here. There goes another contingency plan; at age 40 I went into a “second career” (peace research at very low pay) without having really had a “first career” like my husband Alan, who went into peace research with me (only he considers it a retirement!).

But note: I was receding from the full reality of my conscious life choices to second and third contingencies. I called this “living in the interstices” of the fabric of life, between the “real” fibers; or in the intercrystalline spaces in a metal matrix. Not part of the “figure”, but of the “ground”. There was always a brief period of regret or “mourning” as an option closed and I got pushed off further to the margins. Yet life was rich in the interstices, and I went on without complaining, doing what I could.

But the process went on; over arguments between Alan and Norman, the peace research option closed also. Straight out of “real” options, I turned to what I thought was “non-attachment”, in light-hearted intellectual banter with Katie. Lo and behold: in another angry blow-up, Katie left, and I found that I had been far from non-attached and light-hearted. The last two retreats from reality (options closings) were attended by escalating grief, in fact they became life-threatening: the first through a suicide attempt (not really carried out, just intended), and the second through a psychosomatic illness.

I survived both episodes, and I don’t know what life-goal I pursue now, and I don’t even try to figure it out. At age 68 I am straight out of options as to goals, though living healthily and comfortably.

The reason why I describe these experiences now is to wonder about the “reality” of the successive options and contingency plans. The primary choice seems painted in bold outlines and filled in with primary colours, and therefore “real” in that sense. But it never materialized in the real world, and therefore is the “least real” of them all. I will have to clarify my definitions of “real”.

It might seem that living in the interstices between the strands of other people’s realities, trying to fit in my ever-diminishing goals, like an adaptable water droplet, to the pores of the fabric, would make me “less real” as a person. Yet in Buddhist non-attachment, we are supposed to jettison our desires; then our suffering will cease and we are happy in the interstices. But when even this carefully reasoned-out option failed, I was spiritually marooned, as I still am. Yet, paradoxically, I now wildly enjoy life, in spite of (or because of) doubting that human life will continue on this planet. Perhaps my time with Katie was not a real non-attachment, and this finally is, because I don’t call it that. “The Tao that you can name is not the Eternal Tao.”

In going from the red-blue-green-yellow bright first life-plan to increasingly more pale and faded pastel colours mixed with gray (less saturation and less brilliance in terms of the colour-wheel diagram), was I going from something more real to something less real, or was I going in the opposite direction? First impulse would say that I went from more to less real; the Buddhist perspective might say that I went from less to more real. The christian perspective, too, says that we can learn from suffering, and presumably become more real as persons. Now I did not suffer all that much, in comparison to some other persons. But the directionality argument still holds.

Deprived of long-range hope, both for myself and for my species, I am discovering a vibrant spirituality I never knew existed. I have come back to Quaker meeting after 15 years of absence, though I am still only a seeker and not a finder. Other interpretations of my life (e.g. “Changeling of the Universe” and “Twilight Zone”) are attempts at partial interpretations, but are no more nor less “real” than this one. We cannot tell what is true or real or actually existing, not only in history, not only in events we witness, but even in the interpretation of our own life story. What is real? No one knows.

In the lila maya world of God’s simulation, real and virtual electrons interact in complex ways at higher thought levels, and the patterns certainly indicate something, but what it “really” is, we cannot know. We all live in the interstices of rock-hard ultimate Reality whom we have never encountered.


When Alice went through the looking glass, she found a whole different world with different rules on the other side. Such stories are very common. There is something about that virtual image in the mirror which makes it seem, not exactly half-real, but super-real or differently-real. I cite a few examples before discussing some scientific implications.

In a movie I vaguely remember (but not by name), the main character looked in the mirror in the wall of his new house, and saw in it a very different room. It turned out that it was the room as it had been furnished and arranged by its previous occupier, who had come to a violent end. The room and the mirror “remembered” that intense emotional experience, and was plotting revenge on the innocent new occupier. He got out of there fast.

In the French movie “Orphee”, the woman representing Death was able to enter the underworld through a mirror when wearing a certain pair of gloves. Her extended gloved hands went through the glass and the rest of her could follow; the glass started to ripple like water when touched by the gloves. (The visual trick was reportedly performed with a pool of liquid mercury.) When Orpheus hung on to Death, he was able to follow her into the underworld through that rippling mirror while still alive.

In a story of spirit possession by Cynthia Asquith, the main character Margaret did not see herself in the mirror any more, nor did she cast a shadow, when the evil Elspeth (long since dead) took possession of her body.

Yesterday again, as I often do, I sat on a bus by the window and watched the phantom cars, reflected from the other side of the bus, mingle and interpenetrate with the real cars on my side. The reflected and the real vehicles were going in opposite directions, but did not collide — they passed right through each other. The only way I could tell which ones were real and which were virtual (apart from knowing that highway) was to see which ones vanished when they got beyond the line of reflection. Until then, both looked equally and completely real.

Mirror images are truly “sinister” (meaning “left” in Latin), in the sense that the mirror image of a right hand is a left hand (and vice versa, of course). The relationship of the right hand to the left hand is called “chirality”, and plays an important role both in organic and bio chemistry and in nuclear particle physics. The basic fact is that the right and left hand (or any other chiral pairs, called “enantiomers”) are not super-imposable on each other by any combination of translations, rotations, or flippings in three-dimensional space. (I wonder what happens in four or more dimensions?)

Chemical enantiomers are usually organic (Le. carbon) compounds in which a central carbon atom is bound to four different groups or atoms. Enantiomers have exactly the same chemical properties, but one is a levo (1) form and the other is a dextro (d) form, so called because l-enantiomers rotate the plane of polarized light to the left and d-enantiomers by an equal amount to the right. In ordinary chemical reactions, both enantiomers form in equal proportions, and the resulting 50-50 mixture of I and d-enantiomers is called a racemic mixture, which does not rotate the plane of polarized light; we call it “optically inactive”.

However, there is an important exception: biological enzymes are specific for only one of any pair of enantiomers, both in forming them and in using them in further reactions. The “lock and key fit” of enzymes which is responsible for their catalytic activity is specific to only one of these forms.

Because of the enantiomeric specificity of enzymes, all the amino acids that constitute proteins are I-forms, and all the sugars in polysacharides and various glyco-complexes (including RNA and DNA) are d-forms. In principle this could be otherwise; life could have developed with d-amino acids and 1-sugars, or the other two 1- and d- combinations; but it could not have been a mixture — it was one OR the other, though neither was in principle preferred, like the choices in so-called coordination games. A symmetry-breaking choice had to be made, arbitrarily, at some point.

We cannot even digest I-sugars or d-amino acids — they pass right through. (Ideal for diet foods, except that they cause diarrhoea.) Extra-terrestrial life, if any, may use the opposite configurations; but then, even if there are mirror-image humans in that other world, we could never mate with them to produce offspring. (At least we would not both explode on touching, as we would if they were made of anti-matter.)

When you look in the mirror, you see a different face than other people see when they look at you. (Try a double mirror, front and back, or a photograph where the negative was reversed. It’s a real surprise!) Your right hand becomes your left hand, and — I think — your amino acids and sugars reverse their optical activities. You become like a being from another planet. Exactly like what we have always known about mirrors.


If there are very large numbers of multiple universes, we are certain to exist in one in which we CAN exist, according to the anthropic principle. In an awkward adaptation of Descartes, “We exist, therefore at least one such universe exists,” that is one in which prevailing conditions permit our existence. But does that mean that we can never cease to exist, that we can always find a path to a human-friendly universe? Not necessarily.

A pre-condition of continuing existence through time would seem to be the ability to draw a continuous time-line through the branching structure of the multiple universes. If at the next tick of the cosmic computer clock there is no human-friendly universe connected to this one by a direct line of descent, then we cease to exist. There may be a human-friendly universe elsewhere in the branching structure of multiple universes, but we have no way to access it. “We can’t get there from here” — unless we are allowed to go back in time to a previous point of juncture. A diagram will make this clear.

Human-friendly universes are marked in black. If we are at b, we can get to d, but not to h, o, or q. Those at h cannot get to another friendly universe. Those at o can get to q, but not to b or h.


Physics and chemistry text books usually enumerate three states of matter: solids, liquids and gases. The criteria that distinguish them are shape and volume: solids retain a constant shape and volume, liquids only volume but not shape, gases neither volume nor shape.

Yet this neat scheme is an oversimplification. Only an ideal “Euclidian” solid retains an absolutely constant shape and volume; real solids have a whole range of rheological (flow) properties shading into liquids, while liquids in turn have another varied set of rheological behaviours. Real gases do not exactly obey the ideal gas laws, and near the critical point show a smooth transition to liquids with no phase change.

Turning to the internal molecular structure, solids, liquids and gases show different degrees of order: solids are crystalline (highly ordered), gases are chaotic (the word “chaos” means “gas” in Greek), liquids are intermediate (with short-range but not long-range order).

This, too, is an oversimplification: the glasses (a generic name, not a particular substance) are rigid non-crystalline phases, while soap films are crystalline liquids. Gases are chaotic (disordered) in the main, but not near the critical point, as already mentioned.

The ancient philosophers recognized four “elements”: earth, water, air and fire. The striking correspondence of “earth” with solid, “water” with liquid, and “air” with gas is obvious. The ancients did not mean “elements” in the modern chemical sense, but states of matter, In terms of the phase rule (discussed later), they meant “phases”, not “components”. Or at least, regardless of what their intended meaning was, it suits us now to interpret their theory in this way.

But what then corresponds to the fourth ancient “element”, i.e. fire? I would suggest “plasma”, a mix of electrically charged particles (ions and electrons). This is usually a high-temperature phase seen in electrical discharges (arcs, sparks, cathode ray tubes), around bodies heated by re-entry from space to the Earth’s atmosphere, in explosions and fireballs, and — yes — in flames. Plasmas have properties different from either solids, liquids or gases. They are the subject of intense study in many branches of pure and applied physics (e.g. magnetohydrodynamics). They should be acknowledged as the fourth distinct state of matter. This would complete the analogy with the ancient “elements”. Plasmas and gases are the most frequently occurring phases in the universe, while liquids and solids are far less common.

Just as high temperature enlarges the scope of states of matter by adding plasma to the list, so does very low temperature: superfluid helium has properties that differ markedly from ordinary liquids in several important aspects
(e.g. zero viscosity, zero surface tension).

Another extension of viewpoint comes in considering thin films, which are essentially two-dimensional structures. Nor are all films the same; they can be either condensed (a term comprising both solid and liquid) or gaseous, in analogy with three-dimensional matter.

Finally, extreme conditions of matter in collapsed stars must not be ignored. A star like the Sun can conveniently be described as plasma, but a white dwarf is composed of condensed plasma (fully ionized, with nuclei and electrons squeezed together until they are touching). Beyond that, a neutron star (the remnant of a supernova explosion) can be compared to a single giant nucleus, and is thus composed of “nuclear matter”, i.e. a phase in which the vast empty spaces in ordinary atoms have been eliminated. Beyond that, a black hole must be composed of a phase even more condensed, something similar to the universe before the Big Bang or during the first fractions of a micro-second, when the four forces of nature were still unified. But we don’t know for sure, because we can’t see inside — no message is received from inside a black hole.

After this quick overview, let us consider the relationships in greater detail, with the help of diagrams.

To clarify the relationships between solids, liquids and gases (the classical three states of matter), we can draw a simple 2×2 table.

Figure 1.
Non-compressible Compressible
Fluid Liquid Gas
Rigid Solid Empty cell

Here liquids and gases together are called “fluids” because they flow, and solids and liquids together are called “condensed phases” because they are denser than gases. There is no such thing as a rigid compressible phase, and so one cell of the 2×2 table must be left empty. Plasma, our fourth state of matter, does not fitr there.

Now let us explre the rheological properties of the condensed phases. There are two limiting ideal cases: one is a Euclidian solid, which never changes its shape or volume under any conditions of external pressure, shear or stress; the other is a Pascalian liquid, which, while incompressible with respoect to volume, flows (changes shape) without resistance under the slightest external shear or stress. (Superfluid helium approaches this state.)

A better approximation to a real solid is a Hookean solid, which can be extended (strained) by an external pulling force (stress) or distorted by a sideways force (shear) or compressed by pressure, but quickly returns to its original shape and volume when the external force is removed. It obeys Hooke’s law, which states that the strain (elongation) is proportional to the applied stress. This property and the previously mentioned rebound is called “elasticity”.

A good approximation to a real liquid is a Newtonian liquid, which flows with a certain resistance called “viscosity”. The law which expresses this, first formulated by Newton, states that the rate of flow is proportional to the external force, the proportionality constant being called the “viscosity coefficient”.

Hookean solids come with widely different elasticuty constants (strain/stress ratios), e.g. steel and vulcanized rubber. Newtonian liquids come in a wide range of viscosity, from ether to thick syrup. But these are only differences in the numerical values of the elasticity or viscosity coefficients. These coefficients remain constant, showing continued adherence to either Hooke’s law or Newton’s law.

Beyond that, there are also cases of non-Newtonian liquids (e.g. solutions of rubber in benzene or toluene) whose viscosity increases with shear, because the long polymer molecules tend to become aligned in the direction of shear. There are also non-Hookean solids; whose elasticity varies with stress. In fact, all elastic extensions have a limit; beyond it the solid either rearranges to a new shape if given the time to “relax”, or it breaks, as in a machine measuring tensile strength.

There are also possibilities of combining elastic and viscous behaviour; in this case, the distinction between a solid and a .liquid is blurred. These combinations can be elucidated by means of models using springs and pistons. If we represent perfect elasticity by a spring (which can be extended and let rebound), and perfect viscosity by a piston moving in a cylinder filled with liquid, we can have two types of arrangements: in series or in parallel. In a rapid application of a pulling force, the spring would respond intantaneously, while the piston responds slowly. In an arrangement of the spring and piston in series, the spring prevails; in an arrangement in parallel, the piston does. There could be multiple springs and pistons in various arrangements in more complex cases; somewhat like combinations of resistance, inductance and capacitance in electrical circuits.

The substances described by these models include for example raw (unvulcanized) rubber, which exhibits “creep” (tension relaxation) under a constant stressing force, and also “hysteresis”, in which the path followed by extension is different from the path exhibited in the return to the original position. (Vulcanized rubber differs from raw rubber in having more cross-links, in this case disulfide bridges, between the long polymer chains; this makes the cross-linked product closer to a solid, the raw product closer to a liquid.)

While the Hookean solid is definitely a solid and the Newtonian liquid is definitely a liquid, it is not clear how to designate the in-between combinations of springs and pistons. If elasticity characterizes a solid and viscosity a liquid, a body which exhibits both elasticity and viscosity can only be described as a hybrid condensed phase. The transition is continuous, or at least stepwise, through the range of different substances.

One other case of rheological behaviour will be noted, that of a thixotropic body. An example is a pot of some paints, which seem almost solid or at least very viscous when standing still, but become increasingly fluid when stirred rapidly. The properties exhibited include non-Newtonian flow, already mentioned, but also a “yield value”, i.e. there is no flow until a threshold shear velocity is reached. From the standpoint of molecular structure, what is involved here is the presence of a gel in the resting stage (lightly cross-linked with weak bonds, like hydrogen bonds or Van der Waals forces), and a gel-sol transformation on stirring, which breaks these weak bonds and removes the crosslinks.

We should examine then the molecular structures which might account for some of the other models. The ideal Euclidean solid might be approached by diamond, a structure held together completely by strong covalent bonds. The ideal Pascalian liquid, as already mentioned, might be represented by superfluid helium. A Hookean solid would be a polycrystalline body held together partly by covalent and partly by weaker bonds, or containing crystal imperfections. A Newtonian liquid would contain mainly weaker bonds: hydrogen bonds in the case of water, Van der Waals forces in oils. Raw rubber is composed of long tangled polymer chains, which can slide past each other (the piston element in the model), but whose tangles act somewhat as weak cross-links and stretch the intervening strands elestically when a pull is applied (like the springs in the model). The situation is similar to the tangles in uncombed hair.

This rheological discussion and the the Van der Waals type of deviation from ideal behaviour in gases can be summarized in Figure 2, which is a more complex version of Figure 1.

Figure 2.
critical states
Pascal liquid Van der Waals gas ideal gas
Newton liquid
spring and piston models
Hooke solid empty cell
Euclid solid
compressibility >

In Figure 2, we have erased the boundary between liquid and solid, changing the fluid-rigid dichotomy into a fluidity dimension; and indicated where consideration of the critical state will similarly erase the boundary between liquid and gas. The boundaries do not really disappear; they are still very real in commonly observed phase transitions, such as ice to water and water to steam; but they are blurred in some other cases, where transitions occur gradually without phase change. Actually the various liquid-solid transition states in the diagram represent different substances, not blurred phase transitions of a single substance.

In Figure 3, we plot fluidity (which is the reciprocal of viscosity) against elasticity.

Figure 3
superfluid rubber
mobile liquid
viscous liquid
elasticity >

While glass is simply a very viscous liquid, rubber (as we have seen) is a more complex rheological state of matter. Here we use the terms “glass” and “rubber” in a generic sense, not referring to particular substances with which the terms originated, but to states of matter (phases) with certain properties. The rubbery state can be converted to the glassy state by increasing the density of crosslinks or bonds. Neither a glass nor a rubber are crystalline (ordered) structure like a real solid, but have only short-range order like a liquid, in spite of being relatively rigid like solids.

Notice that we have subtly changed the definition of a “solid”. Rigidity (no change in shape or volume under an external force) was the original definition. Now we specify crystallinity as the distinguishing characteristic of a solid. The text books do that too, this is not our innovation. There is a link between rigidity and crystallinity: a glass truly does flow if we wait long enough — years or decades. But this link is not absolute, for a crystal may flow too if we wait even longer.

Because of its importance in the revised definition, we must now consider crystallinity (order) as an additional determining factor in states of matter, in addition to rigidity/fluidity, compressibility, elasticity and viscosity. But the latter properties are empirically observable in macro dimensions, while crystallinity has to do with internal micro-structure of materials. However, we have already dealt with micro-structures in discussing the high polymer strands of rubber.

First of all, we must distinguish different kinds and degrees of crystallinity, as well as imperfections in crystalline order. Also we shall see that, while all true solids are crystalline in one kind or degree or other, not all crystals are solids; and so we will draw attention to liquid crystals. A final interesting phenomenon is “quasi-crystals” which occur in some recently discovered materials.

Figure 4.
glasses quasi crystals defective crystals or poly crystals single crystals
liquid crystals
nematic smectic
crystallinity >

In Figure 4 we have another dimension, from glasses to single perfect crystals like the silicon from which chips are made, and from disordered to crystalline liquids. Deviations from single perfect crystals (three-dimensional lattices with no molecules or ions out of place).can occur in several different ways. (1) Most crystalline solids are composed of a mat of tiny crystallites; each crystallite may be perfect in itself, but they are oriented in different directions toward each other, and the boundaries are imperfect like earthquake faults. This is the polycrystalline state of matter. An example is steel. (2) There usually are crystal defects (deviations from perfect order) within monocrystals or the crystallites of polycrystals. These defects include various displacements, substitutions by other atoms or ions in the lattice, excess interstitial atoms or ions (not part of the lattice), or holes (missing atoms or ions) in the lattice. As these defects accumulate, order may gradually vanish and we will have a glass, with only short-range order among its constituent atoms, ions or molecules. The transition can be regarded as almost continuous, though it is conceptual only, involving different materials as examples along the way.

A somewhat different deviation is represented by the recently discovered quasi-crystals. Israeli scientist Dany Schechtman discovered five-fold symmetry (previously thought impossible) in an alloy of aluminum and manganese. The puzzle was solved when it was shown that the pattern was composed ot two kinds of unit cell (other crystal have only one unit cell) — “skinny” and “fat” rhombuses, and that these can fit together to “tile” (completely fill) three-dimensional space. This is a highly ordered structure, but does not periodically repeat like the three-dimensional chessboard of a cubic sodium chloride crystal, for example. There is only quasi-periodic order; hence the name “quasi crystals. Other materials with this kind of structure have since been discovered.

As for liquid crystals: how could a liquid be crystalline? Well, crystallinity is only another name for long-range order, and this can happen in liquids in two ways: In the nematic state, the elongated particles (e.g. soap molecules in a water solution) are aligned parallel to each other, but with their ends in random positions. In the more highly ordered smectic state, the long strings and their ends are both aligned, so that the strings form compact bundles. Both nematic and smectic liquids give X-ray diffraction patterns, as only crystals can do, but flow like normal liquids.

Briefly, we shall now turn our attention to mono-molecular or bi-molecular films (monolayers and bilayers). These are essentially two-dimensional structures. Examples are soap films, cell membranes (lipid bilayers with hydrophobic tails turned inwards and hydrophilic heads outwards), and any surface adsorbed layers that are very thin.

These films are termed either “gaseous” or “condensed” by analogy with three-dimensional structures. The relation between pressure and volume in a gas at constant temperature is inverse proportionality. In a liquid or solid, volume does not vary much with pressure. The two-dimensional analogue of pressure is surface tension, while volume corresponds to surface area. If the surface area of a film does not vary much with surface tension, the film is said to be in the condensed state. If the surface area shrinks as surface tension increases, we call it a gaseous film. Phase transitions in films have been observed under some circumstances.

This then completes the more detailed survey of states of matter, though of course much more could be said. Books have been written on separate aspects, such as rheology, crystal imperfections, and structure of membranes. They touch on many topics important in applied technologies, as well as giving insights of pure science.

We shall conclude with a few comments on phases commonly observed in the universe; but first, a brief note on miscibility of phases.

All gases are completely miscible, i.e. the molecules intermingle without discrimination. At the other pole, solid phases are always completely immiscible; each component, having its own specific crystal structure, forms its own phase. Liquids are the most interesting: they can be either miscible in all proportions, like ethyl alcohol and water; or immiscible like water and oil (forming two layers when put together); or partially miscible, forming two layers, each containing different proportions of each component. Complete or partial immiscibility is due to a preference of molecules for being close to their own kind rather than to the other kind; a sort of molecular apartheid. If a third component is introduced into a system consisting of oil and water, it may prefer the water phase (be hydrophilic) or the oil phase (be hydrophobic or lipophilic), or if it is a long molecule with a polar (hydrophilic) end and a non-polar (hydrophobic) end, like soap, it will accumulate in the interface between oil and water, and if shaken, may emulsify oil droplets in a continuous water phase by coating each oil droplet with a soap film. Inverse emulsions of water droplets in a continuous oil phase also exist, e.g. mayonnaise with egg as emulsifier. Cell membranes are complex oil-water systems in which various proteins are embedded with their non-polar portions in the oil-loving middle of the membrane and the polar ends sticking out of the membrane, either inside into the cytoplasm (aqueous medium) or outside the cell (another aqueous medium). The proteins perform various vital functions as hormone or neurotransmitter receptors, ion channels or pumps, and immune system signals. In some essential ways, life is an elaboration of the basic oil-water immiscible system; or at least that is the aspect of life in relation to a consideration of phase relations.

Gases and solids are too much “either-or” — complete miscibility or no miscibility. There is in the world only one gaseous phase and very numerous solid phases. But the number of liquid phases is limited, because of the phenomenon of partial miscibility. As usual, life thrives in the middle, in liquid (both aqueous and oily) media. (Somebody called life “wetware” in contrast to the “hardware” and “software” of computer science.) Life is also in the middle in the acid-base spectrum (middle pH range) and the redox (oxidation-reduction) spectrum between fully oxidized and fully reduced carbon compounds (CO2 and CH4, carbon dioxide and methane).

There is a simple and beautiful relationship between C, the number of components (pure chemical substances), P, the number of phases coexisting at equilibrium, and F, degrees of freedom, which determine whether the range of coexistence is a point (F=0), a line (F=1), or an area (F=2). This is called the Phase Rule, and it states that F = C-P+2. (The 2 stands for temperature and pressure as the determining variables.) On the basis of the phase rule, phase diagrams can be drawn to illustrate phase relationships and phase transitions. However, the diagrams represent equilibrium states only, and are not relevant to systems in transition or to far-from-equilibrium states which are involved in life processes

So far we have dealt with liquid immiscible systems at or near room temperature. If we go to high temperatures, as in a furnace, the common phases are molten metals and slag (silicates). But some molten metals are immiscible with each other , and “extractions” can be done (analogous to extracting plant products with ether from aqueous solutions), e.g. of gold and the platinum metals being extracted by molten silver from a lead button. (This must have intrigued the alchemists.)

Planets in the solar system are composed of rock (which is frozen slag), a metallic iron-alloy core, various liquids or ices (depending on the temperature), such as water, ammonia, or methane (completely reduced O, N, C compounds), and carbon dioxide; and gaseous atmospheres (same compounds as above plus free nitrogen and/or oxygen). So we have rock, metal, ice, and gas as planetary phases. Some of these are missing sometimes, such as the metallic core. The inner planets (Mercury, Venus. Earth, Mars) are rocky (the Earth alone also watery), the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, maybe Pluto?) are probably largely hydrogen and helium gas, but their moons have rock and ice. The compressed hydrogen in the interior of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune is thought to form a metallic phase; metallic hydrogen was only very recently obtained on Earth in a very high pressure experiment. We should add that Earth also contains oil as a phase in the biosphere, since oil is a product of life.

Unlike planets, stars are made of plasma, as already mentioned. Stellar phases, already described in the first part of the article, are represented in Figure 5.

Figure 5
Main sequence star White dwarf Neutron star Black hole
Plasma Condensed plasma Nuclear matter ?
Planet conditions
Pressure >

We have ranged widely in our discussions, taking in many sciences, many conditions, many localities. Many things were oversimplified, many others omitted altogether. Only superficial aspects could be mentioned in this brief treatment. However, perhaps what was lost in depth was gained in the width of perspective. Subtleties emerge in unexpected places, and will probably continue to do so as the science of the states of matter progresses.


The first 3 seconds or 3 minutes of the Universe after the Big Bang have been described, as well as the first 300 thousand years or the first 3 million — all very short times compared to the total age of some 15 billion years. This describes the evolution of elementary particles and radia-tion and the separation of the 4 fundamental forces. It goes on to describe the formation of galaxies and their clusters, and of stars and their evolution to white dwarfs, neutron stars or black holes. It deals with the very small and the very large — the extreme ends of the Cosmic Zoom.

Even the formation of atoms is described, as naked nuclei capture orbiting electrons. At first there is only hydrogen, with a bit of helium, until some stars are born, live and die to form heavier nuclei in their last moments. With the death of stars, it is “dust to ashes” one way, not, as with us, “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” and around again in a cycle.

The evolution of life on Earth has also been well described, although several versions of the original creation story are still circulating. Macromolecules to cells, prokaryotes to eukaryotes, unicellular to multicellular…a multi-varied and often told story.

We even know something about the pre-biotic or (shall we say) peri-biotic (just before and just after) chemistry of life, the “small molecules to macromolecules” stage and the selection of the functional macromolecules from among the non-functional ones. Yet this is much less well known and still doubtful. It is as if, in our knowledge, we jump straight from physics into biology, leaving the in-between chemistry somewhat hazy and fuzzy.

There is an even larger gap, and that is a discussion of phases rather than components, that is, physical chemistry. Components are the chemical species (elements or compounds), assemblages of particular molecules. Phases are the solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas (the ancient Greek “elements” of earth, water, air, and fire — only it is more complicated than that); each crystalline solid is a separate phase, some liquids can mix in solutions (as can some solids and liquids, or gases and liquids) while some are immiscible as separate phases, and gases are all one phase, always miscible. Phases can be either pure substances (elements or compounds) or solutions, but not mixtures.

Components and phases are connected by the elegant and beautiful “phase rule”, F = C + 2 — P, where F = degrees of freedom, C = number of components, P = number of phases, and “2” standing for temperature and pressure (if we also consider other variables such as gravity or surface tension or electrical potential, this number would increase). On the basis of this law, we can then draw phase diagrams, (usually plotting either pressure versus temperature for one-component systems, or temperature versus composition [ratio of components] for a two-component system at constant pressure) in which a phase with two degrees of freedom is an area, a phase with one degree of freedom is a line, and a phase with zero degrees of freedom is a point. All this is well-known and practiced in physical chemistry, metallurgy, mineralogy, etc., but little known in popular science.

How much do we know about the evolution of phases on planets such as the Earth? This would constitute the “missing middle” of the range between the very large and the very small to which we alluded in the beginning. Yet it is the part of the Cosmic Zoom where we live, the part which we know best in commonsense experience, yet not so well in its scientific aspects. Perhaps we prefer to study the exotic rather than the commonplace.

The planets are made of stony phases, ices (which can melt to liquids or vaporize to gases if the temperature is high enough), and gases, sometimes with an inner metallic core which is invisible, but whose presence is inferred from magnetic properties or from density considerations.

The stony phases, of course, are multiple as solids, but in the liquid phase (magma, which is like slag in metallurgy) they may be miscible or not. Three possible liquid magma phases have been mentioned, called siderophilic (iron-loving), lithophilic (stone-loving), and chalcophilic (limestone-loving). The ices may be methane, ammonia, or water, i.e. the hydrogen compounds of carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen, all elements (non-metals but non-halogens) in the first complete octet row of the Periodic Table of the elements. The gases can be vapors from the ices or carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, or several others; but mainly (when it comes to quantities of gases present on all the solar planets) hydrogen with a little bit of helium, like most matter in the Universe.

The inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are the stony planets, though Earth also has (melted) ice in its hydrosphere, gases in its atmosphere, and a core of metallic iron. The outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto) are largely hydrogen, which is gaseous on the outside but is probably in a “metallic” phase under the intense pressure in the inside; but the numerous satellites of the outer planets have ices and also some stone. Jupiter’s satellite Io is peculiar in having a lot of sulphur, both solid on the surface (where if would form a distinct phase) and in the atmosphere. The comets are made up largely of ices with some admixture of dust (“dirty snowballs”). Asteroids and meteorites are stony.

The Earth’s biosphere features prominently two phases: oil and water. Water has been mentioned before as one of the melted ices and as the main constituent of the Earth’s hydrosphere (oceans, streams and lakes), but the oil phase is new and peculiar to life forms.

Living organisms, of course, consist of far more than oil and water, but all the myriad components can usually be classified as hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (oil-loving), the latter also called hydrophobic (water-hating). It is a real polarity: anything that loves oil hates water, and vice versa. Hydrophilic compounds are generally attracted to water because they are polar, i.e. can exhibit electrically positive and negative groups just like water; while lipophilic compounds, such as long hydrocarbon chains, are non-polar (uncharged or electrically neutral).

A cell membrane is intimately composed of both hydrophilic and lipophilic components, in a precise architecture, and could not function or exist at all without their interplay. Natural oils and fats have hydrophilic heads (the COOH end-groups of fatty acids) and lipophilic tails (the long hydrocarbon chains), and these are lined up in a double layer with lipophilic tails inside the membrane and hydrophic heads on both the inner and outer surface of the cell, sticking out into the hydrophilic cytoplasm inside the cell and the hydrophilic inter-cellular spaces outside.

Anything trying to go through the membrane in either direction has to pass through the oily barrier, which most molecules cannot do. So special channels are provided for the passage of ions and other small molecules, some of them provided with energy-intensive “pumps” working against an osmotic gradient. The channels are protein molecules spanning the membrane, with lipophilic portions inside the membrane and functional hydrophilic portions sticking out, for receiving chemical messages to change their configurations to admit or bar ions depending on functional demands.

A hydro-lipo balance is just as important for health as an acid-base balance or a redox balance or an electrolyte balance (K vs. Na vs. Ca) in nerve-muscle discharge. Women’s bodies have more fat than men’s bodies (which have more muscle); hence the smooth curves of women’s bodies and the greater physical strength of men. Women also float better in water because of their higher fat content (fat being lighter than water) and so may be better swimmers; while in athletic feats involving muscle strength or speed, such as weight-lifting or running, men are superior. As well, fat layers protect women better against cold and provide food reserves for pregnancy and lactation. Women are built for endurance, men for quick exertion. Perhaps this is why women live longer than men. Women and men represent different ideals of beauty. This is well illustrated in classical ballet and figure-skating, where ballerinas usually do the graceful pirouettes and the male dancers lift them up as if they were light as feathers.

Some organic (i.e. carbon-containing) liquids are hydrophilic and some are lipophilic. Ether is lipophilic, and so can be used for extracting dissolved substances from water solution, because it does not mix with water. When ether and water are put together in the same vessel, they form two distinct layers with a meniscus (boundary) between them. However, some other organic liquids, such as ethyl alcohol, have both polar and non-polar groups, and so can mix with either ether or water. When alcohol is added to the two-layered ether-water system, and the whole is stirred or shaken, the components will all dissolve in each other and form a single phase. In a way, the alcohol acts as a “mediator” to reconcile the opposites of the hydro-lipo antagonism.

An emulsifier such as soap makes oil and water mix on a coarser scale; not as molecules going into a common solution, but as droplets (sometimes of tiny colloidal size) dispersed or suspended in a continuous water medium. (This is how soap removed dirt from surfaces, since dirt particles are often coated with oil.) Like the fatty acids in a cell membrane, soap molecules (sodium or potassium salts of fatty acids) have polar heads and non-polar tails, which enable them to coat small oil droplets or dirt particles and thus “emulsify” them.


This is based on two articles, (Freedman, and Wilczek) one exploring the low-temperature range down to very nearly absolute zero, the other up to extremely high temperatures close to those the Universe experienced fractions of a second after its birth in the Big Bang.

The steps that matter undergoes as we descend the temperature scale might be outlined as follows:

1. Gases liquefy — this is condensation. Forces of attraction between molecules overcome the kinetic energy that tends to keep them apart. Density increases greatly.

2. Liquids crystallize into solids or stiffen into glasses. Crystals are highly ordered, while glasses remain disordered like liquids, but become rigid.

2a. Note: some substances go directly from gases to solids at ordinary atmospheric pressures, e.g. carbon dioxide to dry ice. At higher pressures there is a liquid phase.

3. At various temperatures below their freezing point, some solids undergo phase transitions toward an even greater order: e.g. from paramagnetism to ferromagnetism at the Curie point, where all the molecular or atomic magnets become permanently aligned in the same direction; and from ordinary electrical conductivity to superconductivity, when there is no longer any resistance to the movement of electrons through the solid. This is thought to be due to the formation of Cooper pairs, when two electrons, which are fermions unable to occupy the same space at the same time, pair their spins to become bosons, which can occupy the same space at the same time, and thus attain higher coherence.

4. At very low temperatures below their condensation point, some liquids, e.g. helium, undergo a phase transition to the superfluid state, at which viscosity disappears and other properties change drastically. Like superconductivity, this transition is also due to the attainment of quantum coherence on the macro scale. Quantum phenomena can now manifest at the macro level. All the molecules are coordinated as a whole.

5. It is hypothesized, and has now been observed, that at temperatures within a few millionths of absolute zero (which itself can never be reached), so-called Bose-Einstein condensation may be observed, a condition in which all the bosons occupy the same space at the same time. All the atoms condense into a single entity, all “go schlump”, in the words of physicist Carl Wieman. “It’s like one big fuzzy atom”, says Daniel Kleppner. “An identity crisis for matter.”

We note that order increases as we descend the temperature scale. The units (atoms or molecules) can form crystals and eventually even more coherent condensates as molecular motion slows down and almost comes to a stop. At ordinary temperatures, the attractive forces trying to produce cohesion and coherence are disrupted by the rapid thermal motions and cannot manifest themselves. At higher temperatures, entropy overcomes enthalpy; at lower temperatures this is reversed. The cross-over points differ from one substance to another.

Outlining the steps as we ascend the temperature scale shows us other transitions, this time disrupting the ordinary units of matter to smaller and smaller fragments.

  1. Molecular aggregates break up, e.g. water goes to steam. In the liquid phase, water molecules form hydrogen bonds that tie them together. In steam these intermolecular bonds no longer exist. For water this transition occurs at 373 degrees K. In general, we can put the transition temperature at about 102.
  2. Molecules break up into their constituent atoms; e.g. steam dissociates into hydrogen and oxygen gas at about 103 degrees K.
  3. Atoms ionize into nuclei and electrons, usually in steps as the outermost electrons are ripped off first, then the more tightly bound inner ones. This is a transition from a gas to a plasma (air to fire in the ancient Greek 4-“element” scheme). A plasma is luminous because it contains a gas of photons, also called black-body radiation. This occurs at about 104 degrees K.
  4. At much higher temperatures, attainable only in stars and in particle accelerators, nuclei break up into protons and neutrons. This is the boundary between nuclear chemistry and nuclear plasma, reached at about 1010 degrees K.
  5. The next boundary has not yet been reached in the laboratory, though scientists are working toward it, and is not reached in stars either. It is presumed to have existed fleetingly at the Big Bang. Here protons and neutrons break up into quarks and gluons. Temporarily quarks may associate as pairs into pions, and there is a “pion gas”, analogous to the photon gas in ordinary plasma. Below this transition quarks are “confined” within protons and neutrons, but here they break loose from the confinement. Strange quarks also form. This is postulated to occur at about 1012 degrees K. [This state of a “quark-gluon soup” has now been reached — see Scientific American, April 2000]
  6. At slightly higher temperatures, the quark pairs separate, the original “symmetry-breaking” at the dawn of the Universe is overcome, and the “vacuum” (which in the quantum-electrodynamics theory is not at all empty) regains its original symmetry
  7. Theoretical calculations show that at about 1015 degrees K, the weak and electromagnetic forces (two of the four basic forces of nature) unite into a single electroweak force. Another symmetry-breaking step is overcome.
  8. Much hotter still, and more theoretically tenuous, the strong force unites with the electroweak force, at about 1030 degrees K. If and when the fourth force, gravity, unites with the other three forces, is not known.

As the Universe exploded into being, these steps occurred in reverse, it is postulated, as the Universe cooled. Some think that above 1030 degrees K, if it could be attained, it would be possible to grow other Universes.

In this “temperature zoom”, we have gone from macrocoherence to a symmetric vacuum in 32 orders of magnitude. It is worth noting that these end points represent two very different kinds of order — but order nevertheless. Super-coherence and super-symmetry. Think on it.


The quantum theory of light, the wave theory of the electron — both tell us that photons, electrons and other particles are somehow at the same time waves and particles. The two theories converge from different starting points: classically light consisted of waves, electricity of particles; now both kinds of entities partake of both forms of existence. Energy and matter converge in a grand synthesis; both theories are syntheses in themselves in a Hegelian sense (Newton’s light corpuscles and Huyghens’ light waves as thesis and antithesis for light, quantum theory as synthesis; electricity as continuous fluid and as discrete particles as another dialectical pair, with the wave theory of the electron as the synthesis), and then the two syntheses super-synthesize as a grand theory of “mattergy”. Didn’t Einstein unify the two and find the conversion factor (square of the velocity of light) in E = Mc squared?

But Einstein was never satisfied with Planck’s quantum theory or the Bohr theory of the atom, nor with Bohr’s notion of “complementarity”, according to which entities could somehow be both waves and particles. It seemed to Einstein that this violates a law of logic, the law of contradictions: a thing must be either this or that. Many scientists felt repelled by complementarity and other paradoxes of quantum and wave theories, like Einstein; but unlike Einstein, most became reconciled to the new theories, familiar with the new jargon (both verbal and mathematical), and even quite enamoured of the new philosophies, which some called “the Tao of physics”.

The story I wish to tell might satisfy Einstein. It might steer us away from complementarity and its contradictions and paradoxes, though not to classical mechanistic philosophies. It is more in line with modern notions of “chaos” and non-linearity. The story will be told imperfectly, because I don’t totally understand it. But to me it has the ring of truth, and my friend Robert Betchov, who told it to me, understands it, in fact he invented it. If only I could get him to write it down…

He told it to me when we were passengers in the back seat of a car, with our friends Ruth and Manja in the front, driving through the mountains of Norway. A high northern plain or plateau, barren and rock-strewn, wildly beautiful. I wanted to watch, but Robert kept interrupting, with his talk about non-linearity and turbulent flow. I wanted to ignore him and day-dream about Peer Gynt, but he captured my attention — this strange genius, old now and forgetful, but playing with concepts that gradually convinced me could be revolutionary in physics and philosophy. Yet I only half followed him, even when I concentrated. The mathematics I have now forgotten completely.

The Schrodinger equation for an electron or a quark apparently has a few linear terms and also a non-linear (high exponent) residue term. The latter has usually been ignored and the linear terms were the only ones considered; otherwise the problem would have been too difficult, in fact intractable. This has been the usual fate of non-linearities; even turbulent flow, a simple everyday occurrence at water taps or in mountain streams, has never been completely defined or described mathematically in fluid mechanics, which deals only with the case of laminar (linear) flow.

In the case of the electron or quark, the linear terms give a smooth attenuated (damped) sine wave, which has been the solution generally presented. The damped sine wave represents the probability of finding the “particle” at that spot if the appropriate experiment is performed. The non-linear residual term yields a sharp narrow dissonant peak, like a sudden loud noise interrupting a melody. We have tended to dismiss it as irrevelant.

Where in the wave packet is this dissonant peak? A hint may be gathered from another (unrelated) case of a non-linear residual, resonance in air columns enclosed in cylinders through which a piston is moving to generate pressure waves. Here the non-linear peak shuffles back and forth in the column, like the eternal outcast wandering the seven seas forever without finding a refuge.

Returning to the electron wave packet: perhaps the non-linearity peak oscillates extremely rapidly among the regular waves of probability, without becoming localized — somewhat as the double and single bonds in a benzene ring do. Yet the residence time of the peak is somewhat longer where the amplitude of the regular wave is higher.

Now a leap of faith: a young physicist at CERN near Geneva apparently said to Betchov when he expounded these theories, “Ah, there is the quark!” The electron or quark is unlocatable, because it oscillates much too rapidly; but it is more probable to be found where the regular wave amplitudes are greater. This is the link between the linear and non-linear terms of the Schrodinger equation; it is not really “decomposable” into linear and non-linear terms, they interact.

When we perform certain experiments, e.g. passing a stream of electrons through a slit, we get a wave pattern by diffraction or interference, as we would with light. But if we try to pass a single electron through two slits lined up behind each other, it will sometimes go through and sometimes be stopped. It goes through only if the peak (or particle) of non-linearity, in its super-rapid oscillation along the wave packet, happens to be at the exact position to go through the slits.

Sometimes the concept is put in this way: that the particle is brought into existence only when the experiment is carried out. This is counter-intuitive and Einstein did not like it. Probability is not good enough, he said. “God does not play dice with the universe.” Perhaps this would not matter if the question was only whether or not a single electron would go through two aligned slits; but in a famous “thought experiment”, the electron, if it goes through, could trigger an electric device that would electrocute a cat, that is, have large effects in the macro world. God would not leave this to chance, says Einstein.

Postulating the rapidly oscillating peak of non-linearity restores determinism to the sub-atomic world, and hence to the macro world, where cats and humans live and die. The probability waves are still there, but are subjective rather than objective. They reflect only our ignorance of the sub-micro phenomena in space and time (very small dimensions, very rapid oscillations). We don’t know where that peak (electron) is, but God knows all the time. His eye is not only on the sparrow, but on every quark and electron in the universe.

The barren high plain of Norway gives rise to brooding meditations. Did Einstein know God’s mind better than Planck or Bohr? Does anyone? But Betchov’s speculations are intriguing.


This is written after reading a book of essays in honour of David Bohn, edited by B.J. Hiley and F. David Peat, which I only partly understood. Yet I feel the urge to put down some thoughts I recorded.

Quantum phenomena for sub-atomic particles are well authenticated by experiments and the observations, though weird to our everyday thinking, have to be accepted as valid and real. However, interpretations can differ. Thus, while quantum phenomena are firmly established, there is more than one quantum THEORY. There may be more that we have not thought of yet.

The usual interpretation is the “Copenhagen interpretation”, attributed to Nils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, though there was a lengthy dispute about it in the beginning (Albert Einstein, among others, did not like it, as well as De Broglie), and even now, some physicists doubt it, David Bohm being prominent among them.

I want to simply enumerate some of the features that people do not like, without explaining them at this point:

  1. Complementarity (wave and particle aspects of both fermions and bosons).
  2. Indeterminacy (one cannot measure both the position and the momentum of a particle with complete accuracy at the same time).
  3. Wave-packet collapse when a certain measurement is made. This has consequences named in the next three points.
  4. The observer (subject) unavoidably interacts with the object being observed.
  5. Measurement paradox: why does the measuring apparatus not also obey quantum laws? (Classical laws are usually assumed.)
  6. The dramatic thought experiment about the Schrodinger cat: it is neither dead nor alive until somebody looks in the box.
  7. Contradictions with the theory of general relativity. (This is a separate point, not linked to (3)).

It is possible to avoid these difficulties and paradoxes in alternative interpretations, but then usually some other assumptions not quite consonant with common sense have to be made. But to some people at least, these might be more acceptable than those of the Copenhagen interpretation.

There are obviously two ways out of the complementarity dilemma: either accept the waves as real and the particles as at least partially an illusion; or accept the particles as real and the waves as merely indicating our uncertainty, i.e. waves as an illusion.

Accepting the waves as real leads to the “multiple worlds” interpretation of Wheeler and Hawking, combined with the anthropic principle, which places us as observers in only one of the zillions of existing universes. This may be so, but most people do not like that much either. The wave-packet collapse then merely indicates that we have blotted out all the other worlds except one; they have not really collapsed, but we can no longer observe them.

Accepting the particles as real can be done in 3 ways:
(a) Vigier’s “statistical” theory, which is causal (deterministic, not probabilistic), but non-classical.
(b) Bohm’s “implicit order” with its enfolding and unfolding of the explicit (observable) order from the deeper order underneath. This interpretation involves non-local effects (i.e. action at a distance) and inseparability of parts within the whole (like a hologram), i.e. non-decomposability, as well as “hidden variables”.
© De Broglie’s (and Betchov’s) peak of non-linearity (see my essay of that name), where the soliton or standing wave which moves around with superluminal speed is the particle.

Thus, to get away from the 7 difficulties of the Copenhagen interpretation, we have to instead accept:
either non-classical causality; or non-locality, hidden variables, and non-decomposability (radical holism); or non-linearity (i.e. turbulence and chaos).

As well, all the interpretations have to accept the non-distinguishability of particles (both fermions and bosons), so that they could obey either Fermi-Dirac or Bose-Einstein statistics, respectively. (Classical particles, which are distinguishable, obey Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics.) The usual interpretation is that particles twinkle in and out of existence rather than having continuous existence. This does not make them any less “real”, only not permanent.

These assumptions do not seem all that outrageous at second thought. Non-local effects can be explained by MPC (macroscopic phase coherence), possible for bosons which can occupy the same quantum state as other bosons (fermions can achieve this by forming Cooper pairs, which become bosons, as in superconductors). MPC is observed in plasmas, superconductors (and to some extent in ordinary conductors, i.e. metals), and helium-type liquids (superfluids). Some people postulate this also in very complex structures such as brains, giving rise to consciousness. [Do lasers also show MPC?]

Non-classical causality: I am not quite sure what Vigier means, bur the notion of causality has certainly been modified a lot lately, e.g. from a straight “causal chain” to a causal network, which can not only branch but loop around in positive and negative feedbacks. (This can be “massively parallel”, as they say of recently invented brain-like computers.) As well, necessary and sufficient causes and “contributing factors” have to be distinguished.

I have no problem admitting non-decomposability and non-linearity; they seem to be just generalizations from the former simpler decomposable (analyzable into parts) and linear models.

Actually, I rather like complementarity too; it is a useful notion. But I cannot abide the Schrodinger cat for even a fraction of a nano-second.


Two particles fly apart, created in the same nuclear micro-event. When they are too far apart to communicate (remembering the light velocity limit), each has its spin measured. Probability of the spin being plus or minus is exactly 50% for each particle. However, experiment shows that the two particles always, invariably, have the same spin. It is like two coin tosses in two different cities always coming up either both heads or both tails, never one heads and one tails, even when the coin tossers are not linked by telephone or other means of communication.

Standard quantum-theory explanation of the spin measurement for a single particle is that the spin direction is undecided until the act of measurement occurs, i.e. that the act of measurement determines the result. How then can the measurement of one particle’s spin determine the spin of a second particle which is beyond the reach of communication?

I want to propose another interpretation, which is more in line with Betchov’s model of the peak of non-linearity added to the Schrodinger wave equation. In this model, the extremely rapidly resonating peak becomes a representation of the particle associated with the wave. In this view, indeterminacy disappears and a more classical view, one which Einstein would like, is possible.

Perhaps what a particle will do (i.e. what spin direction it will exhibit) does not depend on chance (which “50% probability” implies), but on the incredibly precise timing of its origin in its past history. The timing would be less than a pica-second, to catch the peak of non-linearity in a particular position rather than its alternative. It is not that we (as experimenters) must be incredibly precise — quite the opposite; we can do anything we like, yet we ne-cessarily catch the peak (i.e. the particle) in one or the other of its configurations. And since the two particles emerged in the same fraction of a pica-second from the same experiment, they must necessarily have the same spin no matter how far apart they are. because the spin direction is determined only by the event at the origin. Nothing mysterious in it at all, as soon as we give up the indeterminacy interpretation which has now become standard for quantum theory.

As I prepare to recycle my cans, I take the ends off and step on the cylinder. The cylinder is perfectly round to start with, and any two points on the circumference could become the end-points of the flattened sheet as I step on it. The probability is the same initially for all the almost infinite number of point pairs around the circumference, which means that the probability for any particular pair of points is almost zero. The metal cylinder rolls on the kitchen floor in a state of indeterminacy, yet in spite of the vanishingly small probability of ANY pair of points being “it”, I have to catch it SOMEWHERE — and once I do, one of these infinitesimal probabilities suddenly jumps to one. Yet there was nothing special about that point-pair to start with, it was in every way just like the innumerable other pairs.

Mysterious? Not at all. It only means that what happens in the real world is a matter of history (what IN PARTICULAR happened), not a matter of science (what IN GENERAL must happen according to some law). This is somewhat related to what is meant by “symmetry breaking”.

Even that supreme paradigm of chance, the toss of a coin or of dice, is like that. Several outcomes are possible, but only one materializes, because of the temporal micro-structure of the tossing event. Nothing ever really happens by coincidence.

The two particles flying apart simply shared a common history. They did not need to communicate.


What a difference one letter makes! The two scientists, Nils Bohr and David Bohm, offer an entirely different interpretation of the quantum theory of sub-atomic phenomena. Both accept the fundamental mathematics of the Schrodinger wave equation and its consequences, since this gives a very accurate description of the experimental results; but from there on, their views diverge sharply.

Reading Bohm’s book “The Undivided Universe” is not easy; I only understood parts of it. In any case, here is what I have gleaned so far.

(1) Bohm is trying to construct an ontological and de-terministic interpretation of the observed facts and mathematics, not merely an epistemological and probabilistic approach such as Bohr’s. What this means is that the wave equation is a description of external reality and not only of our knowledge of it, the particle is really there, and the wave packet does not contain only information on probability. Ontology and epistemology coincide in classical physics, but diverge in Bohr’s interpretation of quantum physics; not so in Bohm’s interpretation.

(2) This also means that the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg, according to which we cannot have an exact knowledge of an electron’s position and momentum at the same time, is only a limitation of our knowledge, not of objective external reality. As well, the observer or the measuring instrument does not determine the nature of the event being measured — the event is objectively independent of the act of measurement. There is no collapse of the wave packet.

(3) Bohm achieves a consistent explanation along these lines in a way basically different from De Broglie and Betchov (see my essay The Peak of Non-linearity), who introduce an additional non-linear term into the Schrodinger equation, which can be identified as the particle accompanying the wave. Bohm rejects this approach, as well as Bohr’s idea of complementarity of particle and wave aspects, Heisenberg’s suggestion that the waves represent potentiality or probability of finding the particle there, and von Neumann’s idea that the quantum state continues to exist between measurements (an idea rejected by Bohr).

(4) Instead of all these alternatives, Bohm postulates that the waves carry “active information” which direct the motion of the particle in a way analogous to that in which telegraph messages from shore direct the motion of a ship at sea. The electron particle derives energy from the electro-magnetic field (as the ship does from its own engines), not from its wave packet; the latter only provides the information which regulates the energy as if through a relay system (cf. my essay The Three Essences). There is an additional term in the Schrodinger equation which represents the “quantum potential” which is related to the active information of the wave packet.

(5) If there are two slits ahead instead of one (as in a famous experiment that led to the wave equation), the wave packet “feels” the presence of the second slit and “informs” the electron particle of this fact, causing it to behave differently (cause interference fringes), even though the particle goes only through one of the slits. This “feeling” and “informing” seems to imply that the electron is somehow alive and uses its wave packet as an antenna. It implies, as Bohm himself says, that the electron is not a simple ultimate particle, but that it has an intricate, complex internal structure, such that it can receive something like telegraph messages. If that seems far-fetched, remember the Bohr-Heisenberg paradoxes that it replaces — paradoxes that Einstein could never accept, stating that “God does not play dice with the Universe”. Bohm’s approach seems to imply radical universal vitalism instead. (See my essay Radical Vitalism.)

(6) There is a cost (in credibility) to moving away from Bohr’s wave-particle duality and lack of objective ontology, Heisenberg’s uncertainty, observer involvement, and wave packet collapse through measurement. Bohm has to accept certain other “weird” concepts in exchange. We have already seen the assumption about a living intelligent electron receiving active information from its wave packet; an-other weird concept is “non-locality”, as seen e.g. in the EPR experiment, where two electrons originating from a single point remain “aware” of each other, though they are too far apart to communicate. This is the worst kind of “action at a distance” that was once banned from classical physics, except that Newton’s theory of gravitation and electromagnetic theory as well seemed to defy it. Perhaps this precedent makes non-locality respectable. What, after all, is space? There was no such thing before the Big Bang, and there is probably no such thing at dimensions below 1012. In any case, quantum theory remains “weird”, i.e. different from classical theory, regardless of the interpretation accepted. We only get a choice of which “weirdness” seems preferable.

(7) Bohm also accepts the theory of the implicate order, although it is not clear to me that this follows directly from his alternative quantum model. The explicate order consists of observable phenomena, but underlying this is the implicate order into which the explicate order enfolds and from which it again unfolds. The whole cycle repeats, and this is called the “holomovement”.

(8) The model of this is the hologram, into which at every point is enfolded all the information needed to produce the whole. This “unbroken wholeness” accounts for non-locality. This reminds me of the fact that the whole genome is present in every cell of an organism, i.e. all the information needed to produce the whole organism is embedded (enfolded) in every one of its cells. However, each cell “expresses” (unfolds) a different part of the genome. This is a way of maintaining integration of the whole while the parts differentiate. One can think of an application of this principle to federalist structures in politics, where every level of government is elected directly by the people, the people being analogous to the total genome.

(9) Bohm also postulates ever-higher levels of implicate order; i.e. the first level of implicate order enfolds into the second level one, and so on. This is reminiscent of the physical, etheric, astral etc. levels in esoteric or occult theory. This may seem far-fetched, but I like to point out possible trans-disciplinary connections.

(10) The ink drop experiment, which I am not sure was a real physical experiment or a thought experiment, illustrates the idea of enfolding and unfolding for Bohm, as well (I would add) the idea of the reversibility of processes under certain circumstances. A droplet of coloured ink is placed in a very viscous clear liquid placed between two cylinders which rotate at different speeds. If the outer cylinder has a higher rotational velocity than the inner one, the ink droplet will be drawn out into a thin thread until it becomes invisible; it is then enfolded into the viscous liquid. By turning the cylinders in the opposite direction, the droplet can be restored, however. This is true only if the liquid is so viscous that it prevents mixing by diffusion, and so prevents the entropy law from creating permanent irreversibility.

IMPLICATE ORDER (a prose poem).

A wavy field atwinkle with virtual particles,
a field of potentialities, scanning the horizon
for realization. like alpha waves on the alert.
If we force a particle to materialize
into semi-permanence, the wave field collapses,
as other possibilities vanish, fade into other worlds.
Which of the potential virtual particles is destined
to be born. incarnated, clad with materiality?
That is a coincidence of incredibly precise timing;
with incredibly rapid twinkles, we catch it on the run,
in a fraction of a pica-second. in our crude traps.
But it makes no difference which is chosen,
for they are completely fungible, not individuated.
We perceive particles and sometimes waves with fermions,
we perceive waves and sometimes particles with bosons.
But they can change places in super-symmetry.
Matter and radiation are interconvertible at the roots.
And underneath the particles and the waves,
the implicate order lies enfolded. revealed to us only
by the peaks of non-linearity that we cause to materialize
by our probing. Yet all our probes are superficial.
The deep-enfolded reality lacks even time and space,
it is eternal and infinite like Godhead.
The Gods of different religions are twinkling virtual gods,
manifestations of the implicate order evoked by our probing.
We find the response that we seek or are fit to receive,
while others lie deep-enfolded in the Ground of All Being.
We semi-create our virtual gods, but the Eternal Thou or Tao
is forever untouched by our crude tools and clumsy probes.
Thou, the eternal luminous centre of the Mandala of Creation
from which all diverse created forms and patterns flow,
emerge from this furnace as all the manifest partial truths.
They all contain like a hologram all of the implicate order


An electron and a positron (both fermions) can “annihilate” each other and give rise to a pair of photons (bosons) flying off in opposite directions. But since matter and energy are both conserved (actually the sum of matter and energy), is this really “annihilation”? High-energy photons can, in turn, “create” electron-positron pairs. Again, is this really “creation”? The sum of matter and energy cannot be either created or destroyed, according to the First Law of Thermodynamics. Why do we always think of this from the viewpoint of matter rather than energy? We call the matter to energy (fermions to bosons) process annihilation, the energy to matter (bosons to fermions) process creation. In reality, both are only transformations of an underlying common entity.

We can think of bosons as energy and fermions as matter (loosely speaking), as we did above. But both are really both, being easily interconvertible). It is the bosons that have the integral spins, and that can massively coordinate into the “supers” (superconductivity and superfluidity), lasers, and Bose-Einstein condensates. Fermions have half-spins, and cannot occupy the same space at the same time; they are “impenetrable”, which is probably why we think of them as forming matter.

However, when fermions pair up (mate?), they too, like bosons, can change phase into macro-coherence (supers, lasers, etc.). It is as if fermions were the 1N generation (gametes) and the electron pair the 2N generation zygote in the sexual reproduction of ferns and mosses (and most other creatures, as a matter of fact). The electron pairs, incidentally, are called “Cooper pairs” to honour the discoverer, but I like to think of it as “cooper-ation”.

“All is matter”, said the materialist scientists of previous centuries. “All is energy”, say the New-Agers of our own era. (Cf. the “Celestine Prophecy”) Why not include both Matter and Energy, as a common essence, and in turn enlivened by Information and Meaning in the higher realms of Mind?

But they are really super-symmetric! The super-symmetry transformation (boson-fermion exchange) is another process, in addition to the annihilation — pair creation already discussed, of changing matter into energy and vice versa.

Both fermions and bosons, of course, partake of the nature of both particles and waves, as all quantum-sized objects do. But I tend to think of bosons more as waves (since they are carriers of the four fundamental forces, and since photons are light, usually conceived as waves) and fermions more as particles (since they share the classic nature of matter, namely impenetrability). But since neither fermions nor bosons are totally waves or totally particles, this again shows the essential unity of matter and energy.


Since single electrons and other elementary particles have only a probability, not a certainty, of passing or not passing through a slot, or which of two slots to pass through, it has been postulated that possible events happen in different alternative universes, and that these then continue to evolve in parallel from that point on, to different future outcomes.

With so many particles and so many moments of time presenting choices, there would have to be an almost uniamiganibly large number of parallel universes that have bifurcated from some imaginary beginning.

We inhabit a universe which contains (1) life, (2) humanity, and (3) ourselves as individual persons — a triple improbability of immense dimensions at each of the three stages.

Why this MUST be so, in spite of the tremendous odds against it, is “explained” (?) by the Anthropic Principle: if it were not so, we could not now be wondering about it.

We do not exist in the zillions of parallel universes which, in the aggregate, are so overwhelmingly more numerous than ours.

Even so, we mortal creatures occupy only a limited time span in our own privileged universe. At all other times, ALL the parallel universes exist without us.

This does not mean that the other universes are empty and barren. We simply cannot know, by the same Anthropic Principle, what wonders each may harbour. “The world is not only stranger than we think, it is stranger than we CAN think.”

The God who creates them all (I use the present tense because time is only a dimension like length, width and depth) is in turn created by them. Each parallel universe proceeds in its evolution from Alpha towards Omega in the Teilhardian sense. Some succumb to the equivalent of what, in our universe, is the short life-span of advanced technological societies (which tend to self-destruct, collapsing under their own weight), and never get to Omega.

This may be the fate of our universe, but not necessarily. Our own Earth may self-destruct, as many of us expect, but there may be other islands of life in this same universe which might make it through that choke point. We do not really know the average probability of self-destruction of ATSs in our own universe, since we totally lack empirical data. We do not even know for sure if other ATSs exist here.

In any case, whether our own universe reaches Omega or not, enough of the zillions of others do. (We have no idea how many.) Remember, they do not necessarily contain life as we know it, but perhaps some other principle or essence or phenomenon that we cannot imagine or name, but that is also among the zillions of attributes of God.

Enough completed Omegas evolve to constitute the Godhead that creates and sustains the zillion branching universes.

Since the multiple universes are created in bifurcations, the diagram of their origins constitutes a tree diagram. The branches have no contact with each other.

Now what if there are crosslinks? Could this account for unexplained disappearances and appearances in our universe? For miracles, good or bad? But crosslinks are not postulated by the physical theory of electrons with which we started this speculation, and so we should probably abandon that idea. Unless it is something like “tunnelling” of an electron through a forbidden barrier, which is rare, but well-known in physics. The idea of cross-over points between universes is well known in science fiction, if not in science as such

MACRO-MICRO CONVERGENCE (From Jantsch’s “Self-Organizing Universe”)

This is presented in a series of three diagrams, taken from Jantsch’s book. (See the end of this essay.)

In the first diagram (his Figure 24 on this page), as in the others, there are two branches: the micro-evolution branch at the bottom and the macro-evolution branch at the top. While (after the Big Bang) elementary particles, light nuclei, and light atoms (hydrogen and helium) are forming, heavy nuclei and atoms form later in dying first-generation stars, and molecules and crystals form on planets, all this along the micro-branch, other events are occurring along the macro-branch: galaxy clusters first condense, then within them (in succession) galaxies, stellar clusters, stars, planets, and rocks as solid constituents of (at least some) planets. Thus successively larger structures form from the very small ones along the micro-branch, while successively smaller structures form from very large ones along the macro-branch. Crystals and rocks, the end members of the two series, meet and converge on a planet like Earth.

Meanwhile, at the very beginning after the Big Bang, the four fundamental forces (gravitation, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear) separate from each other, and exert effects on both the macro-branch (mainly gravitation) and the micro-branch (mainly strong and weak nuclear forces); near the convergence of the two branches, the electromagnetic force becomes dominant, in the form of chemical effects. There are crosslinks between the micro- and macro-branches, in that heavy nuclei form only in dying stars, while molecules, crystals and rocks form only at the intermediate temperatures prevailing on Earth-like planets at the convergence of the two branches. (Not too hot like star interiors, not too cold like interstellar or intergalactic space, but “just right” according to Goldilocks.)
The arrow of time appeared in the macro-branch by the expansion of the Universe. In the micro-branch, the arrow of time appeared in the operation of statistical mechanics of atoms and molecules, ruled by chance and probability. This was reflected in larger structures made up of these molecules, where the arrow of time appeared in the irreversibility of the processes of thermodynamics.

The second diagram (Jantsch’s Figure 28 on this page) is a continuation of the first diagram, a magnification of the “nose” at the right. It represents the convergence of smaller macro-structures and larger micro-structures, at the dimensions between a planet and its life-forms, no longer the whole universe. The longest vertical link is between planetary chemistry (geo-chemistry) and pre-biotic dissipative structures (incipient bio-chemistry). The next vertical link is between the Gaia system (by which Jantsch means the oxygen — carbon dioxide balance maintained in steady state by photosynthesis and respiration) and prokaryote bacteria, mainly the blue-greens or cyanobacteria and other bacteria. The third vertical link is between heterotrophic ecosystems (food chains based on plants as primary energy producers) and eukaryotes (protozoa, fungi, plants and animals). The fourth vertical link is between societies (e.g. of ants, bees, or humans) and multicellular animals evolved in or after the “Cambrian explosion”. The fina1link is between small groups or families, and individual animals; this last step closes the convergence at this level. There is a third arrow of time now — that of genetic information transmitted across generations.

The third diagram (Jantsch’s Figure 32 on this page) is again a continuation of diagram 2, extending it even further to the right. It depicts the transition from the socio-biological to the socio-cultural phase of evolution. According to Jantsch, the transition turns things upside down, the previous micro-branch becoming the new macro-branch. At this new macro-level, human persons are linked first of all to families (as in the last link of the previous diagram), then to successively larger structures: societies, ecosystems-cultures, and planet-humankind. The arrow of time is accentuated now by the cultural transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.

There is a fourth diagram, which tries to put it all together, but it is confusing, because it tries to say too much. It is omitted here.

These three diagrams may be seen as a “zoom-in” on ever-finer details of the same overall structure. There should be further diagrams which delve into ever-deeper levels of the macro-micro convergence, which Jantsch also calls coevolution. This may be a never-ending fractal sequence, or else it may end in a Teilhardian Omega Point.

Fig. 24. Cosmic co-evolution of macro- and microstructures. The asymmetrical unfurling of the four physical forces calls into play step by step new structural levels, from the macroscopic side as well as from the microscopic. These levels mutually stimulate their evolutions.

Fig. 28. The history of life on earth expresses the co-evolution of self-organizing macro- and microsystems in ever higher degrees of differentiation.

Fig. 32. The transition from the sociobiological to the sociocultural phase of evolution turns things upside down, as far as the dominant relationships in the co-evolution of macro- and microsystems are concerned. Self-reflexive mind, characterizing the individual at the level of consciousness of a person, sets out to recreate the macroworld. The dotted arrows indicate that, at the levels of culture and mankind-at-large, this is still a partially conscious process only.


We know that stars evolve: the dust and gases accrete under gravity, stimulated by the winds of expanding shells of previous supernovae; under compression their interiors “ignite” with thermonuclear fires; they evolve along the “main sequence” of the Russell diagram for most of their careers; and when their hydrogen fuel in the centre runs out, they implode and explode as supernovae of different types, leaving behind either a white dwarf or a neutron star (pulsar) or a black hole, depending on their size.

We know that planetary systems evolve. Actually we only know one example, namely our own solar system. It has experienced changes, such as when a planet broke up creating the asteroid belt, or when Pluto escaped from being a satellite of Neptune and became a planet on its own.

We know that planets evolve. Possibly Venus was not al-ways so hot and Mars was not always so dry. But again, we know most about our own planet Earth, and its tectonic plate movements, which probably go in a cycle of periodically assembling the continents into one and disassembling them again.

We know about the evolution of the biosphere on Earth, and the evolution of the human noosphere and sociosphere. We know something about historical developments and the evolution of technology and culture.

We have been moving, in this discussion, toward the micro-end of the “cosmic zoom” scale. Let us now reverse direction, and move toward the macro-end from the stars up. What do we know about the evolution of galaxies?

An article on this in Scientific American, January 1993, stresses the many remaining ambiguities and contradictions in our knowledge of galactic evolution. Probably my conclusions here are premature and will be modified in the light of future research; but I would like to try to describe the pattern as I see it now.

A spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way consists of a disk with a bulge around it, a rim around the disk which contains the spiral arms (our Sun is located in one of these), and a halo around the rim. It seems that stars were generated first at the centre of the disk; these were stars somewhat larger than the Sun, which at the end of their career became Type Ia supernovae, which produce mainly iron in their last stage of nucleosynthesis.

The second stage of star formation occurred in the bulge and halo, skipping the rim. (Perhaps there was too much “wind” in the rim from the supernovae in the disk.) These were much bigger stars, that eventually became super-novae Type Ib, Ic, or II, producing largely elements between helium and iron (peaking at carbon and oxygen) in their last stages. (What produces elements higher than iron? The article did not say.) Later, stars formed from the halo super-novae dust in the rim and arms; this is why our solar system is rich in carbon and oxygen.

Meanwhile, in the centre of the disk, many of the old black holes and neutron stars coalesced into a giant central black hole. (That is not definitely proven yet.)

An article in Science, December 11, 1992, tells us that in distant (i.e. early) galaxies, spirals are much more common (30%) than elliptical galaxies, while in closer (more recent) galaxies, spirals form only 5% of the total. Spiral galaxies are the active star-formers; with time, they use up all their gas and become elliptical (burned out). Some spirals (maybe including our own) may have rejuvenated themselves by colliding with other galaxies and swallowing them up or merging with them.

However, new young spirals full of young blue stars are still forming, which poses a mystery.


We tend to think that matter, omnipresent and hard (though only some solids are) and palpable to our senses, is the basis of reality. But reflection shows that form is sometimes more important that matter; that Aristotle’s “formal cause” predominates over his “material cause”. (Today we would probably not call either of them “causes”, reserving that term for “efficient cause” while devaluing “final cause”, at least in science.)

In a living organism, the throughput of matter is constantly on-going, so that the presence of particular atoms and molecules does not define the organism; what does define it is the organization of parts and their working together; i.e. what we call structure and function, anatomy and physiology. If we subsume structure and function under the term “pattern”, then the essential characteristic of life is pattern maintenance and pattern propagation. Pattern exists in space (static structure) and time (dynamic structure and function). The atoms and molecules that compose an organism (i.e. the material base) change continually; this is the essence of metabolism. It is what we mean by calling an organism an “open system” Another name for metabolism in other languages (e.g. Czech or German) is “exchange of substances”. The substances involved in respiration, nutrition, and locomotion are cycled through their processes rapidly, but even structural elements are broken down and replaced at a slower rate. It is said that in seven years our bodies are composed very largely of materials different from those present at the start. What this means is not that different chemical compounds are present; these are still largely the same ones; but that, if we mentally “tied little red ribbons” around the original molecules, very few would still be there after 7 years. We know this from experiments “tagging” them with radioactive tracers. It is as if material units are “fungible”, i.e. substitutable for each other, without distinct identity, like money. (We don’t care whether the dollar bill we use in payment for goods is physically the same one which we received in return for services, only that it should have the same value, i.e. function.) Atoms and molecules in nature don’t come with little red ribbons of identification, but circulate freely and interchangeably.

So in a sense, matter “does not matter”; it is “immaterial” (irrelevant) to the situation. What matters is form or pattern or relation (terms used interchangeably), and it is this which is crucial in living organisms and must be maintained. If we believe in degrees of reality, we would say that form is more real than matter. Pattern or form is maintained by genes in the last resort, but in everyday somatic functions by the enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters etc. which are the messengers of the genes. Relational identity is the only real identity, at least for living things. What is “real” is not some kind of “things in themselves”, but the relations between things — relations that persist, even when the “things” change. Matter is in constant flux, as in Heraclitus’ river, which is not the same (in terms of atoms and molecules) when we step into it again today as it was yesterday. Yet the form of the river persists (so Zeno was right too about absence of change) — the same width, depth, rate of flow, and local rapids and quiet spots. There is seasonal change in form, e.g. spring flood and summer drought and winter ice; on a short time-scale, the eddies in the turbulent flow dance about; and over the long term, the river could change its course, be dammed or diverted. So form can change too, but more slowly than matter; and the drastic long-term changes could lead to the “death” of the river; so pattern maintenance is seen in a way as almost a synonym for life or identity. The identity or “personality” of the river is reflected in the fact that we give it a name, like the Amazon or the Danube. Living organisms also change form slowly over their life cycle; growth, maturation, aging, or metamorphosis (in insects or frogs); but among humans and their pet dogs and cats at least, each individual still has the same name, is still John or Mary or Ahmed or Tamara or Fido or Puss. A name is a symbol of identity or continuity of form.

Even a flame, which is nothing but a zone of fast chemical reactions in a gaseous state giving off heat and light (that is all it is for molecules) — the very essence of transience, of being consumed — maintains to some degree a stable form, a size or outline. (I am thinking of a candle flame.) Even in a fireplace or bonfire, where the individual flames dance about, the overall fire pattern is fairly constant as long as the fuel lasts; then the fire “dies” (pattern maintenance ceases).

So it is not just living organisms that exhibit flux of matter but constancy of form; rivers and flames also do — objects that have sometimes been compared to living things. Stones and mountains are different; they change over geological time, but then they change both matter and form. There is not this metabolism — a fast throughput of matter through a fairly constant form. And there is no attempt at pattern maintenance.

In fact, we are defining “systems”. According to one definition (Cortes et al., “Systems Analysis for Social Scientists”, Wiley, 1974): “Systems transform variable inputs into variable states and variable outputs by INVARIANT transformation rules.” It is these invariant transformation rules which we have called “form” or “pattern” or “relations”. For systems, by definition, relational reality is supreme over matter, which is only the medium in which the artistry of form is expressed.

In society too, individuals die and are born, emigrate and immigrate, but the CULTURE remains relatively unchanged; with slow changes, cyclical or linear. Culture is the pattern that society maintains; it is its life, its identity, its personality. It is what makes it a system (a “living system”, Miller would say).

Here is a synthesis of Zeno and Heraclitus: in systems, matter is in flux, while form is more constant. Is there a higher stage over the slower changes in relational reality, some bedrock of reality that truly is “to every age the same”? We will let the mystics answer this question.


Relationship is an on-going interaction and transaction. Axelrod showed that expectation of a continued relationship (repeated interaction) is necessary for the evolution of cooperation.

A single interaction is an event, a point in space-time. A transaction, such as trade or mail flow, is a line in these four dimensions. Relationship is also a line, but it is a process, i.e. its very nature (its basic rules) may change in time.

Living systems are transacting processes, i.e. relationships. They use matter (materials) only as a sculptor or painter would, to express ideas and to weave patterns. Any artist must master the medium in which to create, and similarly biochemical processes are beautiful in illustrating how the natural properties of atoms and molecules can be utilized in the artistry of living patterns. But the material particles are not the work of art — the process and the relationship is.

Matter and energy must necessarily flow through an open system if it is to aspire to life (stay far away from equilibrium in a stable way), as Prigogine has shown. The matter comes and goes, but the pattern strives to persist, pinned down by negatice feedbacks and perpetuated by genetic mechanisms. However, only conditionally, for the larger transaction with the environment in the end determines its survivability.

A positive feedback (accelerated augmentation) is needed for further development or evolution (these are not the same), but the destabilization is usually destructive. Only risk-takers and radicals take this chance. The main life tasks are carried by conservative (conservationist) negative feedbacks.

In human cultural evolution, memes play a role similar to genes. Memes (ideas implanted in memory) also evolve socially by particular kinds of interaction among persons, called discourse or dialogue. G.B. Shaw called the process “the threshing machine”, the metaphor being the separation of wheat from chaff, valuable ideas from useless or harmful ones. Others have called it “the free market of ideas” and compared it to buyers and sellers trading in an Adam Smith type of competitive market. This would function like natural selection in Darwin’s scheme: valuable ideas survive the competition in the dialogue and bad ideas go extinct. The mechanism, in evolution, market, and dialogue, is guided “as if by an invisible hand” to a socially or biologically or economically or culturally beneficial result, even though the competing units are guided by egoistic motives.

The invisible hand is a virtuous cycle of feedbacks — but there is no guamlltee that vicious feedback cycles will not also creep in. In the economic market process, there is the beneficent short-range Adam Smith cycle which establishes the fair price by balancing supply and demand, but there are also some malignant longer-range cycles, such as big companies growing faster than small ones leading to giant corporations and eventually monopolies, which kill the market mechanism itself. Production is skewed toward luxuries rather than necessities, and boom-bust cycles are initiated in the macro-economy.

Vicious cycles also set in in biological systems, which is why death is almost a universal phenomenon, except in some unicells which divide instead. We generate our living energy by oxygen, but oxygen free radicals eventually poison our system. Renewal has to come from regulated reproduction, the succession of generations, as the germ plasm is shielded from the pernicious influences and forms a golden thread through the generations.

Attempted pseudo-renewal of some cells through neoplasm and immortalization is a disaster called cancer, because regulation is lacking. Another disaster called Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a pseudo-rejuvenation in a neuron-depleted old brain through dendrite growth that goes out of control.


Different particles obey one of three alternative rules of statistical dynamics, as inferred from three different distributions of energy states; they are called, after six great scientists, the Maxwell-Boltzman, the Fermi-Dirac, and the Bose-Einstein distribution. Whole atoms and molecules obey the Maxwell-Boltzman distribution, protons, neutrons and electrons the Fermi-Dirac distribution (and so are called fermions), photons and neutrinos (the bosons) follow the Bose-Einstein distribution.

The difference between the Fermi-Dirac and the Bose-Einstein distribution revolves around the principle of exclusivity: two fermions in the same ensemble cannot have all of their quantum numbers identical, which is equivalent to saying that they cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Bosons can. Fermions are the constituents of matter (which has the exclusivity property — a remnant of what philosophers thought of as “solidity”), while bosons are the carriers of forces, i.e. the embodiment of energy. There is some ambiguity in the distinction, because of the interconvertibility of matter and energy. Also in theories of supersymmetry, fermions and bosons can change places. Nevertheless the basic distinction remains. Both fermions and bosons have particle aspects and wave aspects, though I tend to associate fermions (constituents of atoms) more with particles and matter and bosons (e.g. light) more with waves and energy.

The distinction between Maxwell-Boltzman statistics and the other two kinds hinges on something else: Boltzman particles (everything from whole atoms up) have continuous identity: if we could in imagination tie a little red ribbon around one of them, it could be labelled and recognized through all its subsequent interactions and transformations as a distinct entity. With fermions and bosons this cannot be done, even in principle: they seem to wink in and out of existence like twinkling sparks, and we cannot know which is which or which was formerly which. They are all not only identical (except for different quantum states), but totally indistinquishable or exchangeable. This property is called “fungibility”. We could not name any of them “Peter” or “Mary” and greet them as such in future meetings.

While only elementary particles are fully fungible, atoms can be identical simply by being in the same energy state. We would still not be able to recognize Peter or Mary if we lost track of them (discontinuous observation), but we could if we tied that imaginary little red ribbon around them (continuous observation — not possible in an actual experiment, only in a thought experiment).

Molecules can have even more distinctiveness, because they can change shape by various internal rotations and twists: they can “rock and roll”. They are increasingly capable of doing so as they grow larger, so that macro-molecules like long fatty acids and polysacharides can do it quite well and proteins and nucleic acids even better. Yet this may not be too much help in “recognizing” each in a future meeting because all of them change so much and so quickly and in very similar though seemingly chaotic ways. The little red ribbons are still essential for recognition.

Living cells are quite another matter; they have fairly steady robust identities, because each is stamped to some extent by its previous history — a kind of primitive memory imprinting that gives each of them continuity.

Coming now to multi-cellular organism, we can clearly say “this is the violet I picked this morning”, “this is the rose you gave me”, or “this is the cat that scratched me”. Entities are acquiring more “reality” as they acquire more “identity” and more “continuity”. We might even begin to think of “individuality”. But not so fast!

In bee and ant societies, apparently each worker recognizes her sibling only as a member of an age-class or a function-class, not as an individual. (This is asserted in a book entitled “Animal Thinking”, (Griffin) quoting certain studies.) Actually, I wonder how they know? But let us accept this for the moment as a fact. Even though each bee or ant may be genetically unique, her siblings and workmates do not recognize her as such.

When we consider people, we do recognize them as individual persons. They have “individuality” and “personality”, in addition to identity and continuity, and because of this, I would consider them to have more “reality”. Cats, dogs and horses have individuality, but perhaps not personality. Personality in this sense of uniqueness and recognizability is the exact opposite of fungibility.

As we ascend up the ladder from fungibility to personality, there is more and more stress on “form” or “relationship” or “pattern” and less stress on matter. A flower or animal or insect, or even a cell, is a flow-through system in which the “identity” of separate atoms or molecules is not important — they come and go — but the metabolic and genetic pattern must be strictly maintained and the atoms and molecules closely directed to pass through according to the rules.

Thus, at least from a certain point on (in the Boltzman world, not the subatomic Fermi and Bose world), form predominates over matter, relationship over constituent elements, the whole over the parts. Hence come emergent properties, like identity, continuity, distinguishability, individuality, personality, consciousness, and mind. The very permanence implied by these terms emerges literally out of the flux of matter in process.

Yet in our social inventions, we sometimes revert to fungibility. This is the case of money. Physically and materially, each coin and bill is distinct (bills even carry identifying numbers useful in cases of theft or robbery — they are like those little red ribbons); but conceptually I can pay for my purchases with any coins or bills interchangeably, as long as I have enough of them in my pocket.

How much more valuable are our friends than our money, the beloved faces rather than the faceless symbols — how much more unique and real!

In tragedies when parents lose a child, they are sometimes advised to have another, as if that would console them. But the lost child was unique and can never be replaced, though the parents may be distracted by having someone else to care for. A child, or any human being, is definitely not fungible.

Later addition: In a book (referred to in a previous essay) entitled “Quantum Implications: Essays in Honor of David Bohm”, It is asserted that electrons, which are fermions, can form pairs in which their spins complement each other. (Electrons are fermions because they have spins of 1/2 or -1/2, while bosons have whole-number spins like 0 or 1 or 2.) These so-called “Cooper pairs” become like bosons, because their spins are now integer numbers. When this happens, it leads to superconductivity. To a lesser extent it also happens in ordinary metallic conductors, where some electrons are free to move (not bound to atoms). So even ordinary conductivity is due to this pairing up or coordination.

When a large number of electrons coordinate in this manner, we have a phenomenon called “macroscopic phase coherence” (MPC). It operates in plasmas and helium liquids, and so is a way for quantum phenomena becoming observable at the macro level. It is also similar to the “coherence” of laser light.

MPC may be an alternative way to achieve large-scale organized structures — alternatives to living systems. God or Cosmic Mind have other options for their manifestation. MPC seems to be radically syntropic, yet completely natural. The natural urge for togetherness — Love — is well manifested there.

Hydrogen, helium, deuterium, and lithium formed in steeply decreasing amounts in the first few minutes of the universe after the Big Bang. These were the first 3 elements of the 92 in the natural periodic table, since hydrogen and deuterium are isotopes of the same element. The other 89 natural elements and their isotopes formed much later.

Carbon may have been present already in the interior of long-range functioning stars along the Russell-Hersprung main sequence, because it is needed to catalyze the fusion of H to He according to Hans Bethe’s scheme. But maybe in the first-generation stars, this thermonuclear fusion proceeded without carbon catalysis, because the first stars were hot enough.

In the usual view, all elements above boron were produced by dying stars whose cores had run out of hydrogen, just shortly before their explosion as supernovae. Beryllium and boron, and to some extent additional lithium, which are much scarcer in the universe than their predessors, H and He, or their successors, C, N, O etc., were probably produced slowly in interstellar or intergalactic clouds as a result of bombardment by high-energy cosmic rays. (A pale echo of Hoyle’s now-discarded hypothesis of continuous creation of hydrogen in such spaces as an alternative to the Big Bang theory, now generally accepted.)

First-generation stars were more massive than later ones, and burned out much faster, so that the first wave of nucleosynthesis at their deaths did not take too long, only millions of years after their births, not billions, as in later star generations. Later generation stars also already contained some of the heavier nuclei, like silicon, that could go into the formation of their planets, if they had any.

The formation of elements up to iron would produce energy, because iron is the most stable nucleus (its “mass defect” is least). For the formation of elements heavier than iron, energy would be absorbed, but a supernova explosion has plenty of surplus energy to do this. Thus all the natural elements up to uranium were formed, although those after lead tend to have only radioactive forms, no stable nuclei.

It seems that the first few minutes of the universe did most of the work of nucleosynthesis, i.e. producing all the baryons (protons and neutrons) and leptons (electrons and quarks) that compose matter (cumulatively all of the above are called fermions), as well as the much greater quantity of photons (which are one kind of bosons), that compose energy. All the rest of nucleosynthesis in stellar and galactic evolution was only an afterthought.

There is a much later afterthought yet: the production of artificial elements beyond uranium by humans, themselves the products of the earlier waves of nucleosynthesis. Humans are composed mainly of H,…C, N, O,…Na, Mg,…, P, S, Cl, K, Ca,… with trace amounts of Fe, Co,…Cu, Zn,… even I. The production of trans-uranium elements is like a third generation of nucleosynthesis, made not only by H and He, but by some of the next wave of nucleosynthesis in stars.

Where this will lead to, only the Prime Originator of the Big Bang fireball knows.


Hydrogen, helium, deuterium, and lithium formed in steeply decreasing amounts in the first few minutes of the universe after the Big Bang. These were the first 3 elements of the 92 in the natural periodic table, since hydrogen and deuterium are isotopes of the same element. The other 89 natural elements and their isotopes formed much later.

Carbon may have been present already in the interior of long-range functioning stars along the Russell-Hersprung main sequence, because it is needed to catalyze the fusion of H to He according to Hans Bethe’s scheme. But maybe in the first- generation stars, this thermonuclear fusion proceeded without carbon catalysis, because the first stars were hot enough.

In the usual view, all elements above boron were produced by dying stars whose cores had run out of hydrogen, just shortly before their explosion as supernovae. Beryllium and boron, and to some extent additional lithium, which are much scarcer in the universe than their predecessors, H and He, or their successors, C, N, O etc., were probably produced slowly in interstellar or intergalactic clouds as a result of bombardment by high-energy cosmic rays. (A pale echo of Hoyle’s now discarded hypothesis of continuous creation of hydrogen in such spaces as an alternative to the Big Bang theory, now generally accepted. )

First-generation stars were more massive than later ones, and burned out much faster, so that the first wave of nucleosynthesis at their deaths did not take too long, only millions of years after their births, not billions, as in later star generations. Later generation stars also already contained some of the heavier nuclei, like silicon, that could go into the formation of their planets, if they had any.


The main characteristic of temporality (as opposed to eternity) is that there is no law of conservation of information (or negentropy), as there is of energy and matter. Anyone working on a computer knows the frustration of losing whole paragraphs or pages of writing because they were not specifically “saved”. Information can indeed disappear without a trace in this temporal order in which we live. (In the eternal order, in which time is only a dimension like the other 3 in space, we could always move back to where the information still existed.)

Could there be a similar meaning to “salvation” (saving) of a soul? Could it be that something has to be done (analogous to the “save” operation on the computer) to convert the spiritual meaning of the lifetime experience of a person into a permanent form? World religions variously prescribe “works” or “faith” or “enlightenment” or “moral purity” or “asceticism” or “meditation” as the “save” operation — otherwise you are doomed to retype or rework your “text” in another lifetime, or to be wiped out into nothingness (entropy). Perhaps the “soul” or the person-lifetime can be saved (or is worth saving) only if it can properly contribute to the gradual build-up of divine reality — the Omega end-point of Teilhard de Chardin. A lifetime not worthy of this high goal (not pure enough or meaningful enough, or too tainted with “sin”) would be excised from the “text” being slowly built up — end up on the cutting-room floor or in the waste-basket. Deliberately it would not be saved because it would blemish the Holy Writ, just as meaningless passages of RNA are excised by enzymes after transcription from DNA. Whether or not a person gets a chance to rewrite their life-text or not (be reborn or damned to oblivion) is a doctrinal difference between Eastern and Western religions. (But note that Hell as such has no part in either.)

It follows that for a person still alive, their life-text is still in provisional form, for it is not yet known if it will be worth saving or not. This provisional or Limbo existence reminds one of the virtual particles surrounding electrons or protons — the energy for their production has not yet been supplied, and they lead a brief and shadowy existence only, flicking in and out like ghosts. How does an unsaved computer text exist in the machine? Only in some kind of short-range memory, not permanent storage. Any loss of power (turning off the switch or a thunderstorm) will wipe it out. So death before salvation is assured will annul any provisional gains that the soul may have already accumulated. It’s back to square one.

In Agatha Christie’s short story “The Last Seance”, a spiritualist medium creates a virtual image of a dead child so real that its mother grabs it and carries it away. But this converts the virtual child into a real child; the substance originally borrowed from the medium’s own body and poured into the virtual image is claimed and the debt must be paid; the medium dies, much shrunken in stature because of the loss of substance. The child who was only virtual is “saved”, but the medium who was real is sacrificed. This is like a transformation of information under a conservation law — an operation well known in energy or matter transformations. There is an echo here of the mystery of “vicarious sacrifice” as an agent of salvation, which is the central doctrine of Christianity. Only that Simone, the unfortunate medium in the story, was not a willing agent but an unwilling victim of violence.

If we really can be saved by such a mechanism in spite of our sins, then we are saved by a pre-existing God (Alpha), not creating a final God (Omega). But Alpha and Omega meet in eternity, like a snake swallowing its tail, or the graph of tan x vs. x jumping from plus to minus infinity.

Arguing in favour of saving souls or texts is an argument for memory — the preservation of information. In other contexts, a case can also be made for not preserving information. Remembering a past wrong to oneself or to one’s nation or group leads to desire for revenge, and thus engenders an endless chain of violence and counter-violence. While Quebec licence plates proclaim “Je me souviens”, (which I take to refer to defeat in 1759), I want to reply “Forget it and get on with the future”. There are only two ways to stop the chain of violence: either by deliberate conspicuous nonviolence (absorbing the suffering), or by pressing the “don’t save” button. The latter is called FORGIVENESS, which is a form of beneficial loss of information. In the most common Christian prayer, we pray for this while affirming that we practice it ourselves toward others. In practice, many of us fail to forgive.

No wonder forgiveness is extolled as a virtue; without it, all evil ever done would reverberate forever. It would lie around like non-biogradable refuse in a garbage dump. Forgiveness provides the helpful bacteria to remove the eyesore and its poisons of future relationships.

Forgiving oneself is equally important, or guilt and grief will destroy any hope of future happiness or fulfilment or service to others, and will sour our relationships even with those whom we have not wronged. As well, grief must be eventually forgotten, or at least the pain of it, if we are ever to get on with life and its missions and duties.

Yet with respect to such tragedies as the Nazi holocaust, South African apartheid, and Argentine disappearances, it has been said that we must remember in order not to repeat them. The rule should be “amnesty, but not amnesia”

And so we must conclude that some information is valuable and must be saved, while other information, while painfully central at the time, must be cleared away. Our mind’s environment must be kept clear of impediments. We must accumulate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Referring to possible causes of nuclear war, Bertrand Russell said: “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.” It is a good rule for when to save and when not to save information.


When I think of information as a non-conserved entity (unlike matter and energy in this respect), I usually jump too quickly to regrets about losses of information. Here I want to celebrate, more optimistically, the creation of information. Conservation (of matter or energy), of course, means that these entities can be neither created nor des-troyed — their total amount in the universe is constant. Since information is not conserved (except in eternity), it can unfortunately be destroyed, but it can also gloriously be created.

These processes of destruction and creation go on all the time, like the dance of Shiva. Destruction of informa-tion encompasses the loss of documents, accidental erasures of computer texts, memory loss, the burning down of the li-brary in Alexandria, and especially death and extinction. Creation of information includes the writing of scholarly books, novels, plays, poems, political manifestos, and constitutions; scientific research; musical composition and performance, dance choreography, creation of paintings and sculpture; building cathedrals, office towers, and cities; and giving birth to babies.

So how does the creation process work? How is informa-tion formed? What is happening when it is “in formation”, i.e. during the creative process? This, of course, differs in details as between writing, science, music, art etc.; but primarily, the common motif is the creation of patterns emerging from the void of “uncreation”.

There are patterns of meaning, as in language; patterns of knowledge, as in science; patterns of beauty, as in art; and patterns of life, as in babies. To sum up, these are patterns of values.

Patterns mean interconnections, linkage, communication; they network through nodes, weave webs, can sometimes knit one-dimensional yarns into two-dimensional fabrics. Patterns thrive on metaphors and similes, as well as generalizations, abstractions, and categorizations; but then they jump right back again from the abstract to the concrete, as in illust-rating the principles of psychology by writing a play or a novel — or an autobiography.

Patterns are strongly influenced by one’s culture and discipline, and yet should also strive to be trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary. Patterns should be at the same time analytical and synthetic, reductionist and holistic, in the complementary way so well illustrated by Hofstadter in “Escher, Godel, Bach”.

There are no rigid boundaries or even seams between physical and social sciences, between sciences and huma-nities, between scientific and historical methods, between visual arts and music, between prose and poetry, between science and art and religion. They all create meaning, truth, and beauty, in a glorious negation of entropy — ephemeral though it may be, in face of the reality of information loss.

Someone has said “We have no control over our birth and our death, so we must enjoy the interim.” We cannot in the long run prevent the loss of information, but we can create it and enjoy it and celebrate it in the interim.


“Mere information” (negentropy or anti-entropy) means only that a choice is made between 0 and 1, or black and white, or yes and no, or “by land or by sea”. All these are binary units or “bits” of information. They are by themselves meaningless. If we are presented only with strings of 0s and 1s, without additional explanation, no amount of staring at them will crystallize any “meaning”. Yet meaning there may be, if we obtain an insight of what has been en-coded.

The last of our examples, “by land or by sea”, did have a meaning in history. It was a method of binary signalling in the American War of Independence to tell the army of the rebellious colonies which way the British army was arriving. This example gives us a clue as to what might constitute “meaning”. The “mere information” has to serve some practical purpose, serve as an aid in decision-making, in choosing a response that would serve survival or some other desired goal. In other words, “meaning” presupposes the existence of a perceiving and deciding mind. Without such a mind, mere information remains dead information, even though it is anti-entropic. To be anti-entropic is necessary for life, but not sufficient. Meaning, which presupposes mind, is the other necessary ingredient of life. Possibly, the two of them (anti-entropy and mind) are sufficient.

“Meaning” also implies understanding. This is possibly even more basic than purpose and decision-making. Understanding is also a mental activity, inseparable from mind. So on two counts now, “meaning” transcends in a fundamental way the physical properties of matter and energy, and even “mere information” as anti-entropy.

And thirdly, “meaning” implies value. In fact, there would be no choice or decision, no exertion of the will, no feeling of purpose, without ascribing value to the goal striven for. Thus again, we are adding to the mental qualities which are fundamentally involved in the notion of “meaning”.

We see then that we must add a fourth essence to our three postulated essences: matter, energy, and information. This fourth essence is mind. We can then conceive meaning as a child of information and mind (understanding, purpose, choice, value), and life as a compound of matter, energy, information (communication), and mind.

All four essences are equally important, and they are co-eval, though related and sometimes interconversible. If this is dualism (really quaternalism), so be it. But really, at bottom it is a complex monism. These are four aspects of the universe, the four faces of a double-Janus God.


Sometimes we mistakenly think that all entities are conserved, like matter and energy — which can neither be created nor destroyed (or at least the sum of matter and energy cannot). With conserved entities, we have to budget, economize, ration; because once we devote a certain unit of them to a particular use or purpose, we cannot then have it also available for other uses. Time and space are like that too: if you spend Sunday afternoon at a football game, you cannot also spend it at a concert, or studying, or walking with your boyfriend or girlfriend; if you put two beds in a small bedroom, you may not have enough space to also put a writing desk there. This is why time-budgeting is as difficult as money-budgeting — both time and money are scarce commodities. Money is a finite, exhaustible resource too, for individuals, households and corporations; some governments try to create money by printing more, but with dire inflationary consequences. All finite resources, of which the above are examples, obey the simple rule “you cannot eat your cake and have it too”.

But some entities are not conserved (in the sense of obeying laws of conservations); they are inexhaustible, capable of being freely created — but also subject to being destroyed. Love is like that: we do not love our parents less because we also love our spouses and our children; we can love God and our country without feeling a contradiction. But love can also be destroyed, by anger, jealousy, suspicion — or even just fade away with distance in space or time. We do not have in our hearts a definite quantity of love that we dispense to various persons or groups — we can have as much or as little of it as we please.

There was a story once about a land where people were in the habit of handing a Soft Warm Fuzzy to everyone they met — friend or stranger. These Soft Warm Fuzzies had the property of making the recipient happy. And so everyone in this land was happy, because these Soft Warm Fuzzies were being handed around so freely. Until…someone got worried that the people of this land might run out of Soft Warm Fuzzies, and warned that they should use them more sparingly, reserving them only for those very close or those most deserving. Then people became mean and handed out fewer and fewer of the Soft Warm Fuzzies, the more so because they were no longer happy, which made them less generous. They even worried that someone might steal the Soft Warm Fuzzies they still had right out of their pockets, and so they sewed their pockets shut — then of course they could not feel their own Soft Warm Fuzzies themselves and became very unhappy. Finally a wise woman taught the people to notice that, whenever they gave away a Soft Warm Fuzzy, another one grew in their pockets immediately — but that no new Soft Warm Fuzzy appeared if the old one was still in their pocket. So the people realized that they would never run out of Soft Warm Fuzzies if they were generous with them. So they started handing them out again to everyone they met, friends or strangers, and once again everyone was happy.

Unlike matter, energy, space, time, and money, love and friendship exist in a potentially inexhaustible supply. They are the ideal renewable resources — renewed without any effort at recycling or regrowing. They can be created on demand. Why then do we get jealous? Well, partly because we begrudge the TIME (a conserved entity) which our friends spend with their other friends instead of with us. And in the case of sexual lovers, there is also the question of limited physical ENERGY (a conserved entity), as well as parenthood of offspring. But partly jealousy stems from a misunderstanding about the nature of love as a non-diminishing entity.

In being able to be created and destroyed, love is a bit like information (see my essay The Three Essences). Yet it is also different, because love presupposes at least two persons who exchange or share it (even unrequited love involves two persons, one of them unwilling), while information can exist for only one person, or for no person at all — like a book in a long abandoned library.

Inexhaustible entities are not always positive, like love and friendship; they can also be negative, like anger or hate. Sometimes people, even psychologists, talk about anger as if it was a conserved entity. “What can a nonviolent resister do with his anger?” ask a Gandhian student, implying that anger (rage) is like a compressed fluid which will seek an outlet — if not in an explosion of violence, then in some sublimated form of behaviour.

This has been called “the hydraulic theory of the emotions”, and is much used in psychoanalysis. It teaches that strong feelings that are not acted upon overtly because of some physical or social block, are repressed into the unconscious, where they still persist (being indestructible), and cause various neurotic symptoms. The implication is that feelings cannot simply disappear into nothing; they have a certain mental ENERGY that is conserved, or maybe converted into other forms of energy (behavioural or psychosomatic symptoms). Or, in the hydraulic metaphor, the excess pressure in the compressed (repressed? how close these words are!) fluid is transmitted undiminished throughout the fluid and will make it squirt out at the weakest spot of the container.

I suspect that many psychologists do not fully realize that these are metaphors, not proven realities. Feelings of rage or frustration, or love for a forbidden target person, could just simply dissipate and vanish without trace, if these emotions are non-conserved entities. The evidence for either conservation or non-conservation of the emotions might be an empirically testable question, but I don’t know of any definitive tests.

If the emotions are not conserved, but instead can be created and destroyed, they are not mental “energy”, but mental “information” — they indicate to us, as a first approximation, how we might act in the given situation — but this information can be “erased” by reasoning in the higher brain centres. This “high command” can block the action as inappropriate, of course; but more than that, it can control or eliminate the feelings that accompanied that first impulse. Not immediately — perhaps it takes a little while — there is a sort of an afterglow of the rage or the regret over a forbidden love — but we recover completely, without any permanent load of garbage in the unconscious. At least we can do so most of the time, if we are mentally healthy and resilient. There are such things as injuries that do not leave behind any scars.

Also, if the emotions can fade out, there is no support for the assumptions about “catharsis”. For example, a deliberate discharge of rage against an object that cannot suffer or be damaged, such as a rag doll or an inflated punching bag, is supposed to “release the anger” inside a person (let the compressed fluid of rage squirt out), and prevent the venting of anger against a real live person (either the real frustrator or some substitute). This is reminiscent of those who would prevent large earthquakes by stimulating a series of smaller ones to relieve the accumulated stresses in the rocks on either side of a slip-fault like the San Andreas. I am more ready to believe this mechanism in the case of earthquakes than in the case of violence, because seismic energy is a conserved entity and the emotions may not be. In fact, there is some evidence that catharsis, as described in the above example, does not work; that usually a small discharge of violence only stimulates a later dangerous lashing out — perhaps because the discharge of anger is habit-forming — the person learns by experience how to lash out.

Another inexhaustible entity, this time a positive one, may be loyalty. Harold Guetzkow 30 years ago wrote about “multiple loyalties” of which people are capable. Indeed, there is no reason to assume that by being a loyal Canadian I am any less loyal to Ontario or to Dundas; and so, on top of all these other loyalties, I can also be loyal to the world and to humanity as a whole; and even on top of that, to all life on Earth. There need not be any contradictions, though contradictions may emerge if the governments of the various levels make contrary demands on me. Ideally, the multiple loyalties to various levels can be like the music of the spheres, a beautiful harmonic chord.

Just as it is a mistake to treat inexhaustible entities as conserved entities, so it is also a mistake to treat conserved and limited resources as if they were inexhaustible. Economists make this mistake, in forgetting that natural resources on Earth are finite and exhaustible, and that “sinks” for garbage and pollution are also not without limits. Economic theory of industrial production processes would look quite different if it took entropy into account, as Georgescu-Roegen suggested long ago. The production process up-grades raw materials (natural resources) into finished products only at the expense of the degraded energy and the waste materials that also come out of the process; i.e. we get the “bads” along with the “goods”, and generally more of the “bads” than the “goods”, because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. What occurs is destruction of some of the “information” (negentropy) contained in the starting “factors of production” compared to the final products. Some of the laws of economics should be completely reformulated to take this into account.

Psychologists and economists both err, but for opposite reasons. Psychologists treat the emotions as conserved entities which they are not (probably), while economists treat resources and sinks in nature as inexhaustible, which they are not (with certainty).

It seems that physical entities are conserved and exhaustible, while mental entities are not conserved and inexhaustible. This might give us a clue as to where to seek better Quality of Life (what used to called “happiness” or “the good life”), rather than where we are wrongfully looking for it now.


(The Cognitive Development of Humankind.)

Piaget has outlined the stages of cognitive development of children, adolescents, and adults, in the individual sense. Could we combine this with an outline of the collective cognitive development of humanity as a whole? This would correspond mainly to the evolution of science and other fields of knowledge. This process is not only unfinished at present, but very probably will never be finished, as we cannot expect to have access to the complete comprehension of all the truth about everything.

The brain and the sense organs are our means for at least partial comprehension of reality, but it is important to understand that they did not evolve primarily for that purpose; their evolutionary value is for knowing just enough about the environment to ensure survival. The thirst for abstract knowledge (scientific curiosity) is a later addition, but one which we value greatly.

The Piaget stages of individual cognitive development include the sensori-motor stage (up to 18 months of age), the pre-operational stage, the stage of concrete operations, and the stage of formal operations.

During the sensori-motor stage, we imagine that the infant perceives the world as an ever-changing colorful kaleidoscope, without making much sense of it; there must be confusion, but also much pleasure and wonderment. There is probably no sharp distinction between the self and the world, no appreciation of the flow of time, no constancy of objects or the expectation that objects or persons persist and may return. However, all this is largely conjectural, as we have no direct memory of early childhood (the memory mechanisms have not yet matured), and probably overstated, since we know that the infant does from a rather early age recognize its mother or primary caregiver and bonds or im-prints quite tenaciously to her.

The next stage, the pre-operational, is the stage when certain fundamental “schemata” (Piaget’s term) first develop and give the surrounding world some order and shape. It is important and interesting to realize that these schemata are already generalizations from experience, akin to early scientific laws. One of these is the schema of permanent objects: not only do certain groups of visual sensations group together to define a perceived object (something that hangs together), but also it persist when we are not looking at it and we can see it again when we look in that direction or return to that room. If the object is a person, like the mother or the nurse or a sibling, the person may walk away but then return. (The child has some considerable anxiety about the reappearance of loved persons; hence the educational and reassurance value of playing peek-a-boo and later hide-and-seek.) Philosophers who later throw doubt on the permanency and persistence of the objective world when we are not perceiving it go against this primitive schema of a very young child, which is deeply ingrained in the adult, and so meet much resistance to this notion.

Another sensori-motor stage schema is the concept of time and temporal succession: that of one event come before or after another. The arrow of time is not necessarily a “given” in nature, but is probably a biological necessity, as will be explained later. To the concept of temporal succession is soon added the schema of causality: that an event does not merely occur after another in time, but that it occurs because of the action of that earlier event. The schema of causality is also deeply ingrained, being formed so early in the child’s mind, and difficult to erase later, when certain philosophical doubts may arise.

It is already evident that these early schemata are not derived deductively or proved with certainty, since they can later be put in doubt by mature philosophers. This again emphasizes the fact that these schemata serve primarily the function of making some sense of the world and introducing some order into sense experience in order to facilitate survival, not primarily to discover the true nature of ultimate reality.

During the pre-operative stage, the somewhat older child is especially busy acquiring language; not only the sounds (both the production and the understanding of them), but also the formation of concepts that are intrinsically linguistic in nature. Thus children learn to use symbols and understand thought. They form the idea that other persons think like them. Even before that, they get to distinguish sharply between inanimate objects and persons, and the need to interact quite differently with each. And they discover those interesting entities that are certainly not objects, but not quite like persons — animals like dogs, cats, other pets, and for the fortunate children, farm animals. At this age, plants are usually still regarded as inanimate, mainly because they do not move. The fact that they grow like animals is realized only later.

However, there are still many things that the pre-school child does not know; some of them may surprise parents and older siblings. One of most often cited is that the child at this stage does not know that the volume of a liquid such as water is conserved, i.e. that pouring water from a tall thin vessel into a broad shallow one preserves the same quantity of water. The child does not know, until taught in the higher grades of elementary school, that mass is conserved. And ideas of what causes things to move are not at all well formulated.

When a child matures to the stage of concrete opera-tions, he or she is usually already in school and at the “latency plateau” of late childhood in emotional development (a stage which Erikson terms “industrious” or which could be called “thoughtful”). While at the sensori-motor stage, learning was mainly due to the maturation of the infant’s primitive nervous system (still getting wired up), and at the pre-operational stage changes were mainly due to experience (defined as an active interaction between the natural and social environment and native intelligence), at the stage of concrete operations the main factor is the cultural transmission of knowledge from the older to the younger generation, i.e. formal teaching and learning. The child learns not only in school from teachers, but also at home from family members, and in play groups from other children. These days children also learn at an early age from television (not always desirable things, e.g. violence), and then increasingly from books, as soon as their reading skills be-come adequate enough to make reading enjoyable.

At this stage, children learns how to classify and order objects and concepts and how to handle and manipulate numbers. They know the notions of space and time, the logic of classes and relations, and they form elementary ideas of geometry and physics. This is all apart from also learning and accumulating a lot of facts about the world, such as geography and knowledge of nature, and a bit of history. But it is children’s ideas about elementary physics that we want to focus on, since we are tracing the cognitive development of scientific ideas among humans.

Normal children have a great deal of natural curiosity about the world in which they live, quite apart from the practical aspects. They are always asking “why”, questions which many adults cannot answer, to their embarrassment. In that sense, every normal child is a scientist. Many of the early ideas that children form turn out later to be wrong, but this is quite normal in science, where hypotheses are being formed and perhaps later overthrown and superseded by others. This inductive reasoning process begins quite early and spontaneously.

Let us illustrate the first ideas about the physical world which usually arise. One is that application of a force is needed to make things move from a state of rest. This seems to follow naturally from the experience of using one’s muscles to move an object along the floor, such as a toy wagon. Another early physics idea is that heavy objects fall faster than light objects. Again, early observation of a hammer and a feather falling seems to confirm this. Our child scientist is not being foolish in formulating these first hypotheses, only inexperienced in carrying the observations and experiments to a more sophisticated level. We can call this the stage of pre-Newtonian (or pre-Galileo) physics. Adults who have never studied physics probably still believe in these pre-Newtonian ideas, and they get along quite well, showing that this stage of physical knowledge is quite adequate for coping with the world.

Sometime during Junior High or regular High School, children and adolescents enter the stage of formal operations, which upgrades the skills and knowledge of the previous stage to higher and more refined levels. They learn the basic operations for handling both numbers and language: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions in arithmetic, grammar, syntax, and composition in verbal and literary skills. They can handle the logic of hypothesis-formation, induction and deduction, and propositional logic, combinatorial lattices, group structures, and the explanation of classes and categories. While during the stage of concrete operations, they probably knew already how to add and multiply, and they certainly knew how to construct a grammatically correct sentence (Chomsky thinks that this knowledge is innate), during the stage of formal operations they learn WHY these processes are correct and why they work and should be used. The various concepts and logics that were implicit are now formulated explicitly. Once this is done, it is possible to build on these foundations such higher structures as combinatorics, infinite series, calculus, and computer programming, to name just a few.

While maturation was needed to confirm and consolidate the sensori-motor development, and experience continued to build the pre-operational stage, and social transmission operated at the stage of concrete operations, the process which finally consolidates the stage of formal operations (being able to operate consciously at the abstract level) is called “equilibration” by Piaget, who sees it as a form of self-regulation by which these new modes of thought are consolidated and become a steady habit.

Let us go on to higher stages of physical knowledge about the world. From this point on, this kind of knowledge is no longer essential for survival, it becomes a pure search for truth. Not all children or adults engage in it, only those highly interested and motivated. And since this knowledge is recorded in books and journals, it is cumulative; it becomes formal science. Also from this point on, we can regard further development as collective for humanity as a whole rather than individual for each scientist or truth-seeker.

The next stage after pre-Newtonian physics is the phy-sics of Newton and Galileo. It replaces the statement that force is needed to maintain the motion of a material body to the statement of Newton’s two laws of motion: that a body is at rest or in a state of uniform motion if no force is acting on it, and that a force is proportional to acceleration or change in the direction of motion (not to the velocity, but to its rate of increase — its first derivative). This is somewhat counter-intuitive when a student first encounters it, and it takes the student some time to internalize it. Those of us who have done this a long time ago tend to forget this initial feeling of surprise and discomfort.

The first law, which expresses the equivalence of being at rest and moving uniformly in a straight line (and shows us that there are no physical means of distinguishing these states) is already a statement of relativity; this is where relativity begins — a kind of a pre-Einsteinian relativity. In the second law, we find out, to our surprise, that the reason why we have to push a toy wagon along the floor is only the overcome the force of friction. Newton’s laws of motion force us to re-think a lot of fundamental concepts which we thought we knew.

The other notion, that heavy bodies fall faster than light bodies, is also superseded, as was shown 3 centuries ago by Galileo Galilei. The reason why the feather seems to fall more slowly than the metal hammer is air resistance, again something akin to a frictional force. And so we learn to view things more abstractly, not centred in our particular situation of rough floors and dense air, but in an imaginary world of a frictionless smoothness and an airless vacuum. It is more remote from ordinary life experience, but it is closer to the truth; though, as we shall see, not the whole truth by any means.

After the stage of Newton-Galileo physics, things become somewhat more complicated, branching off in four different directions, without as yet any obvious integration. This started to happen during the 19th century with the development of thermodynamics and then statistical mechanics, and continued at the beginning of the 20th century, when Einstein introduced first the theory of special relativity and the theory of general relativity, Planck introduced quantum theory, and Schrodinger and De Broglie added wave mechanics to quantum mechanics. In our own days, new theories of complexity are emerging: self-organizing struc-tures and chaos. These almost simultaneous developments in what I perceive as four different directions represent cognitive revolutions in our ways of thinking about the physical world which parallel in their far-ranging implications those earlier upheavals in thinking from concrete to formal operations or from intuitive to Newtonian physics. I will try to explain each of the four different directions in turn.

Thermodynamics is the science that deals with conversions of mechanical energy into heat and vice versa. Where it differs basically from ordinary dynamics is that the conversion of mechanical to heat energy is not reversible, the way mechanical energy changes are (e.g. potential to kinetic energy and back in a pendulum), as long as friction is absent, since friction converts some of the kinetic energy into heat. In other words, while mechanical processes can be run equally well forwards and backwards without losing anything, thermodynamic conversions cannot. True enough, the sum total of energy is conserved, according to the first law of thermodynamics, but some of the energy, when converted into heat (especially at lower temperatures) becomes degraded, less useful, energy, which cannot all be converted back. This fact is embodied in the second law of thermo-dynamics, which states that entropy (a measure of degraded energy) always increases in spontaneous processes, and in any processes in closed systems.

It becomes clear why this is so when we consider the detailed molecular picture of the process by means of statistical mechanics. Heat also consists of motions, like the large-scale motions of e.g. a pendulum, but with heat energy this involves the random motions of very large numbers (like 10 to the 23rd power) of individual molecules, each moving in ways not coordinated with the motions of the other molecules. It then becomes increasingly improbable, as the number of molecules increases, that their random motions would ever line up again to move the whole object in one direction. Thus the total conversion of heat to mechanical energy becomes very highly improbable, though not in principle im-possible.

What this irreversibility does is to introduce the arrow of time, i.e. time’s unidirectional flow. Now this is certainly an intuitive notion which we would not resist, since for us too time flows in only one direction; in fact, it is the time-reversibility feature of classical Newtonian physics which should be counter-intuitive to us, but we are not always made aware of this feature when we first encounter elementary physics in school.

The idea that some processes are irreversible is also familiar to us from everyday experience: water flows downhill, not up, unless pumped; heat flows from the heated end to the cold end of a metal rod; when a sugar solution in one compartment is put in contact with pure water in another compartment by removing the partition between them, the sugar molecules move from the solution into the water until the sugar concentrations are equalized; and so on.

So basically we have no cognitive problems with thermo-dynamics and statistical mechanics, but may be troubled by another problem. If with time nature tends to move toward increasing entropy, which means increasing disorder in the motions and patterns of the molecules, then where does the observed order in the universe originate? First of all in such structures as crystals (recall the beauty of a snowflake!), and then in living cells and organisms? Evolution too is a natural process, and what happened here to the law of increasing entropy?

Well, snowflakes and crystals are not so difficult: there are forces of attraction between molecules, essentially electromagnetic forces, which by a balance of attractions and repulsions position the molecules in regular arrays. These are possible and stable at low enough temperatures, where the random heat motions are not vigorous enough to disrupt the regular order. With increasing temperatures, all crystals eventually melt or vaporize, into phases (liquids and gases) which are increasingly disordered. It is essentially a matter of a tug of war between the forces which try to create order and the heat motions which disrupt order, and at higher temperatures the heat motions always prevail.

The explanation for living cells and organisms is very different, and involves another of the four directions which developed from Newtonian physics which I am trying to discuss. Suffice it to say here that living structures are open, not closed, systems, and that they do generate entropy in quite large amounts (we might call it pollution), but they export it to the environment, creating a high amount of order internally, like a temporary reverse eddy in a river which as a whole flows in the opposite direction.

The second change from Newtonian (classical) physics which we need to explore is the theory of relativity. As already stated, Newton’s first law of motion already announces the equivalence of the state of rest and the state of uniform rectilineal motion, and calls them experimentally indistinguishable by any laws of mechanics. Yet later scientists theorized that perhaps one could tell the difference by measurements of light (electromagnetic radiation), since light was thought to be wave motion in an all-pervading medium called the ether, which could be considered to be in a state of absolute rest.

But when Michelson and Morley in a famous experiment tried to measure the velocity of motion of the Earth through the luminiferous ether, they failed; Earth seemed to be at rest in the universe, which did not make any sense in the light of post-Copernican astronomy; moreover, it seemed to be at rest at different points of its orbit around the Sun, which made even less sense. The only possible conclusion was that there was no ether — and what is truly revolutionary, that the velocity of light is the same regardless of the state of motion of the observer, and that it is in fact the maximum velocity possible for anything to travel in the universe. These are the postulates of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, and they are highly counter-intuitive from the word go, and even more so in some of its conse-quences.

These consequences involve such notions as time flowing at different rates for observers in different states of motion, length measurements shrinking at high speeds when observed by someone not moving at this speed, but not shortening for those who do move with the measuring stick; and particles such as electrons increasing in mass as they approach the speed of light. A consequence of the latter is that matter and energy are interconvertible, and a derivation of the equation that E = Mc squared.

Considerable mind-stretching is required to internalize these new concepts, and you may wonder why we never see them operating in everyday life. The answer is that in ordinary life nothing moves at anywhere near the speed of light, except of course light, but there is no observer riding on the light beam. So Newtonian physics is quite satisfactory for ordinary purposes, and in fact is a special case (an approximation) derivable from Einsteinian physics when the velocities of motion are only very small fractions of the velocity of light.

The special theory of relativity deals only with motions at uniform velocities in straight lines. To generalize this, Einstein came out a few years later with the general theory of relativity. It could deal with accelerating (or slowing-down) motions and curvilinear motions, by linking this to gravitation (large massive bodies attracting each other; small ones do too, but there the force is too weak to measure). The overall conclusion was that the presence of matter introduces curvature into space, especially noticeable if it involves a very massive object like a star. Mo-tion of a planet around a star is then curvilinear (elliptical in general), because of this space curvature, not because of a special force called gravitation. (But actually both are equally valid ways of regarding what is happening.) In this case, the reason why we do not observe the operation of the laws of general relativity in ordinary life is because we do not normally deal with very large objects such as stars.

We are beginning to get the idea that the real world is very strange indeed, and the only reason why we normally see it as simple and “commonsense” is because we live in conditions where nothing moves too fast and nothing is too large — and, as we shall see in the next section, nothing is very small. Of course, the real reason why we normally think that the world is simple is that we have become accustomed to our everyday experiences and they BECOME commonsense because of that.

The third amendment to classical physics comes from the world of the very small, from atoms and sub-atomic particles, electrons and photons. The two mutually related theories here are quantum mechanics and wave mechanics. First Planck formulated the theory that light comes in little bundles called quanta — somewhat like particles, thought it is basically waves. (Actual Einstein made the first discovery here too, as in several other unrelated fields.) Then others discovered that electrons and other particles of matter has properties of waves, though they are primarily particles. Thus both radiation (like light) and matter took on the same two aspects, as both waves and particles, depending how you decided to measure them? How can they be both? This boggles the mind, and while there are several possible explanations, none of them are in consonance with common sense views. Now they are not particles and waves AT THE SAME TIME, they can be either depending on the measurement.

From this again stem many weird phenomena: e.g. the uncertainty principle (Heisenberg) according to which you can determine the exact position of an electron only if you give up on knowing much about its momentum, and if want to pin down the momentum, you will remain relatively ignorant about its position. Or, the famous two-slit experiment (a thought experiment really), in which a single electron goes through two slits and produces interference patterns with itself as a wave would. Which slit did it really go through? You are not supposed to ask. Or another famous purely thought experiment, in which a cat is either dead or alive depending on which slit the electron went through, and the poor cat’s state of being remains indeterminate until an observer looks inside the box; it is not just that the observer does not know if the cat is alive or dead until he looks — there would be nothing unusual about that — but the cat does not “know” either; it is in limbo between life and death until the observation “collapses the wave function” of uncertainty.

Do we meet quantum phenomena in ordinary life? Well, actually we can observe some in the macro world, like the weird properties of liquid helium near absolute zero, or in superconductors in which electric current can flow forever without resistance, or in the spectra of elements where the emission or absorption lines represent quantum jumps of electrons in an atom from one orbit to another, or in a so-called tunnelling microscope, in which an electron seems to go through a barrier in a “forbidden” transition. (Actually it may vanish and another electron may appear on the other side; but since electrons are “fungible” and not individually identifiable, that is the same as tunnelling through.) Yet all these phenomena appear only in laboratories or in high-tech applications, and ordinary people can get along quite well without internalizing the weird notions of quantum mechanics.

Finally, the fourth direction away from classical physics, which is more recent, comes from studies of very complex phenomena, such as living structures. It started out with Prigogine’s studies of so-called dissipative structures, the simplest ones not alive, but physical systems like water heated from below in a shallow pan forming convection patters, or chemical systems where cyclic reactions made the mix turn blue at exact alternating time intervals. Dissipative structures (not a very inspiring name) are defined as being open systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium, which maintains themselves at low entropy by a continuing inflow and outflow of materials and energy, like primitive metabolism. Such systems can form apparent temporary exceptions to the second law of thermodynamics. Another (more inspiring) name for them is self-organizing or homopoietic structures.

Further studies of complex structures involve chaos theory, which focuses on non-linear phenomena long ignored by physicists simply because they did not know how to solve the equations involved. Non-linear phenomena include such things as turbulent flow of liquids (frequently seen in nature in white-water mountain streams) and smoke rings; but it also involves such practical concerns as weather prediction. Weather is a non-linear system, and as such shows so-called instability, i.e. being very sensitive to the precise starting conditions and to very small disturbances. The common phrase is that weather shows the “butterfly effect”: if a butterfly flaps its wings in Thailand, it may rain in Kansas. It is this complexity and sensitivity that makes wea-ther prediction so difficult.

Another example of chaos theory occurs in the mathematical iteration of certain rather simple non-linear equations, e.g. the logistic equation which predicts population fluctuations in animal populations. At relatively low values of a parameter indicating the annual rate of increase, there is a single “attractor” (a value to which the iteration results converge); at higher values there are two attractors, and the population oscillates between two values. At still higher values the attractors split or bifurcate again and we have four attractors; then in rapid succession there are 8, 16, and so on, until above a certain critical value (which surprisingly is the same for different equations!) there is an infinite number of attractors and we say that chaos has set in. The population can now go to any value at all, even zero (signifying extinction), all because the rate of increase was too high!

Chaos phenomena are actual quite common in ordinary life, but they often go unnoticed. Fractal shapes belong here: these are irregular outlines like seashores which show fluctuations or roughness at all scales, from fairly large bays and promontories to grains of sand that stick out on a beach. The connection to living systems? It has been conjectured that life thrives at the boundary between order and chaos. This concept should still be better defined and refined.

It is time to recapitulate. This is probably best done by means of diagrams. In Figure 1, the Piaget stages are represented by a shaft leading up to Newtonian science, and from this then branch out the five other directions: special relativity for the very fast, general relativity for the very large, quantum mechanics for the very small, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics for the very numerous, and chaos and self-organization for the very complex. The overall shape of this model in three dimensions would be somewhat like a child’s windmill — five blades on a stick.

Figure 2 shows a head-on view of the windmill. For the sake of simplicity, special relativity has been left out, because it is included within general relativity. We now have something like a mandala, with classical physics at the centre. The axis from thermodynamics to complex systems represents the axis along which the arrow of time manifests itself, though for different reasons. The axis from relativity to quantum theory represents the scale from the very large to the very small, like the “Cosmic Zoom” cartoon film by Norman McLaren from the National Film Board of Canada.

Eventually other directions radiating out from classical physics may be found. For example, what laws apply at very high density, as in neutron stars or black holes? Possibly we will never be able to find out.

The big defect in all this is that no one has figured out how these different theories can be reconciled with each other. Scientists, including Einstein, have tried to formulate a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) combining general relativity and quantum theory, so far without success. Even this would not be the Theory of Everything that we really crave. We may have to be satisfied with a series of partial views without being able to put them together.

The real regret is that it is so difficult to internalize the knowledge presented even in the partial views, because they run so strongly against common sense. My ideal aim would be not only to arrive at GUT, but to develop a “gut feeling” for it.


The title is taken from the titles of two books: “Complexification” by John L. Casti, and “The Mind of God” by Paul Davies.

The chapters in “Complexification” are entitled: The Simple and the Complex, The Catastrophic, The Chaotic, The Lawless, The Irreducible, The Emergent, and The Simply Complex. I skimmed the table of contents while standing up in a big Toronto bookstore, and didn’t have the time even to skim the chapters, let alone read the book. Some day I hope to go back to it. But in the meantime, I want to speculate on these chapter headings.

To me, “the catastrophic” means the discontinuous, as in the jump from a higher to a lower level (or vice versa) in a cup Catastrophe, or the quantum jump of an electron from a lower to a higher energy level within an atom. “The chaotic” means the strange, as in “strange attractor”; the super-sensitive non-linear dynamic instability of systems which are unpredictable, though deterministic. “The lawless” means the truly objectively random, if there is such a thing, as in the presumed unpredictability of when a radioactive atom will emit an alpha or a beta particle, and thereby possibly kill the Schrodinger cat. “The irreducible” means a system that is not decomposable because of its high inter-connectivity — a system that is not simply the sum of its parts. “The emergent” means that new properties (like life and mind) have emerged from the irreducible inter-connectivity of a system.

These are indeed the five characteristics by which the complex system differs from the simple system, which would be continuous, linear, predictable, decomposable, and only the sum of its parts. We have here the rudiments of the science of the complex, needed to complement the science of the very small (quantum mechanics), the science of the very large or very fast (relativity theory), and the science of the very numerous (thermodynamics and statistical mechanics).

In Davies’ book “The Mind of God”, which I barely had time to leaf through standing in the same bookstore, he defines two terms, “algorithmic complexity” and “logical depth”, which I find helpful. Algorithmic complexity is the length of the minimal program that would yield the observed output in a computer simulation. For example, if the output is to be a repeating wallpaper design, the program would only have to specify the unit cell and then say “repeat” in two dimensions. That would be a simple system. But if the system is a real rose garden, that would not be possible; yet a rose garden is not a random jumble, but highly ordered in a different sense from the wallpaper pattern. A living cell has a different type of order from a perfect crystal, yet both are far away from a random jumble. The difference between a cell and a crystal is due to the much greater algorithmic complexity of the cell. Living systems are generally not “algorithmically compressible”, i.e. the program would take almost as long to specify as the system itself. In such cases simulation is useless; observation of reality is the only way to gain insightful knowledge. Perhaps this is why God had to create the world, because a mere “thought experiment” could not give Him the required knowledge. This assumes that even God does not know how the reality experiment will end — i.e. He is not all-knowing or all-powerful.

The other concept in Davies’ book is “logical depth”, defined as the running time for the minimal program to generate the observed output. Again, simple patterns are logically shallow, complex patterns are logically deep. It took life billions of years to run the program and it is still running. Will it ever halt at some Teilhardian Omega point? (It could of course be interrupted or aborted, like pulling the plug on the computer.)

Logically deep systems are recognized intuitively because we value them and try to preserve them — they would be so difficult to re-create: paintings, scientific theories, works of music or literature are valued far more than shallower objects such as cars, salt crystals, or tin cans.

Yet the two concepts, algorithmic complexity and logical depth are different, the first having to do with the length of the minimal program to reproduce the system, the second with the running time of this minimal program to reproduce the system. A Koch snowflake has very low algorithmic complexity — a child could describe how to generate it; but it is logically so deep that the program never halts — it runs for infinity.


1. Many systems which used to be considered simple-linear deterministic are now regarded as complex-nonlinear-chaotic deterministic (CNLCD), even the evolution of the solar system, no longer seen as cyclic or quasi-periodic, but chaotic. (See Science, Feb. 26, 1993, article by Touma and Wisdom, “The Chaotic Obliquity of Mars”, p. 1294.) Other chaotic systems are biological evolution (see Stephen Jay Gould, “Wonderful Life”, although he does not call his theory “chaos”, but rather “chance”), and human history (especially lately since 1989).

2. CNLCD-ruled system-dynamics are still deterministic, as the name asserts, but extremely sensitive to micro variations in both initial conditions and external inputs.

3. In the sub-micro level of quantum phenomena, the uncertainty principle and particles tunnelling through barriers introduce probabilistic factors.

4. “Free will” — an entity from the mental realm, emergent or pre-existing or both — might operate at the quantum level to influence the probability of electron or proton tunnelling, perhaps at the biological level of neuron signalling. (This is the most speculative step.)

5. This small disturbance in tunnelling probability might influence large-scale CNLCD systems because of their hyper-sensitivity to tiny disturbances (the butterfly effect), and induce large-scale phenomena, like the movement of a hand. This is a sort of a relay effect.

6. This process represents a link between quantum and chaos theories — between the very small and the very complex.


  1. Both the spin and the orbit of Mars are chaotic (i.e. not quasi-periodic, not analyzable by Fourier methods).
  2. The spin and orbit dynamic changes are coupled by resonance.
  3. This may cause large and sudden variations in the obliquity of the Mars axis with respect to the plane of its orbit.
  4. Normally, the resonance adiabatic of the spin-orbit interaction is almost invariant, but occasionally there is a sudden jump, reminiscent of catastrophe theory, when the axis tilts quickly and by a large amount. This represents a link between Chaos and Catastrophe. (A fertile union which may produce Apocalpse.)
  5. One such sudden change (like a quantum jump in cosmic terms) occurred 4 million years ago (4 m.y.a.).
  6. This may have either started or ended Mars polar glaciation. Perhaps there was liquid water on Mars before the 4 m.y.a. Apocalypse, and perhaps there was life then. (A previous article in another issue of Science postulated periods of liquid water on Mars. This one does not mention it.)
  7. “It is amusing to note”, the authors say, that the 4 m.y.a. transition would not occur in the calculations unless the relativistic correction is made for planet motions in the solar system. This is another link — this one between chaos and relativity.
  8. Looking for general connections between the 4 parts of my meta-theory of the development of the sciences beyond the classical (the “windmill” model) is fun — offering glimpses of a possible Grand Unification.


Just as life tends to exist at the boundary between order and chaos, so free will may thrive at the boundary between necessity and chance, between excess rigidity and excess fluidity.

This is too vague as stated. Let us try to firm it up by some analogies to thermodynamics.

The fundamental equation in thermodynamics is

H = F + TS

where H is the enthalpy or total energy, F is the free energy (available for use), T is the absolute temperature, and S is the entropy or tendency to disorder. TS then represents the unavailable or degraded energy.

As a mental picture, we can think of H as representing the electromagnetic forces that hold molecules and crystals together and TS as the random thermal motions which tend to disrupt these structures. Then F is what is left over of order after the disruptive forces have had their play. If TS is greater than H, the substance will be a gas, totally disordered. If TS is much less than H, the substance is a crystalline solid, with considerable amount of order. If H and TS are almost equal, but with a slight preponderance of H over TS (i.e. at the boundary between order and disorder), F will be small but positive. Could F under these conditions represent the (limited but nevertheless real) scope for free will as navigating between necessity and chance?

Could we maximize free will F by making TS much smaller than H? The equation would seem to indicate this; but probably the quality of the larger F would change — it would become more “H-like”, i.e. rigid. It seems that TS needs to be large enough to loosen or “plasticize” the rigid order, but not so large as to shatter or vaporize it.

Another way of looking at it: Let H represent the total behaviour; then F is the part that I can manipulate, TS is the part that I cannot manipulate.

We can act according to rigid rules, or we can act capriciously and unpredictably; but the best (most free) choice is the golden mean in between.

As to the mechanism of action of voluntary choice, the most likely candidate is quantum-mechanical tunnelling which is ruled by probabilistic laws, so that “I” (whatever that entity is) can act by slightly weighting the dice.


Several times in the history of science and mathematics, the belief was expressed that absolute truth will eventually be reached through our grand systems of deduction and induction. An example is Laplace’s statement that, if he knew the position and velocity of every particle in the universe, he could precisely predict the future of the universe in complete detail. Similarly in political science, Rousseau thought that the General Will of a society was some precise quantity resulting from the addition of the individual wills of the citizens. And in mathematics, of course, everyone took it for granted that true theorems could always be deduced or proved from previous theorems plus a few axioms and assumptions; the proofs might be difficult, but there was full confidence that finding them was just a question of skill, luck and time.

Usually we do not even enunciate the assumption that we are approaching complete knowledge, bit by bit, and that eventually we will assemble the Whole Truth about Everything. Yet a few doubts seep in from time to time. Newton compared himself to a small boy playing with a few shells of knowledge on the beach, while a whole ocean of truths stretched before him undiscovered. Plato warned us that we observe only shadows on a cave wall, not the reality outside. Kant believed that most “facts” were only categories (artefacts) of the mind, and that we know nothing about things-in-themselves. Berkeley even doubted that the tree in the quad was still there when no one was looking at it. However, most practical working scientists dismissed the philosophers as scholastic nit-pickers, and even Newton’s statement (who WAS a practical scientist) was taken only to mean that it will take a little longer than we thought to collect all the shells in the ocean; but we had lots of time.

A few were more optimistic; a conference of physicists arount the year 1900 heard a declaration that physics was now practically a finished science; that only minor mopping-up operations were needed before the research labs could close down for ever. This proved to be a really major blooper: within a few years after that confident statement, Einstein introduced the theory of relativity, Planck the quantum theory, and physics was in the throes of a major revolution. Within a decade of that conference, physics was unrecognizable to the old-timers. So while we patiently add bits of knowledge to “normal” science, and think that we will soon be finished, we cannot always predict the coming in of the next paradigm shift, which comes in like a tidal wave, and we never know what it will bring. Kuhn made a “meta-science” of this theory of scientific revolutions.

But all this is only scratching the surface of the real limits to knowledge. What has come to light in the 20th century is the PROOF that our knowledge, in several fields and in several respects, must always remain incomplete. These are called “impossibility theorems”, and they call us to humility in even more fundamental ways than Copernicus, Darwin or Freud ever did. These scientific giants showed, respectively, that we are not the centre of the universe, of the living world, or even of our own mind. But the impossibility theorems show that our reason is not co-extensive with reality, that they touch at only some points, and that therefore whole realms of knowledge (we don’t know how extensive) are forever closed to us IN PRINCIPLE. Only three will be mentioned here: the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, Goedel’s proof in mathematics, and Arrow’s theorem in political science.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle follows from Planck’s quantum theory and its offspring, the Schroedinger-De Broglie wave theory of electrons and other sub-atomic particles. Because such particles partake of the nature of both particles and waves (Bohr’s “complementarity”), no experiment can ever measure both their position and their velocity simultaneously and exactly; if we get an exact measurement of position, we know very little about velocity, and vice versa. This is because the measurement itself somehow determines whether the wave or the particle aspect will predominate, and they cannot both manifest themselves at the same time. Position is the property that goes with the particle aspect and velocity goes with the wave aspect. Heisenberg deduced the amount of unavoidable uncertainty, related to Planck’s constant h, from the wave theory. His uncertainty principle means that the limit to accurate measurement is fundamental and objective, not just temporarily due to imperfections of our methods of measurement; in other words, we cannot hope to remove it by future improvements in our measuring instruments.

The uncertainty principle is most evident in the sub-atomic realm, but it really exists at all scales, even the scale of ordinary everyday objects. But there, of course, the uncertainty is relatively so small that it lies well below the limits of our measuring instruments, and so the “objective” (unavoidable) uncertainty gets completely swamped by the “subjective” (in principle avoidable) uncertainty. In any case, Laplace’s ambition to predict the future of the universe in complete detail would be thwarted by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, because the positions and velocities of all particles can never be known simultaneously. We lack the starting point for Laplace’s deterministic system, and the rest of the process is not strictly deterministic either.

If experiment, observation and measurement fail at the limit, perhaps because the observer enters into the situation and disturbs nature by the very act of measurement, are we any safer in the deductive realm, where pure reason unassisted by the senses discovers truth with unerring certainty through proofs? The answer is “no”, there is leakage there too, and we don’t know how large.

Goedel’s proof is quite difficult to grasp, but essentially it shows that in any deductive system there are true statements which are not theorems, i.e. they cannot be proved. According to Douglas Hofstadter (GEB, p. 272), this comes from a statement which includes self-reference. Statement G says: “G is not a theorem of the system.” If this is true, then G is not a theorem. This is in the same class of paradoxes as a Cretan saying “All Cretans are liars.” It can be easily seen that we can neither accept this as true nor as false without running into a contradiction. It is undecidable.

Are such deductively unprovable statements exceptional or common? We cannot even determine that. It could be an unimportant quirk or it could be a vast realm of reality. GEB has a picture in which proved theorems are black islands in a white field in the lower half and non-theorem truths are white islands in a black field in the upper half. This implies that there are equal numbers of proved and unproved truths. But as far as I can see, Hofstadter is only guessing. The original Goedel non-theorem truth was rather difficult to find.

So it seems that we cannot encompass the whole truth by either inductive or deductive methods, not in science nor in mathematics. Would the social sciences do better? Even in such a well-defined field as the theory of voting, or, more generally, making collective decisions, Arrow’s theorem shows that this is impossible to do without violating at least one of the 5 fairly modest common-sense postulates.

There is no problem if voters or decision-makers are presented with only two alternatives. But when there are three or more choices, we can get intransitivity and “voter’s paradox”, in which A beats B and B beats C but C beats A. (See my essay on “Intransitivity”/intransitivity for examples.)

Collective decision-making depends on somehow aggregating the individual utility preferences into a group utility preference. Individual utility preferences can have intransitivities too, but the main problem is the question whether utilities can be compared inter-personally. Are utilities only on an ordinal scale (put into a rank-ordering), or on an interval scale (assigning numbers or “weights” to each preference)? That is, do I know only that I prefer candidate A to candidate B, and B to C, or could I actually say that A is 3 times preferable to B and B 1.5 times preferable to C? Different individuals may do this differently, and to aggregate this to a group decision becomes extremely difficult. Ordinary voting requires only ordinal preference ranking, which is one of its drawbacks; it does not indicate the depth of feeling with which some voters may prefer or reject some options or candidates. One may be 100 times or a 1000 times preferable, or some totally unacceptable; this strong preference is not distinguished in ordinary voting from a nearly random choice by the uninformed or uninvolved.

In a formal sense, Kenneth Arrow set out the following postulates that would have to be satisfied by a rational voting system: (1) Symmetry if roles are interchanged. (2) Invariance under positive linear transformation. (3) Independence from irrelevant alternatives. (The relative positions of A and B should not be changed if C is also running.) (4) If all are for it, it should be accepted. — Surprisingly, he found that all 4 postulates could be satisfied only if we accept the dictatorship of one person.
Or, formulated alternatively, if a 5th reasonable postulate requires that there should be no dictator, then there is no way at all to satisfy all 5 requirements.

Is democracy then doomed? Only if we insist on having a perfect world or none at all. Such absolutism is self-defeating. We need to be maximizers, not absolutists, i.e. do the best we can with what we have in an imperfect world. That means compromising on some of the postulates or requirements, or making trade-offs between them. We can then manage reasonably well with democracy, as we did before Arrow revealed the awful truth to us. “Practical reason” often finds a way when “pure reason” gets bogged down.

We do manage in our humble ways, but the impossibility theorems should make us aware of our limits, and not get too carried away with pride.


Inductive reasoning can be dangerous. For many phenomena, several failed beginnings precede a successful take-off. Examples are: 1. Initial sputterings of a fluorescent lamp finally give rise to a steady bright light. 2. Early Earth life did not immediately take off; the first successful blob was probably preceded by many failures. 3. The first few sparks may not start a sustained fire. 4. All previous civilizations (about a dozen) collapsed and failed; need we despair of ours?

In each of these cases, inductive reasoning would lead us to believe that light, life, and fire could never be sustained. Likewise, we could predict the downfall of our civilization. Yet light, life, and fire have finally been sustained.

The simple saying “if at once you don’t succeed, try and try again” is productive of hope and courage in the face of adversity. Yet it is “counter-inductive”; by the rules of inductive reasoning, we should rationally conclude that we must abandon the project. So induction can be counter-productive. Hope and courage are DEFINED as NOT yielding to inductive reasoning.

The opposite of these negative induction processes are also seen, for example in the “gambler’s trap”: just because you won the last few bets, you will not necessarily win the next one.

These inductive series, bad or good, do not have to continue. So why do we believe so firmly in inductively established natural laws? Is it simply the large number of repetitions? Sometimes they are not all that large; results are reproduced in experiments 3 or 4 times. So perhaps there even could be perpetual motion machines, and costless entropy decreases — a self-organization of order in closed systems.


In logic, any sentence in the form “if x, then y” is called an implication. In practical life and in science, such a sentence can have several different meanings, all subsumed under the general term “implication”. Some of these multiple meanings are outlined below.

(a) Correlation. It is observed that in experience, observation, or deliberate experiment, when x occurs, y tends to occur also, with a stated probability; but the probability has to be reasonably high if we are to feel justified in using an implication type of statement to describe it. Example: For nations, a high rate of literacy is correlated with the degree of industrialization. Stated as an implication: If country P has a high degree of industrialization, it is likely also to have a high rate of literacy. No causality is proved or indicated by this statement; there may be direct causation, but we do not know in which direction it runs, or the two terms may be related through a third one, or the correlation may be a coincidence. (Tests for significance, i.e. non-coincidence, exist.)

(b) Cause and effect. This link exists if by the statement “if x, then y” we mean that x causes y. This simple statement, as it stands, means that x is a “sufficient” cause of y: every time that x happens, y is sure to follow. If we want to say that x is both sufficient and necessary for y, we would have to say “if and only if x, then y”. A statement of a “necessary” but not “sufficient” cause would be “only if x, then y”. There are several other ways of stating this, but these need not detain us. But we should note the irreversibility of the implication: “if x, then y” is a different statement from “if y, then x”. If we accept “if x, then y” as true, then “if not x” does not allow us to say anything about y. In causation this means that if x is a sufficient cause of y, we do not know whether y is also a (sufficient) cause of x or not. Example: If gravity acts on an object which is free to move, the object falls. Gravity is a sufficient cause to make the object fall, but if we see an object fall, we cannot conclude whether this is because of gravity or because it is an iron ball moving in a magnetic field. In other words, with a merely sufficient cause, there could also be any number of other causes which would produce the same antecedent. (An antecedent is the second part of an implication, the part preceded by the word “then”.)

(c) Prediction. If stated as an implication, this is not an absolute prediction (event z will happen), but a conditional prediction (event z will happen if x happens first, or possibly “if and only if” x happens first). (See the discussion above.) Example: “If you put you hand on the hot stove, it will get burned.” (Putting your hand there is sufficient, but not necessary, for getting burned, since you can also get burned in other ways.) Another example: “If the government raises taxes, it will lose the election.” This may turn out to be true or false — only future events will show — but someone can make this prediction and many will believe it. A third example: “If there is enough sun and rain next summer, the crops will be plentiful.”

(d) Warning, or a statement of actions and expected consequences. The first two examples given above under (c) can also be considered under this category However, the third example would not be a warning, since it refers to nature, not to actions by human agents.

(e) Threat. This takes the form “if you do this action which I don’t like, I will do something which you will not like.” This is different from a warning, where one merely anticipates what nature will do (e.g. burn your hand). because here one anticipates one’s own action in retaliation. Example “If you are unfaithful, then I will leave you”. Or, between nations, “if you invade my ally, I will destroy you” (extended deterrence). Threat is one instrument for exercising power over another person or group; another instrument of power (a kinder, gentler one, but power nevertheless) is given in the next paragraph.

(f) Promise. This takes the form “if you do this action which I want you to do but you seem reluctant, then I will give you something you will really like”. In politics, this is positive inducement, sometimes a bribe, perhaps patronage. Both threats and promises are used in bargaining, i.e. in waging conflict (not necessarily violent).

(g) Ends and means. Example: “If I want to go to work this morning, I have to get up on time.” Here the antecedent (“if’) is the end or goal that I intend to reach, the consequent (“then”) is the means that I have to use to reach that end. As with causation, the distinction between “sufficient” and “necessary” means must be made. In the above example, getting up is necessary for getting to work, but not sufficient — I must also catch the bus at the comer and remember to bring my briefcase. In Aristotle’s scheme of the four causes (material, formal, efficient, final), “ends and means” is the final cause, what we above called “cause and effect” is the efficient cause; so it would be expected that these two categories of implication would be related. A cause precedes its effect, both in time and in the sentence order of the implication. An end also precedes its means in the sentence, but occurs later in time than the means; however, in the formation of my intention (decision-making), the end still comes before the means.

(h) Observations and natural laws. Example: “If repeated observations show that the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to its pressure at a constant temperature, then there must be a natural law that this inverse proportionality will always hold in future observations too.” This is called induction and is the foundation of the scientific method. It is also widely used in daily life, not only in science. E.g. “If most men I know are taller than most women, then I conclude that generally men are taller than women.” The conclusion is not certain and never will be, no matter how many observations are made; but the approximation to certainty is good enough for most practical and even scientific purposes.

(i) Theory and phenomena. This is the other half of the scientific method. Once I form a theory on the basis of natural laws derived from observations by induction, I can deduce from the theory what other consequences would follow if the theory is true, and test them by experiment or observation. Example: “If the kinetic molecular theory of gases is true, Boyle’s law about the inverse proportionality of the volume and pressure of a gas would follow”, but also “If the kinetic molecular theory of gases is true, then equal volumes of gases at constant temperature and pressure must contain equal numbers of molecules.” The first statement is why the theory was first formulated (to explain the consequent), so of course it would be expected to hold. The second statement then derives a predicted new observation by deduction from theory, and we need to find out if it is true, to confirm or falsify the theory. As is well known, a scientific theory is never completely proved. This follows straight from the logical structure of the implication. In the statement “If theory x is true, then observation y should be such and such”, we assert only “if x then y” and it does not follow that “if y then x”. For the observation y might also be explainable by some alternative theory, perhaps one which has not yet been thought of.

(j) Assumptions (axioms) and theorems. This is deduction in mathematics. An example might be “If parallel lines never meet, then they could not form two sides of a triangle.” The conclusion is a certainty given the assumptions, but the assumptions can always be questioned, as this one was. On a spherical surface like the earth, two parallel lines (two meridians) do form a (spherical) triangle if extended to one of the poles. We then reformulate the assumption by specifying “parallel lines on a planar surface”, but may still run into trouble if space itself is curved.

In all these classes of implications, (and there could be more), we link two statements conditionally. Other logical structures (“and”, “or”, negation) are represented in computer hardware as “logic gates”, but I have not heard of an “implication gate”. It is probably represented somehow.

In the classification list presented, there are three types of inferences: logical (deductive) (b, i, j), empirical (inductive) (a, c, h), and normative (d, e, f, g). It is amazing that such widely differing fields of inquiry as mathematics, natural science, and ethics could be encapsulated in these simple “if…then…” statements.


There are different ways of “knowing”. I know my hand, my cup, my room, my bouse, my street in intimate everyday ways, in ever-widening circles of decreasing closeness and increasing size or scope. Outward going, my knowledge gets wider but more shallow, like the damped circular wave wben a pebble drops in a pond. Yet it is the same KIND of knowledge — immediate practical experience, farniliarity, intuitive grasp.

The other kind of “knowing” is the scientific mode — of the fundamental particles and forces of pbysics that bebave so strangely that we hardly know what to do. with our mathematical descriptions of them. We can describe, even predict their behaviour on a probabilistic basis, but normally we do not approacb the feeling of familiarity. We experience something akin to culture sbock.

Could one get the “gut” form of knowledge even of “GUT” objects? (play on words: GUT stands for Grand Unified Theory of 3 of the 4 fundamental forces.) Perhaps from daily repetition of acquaintance.. plus simulated or imagined sensory experience uninstructed by the precise mathematics, plus emotional connotations — like those that make me “know” my cup because I took tea from it with a friend.

A few examples to illustrate: For a long time I “knew” that tbe Moon was a spbere lit froB different sides at different times of the month by the Sun; but I still “saw” it as a flat circle or various types

and sizes of crescent — until Armstrong landed on the Moon. and my perception changed. For me, the Moon has been forever transformed into a Sun-lit sphere.

After reading an article on “Collision-less Shock Waves” in the April 1991 issue of Scientific American, I am beginning to understand a little bit about solitons in terms of wave trains or packets, and their analogy to particles. (A previous article on solitons some years ago in this magazine left me completely puzzled.) I think of Betchov’s theory (see my essay The Peak of Non-linearity in this collection), and 1 can almost visualize a highly compressed wave-packet of very high amplitude as a particle.

As to the puzzle of its localization, another analogy. The particle/wave-packet, of course, is in a state of extremely rapid vibration. hence the principle of uncertainty of its position if we know its velocity. But in an experiment probing it, we “catch” it at a definite location and therefore perceive it as a particle; the wave-packet collapses. 1 have recently observed a phenomenon which to me makes this more concrete. When 1 turn off the computer by throwing the switch, there appears a vertical line in the middle of the screen which at some point usually has either a circular or wavy pattern around it — just before the whole pattern fades. 1 can imagine (I almost “see”) the vertical line being generated by a rapidly up-and-down moving point of light (an electron?). 1 could not tell just where the point is at any given time (in the gross way that 1 perceive time). Yet when the switch stops the movement, 1 “catch” it in the act, so to speak. Why should it be THERE and not somewhere else? The probability is quite small for any point location on the line — but it’s got to be SOMEWHERE.

1 wonder: If 1 could shrink down to sub-atomic dimensions like Alice in Wonderland, could 1 “know” a soliton like 1 know my cup? Or are there physicists who know solitons that way already?


The only rational way to play Prisoner’s Dilemma, as a selfish myopic utility maximizer (Economic Man) is to play D (defect). Yet this way one ends up with less than the maximum pay-off, which is possible only if the two players agree to cooperate and keep that agreement.

How do real humans play? In numerous PD game experi-ments, the degree of cooperation starts at about 50%, then dips down, and eventually comes up again to above 50%. (The latter is the average between CC and DD lock-ins — more CC than DD.) Yet, by rational selfish myopic logic, people should play DD all the time. Why are real humans so much better than strict logicians?

Partly because they expect (and often get) reciprocity from their partners (opponents?), especially if they expect to meet them again. (I.e. in long protocols or in computer tournaments.) Axelrod showed that tit-for-tat reciprocity can persists in spite of DD attacks, and even successfully invade a society of DD players. (Cf. “Survival of Cooperation”.) Partly they learn as they play. And partly they know how to communicate with their partner (who is not really an opponent) by non-verbal signals, i.e. their mode of play. In sum, real humans are much smarter than strict logicians. Or, put another way, rationality is not the apex of intellectual capability. Experience far outruns strict reasoning-by-the-rules when it comes to winning playful games, and even dead-serious games of survival in the real world. Humans have evolved to play these dead-serious games, not to follow syllogisms or true/false tables.

Another instructive example of this propensity is so-called prospect theory, which has to do with decision-making. The rational way to make decisions is expected utility calculation: one outlines all the options, assigns to each outcome its utility (how much one values it) and its probability of being realized in that option, multiplies each utility by its probability of attainment (to obtain the so-called “expected utility”), and then chooses the largest expected utility.

However, again real people deviate from such rational behaviour. The deviations are systematized in so-called “prospect theory”. They are of several kinds.

  1. People tend to over-estimate losses and under-estimate gains.
  2. People tend to judge losses and gains from the present state (status quo) rather than from an absolute base.
  3. People tend to prefer a small but sure gain over a probable larger gain even if expected utilities are equal or reversed.
  4. People tend to prefer a sure security against losses to probable security against larger losses even if the expected utility is the same.
  5. People react differently when risks are stated in percentages rather than in actual numbers.
  6. People tend to react differently to very small probabilities regarding gains and losses: e.g. gamble to win in lotteries but disregard dangers of road accidents.

Looking over this list, it seems that a brain attuned to survival rather than abstract thought could be expected to have exactly this kind of deviations from rationality. For example, it would prefer absolute security against large losses (especially death) to anything else. Gains are nice, but relatively less important.

To conclude: rationality in the sense of cost-benefit calculations plays a part in human decision-making, but not the predominant part. Experiments show that real people are much more flexible in their reasoning and interactions with others, and much more oriented toward survival (as Darwinian theory would predict) than the austere but arid logician.


Nouns, verbs, and adjectives are very different entities in the linguistic universe, and represent very different entities in the physical world and in the mental world in which we live.

Nouns are the OBJECTS in the external (“objective”) world that we observe through the senses, as well as the SUBJECTS who observe. In sentences, too, the subject and the object are normally either nouns or pronouns (“proxies” for nouns). Nouns are the scaffolding of the perceived and conceived world, the nodes of the networks of interaction.

Verbs are PREDICATES in sentences and denote ACTIONS in the external world. They represent process, dynamism, change — but also their opposites, as in “lies down”, “neglects”, or “denies”. Verbs are the connecting links in the networks of interaction, the directed arrows between subjects and objects.

Adjectives are descriptors, evaluators, judgments. They create the “semantic space” discovered and studied by Charles Osgood and his associates. But more about that later.

Now we shall turn to give a little more detail about each.

Nouns specify the objects (like tables and chairs) which we learn to recognize, as infants, as soon as we manage to interpret somewhat the sensual (especially visual) information that floods our brain from the moment of birth. At an early age, we learn to recognize the “constancy of objects”, i.e. the fact that objects persist even when we are not looking at them. This notion, of course, cannot be a direct observation, which is why philosophers (unlike infants) have had trouble with it. It is already an early “scientific” inference made by the child, a theory that best explains experience, though it can never be “proved”. It is so firmly grounded empirically in everyone’s everyday consciousness (philosopher as much as layman) that in practice solipsism is treated as irrevelant nonsense by the average brain, even if theoretically discussed by intellectuals. It is an absurdity: why would anyone bother to lecture on solipsism or write a paper about it if he/she really believed it? Who would be there to hear or read it?

Nouns (objects) represent external reality “out there” as opposed to our self-definition as a self (a subject). This, too, is a distinction every child makes at a certain age. (Although, as was mentioned, subjects are also denoted by nouns, we are here concentrating on their use to denote objects.) Nouns as object descriptors define the environment with which we have to coexist as organisms, in order to survive. We also use them for pleasure, to enhance our quality oflife.

Nouns comprise not only “hard” inert objects (which we might call “things”), but also living objects, i.e. plants, animals, and persons, with which we interact in a different way. In interacting with things, we do not have to take into consideration their wills or intentions, be they friendly or hostile; with living beings, we do. Plants may be a transitional case; they do react to stimuli, but so slowly (except for flytraps) that we usually see them as inert.

Wills and intentions become more salient when we deal with persons rather than animals. In terms of Anatol Rapoport’s scheme of “Fights, Games, and Debates”, we FIGHT against inanimate things, trying to use them or master them, or guard against them as against natural disasters; we play (deadly) GAMES with animals when we hunt them or when they hunt us — we do the same with human enemies in war, when we “dehumanize” or “depersonify” them in our minds; but we DEBATE with persons, both friends and opponents, in peacetime. There are, of course, also cooperative modes of interaction: using natural resources with restraint so as to conserve them, and living symbiotically rather than parasitically or as predators with animals and people.

There is a third category of “objects” that nouns describe: these are abstract concepts, like love, hate, pride, humility, conservation, destruction. We also form “relationships” with concepts; we accept or reject them, they give us pleasure or pain, they seem true or false, we manipulate and rearrange them into “systems”. These relationships to concepts are called “attitudes” and the systems of them are “ideologies”. How we relate to concepts also has survival significance, like our relations to things, but in a more long-range, more complex way.

A sub-categoryt of a noun is a pronoun, something that stands for a noun. Some of the distinctions noted above can be summarized by Buber’s scheme of pronouns — showing the difference between an “I -it” and an “I — thou” relationship that I can have with a person — perceiving and treating him or her either as a means (a “thing” or an “it”), or as an end (a real person, equivalent in worth to myself). Kant’s categorical imperative would sanction only the “I — thou” relationships between persons as moral, never the “I — it” relationship.

Nouns as entities are noumenal (in some of their uses), endowed or imbued with their own significant meaning, sacred. We tend to sometimes capitalize them in writing to show this. While the word “noumenal” probably is not derived from the word “noun”, its sound in English is reminiscent of it, like a poetic echo.

Verbs are very different from nouns, a world apart. While nouns have to do with thought (both concrete and abstract), verbs are concerned with action. Nouns are descriptors of what we perceive with our senses to be “out there” (i.e. what the afferent parts of our nervous system bring to the brain as input); and also with some further processing by the brain to organize this input into concepts. Verbs, on the other hand, have to do with the efferent parts of the nervous system, the parts that communicate our output to the environment. The nouns are the stimulus, the verbs are the response. At the neuron level, nouns come in through the dendrites, verbs go out through the axons. Verbs denote how we affect our environment, act upon it, either adapt to it or change it.

If nouns are “being”, verbs are “becoming”. Other such distinctions are between state of a system and process of change, between static and dynamic models, between equilibrium and flux, between Zeno and Heraclitus.

Yet verbs can be passive as well as active. A stone just lies there, while a beetle crawls, a deer runs, a bird flies, a fish swims. Also a person can keep still or talk, refrain from action or engage in action. So verbs denote not only action, but also inaction or lack of action.

Verbs have been used in a method of analyzing world events, called events data analysis. In this method, daily newspapers (preferably several in different countries), are used to record “who did what to whom”. The “actors” and “targets” are, of course, nouns; usually nation-states, but sometimes international organizations like U.N. agencies, or terrorist groups, or churches, or NGOs like the Red Cross, Amnesty International, or Greenpeace; or criminal syndicates like the Mafia. But the verbs (the “did what” part) are especially important here. In Edward Azar’s scheme, the verbs are scaled on a conflict-cooperation scale, all the way from total war to a peaceful merger. In the WEIS scheme, the verbs are categorized in a more qualitative, but implicitly more multidimensional, manner. Cooperative verbs are: “approve, promise, agree, yield, grant reward”. Conflictual verbs are: “reject, protest, deny, accuse, warn, threaten, expel, seize, force.” A neutral verb is “comment”. These are only examples.

A survey of U.N. General Assembly resolutions documented the relative frequency of the use of such verbs as “recommends, requests, calls upon, urges, appeals, demands, condemns, deplores”. In the 1988 session, “calls upon” was used approximately 175 times, “urges” 170 times, “condemns” over 70 times, “recommends” only 33 times. In the Fifth Committee, which deals with administrative and financial matters, verbs such as “decides, approves, endorses, resolves, authorizes, agrees, accepts” were most often used.

In any case, these point-like daily events, and the background “flows” of goods, services, infonnation, and people across national borders which are not reported in newspapers because they are so omnipresent as to not constitute “news”, form the basic content of “international relations”. In the science of International Relations, this is the dependent variable which. is to be explained, perhaps in terms of national attributes such as size, population, wealth, military power; or in terms of personalities of leaders, or the nature of internal regimes, or past histories of the interaction, or the general constellation of the international system (bipolar, multipolar, or otherwise). And since these events and flows are largely expressed as verbs, we might say that verbs dominate world politics, for better or for worse.

Adjectives evaluate or judge objects and actions, i.e. both nouns and verbs). Along with adjectives (which modify nouns), we should also include here adverbs (which modify verbs). Since their functions in language and thought are very similar, we will omit the further mention of adverbs, and talk only about adjectives.

The main three dimensions of what Charles Osgood calls “semantic space” are adjective pairs, each constituting the opposite polar ends of a scale; good-bad (evaluation, or E), strong-weak (potency or P), and active-passive (activity or A). This semantic space was constructed, not by armchair philosophizing, but from empirical questionnaire data gathered in several distinct linguistic cultures across the world, followed by factor analysis. The respondents were given a much larger number of polar adjective pairs, such as hot-cold, moist-dry (the above two pairs, incidentally, were traditionally used to classify the “four elements” of the ancient Greeks), slow-fast, kind-cruel, sweet-bitter, light-dark, red-green, and others, and asked to apply them, intuitively though somewhat irrationally (as quick, “hot cognitions”) to a series of nouns like mother, storm, and town. Does “somewhat cruel storm” make sense? Not rationally, but many of us would say that it does make some kind of sense, on quick impulse, as a mental association, without cogitating on it too long. Such constructs are often used in poetry to evoke emotional response or fresh surprising perception.

In most of the linguistic cultures studied, the three main factors which emerged from the factor analysis were the EPA triplet mentioned above: evaluation, potency, and activity. (personally I prefer “fast-slow” to “active-passive”, but since I deviate from the majority, I will refrain from pushing this.)

The evaluative dimension, “good-bad”, was the main one of the three factors; i.e. it explained most of the variance in the data. The second most important was “strong-weak”, while “active-passive” was the least salient; in some of the linguistic cultures it was replaced by another, though similar, pair, like fast-slow. (Maybe I used to live there in a previous life.)

Judgments of good and bad, or Good and Evil, are truly ancient and deep-rooted. (Note that we also capitalize some adjectives if we think that they are noumenal. We do personalize Good and Evil as God and Devil — note the similarity of words!) Good and Evil describe all stereotypes that we have of

people: friends and enemies, good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, insiders and outsiders, compatriots and foreigners, true believers and infidels or heretics, Whites and Blacks, “we” and “they” in general. They are thus the basis of racism, ethnocentrism, sexism and other isms, and one of the main causes of conflict, violence and war.

Good and Evil also characterize the archetypes of the collective unconscious (Jung), where we find angels and devils, heroes and villains, and the good witch and the bad witch in the Wizard of Oz. The culmination, of course, is God and Satan in Judeo-Christianity and Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman in Zoroastrianism — the main dualistic religions of the world. Some religions, like the Bahai Faith, deny the reality of Evil, considering it to be merely the absence of Good, like Dark is the absence of Light. Others, like Hinduism, would place the Divine beyond Good and Evil, and comprising both, because the Divine (Brahman) has to comprise everything there is.

However, the good-bad evaluation is much more ancient than even all human stereotypes and archetypes; it goes all the way back to the origin of Life on Earth. Many unicells show the phenomenon of tropism, whereby they move toward the light and toward food particles, and away from poisons and noxious chemicals. Evaluation of Good and Evil is basic to continuation, to preservation in the confrontation with favourable and adverse environmental circumstances. Any form of life, even the simplest, needs to know the difference between what it needs and what harms it, and act accordingly, or it would no longer be with us.


I want to outline briefly certain standard mathematical operations and their opposites where such exist, and suggest an addition to the list. I am aware that this listing does not exhaust the field of mathematics and I do not intend to do so. For example, I say nothing about series, permutations and combinations, probability theory, networks, groups, or any system of geometry or topology.

The potency dimension (strong-weak) is also relevant to survival. If I meet a danger, I need to know its potential strength in order to do damage control. A weak danger, like a mosquito, I can choose to ignore if I have more important things to do, but I cannot shrug off an encounter with a sabre-tooth tiger.

The same can be said about “active-passive” or “fast-slow”. An earthquake may be a stronger danger than a tiger, but it is not descending on me right this minute. (Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to postpone reaction to “slow big dangers” like climate change, which may prove to be our undoing. )

A theological argument about the nature of the Devil is relevant here. A Manichean Devil is “bad, strong, and active”, while an Augustinian Devil is “bad, strong, but passive”. What this seems to be saying is that the Devil does not actively scheme to destroy us (though in many popular legends, like Faust and Don Giovanni, he does), but allows inaction to destroy us automatically. As Burke said, “All that needs to happen to make evil prevail is for good men to do nothing.” This is related to the strong but passive role of Entropy as an Anti-Life Force. In social change movements, we like to say that we are not so much fighting against reaction as against inaction.

Among the dualistic religions, the Zoroastrians probably believe in a Manichean Devil and the Christians in an Augustinian Devil. After all, the Augustinians “won” the ideological dispute with the Manicheans, who were declared to be heretics. The Devil in Christianity, though usually (at least in popular myth as opposed to official theological doctrine) not considered to be entirely inactive, is at least less active than God. The Devil is also seen to be as not as strong as God, who after all is omnipotent. The Devil and his cohorts, e.g. in exorcism rites, retreat when faced with the sign of the cross or the sprinkling of holy water, which are only symbols of God’s omnipotence, not even His actual presence. Satan or Lucifer was only an archangel before his revolt, not the all-mighty ruler of Heaven. Zoroastrian dualism, as I understand it, is more symmetrical — it is almost a bi-theistic rather than a mono-theistic faith, a bipolar relationship of two superpowers.

However, even in Christianity, the Manichean streak still persists; as when, during the holocaust of the witches, the ecclesiastical authorities and the common people spoke darkly about “the principalities and powers” when referring to the Devil’s machinations in seducing women to serve him. The Devil was in fact seen as heading up and controlling a rival “Evil Empire”. Reagan’s calling the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire” was a prime example of the demonization of the enemy which almost enmeshed all humanity in a nuclear war.

What about the role in the linguistic universe of other parts of speech — conjunctions and prepositions? Their role is minor; they serve only as linkages between the main linguistic actors. However, by indicating precise relationships (above or below, in or out, before or after, with, without, or against), they are indispensable as clarifiers of meanings. My separate essay entitled “If-then” discusses the logical, causal, inferential, and moral meanings of what in logic is called the “implication”, a whole series of categories of meanings that would be impossible to conceive without the help of the two little words, “if’ and “then”.

Finally, the simple exclamations “oh”, “wow”, “psst” and the like, are probably the first speech sounds ever uttered, the way the whole linguistic universe was firstborn at the human dawn.

1. Addition and its opposite, subtraction. Since addition is commutative, there is only one opposite. To make subtraction always possible, zero and negative numbers had to be invented. Zero is a kind of pivot in these two operations: the only element whose addition or subtraction does not change the other number. But Boolean addition or its use in symbolic logic has properties different from ordinaIy arithmetical addition. Specifically, it means union: both A and B and the overlap of A and B.

2. Multiplication and its opposite, division. Since multiplication is commutative, there is only one opposite. Multiplication is derived from repeated addition, but it has also other meanings, e.g. in geometry going from a line to an area or on to a volume or higher dimensions. To make division always possible, fractions had to be invented. The number I is a kind of pivot in these two operations: the only element whose use in multiplication or division does not change the other number. Boolean multiplication, or its use in symbolic logic, has properties different from ordinaIy arithmetical multiplication. Specifically, it means intersection: only the overlap of A and B.

3. Raising to a power and its opposite, taking roots. Since raising to a power is not commutative, (i.e. aX$. xa), there are two opposites: taking roots and taking logarithms. But we save the latter for the next section, because it also has another opposite. To make the taking of roots of positive numbers always possible, we have to invent irrational numbers. To make the taking of roots of negative numbers at all possible, we have to invent imaginary numbers. There is no kind of pivot and no Boolean or symbolic-logic analogue.

4. Exponentials and logarithms. While “raising to a power” means x8 , by “exponential” I mean aX, where a is a constant and x is a variable. Taking logarithms is the opposite of exponentiation, i.e. x is the logarithm of aX to the base a. In practice, “the base of logarithm is usually either 10 for decimal logarithms or e (2.732…) for “natural” logarithms. While the first 30perations give rise to algebraic functions (polynomials), this and the next operation give rise to transcendental functions.

5. Trigonometric functions (sine, cosine, tangent, cotangent, secant, cosecant) and their opposites, arcsin, arccos, etc. These are also transcendental functions. While independently defined geometrially with respect to the circle, they have a deep relationship with exponentials through infinite series, De Moivre’s theorem, and oscillations and asymptotic approaches to equilibrium as solutions of certain first-degree differential equations. (See essay “The Key” in Section x.)

6. Differentiation and its opposite, integration. (Some would reverse this order, because integration seems more positive; but differentiation is simpler and is usually taught first.) These two opposites are profoundly complementary concepts in biology (embryonic development) and political theory (federalism and subsidiarity). They imply continuity and limits. The discontinuous analogues are the “difference calculus” and the summation of series or sequences.


This essay is not about deviations from the use of reason, but about irrational numbers, meaning those that are not ratios of integers, i.e. are not fractions.

The integers 1, 2, 3,…form an infinite series; but it is only the first order of Cantor’s infinities. The fractions, such as 1/2, 2/3, or 501/499, form an infinite set between any two neighbouring integers, so that the total number of fractions is a second order of Cantor’s infinities. Nor is this the end of the story, because between any two neighbouring fractions (whatever “neighbouring” might mean) there is an infinite number of irrational numbers, i.e. decimal numbers with an infinite sequence of non-repeating decimals; irrational numbers would thus be a third order of Cantor’s infinities.

Of this unimaginably huge number of irrationals, a few stand out as being of deep, almost mystical significance. Some of these are discussed below.

We can start with the hypotenuse of a square, which is 1.44…, the square root of 2. Then there is the altitude of an equilateral triangle, which is 0.86…, half of the square root of 3. And then there is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which 3.412…or pi. The ancient Greeks knew all about these irrationals, though they knew them to only a few decimal places. Modern computers can grind out millions of decimals places for these irrational numbers, without ever coming to an end. All of these are related to simple geometrical (Euclidian) figures in the plane, though they turn up also in the geometry of solids, e.g. pi occurs in the surface area and the volume of a sphere, a cylinder, and a cone.

Another famous, useful and mysterious irrational number is e (= 2.732…), which is “true compound interest”: what you would get at the end of one year if you invested 1 dollar at the interest rate of 100%, compounded not once a year, not 2 or 4 times a year, not monthly, or weekly, or daily, or every hour or minute or second, but all infinitesimal moments of time an infinitesimal fraction of the 100%. It does not seem possible that you would get so little, only 2 dollars and 73 cents. If compounded annually, you would already get 2 dollars; if 4 times a year, you would get 2.44, quite an increase; why does it not get over 2.73 even if compounded infinitely often? Well, the series we get by binomial expansion of (1+1/n) to the nth power, as n increases without limit, converges very quickly to the limit e = 2.732… The same number e when raised to the power x (e ) is also the only function of x which is its own derivative in differentiation, i.e. the only function whose rate of increase is equal to itself (“the bigger it gets, the faster it grows”), and the rate of the rate of increase likewise, and so on. It is this property which makes it suitable as the base of natural logarithms, since taking logarithms is the opposite operation to raising to a power, and thus the derivative of ln x is simply 1/x, without having to multiply by any conversion constant.

If we carry out the binomial expansion of (1+1/n) as n approaches infinity, we obtain the number e, as already noted. If we do it for (x+x/n) , as n approaches infinity, we obtain e . If we write out the terms of this series, we have e =

where 2!, 3!…etc are the factorials, e.g. 3!=1.2.3, 4!=, etc. When we compare this with the series for sin x and cos x, derived from the very general Taylor series (the series for e can also be so derived), we note the Euler relationship

e = cos x + i sin x

where i is the imaginary unit, the square root of minus 1. This looks very simple, yet mysterious — why should this be so? Until we remember that exponential and sine/cosine functions are often alternative solutions to simple second-order differential equations. Physically, this means that a system like a steel spring or a pendulum, when stretched or swung out and then released, tries to return to its original position either by asymptotic exponential decay or by a si-nusoidal oscillation, if it overshoots.

Thus our number e occurs in many diverse (but probably related) situations in physical nature and in mathematics. I tend to regard it with a certain awe as a magic number. The true magic numbers, I feel, are not integers like 3 or 7 or 11 (the magic primes), or “perfect numbers” like 6 or 28 (whose addends are the same as its factors), though these are interesting. The truly magic numbers are the irrationals like pi, e, and our next two candidates, phi and the Feigenbaum number. Indeed, why shouldn’t a few irrationals be very fundamental, when there are so many more irrationals than rationals?

Phi ( ) = 1.628… is a number which bears the same ratio to 1 as 1 does to 0.628…, i.e. /1 = 1/1+ , or + -1 = 0, which means that = 1/2.(1 + 5). The ancient Greeks called this the Golden Section, a way to divide a line segment into two parts in the most esthetically harmonious way. However, phi emerges again as the limiting ratio between two consecutive members of the Fibonacci series, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…, formed when each member of the series is the sum of the two preceding members. The ratio is not phi for the lower members of this series, but approaches it in the limit as the series is lengthened. Why this should be so is not clear to me. Phi is also the sum of the continuing fraction

Again, why? The Fibonacci series occurs widely in natural structures, such as the shell of the Nautilus, and whorls of leaves and flowers. Norman Alcock (“The Seventh Seal”) has used it to model all of human, biological, and cosmic evolution. He also uses the series which starts with phi and continues with each member the sum of the two previous members; this alternative Fibonacci series finally merges with our first-mentioned one, after a series of spirallings around each other, in a pattern strongly reminiscent of the double helix.

Another interesting irrational number has emerged quite recently: the Feigenbaum universality constant, 4.66920… This number was discovered first in the successive doubling of the attractors as the logistic equation y=rx(x+1) is repeatedly iterated, and as the parameter r is gradually increased. There is at first a single attractor to which the iterations converge, then (between r=3 and r=3.43) there are 2, shortly after 4, and in rapid succession 8, 16, 32 etc., until at about r=3.57 the attractor goes chaotic. Feigenbaum then discovered that all equations whose graph has a single hump do this — it does not have to be the logistic (whose graph is a parabola). And the scaling factor at which the finer and finer detail is observed is always the same, 4.66920…, regardless of the precise form of the equation.

In fractal geometry, the “dimension” of the Koch “snow-lake” is another irrational, 1.2618…, which is log4/log3; and other similar irrationals occur as the dimensions of other fractal curves, usually a ratio of logarithms. (It doesn’t matter whether these are decimal or natural logarithms, because the proportionality constant cancels out in the ratio.) The Koch snowflake is generated by starting with an equilateral triangle, then sprouting smaller (1/3) equilateral triangles from each of its sides, and repeating (iterating) this ad infinitum. Thus we no longer have just dimensions 1, 2 and 3, as in Euclid, or even just dimensions 4, 5 etc., which are mathematical, not spatial dimensions; we also fractional dimensions in between; and I should not have said “fractional”, because these are not fractions (rational numbers), but irrationals. Dimensions get blurred, just as “truth” and “falsehood” get blurred in fuzzy logic. (See my essay “Fuzzy All Over”.) I cannot help thinking that this irrationality and fuzziness and half-truth is a cultural symptom of our times, a “Zeitgeist”; even though these concepts are also valid in themselves. The cultural aspect comes from their having been discovered in this particular historical time. It shows that we are inclined to think in a certain way, and therefore discover the things that are in consonance with this way of thinking.

Now about irrational numbers in general: each sits on an infinitely sharp knife-edge in the set of real numbers. Similarly, at an infinitely sharp knife-edge of time, decisions are made in a world of chaos; if the initial conditions are just slightly off this edge, even in the millionth decimal place, the results will diverge. This divergence may make a difference in evolution, even between the extinction or continuation of whole species or genera or families or orders. It is not chance, but deterministic chaos. Yet the initial point, though of strictly zero dimensions, must lie SOMEWHERE, so one or the other outcome MUST HAPPEN. At the same knife-edge of time, the particle is at a definite place in the wave packet of an electron or a quark (I visualize it vibrating extremely rapidly within it), and that’s where we catch it in our experiment, when “the wave packet collapses”. The Schrodinger cat lives or dies on the knife-edge of time, as if between two irrational numbers. And we are all Schrodinger cats.


Between the integers are the fractions; between the fractions are the irrationals, ever denser, Aleph-2 of them. Yet even the irrationals are but frozen frames of a slide show. Between the irrationals, even denser yet (Aleph-3?), are the infinitesimals, elusive but real, the “non-standard” numbers, not expressible numerically, eluding all measure-ment, all but indistinguishable from their neighbour irra-tionals which had seemed to exhaust the field, i.e. they truly “connect” the points on the real number line. Only the infinitesimals finally give continuity to the number line, i.e. go from dimension zero to one, from points to line.

Space and time are almost like the number line, indefi-nitely divisible into ever-smaller intervals without becom-ing something different, almost truly continuous — until they hit the Planck limit, at which point space-time “tears” or becomes composed of “bubbles”, something radically diffe-rent from what they were above the limit. Only the continu-ity based on infinitesimals makes motion in space-time possible, in spite of Zeno’s arguments against it. And chaos is possible — instability and extreme sensitivity, because we cannot replicate the initial conditions exactly; they are on the knife-edge between irrationals. And free will is possible, exploiting the butterfly effect of chaos.

Time and space are self-similar down to the Planck limit, numbers are similar without any limit. A magnifying glass would make the interval from 0 to 1 the same as from 1 to infinity, as well as the same as the one from 0 to 0.1, from 0 to 0.01, and so on indefinitely. At very high magni-fication, would the infinitesimals swim into view, with non-numerical tails? Probably not — we cannot reach those re-gions at any conceivable magnification; but we have to assume that self-similarity still obtains, as in repeated reflections in opposing mirrors, even though we can no longer see it. Infinity is not just way off in the distance, it permeates the number line, and is unreachable both in the distance and in the interstices. The number line is infini-tely fractal. Only in this way can zero be transformed into one, the basic operation in creation.

Atoms and molecules are not like that. Divide a droplet of water, and you eventually get (in a thought experiment) a single molecule. You cannot subdivide that any further and still have water. You can divide it into hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but they are different entities from water. The word “atom” means “indivisible”, but of course it is not. How-ever, again, when you split an atom you no longer have the same substance; you now have a nucleus and an electron. Split the nucleus and get protons and neutrons — again different entities. Split protons and neutrons to get quarks — different again.

The electrons and quarks are now considered to be un-splittable, but we may yet find that they are not. In any case, matter is not indefinitely divisible, like time and space and number. Electricity is not indefinitely divisible, only down to electrons. Light is not indefinitely divisible, only down to photons. So both matter and energy have limits of divisibility, i.e. bosons and fermions, respectively. New physical laws (i.e. quantum theory) apply at these micro levels.

Space, time, and number are like the continuous frame-work of the universe. Matter and energy are like the concre-te contents, the flesh on the skeleton. The framework is like the steel skeleton of a building, the contents are like the external and internal walls and the contents of the rooms.


Fractal theories of self-similarity cover an interme-diate size range around the human-size level (such as sea coasts and clouds), but self-similarity peters out (or ends abruptly?) at very small (quantum realm) sizes and very large (relativistic realm) sizes, where very different phe-nomena and theories take over.

This means that the applicability range of self-similarity is not infinite, as perhaps suggested (at the micro end) by such images as mirrors within mirrors, Russian dolls, Chinese boxes, and Hofstadter’s Djinns (in “Escher, Godel, Bach”). This is analogous to theories of atoms and light quanta — matter and light are not infinitely divisible (continuous), but hit a lower limit of “phase change” when something else starts happening. Fractality is like that too, and even space-time may be (there are theories of space tearing apart or becoming “bubbly” at extremely small dimen-sions). However, not numbers — these are truly continuous: the irrationals densely fill all interstices between fractions — a truly fractal array without lower limit. Perhaps matter and energy configurations are necessarily discon-tinuous, but mental constructions need not be.


A theory does not have to be true to be meaningful and beautiful. This is so as long as we do not totally “believe” a theory; belief being defined as a theory on which we are willing to act. But there are theories which are only hypotheses, inspired guesses with which we play but are not willing to act on. It is these provisional theories to which the first sentence of this paragraph applies.

A provisional theory only outlines a possibility of how things fit together. It then comes close to a legend or a myth. A scientific theory would then proceed to seek evidence to back it up, by experiments and observations, and to elaborate its predictions by mathematical methods if possible. In a similar way, scholarly history is different from legends and myths of cosmic or national origins, being based on a meticulous examination of the records. But meticulous search for the truth can obscure beauty. Who has not felt restless and somewhat bored by the endless citation of sources or the descriptions of the details of experimental procedures, in scientific or scholarly papers?

The corpus callosum connection between left and right brain hemispheres must be kept open, so that the messages can flow freely between left-brain Truth and right-brain Beauty. Let us stay away from being overly lateralized, like macho men.

Word play does for beauty and myth what number play does for truth and science — it makes things seem more real, through the poetry of words or numbers. (Both of them are language, in that they elucidate meaning.) Mathematics is more universal, but only for a small section of intellectuals. Word language is split up into thousands of tongues spoken around the world, but even lowly peasants can do it. So each form of expression has its advantages and disadvantages.

Can we combine Truth and Beauty, like the two super-heavy quarks only recently discovered, into a Meson of Meaning?


E.F. Schumacher wrote about four kinds of knowledge: our knowledge of external reality, for which science is the appropriate method; our knowledge of the internal content of our own minds, gained by introspection; our intuitive understanding of how other persons understand the world, a kind of knowledge obtained through empathy; and our intuitive understanding of how other persons interact with us — a “Thou” relationship generated and underscored by love.

So here are these vast two landscapes extending before our wondering gaze — the outer world and the inner world. To this is added the third landscape — the land of Thou — but we shall not discuss that any further here. Both our outer and inner worlds are partly known to us at the close-in margins, like Newton’s metaphor of science picking up a few pebbles on the beach, with the vast ocean of unknowing extending beyond. Most of both the outer and the inner expanse is still unknown and perhaps partly unknowable. Both worlds fade into a haze of uncertainty in the distance.

We make maps of the external world: real geographic maps and architectural plans, but also the theories and diagrams of various sciences, the geometric (Euclidian and topographic) patterns of mathematical structures, flowsheets of chemical or biochemical processes, tree-like classification schemes, cycles in ecology, etc. Can we similarly make maps of the mental landscape?

We can, and many have tried, as will be illustrated below: the schemes of Freud, Jung, Aristotle, Jantsch, and Hindu scriptures, for example. But these schemes are more like Schumacher’s first kind of knowledge, constructed by scientific observation, not by introspection, which gives us only a private, subjective kind of view of only one mind — our own. For generalizations, we need at least inter-subjective, if not objective, knowledge.

There is a viewpoint which considers the mind more as a process than as a static landscape, in which case a flowsheet would be a more appropriate map than a classification, which most of the above are. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to the construction of a mental map (a map OF the mind, not a map BY the mind, which of course all maps are) is the existence of too many gaps in our knowledge, the question marks and three dots scattered all through it. The map would be like the Europeans’ first map of the New World before it was completely explored, with sea monsters illustrating the margins.

The terms we use have also not been very well sorted out. Sometimes by “mind” we mean “consciousness”, the only region that we can explore by simple direct introspection; but then there is also the “unconscious mind”, which implies that “mind” is something bigger than consciousness.

The usual picture is that consciousness is like the spotlight in the middle of a darkened stage; we can see what is going on under the spotlight, but many events are also happening in the wings, at the dark edges and corners, quite unseen; and then there is the shadowy half-lit area in between, which corresponds to the subconscious, where we might discover some moving shapes if we look away a bit from the bright central light which usually blinds us to the shadow happenings. The spotlight is like the macula of the eye, but we also have peripheral vision to some extent.

We might elaborate on this “map” by thinking of a darkened room rather than a darkened stage, but still with that spotlight in the centre, and by further postulating that the dark room has doors and windows in its very dark walls which connect it to other rooms and secret passageways.

Through Door A, the unconscious might connect to the deeper layers of Jantsch’s “neural mind” (the mammalian and reptilian brain), and beyond that to the hormonal, epigenetic, genetic, and metabolic minds, i.e. to the body, with its physiological processes which we normally do not control or know about, but perhaps could, as advanced mystics do. I am referring to being able to control one’s pulse rate and blood pressure, for instance. We can perhaps all learn this through the method of bio-feedback, i.e. observing on a machine what happens when we “think at” parts of the body in a certain way. This is, after all, the method by which a baby first learns to control its voluntary muscles. The reason for calling the hormonal, epigenetic, genetic, and metabolic processes “minds” is that they are complex information-processing systems, like the brain, whose higher cortex centres are usually seen as the seat of the conscious mind. They are material processes when seen from the outside, but mental processes when seen from the inside.

Through Door B in the wall of the darkened room that we have imagined, we might enter the higher realms of the soul and the spirit. (I am not sure of the distinction between “soul” and “spirit”, but some see them as different.) Some light is presumably thrown on that door by meditation, which might then penetrate to the other room beyond that door. Advanced mystics claim to discover God in that room; the Quakers call it “the Inner Light” or “that of God in every person”; the Hindus maintain that Atman (the Self) is Brahman (God); Jung speaks of the discovery of the Self (as opposed to the narrow Ego) as “individuation”; Buddhists talk about “Enlightenment”, which suggests that this distant dark room is suddenly flooded with light.

I suspect that they are all describing the same experience in different words. Perhaps there is more than one step that leads to this room; perhaps there is an ascending staircase to a higher level. (And a corresponding descending staircase to the lower level at Door A.) The Major Arcana of the Tarot cards (an ancient depository of arcane philosophy) suggests that these ascending steps might be: Re-evaluation or Conversion (Hanged Man), Transfiguration (Death), Communion of matter and spirit (Temperance), Temptations overcome (Devil and Tower), Enlightenment (Star), Initiation (Moon), Liberation (Sun), Awakening (Judgment), and Nirvana (World). The words in brackets are the names of the cards. The interpretations (not explained here) follow from a study of books describing the Tarot cards and contemplation of the symbols which the cards display and their associations. The interpretations given here concern cards XII to XXI of the Major Arcana, i.e. the last half; cards I to X can be considered as mental development from childhood to mental maturity, with card XI as a transition, and cards XII to XXI as higher spiritual development — beyond Erikson’s “integrity” stage and Maslow’s (1970) “self-actualization”.

Door C may link one’s total mind (the dark room with the spotlight of consciousness in the middle) with other human minds; first to perceiving the “Thou” of persons close to us with whom we are interacting with some intensity and intimacy, (family members, lovers, friends), then with other human minds known through books and other communication media, and finally with all human minds throughout the world, present and past, throughout the existence of our species. This door leads, through horizontal but multi-branching passages, to a common dark space which Jung called “the Collective Unconscious”. It is inhabited by the Archetypes of Good and Evil, larger-than-life figures of heroes, angels, devils, dwarfs, giants, fairies, witches, nymphs, sirens, and monsters — all creatures we know from myths, legends, fables and fairy tales, as well as dreams. They represent an accumulation of human experience different in quality from a library or an encyclopedia, in that they include the emotional as well as the cognitive content of that experience; and because of that added richness and complexity, they evoke a sense of awe, a sense of the numinous or sacred.

Well, then, we have the beginnings of a tentative map of the mental realm, even though it is only a metaphor. Let us now try to fit some other theories into it.

Freud’s tripartite division into id, ego and superego might fit in the following way: Id would be linked to all the physiological mechanisms behind Door A, and also the reptilian brain, but perhaps mainly to the mammalian brain, the seat of the emotions. Id would be an area close to that door, but in the half-shadow that can sometimes interact with the floodlight of consciousness. Ego might correspond to the spotlight of consciousness itself. Superego does not correspond to the spiritual realm beyond Door B, because Freud’s meaning for it was the “conscience” that arises from parental and other social pressures for moral conformity, and so perhaps it is linked more to the area near Door C to the Collective Unconscious of social responsibility.

Then there is the classical division of the mind into Emotion, Reason, and Will. Approximately, Emotion corresponds to Id and the mammalian brain, while reason and will are different functions of the cortical or conscious mind. We speak of “voluntary” (i.e. will-controlled) muscles as the ones under “conscious control”. The Will seems to be “free” (at least in introspection), but within a strictly circumscribed fairly small range of options, hemmed in by physical, genetic, environmental and social constraints. Reason should not be apotheosized as the Ruling Principle of the Universe (Logos). It is only a function or facility of ordering experience according to certain rules, originally to help us survive better even in hostile environments, but now usually used as a helper to our sense of curiosity in wanting to find out how the world operates, and in making the practical decisions of daily life. And Reason has its paradoxes and can lead us astray, as illustrated by the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons.

Psychology divides up the mind quite differently, by function: sense perception, memory, speech, locomotion, etc. Each is related to a different area of the brain, and psychology tries to trace the neurological connections. In another branch of that science, the social connections are also explored. There is no immediately obvious way to fit this into the map that we have begun to assemble.

A totally different way again is the enumeration of various “states of consciousness”: wakefulness, ordinary sleep, REM sleep (dreams), the meditative state, the hypnotic state, multiple personality, perhaps “possession” if we believe in it (possession by a devil, another human living or dead, or by God in religious ecstasy). There are also states of lapse of consciousness: epilepsy, the “lost time” of multiple personality, fainting, anasthaesia, coma and death.

These states also do not fit well with our tentative map, except that in cases of multiple personality, the different persons that live in the same body are often pictured as stepping forward into the spotlight of consciousness from the darker portions of the room. This is called “coming out”, and the patient or the therapist can often call them by name to come out. In fact, our metaphor of the dark stage with the central spotlight comes originally from the literature on multiple personality.

We need a different “map” for understanding the different states of consciousness and of multiple personality. This can be derived from the mathematical theory of Chaos, as expounded for example by Stuart Kauffman (1991). According to that theory, complex non-linear systems are in a state of Chaos if their successions of states are very sensitive to the initial or previous conditions (the Butterfly Effect), so that even initially very similar systems may diverge radically even after a few iterations. However, successive iterations may eventually bring the system to a state in which it was before, and after that the succession of states will repeat for ever. We say that the system has reached one of its “attractors”, which are then stable to minor perturbations, i.e. no longer sensitive to every flap of a butterfly wing. The system is then in a stable deterministic state, no longer in Chaos, even if the number of states traversed in each cycle is very large and may appear chaotic unless examined as a whole. A system may have several or even many attractors; which one it falls into depends on its initial position. If the attractors are pictured as deep valleys with streams running through them, the “basins of attraction” from which the system goes to that particular attractor are like the natural basins between watersheds. To get from one basin of attraction to another, a system has to cross a “mountain chain” or barrier, which it can do if a major perturbation pushes it over the barrier. (This is like chemical reaction kinetics, where the reactants have to cross an energy activation barrier in order to yield the reaction products in the next energy valley.)

The different states of consciousness might be likened to the different attractors into which the semi-chaotic complex system of neural networks can fall, i.e. settle down after many iterations. The various “persons” in a multiple-personality patient can also be seen as such alternative attractors. In most people, the early ego-formation in childhood is by far the main attractor, but it too is formed by many iterations or experimental gropings of the fresh blank mind (“tabula rasa”) of a newborn infant. (Or the gropings may first begin in utero before birth.) So the single ego of a normal person, and the multiple egos of a split personality, can be regarded as different crystallizations (like the allotropes of an element) from the same Chaos, to different attractor valleys.

Most ordinary people never experience the more exotic states of consciousness; they know only wakefulness and the two kinds of sleep: ordinary sleep (with 3 or 4 levels of depth) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, in which dreams occur while muscles are “paralyzed”, i.e. disconnected from the brain. These 3 states (awake, sleeping, and dreaming) are characterized by 4 distinct EEG (electro-encephalograph) patterns of brain waves: alpha waves for awake subjects with their eyes closed (visual scan, or search for visual information), no waves or a mixture of waves for awake subjects with their eyes open (showing how dominant is the sense of sight in humans over the other senses, where presence or absence of incoming sense signals does not affect the brain waves; how would the dominance of the sense of smell in dogs show up in their EEG?), delta waves in ordinary deep sleep, and spikes superimposed on an irregular wave pattern (almost as if awake) in dreams. In epilepsy the EEG shows wild spikes and signs of an “electrical storm” (overstimulation) in the brain, with wave amplitudes so high that they interrupt neuronal communication (the way that an electromagnetic pulse or EMP would disrupt electronic communication); consciousness vanishes while erratic muscle convulsions occur. When the storm is finally over, the patient goes into a deep sleep from which he or she cannot be awakened for some time — probably a state of total nervous-system exhaustion.

While deep sleep is like a dim-light, wakefulness is like a bright ordinary light (the spotlight of consciousness in our previous scheme), and dreaming is intermediate in brightness, we can think of meditation as producing a coherent beam of light like a laser, much more powerful and concentrated because the mind is kept from wandering and “bucking like a wild horse”; instead, it is kept focused on a single thought, like a mantra, or no thought at all (empty mind).

Another metaphor is that in meditation the mind is like a limpid pool of water without ripples, so that one can see clear down to the bottom without distortion or interference. What that means in terms of brain waves is very regular alpha waves, as in wakefulness with eyes closed, even when the eyes are open. Ordinary wakefulness would then be a pool with ripples on its surface, which limits the visibility in attempts at introspection.

To recapitualte our progress so far in drawing a map of the mental realm. We have the picture of the darkened room with the spotlight in the middle and 3 doors leading to other rooms; we have the different states of consciousness which are various attractors in Chaos; and we have degrees of brightness and coherence of light and the pool with or without ripples. But we are not yet finished with our map building.

The concept of “mind as process” was mentioned in the beginning, and “process” reminds us of “development”. We know something at least about bodily development, in the embryo and fetus, maturation from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, aging, and death. Regarding mental development, five types could be mentioned: cognitive, emotional, psycho-sexual, moral, and attitudinal-ideological. We shall describe them briefly.

Cognitive development was outlined in the essay “The Unfinished Road to Truth”. Briefly the child goes through the Piaget stages, on to commonsense physics. The adult may then go on to Newtonian physics, Einsteinian relativity, quantum theory, thermodynamics and various theories of complexity.

Emotional development was explored by Erikson, who outlined its stages as follows: basic trust (in infancy), autonomy, initiative (two early stages of ego development, i.e. establishing the child’s separateness from the parent), industry (completion of ego-development at the mid-childhood development plateau), identity (the crisis of puberty), intimacy (the search for a life partner and mate), generativity (fulfilment in career and parenthood), and integration (coming to terms with life, aging and death, and searching for spiritual truths — the Hindu stage of the Holy Man). It is an intuitively appealing description of the human life cycle. For an artistic expression of this sequence, see the Vigeland statues in Oslo.

Psycho-sexual development was described by Freud as three stages of Id satisfaction: (1) The oral phase; infant suckling at the breast, not only feeding, but deriving sensual pleasure from the physical contact with mother; if not satisfied sufficiently before weaning, the oral impulse may persist as thumb-sucking or pipe-smoking. (2) The anal phase; in toilet training, the toddler, now in the Erikson stage of “autonomy”, tries to assert independence of mother by resisting the training and retaining the stool when it should be passed; if not properly worked through, an anal personality may become unduly eager to accumulate property and power — to “hang on to his shit”. (3) the genital phase; during puberty, the pleasure centres move to the external genitalia and become part of the natural incentive to sexual intercourse. Forcible genital stimulation (rape or incest) of a pre-puberty child may be very damaging psychologically, causing later inability to respond properly to normal adult sexual contact.

Moral development (or rather the development of moral judgment) was described in 6 levels by L. Kohlberg (1973). (1) Avoid punishment — escape pain. (2) Seek rewards, i.e. pleasure (Stage 1 and 2 together could be considered a restatement of Freud’s pleasure principle, as well as the basis of J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism.) (3) Be a “good child” or a “good citizen” if still at that stage in adulthood. This means to obey and conform to social demands, norms and pressures, somewhat in line wih Freud’s super-ego. But conformity and obedience might also mean obeying the orders of a tyrant in the political order. Milgram experiments show that about half the people are willing to give painful electric shocks to another person on the experimenter’s orders. (4) Obey the laws of your community and preserve its social order; a continuation of the previous stage, but now willing to defy orders which are considered illegal or unconstitutional. (But without regard to intrinsic morality, only legality.) (5) Fulfill your social contract, explicit or implicit; a more principled approach to social obligation and responsibility; fulfill your social role, whether ascribed or acquired, as parent, spouse, child, sibling, teacher, ruler, pupil, subject. This comes close to Confucian ethics. (6) Universal conscience: deriving general ethical principles and trying to live by them; e.g. “love your neighbour” or “never deliberately harm a human being”.

Kohlberg’s scheme was criticized by Carol Gilligan as applying only to men (all of Kohlberg’s experimental subjects were male), while women (whom Gilligan studied) follow a different developmental scheme, relying at first more on preserving relationships and less centred on one’s own pleasures and rights, and only later discovering their own rights. When examined by Kohlberg’s method, many women seem to be at stage 3; Gilligan interprets this as meaning that women start out as members of families or communities, and only at later stages begin to assert their individual rights — almost the opposite sequence to that followed by men. Neither is inherently better or worse; Gilligan’s book is entitled “In a Different Voice”. Presumably, both can end up at a high stage of observing both their own rights and the rights of others, approaching that stage from opposite starting positions.

Finally, attitudinal and ideological development, as outlined e.g. by W. Eckhardt, can follow either one of two alternative paths — toward compassion or toward compulsion. A compassionate personality, generally produced by loving and permissive child-upbringing, tends to be democratic, peace-loving, international-minded, radical in politics (which may mean different things in different societies: e.g. socialist in the West and free-enterprise in Eastern Europe and the USSR): liberal or agnostic in religion, open-minded, flexible, tolerant of ambiguity, willing to be non-conformist, and altruistic. A compulsive personality, usually brought up in punitive, rejecting, or inconsistent ways, tends to be autocratic or authoritarian, militaristic, nationalistic, conservative in politics (wanting to keep whatever system is in place in their society), conventional or fundamentalist in religion, rigid and dogmatic in thinking style, conformist, and egoistic. The difference between compassion and compulsion goes back to a different view of human nature: the former regards it as basically good, or at least perfectible and amenable to reason and persuasion; the latter thinks of it as basically evil or corrupted by original sin, and needing external control, by punitive laws, police, army, stern discipline by teachers or parents (corporal punishment), and fear of a vengeful God. These different views of human nature are linked to child-upbringing in the following way; if the child gets the idea that he or she is “bad” (low self-esteem), the child develops the idea that other people must also be “bad” and must be brought under control; but if the child grows up regarding him or herself as basically “good” (“you are a child of the universe, you have a right to be here”), the child develops high self-esteem, and acquires the ability to regard other people as also basically “good”, citizens of the same universe, needing love rather than fear from their God and their society.

What remains to be discussed is various theories of the relationship of the mind to the body, or to matter in general. This is a topic of long-standing and central interest in all philosophy.

There are the dualistic theories, which maintain that mind and matter are separate essences. Among them are the following: (1) Descartes’ assertion that mind and matter are not only separate, but do not even interact. Mind and body (mind and brain) are synchronized by God to run in parallel without touching. (2) Mind and matter are two separate essences coextensive in time and space, i.e. both have always existed since the beginning of the universe and both exist everywhere in the universe. Mind resides in non-living matter as well as living matter, though perhaps to different degrees. (3) Mind came into existence as an emergent property only in living matter. (4) Mind came into existence as an emergent property only when a nervous system developed; thus it exists only in animals, not in plants, fungi, protozoa and bacteria. (5) Mind emerges only when the nervous system exceeds a certain critical limit of complexity, which may occur in some animals including humans. If this is so, there is a possibility that complex “artificial intelligence” computers might become conscious at some future time. Already the Turing test designed to distinguish the responses by machines and by humans is quite ambiguous. (6) Mind exists only in humans, not in any other animals or any machines. Other animals are automata without consciousness, though they seem to feel pain, but that is an illusion. The Catholic Church doctrine asserts this about soul, which is immortal, and which only humans possess, no other creatures.

Then there are the monistic theories, which state that only one essence exists: (7) Materialism states that matter is all there is; mind is only an epiphenomenon of brain function. Free will is an illusion: the mind is only a helpless observer of deterministic bodily events. (8) Idealism holds that mind is all there is; matter is only an illusion, a construction of the mind. Hinduism calls the material world “maya”. (9) A monistic theory that gives equal status to mind and matter is one which believes that they are like the opposite sides of the same coin, or two views of the same common essence. This common essence appears as matter when viewed from the outside and as mind when viewed from the inside. (Cf. Schumacher’s first two kinds of knowledge, the one gained by science and the other by introspection, mentioned at the beginning of this essay.) This theory is similar to the complementarity between the particle and wave aspects of an electron in physics; now we see one aspect and now the other, but never both at the same time. It is also reminiscent of the yin and yang symbol of Chinese philosophy, both in their common circle representing the world; or of the union of the male principle and the female principle which is so creative; or the dialectical interplay of thesis and antithesis to produce a synthesis.

The final possibility is that there are more than two essences. One example (10) of such a theory is contained in my essay The Three Essences, which names them as matter, energy, and information (or negentropy), and relates information to mind. Actually, as is already apparent in the essay, a fourth essence to follow “information” should be “meaning”, and then mind would become the “quintessence” of all being.

Which of these theories do I believe? None of them dogmatically, of course; but on balance and as a hypothesis, I would choose a combination of (2) and (6); they are compatible if we assume that mind has degrees of brightness. I would also accept aspects of (9) and (10), which are compatible because the five essences interact strongly and can almost be regarded as one. (I even mention the conversion factors in my previous essay.) I also consider the (2) (6) combination to be compatible with the (9) (10) combination. To summarize my position, I believe that mind and matter have coexisted everywhere since the beginning of the universe; that mind became more and more intense (“brighter”) as the nervous system developed, and then became more and more complex; that mind and matter are actually not separate, but the external and internal aspects of the same common essence; and that mind is related to, and interacts with, matter energy, information, and meaning.


Perhaps the mind is a three-way plug: through the personal unconscious into the body, through the collective unconscious to all minds past and present (even pre-human), and through the spiritual unconscious (sometimes called the superconscious if it receives attention in meditation) to God and the universe.

To change metaphors: we can dive into the depths of the pool and find the three electrical outlets that connect us to the global power net.

The mind comes out of and returns to its three roots throughout life. After the death of the body, one of the roots becomes useless, but the mind still exercises its effects through the other two, on the human and natural totality and on the spiritual realm. It does this without consciousness, except when found by others, when it borrows their consciousness to communicate its accumulated knowledge to them. And perhaps God’s consciousness is permanent and total; we remain as thoughts in His mind. But it is nothing like our personal consciousness while we live on Earth, which we can never recover without the active presence of the body into which we were plugged.

According to Hobson, the mind is defined as the sum of all the information stored in the brain, whether conscious or not. But it is information WITH MEANING. To the “mere information” as simply anti-entropy is added purpose, under-standing, values, and decision-making and choice. The mea-ning comes from the three sources: the body and its will to live, experience pleasure and avoid pain; the human and natural collective and its will to survive and expand, and the spiritual realm and its will to be embodied or incarna-ted (from transcendent to immanent).

There are humble meanings (e.g. this neuron circuit MEANS “raise your arm”) and higher meanings (e.g. this sum of gestures MEANS “I love you”). But it is certainly always more than “mere information”, i.e. the presence of entro-pically improbable states.

Meanings from the human collective can be classified as follows:

1. from the present immediate human collective (family, school, friends); i.e. upbringing, education, socialization;

2. from the past or distant human collective, through orally transmitted memories or books, taking the form of language, mathematics, art or music;

3. from ancestral memories directly, which we cannot usually do, but some ancient peoples apparently could, e.g. Australian Aborigines;

Meaning from spiritual sources can come either from contemplating nature in the widest sense, or from meditation, or as a direct revelation, in very exceptional cases.

What does it MEAN to endow information with meaning? Configurations become signs or symbols, not only improbable statistical ensembles. The reason for picking the improbable ensembles to signify something beyond themselves is because they are rare, tend not to occur by chance. Chance or random occurrences of the more probable ones would obscure meaning if we tried to use them for signalling; i.e. we would never know if they were INTENDED or just happened.

Only to a mind does it matter that information should have meaning. In other words, meaning is information that matters to a mind.


(After reading A.K. Dewdney’s “Computer Recreations”, Scientific American, December 1989.)

Computers follow algorithms, even when engaged in “Artificial Intelligence”. But there are limits to computability. Some are time limits; since the time to execute some algorithms increases exponentially as the value of the parameter increases. Some are fundamental limits; Goedel’s theorem shows that some mathematical truths cannot be proved to be true, although they are true; they are beyond the reach of algorithms.

Dewdney speculates that human brains (“natural intelligence”) may be able to use “the infinite computer”, a thought-experiment invention of Dewdney’s. This also occurs in Hofstadter’s book “Goedel Escher Bach” in the form of the story about the Djinns. This involves an infinite regress of sub-routines (visualized as ever smaller computers-within-computers); the reason why this infinite sequence of computations can be executed in finite time is that, as the subroutines grow smaller, the time to execute them also grows smaller, and the series of computations down the scale of sizes and back up again converges to a finite limit. This would then constitute an important difference between the mode of thinking of a computer and a human mind.

The way I felt urged to express it, after reading it, was that human minds are REAL right down to the bottom level, while computers skim the surface, even though a fairly thick slice of the surface. It is a bit like statues representing the surface of the human body with great fidelity (in realistic sculpture), but lacking any of the interior structures which make the living body REAL. Again, by REAL I mean right to the bottom, to the smallest material structures conceivable. I seem to be alluding to some concept of degrees of reality.

Could it be (now comes a flight of fancy) that at the bottom of the infinite regress, human minds are attached, like the stem of a flower is attached to its root system, to another realm of reality? Just like the plot of tan x vs. x or of a hyperbola jumps from plus infinity to minus infinity, exhibiting to us finite observers a discontinuous curve, but perhaps being truly connected in some nether realm, so possibly the bodily realm of the brain is truly connected to a mental or spiritual realm quite beyond the body. The point of infinite regress could be like the juncture between universes sometimes encountered in science fiction. Descartes tried to solve the mind-body problem through parallelism, not very convincingly. This might be a better way to bridge the dualism, if there is any validity to it. Right now it’s just a bunch of metaphors.

Maybe the mystics can cross the bridge of infinite regress, and find that Atman is Brahman; they come from different universes, but meet at the junction like images merging into a hologram.

Through the bridge junction, we have access to the “collective unconscious” of all of humanity, past as well as present, as Jung has postulated. To return to the metaphor of the plant: our leaves and branches are in the material natural world, where we share the air, water and their nutrients with the rest of the creatures (THEIR leaves and branches, so to speak); and our roots are in the spiritual world, which we share as a common substrate with at least our fellow-humans, perhaps all living beings. We are thus doubly connected. We live in two spheres. In the material we exchange substances, both beneficial and noxious. (Many nitrogen molecules that passed through the lungs of Socrates and Jesus pass through our lungs.) In the spiritual sphere we share ideas, images, myths, archetypes. Why else would some images arouse such rich reverberations? Only because they resonate with the experience of thousands of human generations.

If we call the material sphere our exteriority and the spiritual sphere our interiority, we can postulate that other living beings (but not computers and other machines) possess these two aspects. How far down in the world of living creatures? All the way down, to diminishing and perhaps qualitative!)-different degrees. Even farther down (another flight of fancy) to stones and minerals and non-living things. (Machines may have interiority of the mineral kind, but not of the organismic kind. ) Yet we have no right to assume that human interiority is superior to that of a whale or a honeybee. Only different.

If even atoms, even electrons and quarks, have interiority (another flight of fancy), then mind is coextensive with matter throughout the universe. If higher forms (atoms from quarks and electrons. molecules from atoms, macromolecules from small molecules, cells from macromolecules, complex cells from simple cells, plants and animals from complex cells) come together through the synergy or cooperation of lower forms, then synergy or Love is a basic universal force which drives evolution, all the way down to the smallest units. Sometimes it acts physically through forces of attraction (any of the four fundamental forces which physicists recognize. i.e. gravitation, electro-magnetic, weak and strong). sometimes through the negentropic tendencies which Prigoginian open far-from-equilibrium systems have. One would think that consciousness is always present — all the way down — but becomes brighter and brighter in ascending the scale. The brighter levels would so obscure the less bright levels that the latter would seem to disappear when the former are present. as the rising sun seems to extinguish the stars at dawn, or as the waking consciousness erases dreams into gossamer shreds scarcely remembered. Synergy or love can be pursued deliberately (by purpose-oriented will) only at the higher levels; but the inchoate desire to cooperate, to come together. to love, is present throughout the universe, diffuse like the background radiation from the Big Bang.

REAL right down to the bottom, and suffused with the essence of love. How could it be otherwise. with a God of Love as its creator?


What is the difference between sleep-thought and waking-thought? Perhaps dream-thought is intermediate. since dreams occur during REM sleep which is less deep; so dream-thought could give us a clue to deep sleep thought.

Dream thought is less directed, more free, but more chaotic than waking thought. Therefore deep sleep thought might be still more chaotic and free: unobserved, unconscious, but active in the dim cavern of the night. Awakening wipes it out by shocking it with the dazzling light of consciousness.

Who has not felt a momentary twinge of regret at this loss, as the gossamer thread of night thought vanish into nothingness each morning? It is like a snowflake melting. Every snowflake is beautiful and unique — no two are ever alike, just as two human beings are never identical. But in the heat of the sun, each ordered, uniquely valuable snowflake melts into a shapeless liquid drop like any other. “Ice to ice, water to water” is like “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

Awakening is like dying to our night-time selves. We are all split personalities. our day self and our night self. It is like the story my mother used to read to me when I was a child about the young bride whose soul was in the willow tree outside her bedroom window each night. (Her husband was distressed by this. and cut down the willow; but as he did so, his sleeping bride gave a deep sigh and died.) While our day self and our night self can perhaps talk to each other in the depth of the mind-brain which we cannot plumb, they know very little about each other at the surface of our being where the sun shines. We consciously know only half of our being.

SOUL OF WILLOW. (From a folk tale.)

Her soul was in the willow tree
while she slept still each night.
Her husband longed to set her free
and get things set aright.
He tried each night to waken her,
but her body lay as dead,
for her soul was in the willow tree
while her body lay in bed.
In despair he cut down the tree
one dark and moonless night.
It sighed and died, and so did she,
was dead at dawn’s first light.
So then he came to understand
she truly was the willow.
Only when the tree did stand
would she wake on her pillow.
And so he lost his bonnie bride
by killing nature’s creature.
And so we humans with our pride
will undercut our future.
Unless we know, now and forever,
that Nature’s Soul is One.
We dare not sacred links thus sever.
Unity must be won.


The December 1987 issue of National Geographic had a long article on sleep. This morning when I was waking up, I had a strong impression, probably partly dream-like, that I understood sleep with deep insight. The impression faded with daylight, as it usually does, and it seems far less impressive now. In the light of day I can only call it a string of hypotheses. But I will try to correlate it with the stages of sleep as described in the National Geographic.

The diagram on page 796 of the National Geographic article shows the sleeper descending a staircase from wakefulness into stage 1 sleep where the alpha or beta waves of wakefulness get attenuated and visual images often appear in a semi-chaotic manner; to stage 2 sleep where jagged spikes and spindles start occurring in the EEG pattern; to stage 3 and 4 of deep dreamless sleep where slow delta waves of high amplitude appear in the EEG, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the brain is reduced to a minimum, and even thermo-regulation (sweating or shivering) is suspended. There then follows a rapid ascent to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, during which vivid dreams occur while muscles are disconnected from the brain, and EEG shows a pattern similar to wakefulness. This 2-hour cycle repeats 4 times in a normal night’s sleep.

My insight was that during the downward part of each cycle, the brain actually flirts with death. It is like Psyche, in the myth which I discuss in an essay in Section VIII, having to descend to the underworld to fetch Aphrodite’s magic ointment, but acting under strict rules of conduct to prevent herself being trapped there for ever. It is like dangling from a very long string over a deep precipice, and yet being still attached by that slender thread. Somehow it is necessary for the brain to carry out this dangerous exercise 4 times every night; why? Perhaps to re-link to the fact of the dizzy heights at which normal wakefulness operates, to fully realize our precarious state of being. Or, perhaps, even more fundamentally, to bring back something essential from the depth of non-existence in which we are rooted: that magic potion of Aphrodite. What could that potion be?

“Re-linking” is another term for “religion” (re-ligio). What we would bring up from the depth is our connection with God, the indwelling Holy Spirit, normally covered up by the noise of conscious wakeful activity. We need regular nourishment from this source, even if it remains unconscious. Mystics can make it conscious in a third state (neither wakefulness nor sleep) called meditation; but we all need it, mystics or not. Why Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love? Partly because God is Love, partly because sexuality and spirituality are related. That is why puritanical religion is so jealous of sex, that it should not divert attention and energy from divine worship. The connection between death and sex was noted in my essay on “Psyche’s Labours” and is well known. (pain and pleasure may even be carried by similar neurons and the same neuro-transmitters, the difference being only the placement of their receptors in the brain, and hence the mental interpretation.)

It has been noted that more deaths occur during early morning hours than at any other time of day. I noticed that when I wake up about 2 hours after going to sleep I feel cold and unwell, while waking up in the morning I feel warm and refreshed.

At the bottom of very deep sleep, the brain suddenly gets alarmed at the proximity of death, and starts its rapid ascent up the slender life-line, like a startled spider hurrying up to the home web. It is not clear whether the muscle paralysis of REM sleep is a carry-over from deep sleep or is peculiar only to REM sleep. In the latter case, it would be Nature’s benign protection against our hurting ourselves by moving about violently during vivid dreams; in the former case, perhaps the nearness to death includes the cessation of muscle function. The two explanations do not exclude each other, if indeed paralysis occurs in deep sleep.

The function of REM sleep is quite different from that of deep sleep. In this phase, we are digesting experiences lived through during the day, reworking them in symbolic manner, rearranging them, establishing connections, even solving problems. It is an activity like an office worker filing reports in alphabetical files and generally tidying up to clear the desk for next day’s incoming mail.

We can gain many insights by remembering and analyzing our dreams, but we have to catch them “on the fly” by writing them down immediately, preferably with eyes closed and in the dark (the writing is usually legible enough), before they dissolve into the nothingness where all lost information goes. We should not follow anyone’s scheme in analyzing our dreams; neither popular witchcraft nor Freud nor Jung. We should merely inquire (non-rationally and spontaneously) what the dream suggests to ME, the dreamer. Analysis should be almost like a continuation of the dream, one thing suggesting another by free association of ideas. And it should be done the morning after, while the traces are still fresh in the brain, tracks not covered by dust or snow.

Possibly in one of the next cycles of deep sleep in the same night, we do not visit the underworld, but visit the collective unconscious, to deposit there our day’s experiences into the common racial memory of humankind, the master file of the species. While bringing in our input, we may linger for a while as in a library, browse among the shelves where other people’s experiences are recorded, and use the facility’s computers to retrieve what we may need for the next day.

Why four such cycles per night? Perhaps there are two additional places to re-link to or visit, that I have not thought of yet. Or maybe we repeat the visits to the two places already mentioned. In any case, sleep is essential for the efficient performance of next day’s wakeful tasks. We can string along for a day or two without sleep, but not very well, and certainly not for longer than that. We need continual refreshment from our deep sources and connections. Just as our body needs food to maintain itself on a daily basis, so our mind needs spiritual food to maintain itself in top working condition.


According to recent information, sleep deprivation, even a shortening of sleep by 3 hours for one day, can result in a a lowering of the T-cell count of the immune system by as much as 50%. This gives rise to another insight into what may be occurring in the sleep state.

Possibly during daytime activities the brain is busy directing conscious thoughts, perceptions and actions. During sleep all this is suspended, and the brain has time and energy to fulfill the other part of its dual role: to send hormonal messages to other body organs to step up or modify particular physiological activities that had been put on a back-burner during the busy external work schedule of the daytime waking state. Norman Cousins has said that the brain is like a master gland, secreting more hormones than any other. The brain could be the director of the hormonal system, as well as of the nervous system; doing the latter mainly by day and the former predominantly by night.

There may be more involved than reinvigorating and resupplying the immune system, though this is obviously important. The last stages of digestive system function probably occur at night during sleep; many people naturally defecate in the morning, as part of a daily habit. Temperature regulation may be involved, with a low at about 3 a.m. (if we go to sleep about 11 p.m. or midnight), and a high at 6 or 7 a.m. on waking and rising, at least for us “morning people”. The “night people” have a different circadian temperature cycle. The mental performance cycle closely follows the temperature cycle.

These considerations imply that the nervous level is in close contact with the hormonal and immune level (see my essay on Levels of Being in Section IX), and in closer contact during sleep than during waking hours. It is only a guess — but perhaps sleep is required to get back in touch with our inner self after the other half-cycle of intense interaction with the surroundings. Thus sleep is a re-creation of ourselves, even a re-linking (a re-ligion).

Another insight is that different neuro-transmitters go into action during sleep than during wakefulness. During the day, the active neurotransmitters are the amines (epinephrine or adrenaline, dopamine, etc.); during the night the cholines take over (e.g. acetylcholine). The switch that induces sleep brings a whole alternative system of brain functioning into action; and the reverse happens on waking. Sleep paralysis (a horrendous state ofterror when we are awake but unable to move) signifies a state of contention between the amines and the cholines, a sort of a grinding of gears when we fail to engage the clutch.

Finally, it has been found that adenosine (a sugar-base combination) accumulates during wakeful activity, probably as a result of using up the energy-supply chemical ATP (adenosine triphosphate). During sleep, adenosine concentration decreases. So probably the brain’s energy stores are replenished.


In another essay (The Realm of the Mind), I described states of consciousness as a series of rooms. In other essays, I implied that the “brightness” of consciousness varies from one species to another. I have also ventured some guesses about what might be happening in sleep (in The Sleep World and More on Sleep). Now I would like to use a model of levels, to link up with my essay Levels of Being, which goes into purely organismic, physiological levels. I would contend that the levels of consciousness are continuous with the physiological levels.

Which model do I really believe? All of the above tentatively, and none of the above definitively. These are “essays”, i.e. attempts, not treatises.

The lowest levels of consciousness are, of course, unconscious, paradoxical though that sounds. The public should never have been surprised at Freud’s “discovery” of the unconscious — it should have always been obvious that many (a majority) of “mental” events (properly defined in the wider sense) are not readily or ordinarily accessible to introspection. The details of the contents of psychoanalytic theory were new, but not the concept of the existence of the unconscious.

Perhaps we should ascribe some parts of this unconscious level to the autonomic nervous system, which controls our breathing, heart beat, blood pressure (through vaso-constriction), hand sweating, digestion, the danger-alarm system, skin temperature, and a host of other phenomena, some of them used in lie detectors (showing that the autonomic and the voluntary nervous systems communicate with each other). These processes and reactions are not under voluntary control, except after strenuous bio-feedback training, and are automatic rather than conscious, except when we turn an especially powerful beam of attention on them.

The next level, also unconscious, is controlled by the spinal chord and the brain stem, i.e. the older parts of the central nervous system, the so-called “reptilian brain”. This includes various reflex arcs (like the knee jerk) that go only through the spinal chord, withdrawing one’s hand automatically from a hot stove, and trying to satisfy basic drives such as hunger, thirst, escape from too much cold or heat, and sex.

The third level is optionally or “facultatively” conscious. It occurs when we have very thoroughly learned, through repeated experience and learning, some (often quite complex) pattern of behaviour. For example, when driving a car, or riding a bicyle, we can mentally go on “automatic pilot” and devote our conscious thought to something else. (This is why we sometimes manage to do several things at once, though perhaps not with top-quality performance.) In driving this may be somewhat dangerous, yet every driver does it, deliberately or not. Normally, we do start paying conscious attention in situations of danger; but if we are too deeply into automatic operation, we may even fall asleep at the wheel, with disastrous consequences.

We, of course, walk automatically — that is an inborn pattern, hard-wired in the nervous system. Riding a bicycle or playing scales on the piano can become automatic in this sense after we have learned it. Playing solitaire card games with simple rules can become automatic and unconscious; I can go through it without thinking, and realize only in retrospect that I have “missed” the whole game, though playing it correctly by the rules.

Habit formation belongs to only a slightly higher category. We use the same or very similar routines in getting up in the morning and going to bed at night, as well as to some lesser extent in our daily waking life. There is a rhythm to our eating and working and socializing, though we try to vary it a bit to make it more interesting. But when it is totally disrupted, as sometimes happens during travel, we feel uncomfortable and it is a strain, because we are called upon to make too many fully conscious decisions. I am sure that is why we feel tired after travel, even if we have been passive passengers, with the bus driver or the air pilot doing all the work.

The next level up is the ordinary fully conscious level, where we (at least feel) we have the freedom to decide what to do. Free will may be real or an illusion, but it is at least a very powerful illusion. As someone said when asked “Do you believe you have free will?” “Of course I do, I have no choice.” In yet another essay (“Speculations on Free will”), I ventured some guesses on what the physical basis or real free will might be.

Here the voluntary nervous system, and specifically the newer parts of the brain, are fully in charge. We not only feel that we control the efferent function (muscle action), but can fully introspect and interpret the afferent physical signals from the sense organs — really pay attention to what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. We fully “take in” the experience, become “sensuous” in the non-sexual sense. Such full attention registers especially well in memory. On my recent visit to my native city, I was so “turned on” to the experience that the images keep coming back to me now at odd times, unbidden, when I am doing something quite unrelated. “Memories are made of this” (as the song goes), of things experienced with particular intensity.

I have no direct knowledge of higher consciousness, but it is reliably reported to exist. I picture it as being like coherent laser light in comparison to the ordinary out-of-phase light of consciousness — scattered and “bucking like a wild horse”, as someone said, in advising how to tame it during meditation. Sharpened vision (illumination or enlightenment) on the afferent side would match certain increased abilities on the efferent side, mainly a widening of the extent of freedom of the will, increasing the ability to influence events in the external world.

There may be possibilities beyond this, but that is scary. In the science fiction story “Childhood’s End&ddquo;, the author implies that the “total breakthrough” which he describes is facilitated by being under the direction and supervision of the devil. The new super-abilities include the overcoming of limitations of space and time, and the ability to overrule the operation of natural laws. It means that we stop being human and are transformed into some totally different beings.

I fervently hope that this last level does not exist.


This tale will be told in a meandering manner, inter-posing various side issues as they occur to me, in “stream of consciousness” style. Nevertheless, there will be a continuous thread that can be picked up from beginning to end.

Penrose says, in “Shadows of the Mind”, that voluntary movements and thoughts (“free will”) operate through quantum mechanisms; essentially through brain structures being able to sustain superposed states for a time rather than imme-diately flipping to one or the other. In terms of neurons, this means simultaneously firing and not-firing. This vio-lates a fundamental principle of logic, namely that a pro-position and its negation cannot be simultaneously both true; but such is the nature of quantum theory “weirdness”, as well as of “fuzzy logic”.

Penrose calculated that “the metabolic energy flux” (presumably in humans) would be sufficient to do this. (Why does it take energy? I don’t really know.)

Metabolic energy flux is different in different orga-nisms. I want to argue that, besides continuous gradations, there are also two sharp breaks (increases): one is from anaerobic to aerobic respiration, and the other is from exothermy (cold-blooded animals) to endo-thermy (warm-blooded animals).

Anaerobic metabolism occurs only in bacteria, i.e. pro-karyotes. (But all bacteria are not prokaryotes, some are aerobic, or the facultative in-betweens.) Archeobacteria and other early forms may metabolize methane or sulfur compounds (e.g. those at hydrothermal vents at spreading ridges on the ocean floor), but many use glycolysis: the breakdown of glu-cose to lactic or pyruvic acid, i.e. from 6-carbon to 3-carbon compounds. (This is sometimes called fermentation, and even a fungus like yeast — a eukaryote — may do it.) Glycolysis produces a relatively low energy flux, and so possibly bacteria and yeasts cannot maintain quantum super-position and cannot really “think”.

There was a tenfold (approximately) increase in the rate of energy production in the step-up to aerobic re-spiration, when the lactic or pyruvic acid (products of glycolysis) were further processed via the Krebs cycle right through to carbon dioxide and water. This could not happen until there was enough oxygen in the atmosphere. This oxygen came from photosynthesis; so until photosynthesis was inven-ted by some other prokaryotes (the cyanobacteria), aerobic respiuration, with its higher energy production rate, could not begin.

The Krebs cycle takes the 3-carbon compounds right to the 1-carbon stage (CO2). The hydrogen from its various stages is passed along by a “bucket brigade” of redox enzymes until it finally recombines with oxygen to form water. Hydrogen-oxygen recombination is a highly exothermic (energy producing) reaction, explosive under some condi-tions. However, in living cells it is done — oh, so gradually and delicately, so that it no longer resembles “burning”, although the final result is the same.

The redox cascade of enzymes reminds me of the series of downward locks on the Rideau Canal at both ends, in Ottawa beside the Chateau Laurier into the Ottawa river and at Kingston Mills into Lake Ontario; or the bigger ones on the Welland Canal from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. The series of locks substitutes for a waterfall, like the one on the Rideau River in Ottawa beside the City Hall, or even more spectacularly, Niagara Falls. Similarly, the redox enzyme cascade of aerobic respiration substitutes for rapid burn-ing, or more spectacularly, for a powerful explosion.

The 3C Krebs cycle is also an ingenious way to slow down the sloughing off of carbon dioxide and hydrogen in gradual stages rather than all at once. It is mediated (as is the redox cascade) by the ATP-ADP reaction (or similar ones with nucleotides other than adenosine — the “A” of ATP) which then stores the energy in its high-energy phosphate bonds for future use in muscle action — or “thinking”.

Although these metabolic slowdowns, so necessary to prevent the organism from “burning up”, decrease the rate of energy production (the flux or power), there might be almost enough to sustain Penrose’s quantum superposition mainte-nance.

It is amazing that these nucleotides (like adenosine and others, the purines and pyrimidines), are the same ones that constitute the “rungs” in the DNA and RNA “ladders”. Freeman Dyson in “Infinite in All Directions” points out the connection: DNA and RNA may have originated at the dawn of life from an “accidental” polymerization of these energy-storing units. The nucleotides, instead of storing energy, came to store information. A different function; or is it really so different, if energy and information are deeply connected? (See my essay The Three Essences.)

After this long digression, back to the original story. Aerobic respiration, with its tenfold speed in energy production, could not have come about until the arrival of photosynthesis, which provided the oxygen. But would this higher energy flux be sufficient for thought, free will, and consciousness? Perhaps, perhaps not. Penrose does not say, and I don’t know how he did the calculation for humans. There might be enough energy in these aerobic systems for some occasional, but not sustained, quantum superposition or tunnelling (an alternative quantum mechanism).

Even human consciousness, according to Dennett, is punctilistic, not continuous: like viewing a series of “stills” on a movie film and perceiving them as motion. (Could this somehow be the origin of our sense of time as an irreversible and unspeedable flow beyond our control?)

But let us proceed to the second upgrade in the rate of energy production, which occurred in the transition from exothermic animals (those whose temperature is the same as that of the environment and fluctuates with it, in daily night-and day terms and seasonal cycles) to endothermic animals (who maintain a constant body temperature consi-derably above that of the environment). This transition happened independently in birds and in mammals. (It is unknown in phyla other than vertebrates.) Birds and mammals can generally move faster than fishes, amphibians, and reptiles (though the status of dinosaurs is in dispute), and they are not so dependent on the weather or the ambient temperature in general, so that some (like owls) can be nocturnal. (Fishes can move relatively fast because of their rigid body shape and the properties of water as a medium; and snakes can slither and frogs can hop, because of func-tional peculiarities.) (Insects can move fast in spite of being exothermic, because of their small size and weight.)

Can birds and mammals also “think” better? They do take better care of their young, which takes some thinking. The mammalian brain is generally thought to be an upgrade from the reptilian brain. (In humans the cortex is an additional layer.)

Now let us look at the other four kingdoms of life besides animals, especially the plants. Plants have aerobic respiration, but of course no endothermy. They practice photosynthesis along with aerobic respiration, which in the overall result (but not in the detailed mechanism) is the opposite process; but in the presence of sunlight (by day), photosynthesis is faster than respiration.

Photosynthesis, while deriving most of the energy from sunlight, also requires some expenditure of metabolic energy for its “dark phase” of sugar synthesis. This would subtract somewhat from the aerobic metabolic energy flux, as would the plants’ other chemical syntheses of a prodigious variety of terpenes, alkaloids, and aromatics, many of them useful in human medicine, but some dangerous as poisons or habit-forming drugs. One might say that, while animals excel in locomotion, plants (and some fungi) specialize in chemical synthesis instead.

Plants sometimes have slow locomotion, like turning leaves toward the sun as it moves across the sky, or flowers closing up at night and opening at dawn. However, they usually don’t have fast locomotion (except for carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap), because they are attached to the soil by their roots. Some early marine animals, some still surviving today, are also sedentary or sessile: e.g. corals and sea anemones. Non-experts sometimes wonder why they are not classed as plants rather than animals. (The terms “anemone” and “sea Cucumber” reflect such doubts.) Similar, why are carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap not classed as animals?

These doubts in the popular mind show how deeply ingrained are our ideas about plants being sedentary and animals having fast locomotion. But biologists use different traits in their classifications.

In any case, plants have no muscles and no nervous systems. While the actin and myosin that compose muscles in animals exist within all cells (internal organelles such as microtubules and microfilaments are present in the cells of all five kingdoms of life, sometimes making cilia and flagella move in locomotion of bacteria and protists), in plants they do not form the macroscopic structures we know as muscles.

Excitability (irritability) exists in all kingdoms of life as well, but neurons as specific excitable structures exist only in animals.

Back to our main story. Warm-blooded animals (mammals and birds) presumably have enough metabolic power (defined as the rate of energy production per unit time) to use quantum superposition for a voluntary steering of events, usually called free will.

Free will is an important part of consciousness, but not all of it; there is also introspection and a sense of self and a sense of others as similar to oneself. Self-awareness apparently originated in the primates with some apes, like the chimpanzee and the orangutan (see article in Discover, November 1996, by Sarah Richardson, citing work by Daniel Povinelli), but awareness of others as oneself is peculiar to Homo sapiens, and can be seen as the basis of human ethical systems based on compassion. Language is probably important in our sense of others, as we experience communication of the “I — Thou” type, in the terminology of Martin Buber.

We are beginning to understand the physical basis of “degrees of consciousness” in different life forms. Although there are some sharp upgrades and changes in slope, there is a continuous line without breaks in the evolution of mind from matter. “Emergence” is a more apt concept at some points, but there is a smooth ascent nevertheless.


I do not deny consciousness to animals. Consciousness is a scale, not a dichotomy; analogue, not digital. That is, it is not either there or not there. It is half-true and half-false, like fuzzy logic. Throughout evolution, it has grown continuously in brightness; but “continuous” means that there are no breaks in the curve, not that the slope is constant. In fact, it has probably grown in spurts and plateaus, like so many other things.

The human type of consciousness lies along that continuous curve, but that does not mean that it is not a novel, emergent quality. It is an instance of quantity passing into quality, which is the essence of emergence. It is not the first spurt of growth in the brightness of consciousness among evolving life forms, but we know nothing about the earlier ones, though we can surmise that they have occurred. It would make sense that a mammal would be more aware than a worm, or a worm more than an amoeba, just to take some widely separated reference points.

A philosopher whose name I forgot postulates that consciousness began with human language, only about 100,000 years ago. Since I believe that consciousness is a very ancient property of all living things, I have to disagree; but I could accept the statement that human-type conscious-ness began with language at that fairly recent time. In the life of an individual, it begins at about age 3, just when language really ripens with a reasonably large vocabulary and the ability to construct sentences. Also, and perhaps significantly, most of us have no direct memories of the time before we were 3 years old. Some kind of maturation takes place at about that time.

With humanity as a whole (the genus Homo), this type of maturation may have occurred with the emergence of modern man, Homo sapiens, 100,000 years ago, which I am surmising coincided with the origin of language. (I don’t think that has been proved.) Perhaps Neanderthals did not have langua-ge, and that was the crucial difference. (That too is a guess.) Therefore, by analogy, the time 100,000 years ago was the time when our genus was about 3 years old, in terms of equivalence with a single human life span.

Just what was the long time of coexistence of Neander-thals and Sapiens like? Was there deliberate genocide of those who could not speak? Was there only the “structural violence” of competition for means of livelihood? Just why did Neanderthals become extinct? Why was there no inter-breeding, when perhaps it was possible? Or was it not possible? I have never seen or read or heard any answers to these questions.

The Whorf hypothesis (not fully accepted) states that thought is impossible without words. This is not true: thoughts form and ripen even in sleep to give full-blown solutions to problems in the morning that were posed the night before. And the mute right brain hemisphere thinks, though in different ways. But a certain type and quality of thought requires words; to that extent, Whorf is right. What type and quality? Lucid (aware and controllable like lucid dreams), conceptual (abstract), and communicable to other persons (inter-subjective).

The “awakening” to language and consciousness can be compared to everyday awakening from sleep. As morning dawns (unless we wake up to the shrill unnatural insistence of an alarm clock), images come, like colours, picture cards, random thoughts, quasi-dreams (but lucid ones, or evolving from such) — like visual music, pure patterns. But then meaning comes, and words, and thoughts and sentences — and we are awake, grateful to be alive. The same “border” patterns occur as we go to sleep at night.

The “dream-time” of Australian Aborigines may have been like that all their lives. They were among the first modern humans scattered from Africa to all corners of the world, according to Colin Renfrew (“World Linguistic Diversity”, Scientific American, Jan. 1994). They may have been at the edge of the transition to full language and consciousness — the Awakening from Dreamtime — still dimly remembered.

Is the human brain’s right hemisphere still in Dream-time, doing the other — more ancient — type of thinking? It is possible to survive with only this type of thinking, as the Australian Aborigines did. And since right-brain type of thinking CAN solve problems, as in sleep, it is certainly worth preserving. And it gives us continuity with the rest of Nature — our living cousins throughout creation.

However, Personhood should probably be defined in terms of the linguistic type of consciousness. Humanization in evolution then means primarily the attainment of personhood. One day, I expect, the corresponding structure in the brain will be found that corresponds to this transition. The Neanderthal brain was just as big as the Sapiens brain, but there may have been a structural difference. Brain SIZE is not all that matters. Quality, not quantity, counts; perhaps the same number of neurons, but different connectivity.

Women are supposed to be less “lateralized” than men; i.e. have less differentiation between left brain and right brain. This would give women more continuity between the different levels of consciousness, not such a sharp sepa-ration between the natural and the human. I will refrain from judging either mode as superior or inferior; it simply adds to the variey and richness of personhood.

Life is supposed to self-organize “at the edge between order and chaos” Just as dreamtime emerges at the edge between day and night. And at that beginning was The Word — human language. Just as, 4.5 billion years earlier, The Word that emerged was the first genetic code.


The following is my summary prepared after reading Dennett’s book “Consciousness Explained”.

It is a difficult book. and this is what I got out of it. My essay is fragmentary at best, and leaves out all of his wonderful experiments and thought-experiments, which are the most interesting parts of the book. After all, It is a 450-page book and these are only 27 points. Dennett would probably deny that I got it right, and in fact I know that I deviated from his conception starting at about Point 12. I think that he would accuse me of still falling into what he calls the false belief in the “Cartesian theatre”.

The comparisons to the “Single Negotiating Text” in U.N. conferences are my own.

  1. The brain is like a massively parallel computer.
  2. The components are “specialists” for operations that proved successful in evolution.
  3. But they can be recruited for tasks other than those for which they were originally “designed” (i.e. selected).
  4. They elaborate incoming sense data in parallel, according to their specialized talents, like a bunch of “demons” (not “bureaucrats”) [these are Dennett’s terms]. The whole assembly is called “Pandemonium” and is not hierarchically organized like a bureaucracy.
  5. This system is “on the edge of chaos” (Kauffman 1991) [this is my metaphor, not Dennett’s]. It works through shifting coalitions of various demons elaborating the data together, with rough rules, but no rigid pre-determined plan or program.
  6. The demon coalitions issue series of preliminary drafts of a growing text, like the working draft (“Single Negotiating Text”) prepared by the Chairman of the Law of the Sea Conference, or a Prep. Committee’s draft final paper for a U.N. Special Session on Disarmament, or the Rolling Text of the Chemical Weapons Convention. In all of these clauses or paragraphs that are not yet fully agreed on (by consensus) are put in square brackets, and the negotiation then consists of aiming to remove the square brackets, each in its turn. (In the brain’s case, to remove residual uncertainty in the interpretation of the incoming data.)
  7. The preliminary drafts are unconscious, or in the U.N. “unofficial”, sometimes called “non-papers” because they have no legal status — they have been neither adopted nor rejected — yet. They float in limbo, but some people can read them. So can some of the brain demons, but not “consciousness”, which is like “the public”.
  8. Constant revisions of the text are done, like editing an article in a computer. (This metaphor is Dennett’s.) Once amended, only the last version is “saved”; previous versions are totally erased. They might as well never have existed. They are eliminated either by “Orwellian” mechanisms (rewriting history, as in “1984”), or by “Stalinist” mechanisms (we make them confess in show trials that they were wrong). i.e. the erased versions are eliminated either before or after they are remembered.
  9. The brain also contains a serially operating computer, like a conventional IBM PC. Data and programs have to line up in a queue to go through it, so it’s slow, unlike the super-fast parallel processing.
  10. The outputs from the demons (partially edited bits of text) compete for priority to go through the serial (“von Neumann”) computer. There are certain rules of priority, but also some sheer dumb luck like survival in evolution.
  11. What goes through the von Neumann computer is close to a final text, but can still be edited, modified, corrected, even deleted, if the contributing “authors” (the demons) press the “editor”.
  12. Gradually, the text gets reinforced by the continued interaction with some of the demon coalitions. (Like lobbying at U.N. conference, or in national decision-making, for the matter. The NGOs as demons have more influence in the early stages, but can still influence the process sometimes in the later stages. The process is now into the full official conference stage, no longer the Prep. Committee.)
  13. When sufficiently “strong” (backed by the vocal public opinion), and “saved” in a more permanent type of memory, it can do a “self-referential loop” (a la Hofstadter) and sense itself as if it was part of the external world being perceived.
  14. It thus becomes “conscious”. The text is now “published” and can be distributed to other minds by speaking or writing or printing.
  15. It is also “saved” in long-term memory, reinforced by its verbal or written expression. Unless rehearsed in this public form, it can still be modified, so that what we “remember” may not be exactly “what really happened”.
  16. This is especially true with dreams, which continue to “evolve” even after I wake up and try to write them down. Then when I try to “interpret” the dream, it’s still like a continued elaboration of it in the wakeful state. In lucid dreams, we can elaborate (e.g. try different story endings experimentally) while still asleep, though aware that we are dreaming.
  17. The unconscious processing of texts by the demons goes on during sleep, though the texts are not about new sense data. This is why we can sometimes solve problems while asleep, and wake up with the solution that had eluded us before we fell asleep. (This is not in Dennett’s book, it is my own “elaboration”. True to the model, I cannot stop processing and interpreting.)
  18. The starting data may come from the cultural environment rather than the natural environment perceived by the senses. The socio-cultural input is in the form of “memes” (culturally transmitted ideas). The mind is full of memes, just like a cell is full of genes.
  19. The main point: sense data (and introspective data) are continually processed and elaborated, from the word “go”. We never observe “raw data” or anything close to it. Almost all is interpretation and elaboration, with the raw data as just a nucleus around which all this activity precipitates. In sense deprivation experiments, when the entry of raw data is excluded, the brain “manufactures” its initial nucleus in the form of hallucinations.
  20. So our interpretation of the external world is largely “confabulation”, but an evolutionarily useful one; so there must be some correspondence to “truth”, at least as a “translation”. Otherwise we would not have been able to adapt to the external world and would not have survived.
  21. Our interpretation of the internal world (our own consciousness — the only accessible part of the mind) is also largely confabulation, for the same reason — layers and layers of interpretation.
  22. This also applies to the present theory, so don’t fully believe it. (This is another instance of self-reference.) Dennett’s book itself is written in a style of continuing elaboration that eventually becomes irritating — he keeps giving us “amended texts” of his theory in the light of newly presented evidence in each chapter, without ever giving us the Final Text as a summary. It is like a “stream of unconsciousness”.
  23. Consciousness is not continuous, but “gappy”. We get only momentary .glimpses of our thought process, not a “stream of consciousness”.
  24. A “self’ is the centre of gravity of the narrative or story that we spin. Is it “real”? A centre of gravity can be deduced from the physical behaviour of an object, but it is not a “thing”, like what Dennett calls “a pearl of the mind” or a soul — which he denies. But then, he denies almost everything, including “qualia” or secondary qualities.
  25. A quale (plural qualia) refers to colours, musical sounds, textures of materials, fragrances — and the negatives of noise, putrid odours, etc. A colour like red is not simply a wavelength of light or the reflectance of a surface, it is a quality perceived as itself and not reducible to explanations. Dennett considers all qualia to be bundles of affective predispositions conditioned by evolution — e.g. “red” as a sign of danger and mobilization of the body to deal with it (we still have red traffic lights and -heaven help us — Red Alerts), blue and green as colours of tranquility and repose — sky, ocean, grass, forest.
  26. Another main point: All mental structures, like all bodily structures, are ultimately explainable by evolution.
  27. A self (see Point 24) is like the program that runs on the brain’s linear computer. In principle, it could be lifted off and stored on some kind of a super-diskette, and thus survive the death of the body i.e. “be saved”. (See the essay “The Importance of Being Saved” in Section IV.)

All this gave rise to further musings on my part. It seems that the brain has largely a network structure rather than a structure of patchwork quilt-like squares. The functional units (demons) are not localized — neurons might just as likely be linked to distant neurons as to close-by ones, as long as the current flows between them. Neurons are functionally related, not necessarily adjacent in space. Where have I encountered such structures before?

Well, for example, in networks of twinned cities around the world, where you might have a closer relationship with your distant twin city than with your neighbouring city down the river. Also in organizations which link individuals with similar interests around the world, such as stamp collectors or architects, no matter where they live — i.e. the 2500 non-governmental organizations. And also a card solitaire game that I like to play: you layout a shuffled deck of cards in 4 rows of 13 cards each, take out the aces, and then put into the spaces thus created the card one unit higher of the same suit as the one immediately to the left of the space. We have free choices as to which spaces to fill first, since there are 4 of them. The aim is to end up with the four suits arranged from the two to the king in each row. The chain of rearrangements does not go by rules of proximity, but by suit and number relationships. The structure is there from the beginning, but hidden to the myopic view. If we could really project long-range sequence patterns (like chess masters do), we would not have to play it out — the optimum results (for we have free choices as alternatives in most moves) would be immediately obvious: the structure would be out in the open, not hidden. But it is not a spatial/territorial, but a functional structure.

What matters in the brain is neither substance nor even three-dimensional spatial form, but four-dimensional PROCESS (including time as a dimension).


(After reading David J. Chalmers, “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience”, Scientific American, December 1995, pp. 80-86.)

Chalmers’ main point is that you cannot get at what consciousness is by studying neurophysiology or cognitive psychology. This may help unravel in more detail how the brain organizes information, but does nothing to solve “the hard problem” of how to get from brain phenomena to actual conscious experience.

There is an inner and outer reality: the inner is consciousness and the outer is the material world. Descartes considered them wholly different (res cogitans and res extensa), but this dualism will no longer do. We must look for bridges and strive for “the theory of everything”, as we do in physics of the four fundamental forces. (Though we have not yet achieved it there either.)

E.J. Schumacher postulated four forms of knowledge: of the external world (through science), of our own internal world (through introspection), of another person’s internal world (attainable through love), and of what another person’s knowledge of our own inner world is. (A kind of love squared or iterated. )

In exploring the inner world of our own consciousness, we cannot use the usual methods of science (experiment and observation), because no one but ourselves has access to our own consciousness and therefore no one can check or replicate our results or conclusions, or verify or falsify any laws or theories that we think we have discovered. However, we may be able to use other methods, such as making surveys of other people to compare their observations of their own consciousness with each other and with our own observations. The assumption involved is that every human’s consciousness is more or less the same, which mayor may not be true, but seems reasonable enough. Thus we relax the requirement of objectivity to the less demanding one inter-subjectivity.

Chalmers explores certain brain-mind links, which might bridge from the physical to the psychic world, such as the link to motor centres (leading to speech or action), where awareness may arise. (He distinguishes between awareness and consciousness.) Another bridge leads to the assignment of “meaning”, as in our ability to recognize faces. There is an image (mere information), and then: “aha! THAT’S what it MEANS!” (I.e. “I have seen it before” — the role of memory.)

I am especially interested in the generation of “meaning” from “mere information” (a string of bits or pixels or phonemes). I perceive a scheme in Chalmers’ article, somewhat like this: from sensation (mere information) to perception (interpretation and elaboration by higher brain centres) to awareness (action response) to consciousness (“text published” in Dennett’s sense) to experience to memory (the latter two establish the basis of meaning) to meaning itself (recognition next time the experience is repeated).

Another important concept in Chalmers’ article is one concerning the dual aspect of an “information state”: if the physical structure in terms of bits or pixels or phonemes corresponds to the experiential structure (what actions the awareness was linked to), then the “information content” is the same. It is like a translation of the “meaning” pattern from one medium to another, like transcribing from MSWord to Word Perfect. It is the pattern or structure that matters, not the medium. Marshal McLuhan was wrong in saying that “the medium is the message”. It is the structure that is the message. This also gives us some assurance that our image of external reality corresponds to our awareness of it — in its information structure, not in material reality.

I now feel ready to add “psycho-physics” (an exploration of the inner world of consciousness) to the “windmill model” of the evolution of knowledge. (See the essay “Unfinished Road to Truth”, in Section V.) It is the newest and still largely unexplored branch, from which much can be expected. Its raw material can be the branch of philosophy called “phenomenology”, Le. raw experience, just as the raw material of physics is motion, light, sound, heat, and electromagnetism. Not only the consciousness of wakeful states, but dreams and other altered states, could enter into phenomenology. I can hardly wait for the results of such exploration.

Exploring the phenomenology of the mind could be done, e.g. by conducting a Claremont dialogue: in a small group in a circle, each person expresses his or her own idea on some given subject, independently, not responding to what they heard from others. A person can pass if not ready to speak.

In evaluating this, the scientific observer would focus on how the different minds work (are there similarities and differences?), not on the conclusions arrived at (if any).

One could also use free associations, “hot cognitions” (Osgood’s semantic differential adjectives), or dreams. This comes close to psychoanalysis of healthy (not mentally disturbed) subjects. It should not be surprising that, in probing consciousness, we must also pay attention to the subconscious and the unconscious. After all, these are adjoining rooms, or even darkened parts of the same room, in our earlier metaphor. The unconscious is potentially conscious if the light beacon of attention should sweep that way.

However, Schumacher says that knowing another person’s mind can only be done through love, which I interpret as recognizing the other as “Thou”, not “It” (Buber). Unfortunately this is the opposite of scientific objectivity. Giving up repeatable objective observation may not be enough; even inter-subjectivity will have to go. Is the answer something close to mystical communion? After all, mystical experience is also experience, parallel to observation and experimentation, and may be more appropriate for exploring the inner realm of our mind and the minds of others. But is mysticism possible interpersonally? It is usually done alone and in isolation. Except in Quaker meeting…?


A recent piece by Erika Erdmann reminded me of the contradiction between two theories of mind: emergence according to Roger Sperry, and panpsychism according to Father Thomas Berry. I have dealt with that contradiction in the essay “The Realm of the Mind” in this Section, where I try to reconcile these 2 views plus 8 others. However, in that previous essay I sit on the fence too much, accepting 4 of the 12 theories, although I call some of them dualistic and some monistic. I should really be more decisive and less open-minded. Yet I am not yet ready to jump into a rigid position.

Emergence theory, which goes back to Henri Bergson and was used by Teilhard de Chardin, states that new entities emerge from combinations of simpler structures to more complex ones. The motto is “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” because of the added structural complexity. This notion links it to general systems theory. Examples of emergent properties are: protons and neutrons from quarks, nuclei from protons and neutrons, atoms from nuclei and electrons, molecules from atoms (most often quoted: liquid water from gaseous oxygen and hydrogen), macromolecules from simple molecules, living cells from macromolecules, eukaryotic cells from prokaryotic cells, multicellular organisms from living cells, societies of some animals of the same species, ecosystems from organisms of many different species. Continuing up the scale of complexity in this fashion, Roger Sperry, the discoverer of the difference between left and right brain hemispheres, postulated that the mind emerges as a new entity from the immense complexity of the brain. It seems plausible.

Panpsychism or “Radical Vitalism” (see essay in Section VIII) is the theory that mind or life is a separate essence co-eval with matter, and it dwells in all living beings, and even non-living items like rocks. The theory resembles pantheism, if we equate Mind with God. It also resembles ancient animistic religions, with their spirits of trees and lakes and rivers. The ancient religions gave the nature spirits powers higher than human powers, and so they had to be propitiated by prayers, rituals and sacrifices. In the modern adaptation, the “spirits” dwelling in non-living entities would be considered to have very low powers, the powers being augmented with the initiation of life and on up the evolutionary scale of increasing complexity. Thus the spirits in the modern alternative theory would have only subhuman powers, though they could have large effects collectively because they are so numerous. The mental power (or brightness of consciousness) increases gradually from bacteria to mammals and birds. (Most humans assume that they have the highest degree, with some concession to whales and dolphins.) Father Thomas Berry propounds panpsychism. He is a nature mystic, and calls himself a “geologian”, though trained in theology.

How should the contradiction between Sperry and Berry, between emergence of mind as a new entity, and mind as co-eval with matter, be bridged? One clue may be in one of the other 12 theories of mind proposed in “The Realms of the Mind” (in this Section): it considers Matter and Mind as two sides of the same coin, one external and the other internal; one to be studied by normal science, the other by introspection. This view is valuable, because it overcomes the dualism inherent in both emergence and panpsychism. Items such as stones, crystals, living cells, and organisms could have the “mind” side of their coin more or less feebly or strongly printed or minted, somewhat smudged in the early states, crisp and sharp in later stages.

In sum then, the mind would coexist with matter from the beginning, but be gradually reinforced as evolution proceeded, perhaps in separate development stages experienced as (gradual) emergence. We would then have gradual (but orthogonal, goal-oriented) emergence instead of the single-stage sudden emergence at a critical degree of complexity, as in emergence theory. (See also “Evolution of Mind” in this Section.)

The key to the reconciliation of Sperry and Berry lies in three principles, as explained above: (1) the concept of two sides of a single coin, abolishing dualism; (2) the concept of degrees of mind or consciousness, increasing with complexity up the evolutionary scale, and (3) gradualness replacing sudden emergence, in the staircase patterns of “Rise and Run”, as explained in the essay in Section X.

Yet again, it is the Great Wrap-around. When the Spirit, The Fool of the Tarot cards (see the essay “Passages” in Section XI) jumps off the cliff from the Guv of unborn souls into Matter, he jumps from clarity and brightness into the barely felt consciousness of an infant. Yet the passage through Matter reinforces the Spirit through Experience, so that it is renewed and strengthened. It is also individualized from the undifferentiated continuum of Guv.

I wonder if the process involved is something like the enfoldment and unfoldment proposed by Bohm (See “From Bohr to Bohm” in Section III) for matter particles-waves. Mind (soul-stuff — but undifferentiated like the sea, not individualized like water droplets) jumps into Matter like a Fool, thereby depriving itself voluntarily of most of its powers until it dwindles to almost Zero (the Fool’s number in Tarot). Its powers then re-emerge, through the process of maturation (at the individual level) or evolution (at the Life on Earth level). It is not yet at its brightest in either whales or humans; but highly evolved, rare humans (the Saints and the Avatars and the Buddhas) can plug into the universal inexhaustible power grid of or beyond the Universe, and complete the cycle from Zero to One.


Joni Mitchell in her song “Clouds” sings that she has “seen the clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow it’s clouds’ illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all”. And she has the same feelings about love and about life.

According to Sperry (see previous essay), the mind is an emergent entity arising from a holistic integration of brain function and structure. An emergent entity is a new thing in the universe, something that never existed before, that which makes a whole or a system more than the sum of its parts, and that is in a sense “higher” than the component parts and can exert causal effects on them.

According to Paul Devereux, the mind is not a brain product at all, either emergent (higher) or epiphenomenal (coincidental and irrelevant). The mind is “outside the skull”, using the brain as an instrument (television screen cum interactive computer) to perceive the world through the senses and then to act on the world through the muscles. It is God’s peephole on the world, and thus “atman is brahman”, our consciousness is that small fragment of the Godhead which is using our particular bodily apparatus for its own purposes, unless we obstruct it through sin or ignorance.

Both these views are attractive and plausible, but not the same, nor at first glance compatible. There is no empirical evidence for either, so this cannot be the basis for choosing between them. Yet maybe complementarity operates, as part of the “Ultimate Wrap-around” of which I spoke elsewhere.

What if the brain (ie. the body) created the mind by creating a system of sufficient complexity to give rise to an emergent entity, as Sperry would have it, and then in turn many minds merged (or will merge in non-temporal eternity) into Teilhard’s Omega Point which is the Godhead, and this Supermind in turn creates the bodily apparatuses through which it can act on the world through multiple channels?

“I’ve seen the mind from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s mind’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know Mind at all.”


(Comment on book by Joseph Chilton Pearce.)

Pearce claims that we can influence reality through our imagination. As infants we do not clearly differentiate reality and phantasy, and engage in what he calls “autistic thinking” — drawing on our inner sources only, not comparing our thoughts with those of other people, to attain “objectivity”. But as the child is socialized, he/she becomes immersed in the on-going common culture and starts thinking “rationally” and “objectively” like everyone else. Creative imagination dies. But different cultures have different “realities”, and none is any more “true” than another.

Each of us simply learns to select from the vast amount of information impinging on our senses from “out there” and focuses attention only on what we want to see or hear, or what our elders and our culture tell us we should select because it is “true”. What we select does obey certain physical laws; it is not wildly arbitrary. Later we discover (or invent?) these laws. However, the whole thought structure that emerges is not the only way to do it. An Australian Aborigine, for example, does it differently, takes another “cut” of the super-rich reality that is out there. We cannot take it ALL in, or we would be overwhelmed and unable to navigate in this richness, to find our ways of survival. All the “cuts” (selections), whether cultural or individual, obey natural laws peculiar to themselves, but they differ from each other. Each cut is an internally consistent system, but the different cuts are not always reconcilable with each other.

From our own cultural perspective, we might consider some of them “supernatural”, because they are not like the “natural” laws we have discovered in our own cut of reality. Examples are fire-walking and flying like a crow. But the alternative realities are not devoid of laws; each has a structure of its own. We can learn to think in some of the alternative realities by following a native person skilled in the method, or an Eastern mystic, or paying attention to dreams, or exercising certain disciplines, or regressing to childhood or beyond (to previous lives), or submitting to hypnotism. But long training is necessary, or we might lose our way and lose our sense of ego. Drugs may help, but are not essential and could be dangerous.

How does Pearce’s philosophy fit in with other theo-ries? Quite well in some cases, as shown below.

  1. Dennett (“Consciousness Explained” tells us that the brain operates as a “pandemonium”, not as a centralized system. There are many independent (but communicating) sub-systems or “demons”, each trying to convey its findings or message and competing for the attention of the central processing unit (though sometimes he argues that a CPU does not really exist). The demons compose a sort of a “provisional text”, which keeps getting modified or re-edited, until it is finally “published” or “made official” by becoming conscious. Such a brain system could easily switch between alternative realities, depending on which demon or set of demons is dominant. The dominant demons have a smooth path to the top (Hebbian junctions?), but with an effort one could switch to others. Thus different realities could be pulled out of the “universal plenum” and made dominant. The issue is: do all these “realities” pre-exist in the plenum and are only selectively focused on by our mind, or does our mind actually CREATE different realities “out there” that did not exist before? There is no definite answer possible. Perhaps our mind (imagination) can precipitate rearrangements of elemental structures out there into alternative patterns, some of them entirely new.
  2. Here David Bohm’s theories (cited in a different context by Pearce) may help. Bohm’s image of unfoldment and enfoldment presents observable reality as unfolding from an underlying “implicate order” and then being enfolded back into it. Perhaps our mental effort could influence the unfolding of a different part of the implicate order. (Pearce cites different parts of Bohm’s theories, not this one.)
  3. Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” presents human perception as having mainly a gate-keeping function, to select from the vast stream of information entering our sense organs only a small part, to keep the rest from over-whelming the brain. What is selected and preserved for the brain’s attention and subsequent action is only what has proved useful for survival. (This is simply a part of the usual Darwinian tautology: what exists is what has survived, so it must have been useful.) But since humans also possess curiosity regarding “what is really out there”, they have developed science and other knowledge-producing systems. Yet the brain is not by its nature capable of guaranteeing the truth-value (correspondence with reality) of the systems we have developed in science. All of it concerns only our “cut” or perception of reality.
    Aldous Huxley also presumes that drugs such as LSD or peyote can open wider “the doors of perception”, capturing some of the information that is normally discarded. This also happens naturally in the pathological condition known as schizophrenia. This may or may not present us with a new or different reality; it may if it is properly managed or preceded by long training. However, usually it only confuses us with the information overload and prevents us from func-tioning effectively in the practical world.
  4. Jung’s “collective unconscious” is a kind of a memory storage of the past and present mental experiences of humankind, and, perhaps more dimly, pre-human as well. We might gain conscious access to this memory storage by focusing our mind in certain specific ways, and thus get a glimpse (or more) of the Aborigenes’ “Dreamtime”, for example, and its telepathic capabilities. My own presentation of the mental landscape as a room with a central floodlight of consciousness and doors going off to various other rooms might fulfill a similar function. The image here would presumably be switching the floodlight to illuminate other parts of the room or its doors and adjoining rooms. All we have to do (difficult as it is) is to find the switch that moves that floodlight.
  5. Immanuel Kant told us that we can never know “things in themselves” (granted), but have to fit our perceptions into unavoidable mental categories. These categories might come close to Huxley’s information filters. But perhaps these categories or filters are not necessarily the same for all individuals or cultures. What is unavoidable is their existence, but not their nature. That would then fit in with Pearce’s conjecture. On the other hand, Plato’s “ideas”, eternally “out there” in perfect form, would probably not fit in with Pearce’s alternative realities, which seem very relative and changeable.
  6. The hypnagogic state just before going to sleep fits here, as do lucid dreams. These may be almost the same, i.e. transitions between wakefulness and sleep, proceeding in opposite directions. Poetically I am reminded of the song-poem “Clouds” which proclaims “I’ve seen clouds (or love, or life) from both sides now, from up and down, and yet somehow, it’s life’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know life at all.”
  7. In the short story “The Dark Land” by C.L. Moore, there was a magic landscape, such that the main character, Jirel, just by looking hard at the distant mountains, found herself to be there. Space seemed to be a mental illusion, as well as the landscape. It later turned out that it was an illusion. But alternatively, is our usual conception of space an illusion, and Jirel’s an alternative reality? (Kant considered space to be one of the categories through which our mind filters reality.)
  8. To the Hindu, the world is “Maia” (usually translated as “illusion”, though that may not capture the full meaning); but there is a hard unchanging reality (the ground of all being) behind it. Mystics can break through to the ultimate reality. The difference between the Hindu and Pearce’s conceptions is that for the Hindu there is an absolute ultimate reality, while for Pearce there are only relative, alternative realities which are all just arbitrary selections from an inaccessible plenum. However, both regard our commonsense reality as merely partial or illusory. We are also again reminded of Bohm’s “implicate order” as being perhaps equivalent to the Hindu ultimate reality.
  9. Peter Gzowski on his CBC radio program “Morningside” once interviewed an autistic woman named Donna. Special arrangements had to be made to communicate with her, because she could not understand spoken words (this is the basic defect in autism, apparently). She had also written a book describing the autistic condition. Her interview revealed her as having a radically different mind, though bright and intelligent — but totally different. She was articulate, but what she was articulating was an alternative mental landscape. (Note that Pearce uses the term “autistic” about the child’s mind.)
  10. Typically, Leonard Cohen sings, on his tape “The Future”, in a song called “The Anthem”: “There is a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in”. Perhaps that also applies to “The Crack in the Cosmic Egg” by Pearce. I hope it may enlighten us.


The criterion of being “true or false” can be applied only to facts, not values. (Of course, truth itself IS a value.) More precisely, this criterion applies to PROPOSITIONS about facts, i.e. whole sentences or statements, such as “This table has a green top” or “The Sun is one of the stars in the Milky Way” or “The Moon is made of green cheese.” Some of these sample propositions are true and some are false, but the criterion “true or false” can be applied to all of them.

The facts can be of three kinds:

  1. Straightforward direct observations, such as “This table has a green top.” or “I feel sad today.”
  2. Natural laws formulated by the method of induction by empirical methods (observation or experiment), based on observables in the external world, perceived and interpreted by the senses or by measuring instruments. This is the way of science, and the truth claim of its laws or propositions can never be proved with absolute certainty, but can come close to it. In any case, the claim to be true or false can be made.
  3. Theorems of mathematics, geometry, and logic, the product of pure reason, elaborated by methods of deduction. The whole edifice has to be based on a few (as few as possible) axioms which are taken as self-evident and whose truth is never questioned. However, some axioms have been ques-tioned: e.g. the one stating that “parallel lines never meet”, and this has been the basis of non-Euclidian (Riemann) geometry. Also, Goedel proved that some mathematical statements can never be proved and therefore are not theorems, but are nevertheless true.

The criterion of “true or false” also applies to eve-ryday behaviour of lying or telling the truth, and we can then speak of a person’s “truthful character” if they habitually tell the truth. Aldous Huxley in “The Perennial Philosophy” also speaks of “devoting oneself in truth to the pursuit of one’s vision”, meaning “earnestly” and “seriously”; and also of “God being the Truth”, i.e. the supreme reality. But ordinarily, truth just means correspondence with reality, not Reality itself.

In ethical theory, both “good and evil” (applied to ends) and “right and wrong” (applied to means) cannot be said to be “true or false”. The criterion is validity rather than truth. What “validity” means in detail differs according to one’s moral philosophy, while there is no such ambivalence in the truth criterion as applied to factual propositions.

To take one particular moral philosophy as an example (it happens to be my own), an action would be ethically valid if it contributed to general welfare (the greatest happiness of the greatest number) in a long-range time perspective (i.e. including those not yet born) without sacrificing the present or future happiness of any minority. Readers will recognize this as universalized and “eternalized” utilitarianism modified by a human rights perspective. It could be further modified by suitably discounted inclusion of non-human life forms.

I emphasize, however, that there are other prominent moral perspectives, e.g. transcendental (Kant takes the “categorical imperative” to be an axiom) and deontological (emphasizing that means and motives have to be morally valid, not consequences). Nevertheless, I argue that “validity” is a proper criterion for moral values, though not unambiguously defined. I reject complete moral relativism. No society could survive without outlawing murder, stealing, and consistent lying and promise-breaking. The whole basic trust on which society rests would vanish. Perhaps this is the ultimate test of validity: could society survive without the rules whose validity is to be established? If not, then these are the true transcultural universals. The other moral rules would then vary, being relative to particular societies. (E.g. sexual mores.)

The rules (even the universal ones) can, and are, broken occasionally by some people, and this can be tolerated up to a point, but they cannot be broken consistently by everybody all the time, though the limits have not yet been defined. In particular, the rules have to be at least formulated to establish the basic social contract and make life together (suzivot or peaceful coexistence) possible.

We see that while “truth” can be rather simply conceptualized, “goodness” requires much more discussion and there is more ambiguity. I feel that “beauty” (aesthetic value) is even more difficult to define, and may in fact be totally relativistic (“in the eyes of the beholder”). Nevertheless, let us try.

Three criteria of beauty may be attempted (there could be more): (1) Balance of harmony and dissonance, with harmo-ny predominating. (2) Expression of non-linguistic meta-meaning. (3) Reflecting undivided wholes. — These are obviously more complicated than “truth” or “validity”. They are discussed below.

(1) Harmony is closely linked with recognition of pattern, i.e. non-random, yet complex, spatial or temporal sequences. Harmony is important in all art, not only music where the term is most often used; but harmony of colour and shape is also important in visual arts. As well as in human-made art, harmony plays a role in the beauty of nature. But what do we mean by “harmony”? In general, the quality of things going well together, like the major chord in music which everyone finds pleasing, like the shape of a Greek or Chinese vase, like the colous of a painting of flowers, or of real flowers in a meadow, or a rainbow or the blue sky over a calm lake, or a sunset. I find myself forced to give examples, because the phrase “things going well together” does not convey very much, and yet everyone can probably understand it.

Yet harmony alone is not enough; pleasantness by itself would be too cloyingly sweet, like sugar icing that we soon discard. Harmony must be contrasted with some dissonance, chords must go with some discord. We like spicy foods as well as sweets. We vibrate to stories that are “bitter-sweet”, foods that are “sweet and sour”. Modern (serious) music has probably overdone dissonance (this may be a sign of our turbulent times), yet some discord is needed. This is analogous to some pain and sorrow accompanying the pleasure and sweetness of life. Without this contrast, we would not fully appreciate the bliss. A painting needs some shadows amid the colours, a story needs tears as well as smiles.

Just how much shadow or discord is needed, it is difficult to specify — it differs from case to case. Probably sweet harmony should predominate, but the proportions cannot be rigidly specified. There should be something like “resolution” at the end of a piece of music, i.e. a chord that resolves the preceding tension that was present. And we like stories with happy endings, and detective or mystery stories where the culprit is found or everything is explained — all the clues come together.

(2) “Non-linguistic meta-meaning” is very difficult to specify. In linguistic meaning, the word “table” signifies a certain physical object, and the word “idea” means a more abstract concept; while verbs, adjectives, and adverbs have their own specific referents. Still, we can deal with words, even those that signify abstract concepts or qualities, with sufficient clarity, usually. In music, there are sometimes story plots being illustrated, as in operas and ballets, or feelings and emotions in music of the Romantic period. But in austere classical music, e.g. J.S. Bach, the interplays of tones are themselves an independent thought structure that does not correspond to any words of a language, or exactly to emotions either. It is a pure pattern, again mostly pleasant, but with some harsh edges to it.

The “meaning” is in the sequence of tones in melody, in their superposition in chords, in the timing of rhythm where syncopation may introduce a surprise which counteracts the sweetness, and in elaborate structures of counterpoint, sometimes more than two-part. It is the same as the beauty of pure mathematics, as has been often noted. This is why Hofstadter compares Bach to Goedel (music to mathematics), and both again to Escher (painting), all illustrating certain structures of meta-meaning, such as self-similarity and self-reference.

Why call it “meta-meaning”? It is because it is more abstract, more conceptual, than the meaning of “table”, which is rather straightforward. Language usually refers to concrete objects, though of course it can also refer to concepts and mental states. However, the patterns of music, the visual arts, and nature are beyond language, representing pure patterns as such, without having to name them. This may be more primitive than language (and therefore attainable by non-human life forms) and also more basic. Music, for example, has many features in common with life itself: melody with 1/f (fractal) intervals (not too random and not too monotonous), harmony with small whole numbers in vibration ratios, rhythm with the timing of the heartbeat and breathing cycles. (This is further developed in another essay, “Music and Life”.)

(3) Recognition of undivided wholes (each whole more than the sum of its parts) is also important to the sense of beauty, in art and in nature. An undivided whole is one which has so many interconnections between its parts that it is “non-decomposable”, i.e. if you try to analyze it by examining the parts separately, you lose it. An example would be dissecting a butterfly or a frog — it is dead by the time you finish, yet its life was its main attribute before you began. This does not mean that you should not analyze a symphony or a painting or sculpture or a poem — you may get to understand the details better and appreciate it more by doing so — but then you should remember to play the symphony as a whole or to view the painting from a distance to recover the meta-meaning as a whole, an undivided whole.

Here again is a connection of art with living nature. Each living organism is a prime example of an undivided whole, as already noted for the butterfly and the frog; cutting it up kills it. As someone remarked, biology is supposed to be the science of living things, yet we usually study it by analyzing dead things. Reductionist science can help understanding, but the synthetic holistic view must follow to gain full understanding, “from a bird’s eye view”, so to speak.

In a branch of mathematics called graph theory, which is about networks and not graphs, there is a property called “connectivity”. Imagine a regular hexagon in a plane. As it is, it is not completely connected, for we have only the lines around the circumference, each vertex (node) having two lines (links) emanating from it to neighbouring nodes. But if we then also draw all the possible diagonals, each node will have five links going from it. Six times five is 30, but each link has been counted twice, so we have 15 possible links, when before we had only 6. In larger polygons (say with n sides), the number of extra links we get when we go to complete connectivity rises very rapidly with increasing n. It is of course impossible to cut up the n-sided polygon into its parts without destroying some of the links. The n-polygon is a simple example of non-decomposability.

Besides connectivity, art can also represent such other forms and patterns as fractals (e.g. the Koch snowflake or the Mandelbrot set), infinite regress (like mirror images within mirror images ad infinitum), and gradual transitions between black birds and white birds (as in Escher’s paintings) or between missiles and doves (in some peace movement posters). We do get a sense of beauty from all of these and others, because they are non-decomposable wholes, just as we are.

The sense of beauty (aesthetic value) comes from a resonance of recognition between our own nature and the “thing of beauty” which is “a joy forever” (Keats). This applies to all three aspects which we have discussed: the pattern of harmony edged with disharmony, the non-linguistic meta-meaning, and the perception of undivided wholes.


Music is more than a symbol of life, it is life’s vivid expression. a re-presentation of life’s essential spatial patterns and temporal movements.

A symbol could be anything associated, arbitrarily or by convention. with the thing symbolized. A written letter of the alphabet is a symbol of the spoken phoneme; a word like “table” is a symbol of a hard object in the real world. Sometimes a symbol picks up on a real aspect of the thing symbolized. like the cross (on which Jesus died) symbolizing Christianity, or the condensed semaphore sign for “CND” symbolizing the peace movement (by expansion of meaning from “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament”.

What do I mean by saying that music has an even more intimate relationship with life than the cross does with Christianity? I will try to explain. or rather, illustrate.

I will take the three basic aspects of music: rhythm, melody, and harmony (chord). Other aspects could be added, such as low-and-high loudness (“piano-forte”), tempo (e.g. andante, allegro etc.), counterpoint, and syncopation. but this might push the analogy too far — though it might be worth considering.

Rhythm is, of course, omni-present in nature, even non-living nature. (See my essay on cycles in Section X, where it is shown that these natural rhythms cover a vast range of repeating every hundred million years to every few seconds.) In living organisms, the heart-beat of the higher animals is a rhythm that is of about the same time frequency as the rhythm of music; and the breathing rate is not too much slower. Carmen’s song about “the rhythm of a drum” leads her to conclude, ecstatically, that “there is but one heart in all the world”. There is a basic rhythm, as well as a crescendo of repeated phases, in Ravel’s Bolero, reflecting the rhythms of sexual intercourse. (Most people recognize this in this piece of music, though it is not often mentioned, perhaps because it is so obvious.)

Even in biochemical processes of which we are not directly aware, unless we are active in that branch of science, there are rhythms such as the Krebs cycle of cellular energy production in mitochondria from fragments of sugars; or the “cell cycle” of mitosis and cell division with intervening growth. I often “visualize” (what is the equivalent word for the sense of hearing rather than seeing?) on-going cell life as a musical symphony, where each transformation or enzyme (seen as musical instrument) comes in at its proper time and place, under the direction of hormones acting as the conductor’s baton, and reading the score from the DNA genetic code. This metaphor probably captures the essence of the process (though not the details) better than a flowsheet of chemical formulas on a piece of paper.

Melody is a sequence of tones (sound frequencies), which is most pleasant to the ear (“beautiful”) if it avoids the extremes of either gyrating too wildly from high to low, or staying too near the initial tone throughout. The first has been called “white music”; because tone selection is purely random (governed by chance) for each tone and not dependent at all on the previous tone, as if each tone were chosen by a separate toss of the dice. (This is “white” by analogy with colours in the visual system; if a sequence of colours of the spectrum consists of randomly chosen frequencies within the visible range, the result over a long enough sequence, if the lights are mixed, will be white.) The second extreme, in which each subsequent tone is closely linked to the preceding one (the rule could be, only one tone up and down in the major scale), is called “brown music”, by analogy with the Brownian motion of small suspended particles as seen under the microscope, where particle speeds and directions change only very gradually as a result of molecular collisions.

The most pleasing melodies tend to be “beige” or “golden”, a golden mean between white and brown. This is called 1/f music (f= fractal). (perhaps it is literally “the Golden Mean”, 0.618 as between 0 and 1, as derived from the Fibonacci series.) In an analogous fashion, life steers its course between the extremes of frenetic hyper-activity (which would bum it up in a “white heat”) and catatonic stagnation (being stuck in “brown mud”). (See my essay on The Goldilocks Effect in Section VIII.)

Harmony in a musical chord occurs when the simultaneously sounded tones have frequencies which are in ratios of small whole numbers, such as ½ or 2/3, as in simple chemical compounds. This means either an octave (which we perceive as an identity at two different levels), or “do-sol” or the major chord “do-mi-sol”. However, an occasional dissonance is needed to add spice to an otherwise overly sweet diet, and poignancy to an overly serene mood; but the dissonance/poignancy needs to be “resolved” in the final chord, signifying a happy conclusion, an achievement of life’s goal.

Just as dissonance adds spice to harmony, so pain is a counterpoint to joy in earthly life. For how could we get the joyful perception of a final resolution in the last chord if all the previous chords had been harmonious? There would be no story to tell, no heroism, no significance.

Small whole numbers are satisfying in chords, as well as in simple life-giving molecules like H20 and C02 — and also in short pithy words like “love” and “life”. But we also need the (hopefully temporary) shocks of twinges and pangs to warn us of danger, as we need molecules with less clear atomic ratios as in proteins and nucleic acids, and even the Chaos of no clear ratios at all, as in inter-metallic compounds.

As well, as we know, pure cooperation does not exist in human societies, which also need conflict in order to evolve; just as organisms need a pinch of chaos along with a lot of order, so that they can avoid getting stuck in ossified over-adaptation to only a single niche.

And so, all together now: rhythm, melody, harmony — join together in the supreme Ode to Joy, to celebrate the miracle of life.


They call it the flicker,
music neither white nor brown;
not quite free and not quite tied — melodies of great renown.

Flicker is the alpha rhythm
that my resting brain does sing;
like the clock of a computer,
it lends Time its buzz and ring.

Like my beating heart, its beat
slowed down to a measured pace,
it sets my Arrow of Time pointing
toward the future I must face.

Flicker up or flicker down;
hopes and fears play on the screen.
Flicker on, you fickle light,
travel on to sights unseen.

Head and heart in right atunement
may give hope a brand-new start.
Rhyme in reason, rhythm in feeling,
loving, wise, devout and smart.


An electromagnetic field is a space in which charges or magnets would move in certain directions at certain speeds if they were present. (Different directions and speeds at different points of the field.) A gravitational field is the same, with mass particles instead of charges or magnets.

A psychic field would then be a space in which minds would move in certain directions at certain speeds if they were present. A passion field can move a human or an animal, e.g. to an orgasm, or to an outburst of fury, or to a panic of fear, a whatever. (These powerful currents may even use the same nerve pathways.) The forces felt in the field are very real and strong, but with an effort they can be resisted.

A field is a “map” of (virtual?) forces that can act only if their proper object is present; otherwise they remain potential rather than active. But is “potential” real or virtual? Potential energy at the end of a pendulum swing (where the velocity is momentarily zero) is just as real as the kinetic energy at the bottom (where the velocity is at a maximum).

A field is something very physical, yet not material. Materialism is really quite inappropriate even in classical physics.


Parallels can be drawn between the symmetry breaking at the dawn of the Universe (the first few nano-seconds), when the unified force field gradually broke up into the four forces of nature, and the Kabbalistic doctrine about the Godhead (En sof) giving rise to the Emanations or Parzufs. The analogy does not quite hold: there are four forces and ten Parzufs (by some accounts). However, in the creation of other Universes, the Unified Field (En Sof) could have broken up in other ways, making up quite different forces and laws of nature. Our Universe is not necessarily unique; it may just be the only one (or one of a few) in which we humans can exist. So, by the anthropic principle, we need not be surprised at the fine-tuning to permit our existence. There is also the fact that string theory as a Theory of Everything (TOE) requires ten dimensions, 3 of space, 1 of time, and 6 curled up.

The cosmic symmetry-breaking was a series of sequential bifurcations, as the forces broke off one by one. (The term “bifurcation” is used later in Prigoginian theory and catastrophe theory). Gravitational force broke off first and more fundamentally; gravitation or general relativity theory haves not yet been reconciled with the unification theory for the other 3 forces, called GUT or Grand Unification Theory.

Therefore, I identify this bifurcation with En Sof’s creation of El Kether, the One symbolized by a hair from En Sof’s forelock — a poetic image only, but indicating the great distance between these two faces of deity. El Kether is more like the common conception of God (still genderless spirit, both Father and Mother), while En Sof is totally incomprehensible to the human intellect. I tend to think of En Sof as an ocean of light (again only a metaphor), the way the Prince of Darkness in the story “The Dark Land” by C.S. Moore (in the collection “The Venus Factor”) appears finally as an all-enveloping ocean of darkness, although It or He can also produce intelligible emanations of Itself. In the story it is described as a tremendous infinitely hot dark void, crushing and roaring — perhaps like the ylem of the Big Bang or the central singularity of a giant Black Hole. Perhaps it had come from light — the supersymmetric transformation of the Bose-Einstein condensate at the end of the universe. It was En Sof engaged in creation. From Omega to Alpha.

The next force to break off from what remained of the Unified Field was the strong nuclear force, which holds quarks together in the proton and neutron, and then holds protons and neutrons together in the atomic nucleus. I identify this with the first pair of Parzufs, Hokhma (Wisdom) and Binah (Active Intelligence). These are obviously the deities of cognitive functions, or of God’s omniscience (or a pale reflection of it. We also see here for the first time a splitting of genderless spirit into its male and female aspects. The male version of cosmic intelligence is more like pure or abstract reason; the female version is more like practical or concrete reason. The former is like pure science for its own sake, the latter is like applications guided by an ethical sense. The splitting of atoms certainly requires, in our experience, a high sense of ethical responsibility. This pair seems to embody Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, trying to both understand and guide the Universe.

The ethical sense is further elaborated in the next pair of Parzufs, Gevurah (Stern Justice) and Hesed (Loving Mercy), again a male-female part. However, instead of being complementary like the first pair, this second pair represents a contradiction: sometimes justice and mercy clash, as we see today in the contraposition of the International Criminal Court idea and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as ways of dealing with the crimes of genocide. In Kabbalah doctrine, this clash is represented by “the breaking of the vessels”, the protective envelope which sheathed the emerging Divine Emanations. This was like the Fall of Original Sin, but much earlier in the story of creation, only reflected later in an “as above, so below” manner.

It also reminds me of the breaking of the mirror carried by angels in the beginning of the “Snowqueen” story by Hans Christian Andersen. A fragment of the broken mirror got in the boy Kay’s eye, and he lost his sense of good and evil as a result. His moral sense was restored only by the love of his girl-friend Gerda, and only then could he spell “Eternity” with ice-blocks in the cold realm of the Snowqueen, and return home. It is a gender-reversal of the familiar theme in fairy stories of the prince bringing his bewitched beloved (Sleeping Beauty or Snowwhite) back to life by a kiss.

Is the creation of this second pair of Parzufs and the breaking of the vessels a parallel of the separation of the electroweak force into the weak nuclear and the electro-magnetic force? The former is related to radioactivity and the latter to chemistry — so perhaps to death and life. But that may be too far-fetched.


Transformation to unified humanity is not possible on the political plane alone, as was said long ago by Warren Wagar. It requires a new symbolic environment, new values, new rites and ceremonies, new interpretations of reality — in other words, a new religion. In this new religion, the value of universality must play a key part. Universality is an extension of our horizons beyond the narrow self and its needs and pleasures (an extension which all religions require), and also beyond family, tribe, and nation (which the great religions strive for, but have not achieved, being often actually divisive). Universality means an extension of consciousness, caring and sharing to all humanity, and indeed to all of God’s creation, even to the living planet Gaia herself.

The following paragraphs discuss some of the sources and ingredients of the new universal religion.

(1) The teachings of the existing Great Religions, which should by no means be discarded, but built upon and properly applied in a non-doctrinaire manner, in order to avoid the old divisiveness. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, the American Native religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Jainism, Confucianism and others have achieved many great insights. Sometimes they are bound to a particular culture, but that would introduce all the more richness when we attempt a super-ecumenical synthesis. It is not clear if such a synthesis is possible in all respects, since some of the initial assumptions about the nature of God differ (e.g. monotheism and pantheism); but we might attempt to draw out the common elements. These certainly include the ethical teachings on the value of compassion and love; all religions teach the equivalent of the Golden Rule. The synthesis should not be a watered-down least common denominator, but a combination of basic insights, from which a new insight may emerge.

(2) There could arise new universal humanistic religions; in fact some have already arisen. The best example is the Baha’i Faith, with its insistence on continuing progressive revelation (Le. acceptance of the prophets of all the previous Great Religions, plus the addition of the latest, Baha’ullah), and its teaching that the content of this most recent revelation is precisely universalism. There is also Oomoto (whose other name and universal emphasis is Universal Love and Brotherhood), and World Goodwill (with its Great Invocation of Life, Light, and Love, and its commitment of members to be “worldservers”). These new religions have brought and are bringing into being a new universal vocabulary, though “brotherhood” must be expanded to include “sisterhood”. The Baha’i Faith, for example, proclaims that “the world is one country and humanity is its citizens”. However, there are still some doctrinaire and dogmatic aspects to some of these religions, too much emphasis on proselytizing which could lead to frictions, and features of esoteric doctrines in World Goodwill which may not be to everyone’s liking.

(3) It is clear that there must be consonance of religion with science. This is to be not just mutual grudging tolerance (each in its own realm without interference), not only “peaceful coexistence of different systems” living side by side, but an active gaining of religious insights from the findings of science, and a re-enchantment of science with a sense of the sacred. This means a veering away in science from dead mechanistic materialism, as theoretical physics has already done to a large extent; the overcoming of dualism of matter and mind (body and soul), and a firm footing for religious faith in at least provisionally confirmed ideas and concepts, not total reliance on second-hand revelation (e.g. accepting the revealed message from a book, without the possibility of a personal experience). As Thomas Berry said, we have a great new creation myth to tell, more wondrous than any we ever dared dream up before. (This scientific content of religion affects several succeeding points made here separately.)

(4) Panentheism: God in Nature and Nature in God (mutually), instead of transcendence of God over Nature as in Western monotheism. Perhaps “God” should be “Goddess” to emphasize intimacy and relationship rather than one-sided creation and dominance. This mutual relationship involves more than a vague infusion of God(dess) into Nature and vice versa; it is a definite mechanism, which I call “the ultimate wrap-around”: we, the products of Nature, create God who creates Nature and us. The ancient sacred symbol for this idea is the Uroborus, the snake swallowing its own tail. The modem expression of it is Hofstadter’s concept of “tangled hierarchies”, in which A is greater than B which is greater than C which is greater than A, in a cycle of intransitivity. One simple example of intransitivity is the child’s game “scissors cut paper, paper wraps stone, stone breaks scissors”. All this is possible because time is not a linear dimension and not really separate from space, which follows from the theory of relativity. Another image is the Moebius strip — a strip of paper given one twist and then glued together into a ring — which has only one surface and one circumference. Note the similarity of the Moebius strip to the symbol for Infinity (a figure 8 lying on its side). Infinity and eternity are not really indefinite extensions of numbers and time, but new entities of their own kind.

(5) The new view should comprise theories of emergence: the view that new qualities and new entities arise as more and more complex “wholes” form. wholes (or systems) being more than the sum of their parts. Thus a proton is more than the sum of 3 quarks, a hydrogen atom is more than a proton plus an electron, a water molecule is more than one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms (and on the macro scale, water is very different from a mixture of two colourless gases which may explode or bum), and (jumping ahead hugely) an organism is more than the sum of organs, tissues and cells, and a society (community) is more than the sum of individual persons or citizens.

Similarly, Roger Sperty postulates with some plausibility that the brain is more than the sum of neurons, glia. and neurotransmitters; and that consciousness is an emergent (i.e. new) quality of the brain, emerging from its super-complex relationships (networks), one of the emergent qualities also being ethical values, which can then exert “downward causation”.

The theory of emergence, first formulated by Henri Bergson as the “elan vital”, leads to several other ideas: (a) holism as opposed to reductionism; (b) panpsychism or radical vitalism; and © the primacy of relationships over materiality or substance. The latter two points are further discussed below.

(6) Panpsychism or radical vitalism postulates that everything is alive and conscious to some degree, even atoms and stones; but the degree of aliveness increases as we ascend the evolutionary scale; it gets brighter, just as wakefulness is brighter than sleep. Thus mind and matter always co-existed, primordially; neither is prior or superior to the other; neither are they separate “essences” (as Descartes’ dualism would have it) — they are two sides of the same coin, the inner and outer aspect, the subjective and the objective (how it sees itself and how others see it) — two sides of the underlying reality of all things. (See previous essay Both Sides Now, in Section VI.)

Another view is that there are really four entities: matter, energy, information, and meaning. (See the essay The Three Essences and subsequent ones in Sections II and IV.) Energy is the ability to move matter, information is the ability to move energy (or matter), and meaning makes of information a mental quality. Matter and energy are interconvertible, as Einstein showed; energy and information are also interconvertible, through the entropy-probability relationship, as Boltzmann showed. So the three can operate as a relay: even though information is extremely dilute energy, which is extremely dilute matter, yet information can move matter through the relay. But information in the form of “bits” or “yes or no” choices is only “mere” information. unless it also has meaning in the sense of being in the context of either trying to understand the present or the past or aiming at some purpose in the future, both of which presuppose the presence of a mind. Thus mind and matter can be seen to be related (perhaps interconvertible) through the relay.

(7) The forces of attraction (gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear force) which pull together wholes can be equated to Love at higher levels of consciousness; thus Love becomes a primordial universal principle. It is as if even the elementary particles were trying to organize themselves into wholes or systems, but succeed only partially because of the countervailing influence tending toward disorder or increasing entropy. Slowly, over the ages, they succeed to form real systems in the form of complex living creatures, which then have ever higher consciousness, emergent new forms of mental functions, and thus greater capability to actualize Love at higher levels.

There is also the dark side, namely forces of repulsion (e.g. electromagnetic), which would be equated to Hate; this is also one of the “principalities and powers”, as the Devil used to be called. Yet attraction and repulsion are both needed to hold crystals and other structures together and give them coherence and beauty, just as figure and ground give coherence to a picture in a work of art.

(8) Relationships or connections become ever more important than material substances as we ascend the evolutionary scale from particles to atoms to molecules to macromolecules to cells to multicellular organisms. In an organism. the materials (atoms and molecules) are rapidly exchanged in metabolism; they are only passing through like water in a river or burning gases in a flame. It is the FORM that remains constant, is preserved as long as life persists; in fact it is the definition of life. The particular chemical processes and reactions and the structures of cells, tissues and organs guide the passage of matter through the system. under the overall direction of the genes, and the promoters and inhibitors that turn them on and off.

In Aristotle’s terms, the Formal Cause is more important than the Material Cause. It is also true that the Final Cause is more important than the Efficient Cause (or what we more narrowly call “the cause”) in living systems. That is, purpose (looking to the future) predominates over (narrowly defined) cause (pushing from behind); or, put still differently, free will appears as an emergent quality to outrank determinism. Biologists should, in my view, no longer shun teleological arguments; they are often obviously the simplest explanations, rather than long circumlocutions pushing the evolutionary-selection view; therefore they should be preferred as scientific explanations by the principle of parsimony, i.e. Occam’s Razor.

(9) Very important in the new religion should be the Gaia theory, the message that the Earth is alive. James Lovelock concluded this on the basis of analyzing components of the Earth’s atmosphere, when he was asked by NASA to devise a test that would show the presence or absence of life on Mars and the other solar planets. The atmospheres of all the planets except Earth are in chemical equilibrium, but in Earth’s atmosphere oxygen and methane coexist. Since they normally react quite quickly to give carbon dioxide and water, their presence together shows that they are being continually produced at least as fast as they are reacting together, and they can only be produced by life forms (oxygen by photosynthesis, methane by certain bacteria). The presence of these gases in the atmosphere is detected by infrared spectra, and Lovelock poetically declares that Planet Earth sings of life in an infrared melody to broadcast its message into space.

The Earth maintains these gases in steady state (not equilibrium) by homeostasis, which is a well-known mechanism in the metabolism of organisms, e.g. in keeping our temperature and our blood sugar level constant in spite of continuing flow of matter and energy in and out of the system. (Like a bathtub with both the tap on and the drain open.) And since the planet as a whole practices homeostasis, it is in some sense alive. Homeostasis also exists on Earth in other aspects: a steady temperature in spite of the solar energy output increasing over the geological ages, a constant salinity of the oceans in spite of the fact that the rivers keep washing in salt from the rocks, and other aspects.

Regarding the temperature regulation, Lovelock has devised a computer simulation which he calls “Daisy World”, in which white and black daisies change their relative abundances in order to stabilize the temperature. Sometimes when I wonder if Gaia will let humans survive in view of our destructiveness, I visualize myself plucking her Daisy petals while reciting “She loves me, She loves me not.”

The Gaia theory has obvious connections to ancient Mother Goddess religions. In fact, Native American tradition has a central belief in Mother Earth. I once heard a Native speaker remark, about the new belief in Gaia, that “people now accept it because a white man said it”. However, it is of some value to have the scientific basis for it.

The modem symbol of Gaia is, of course, the picture of Earth from space, a powerful symbol of the unity of life and ecological consciousness as well as world citizenship. It caught on immediately in popularity, showing that it corresponds to the emerging needs of humanity, to the spiritual soil in the collective unconscious from which our transformation must spring. If the NASA space program produced nothing more than that picture, it would have been worth it. Essentially we went into space just to get a look at ourselves. That picture is being distributed to every classroom (as far as possible) by the Planet Project of the World Federalists.

(10) Another part of the new religion is the great scheme of Teilhard de Chardin, the great prophet of the confluence of science and religion, the extender and generalizer of evolutionary concepts to the spiritual realm. From an enemy of dogmatic or fundamentalist religions, evolutionary thought becomes a great friend and interpreter of universalist religion. Teilhard postulates that life evolves from an Alpha Point (creation) to an ultimate Omega Point (union with God, or becoming like God). Gradually the evolving Earth is being covered, not only with a biosphere on top of the lithosphere and hydrosphere and in the atmosphere, but also with a noosphere (a word he coined), i.e. an envelope of increasing information with meaning, knowledge with wisdom.

Exponents of Teilhardism in our time are multiplying and becoming more eloquent: from Donald Keys (“Earth at Omega”) to Robert Muller (“New Genesis”) to Marilyn Ferguson (“The Aquarian Conspiracy”) to Mark Satin (“New Age Politics”) to Theodore Roszak (“From Person to Planet”). With the metaphor of humans as the Earth’s emerging nervous system (Teilhard’s noosphere), Teilhardism finds its culmination in Peter Russell’s book “The Awakening Earth”, and especially his powerfully beautiful video-tape “The Global Brain”. One of its points is the magic number 10 billion: 10 billion atoms make a cell, 10 billion nerve cells make a human brain, and 10 billion humans will form a unified human society. Already we are being linked by rapid communication technology, and the spiritual links are to follow shortly.

(11) Another important ingredient is the theory of self -organization in structures far removed from thermodynamic equilibrium, as explained in Erich Jantsch’s “Self-Organizing Universe”. The basis of this is lIya Prigogine’s concept of the “dissipative structure”, an open system far from equilibrium, which, surprisingly, can seemingly defy the second law of thermodynamics by evolving a highly organized (low-entropy) structure within itself. However, it does so only at the expense of increasing the entropy of the surroundings, so that the total entropy does increase (sometimes considerably) and the Second Law is not violated. Dissipative structures foreshadow living forms, but there are examples of simpler systems: e.g. the Belousov — Zhabotinsky reaction; a chemical “clock” system which periodically turns blue at regular time intervals only to fade out again; or the patterns that form if a liquid in a large shallow dish is heated from below.

Dissipative structures are closely related to the new theory of Chaos, a seeming disorder from which a new order can emerge. Simple examples are as common as turbulent flow of water in a mountain stream or waves breaking on an ocean beach; yet scientists until recently have not tried to explain such systems, because they are non-linear and therefore more difficult to solve. They could not even analyze the smoke rings coming from a pipe.

Recently, Stuart Kauffman and Per Bak have formulated the theory of “self-organized criticality” at the edge between order and chaos which supplements the Prigogine-Jantsch concept. (See essay Stuart Kauffman Models and How Things Come Together in Section XII.) They describe how life exists at the edge of chaos, i.e. near the phase transition from chaos to order. Life needs enough order for structure maintenance, but must also have enough flexibility for adaptation and responsiveness to change. It cannot be a rigid perfectly regular crystal or a totally disordered gas, but something in between — something that Goldilocks would say “is just right”. (See the essay The Goldilocks Effect in Section VIII.) There are conservative and radical elements in living structures; the genetic code conserves information (in copying and proof-reading, it makes only one error in a billion — the envy of every merely human proof-reader), but the immune system can react to a multiplicity of antigens. There are negative feedbacks which conserve (as in homeostasis) and positive feedbacks which accelerate at exponential rates (such as unbridled reproduction in the absence of predators).

Jantsch, following Prigogine, speaks of an accumulation of fluctuations in a dissipative structure, which destabilizes it. It can restabilize itself either by faIling back to a simpler structure (even to equilibrium which is death) or rising higher to an even more complex structure — breakdown or breakthrough. Fluctuations are due to positive feedbacks which run counter to the tendency to conserve, and so can be regarded as harmful; but they are also a necessary pre-condition for further evolution which after all is built up from mutations, those rare mistakes in copying the genetic code accurately. This brings us to the next point — consideration of the central importance in the new religion of the concept of Crisis.

(12) Crisis has to be seen as both danger and opportunity, as seen in the Chinese symbol for it containing the signs for both of these ingredients. Since humanity IS in a crisis, this fear-hope perception is profoundly meaningful to us. For example, Dorothy Baker has carried out a remarkable comparative study of the patterns of world civilizations converging to a decision point in our time, which she entitled “Catastrophe or Transformation”. Her study is based on the pattern of the Greek drama, with its phases of exposition, inciting action, progression, climax, and resolution, but the same pattern is present in Arnold Toynbee’s scheme of history, where he calls them genesis, challenge and response, rise or growth, zenith or apogee, breakdown and disintegration. “Resolution” of the dramatic or historic conflict does not have to mean “disintegration”, but so far that has been the pattern for all previous civilizations. Such a scheme of “cultural life-times” may be all right in Toynbee’s scheme, where there is always another civilization waiting in the wings to continue history, but if, as Baker claims, we now have an integrated “world civilization”, there would be nothing waiting in the wings.

Others have seen cycles of rise and fall in history, of course; among them Spengler (“Decline of the West”) and Pitirim Sorokin. The latter sees a succession of three phases: the ideational, idealistic, and sensate cultural styles; we live in a sensate (materialistic) age, but may be on the point of returning to an ideational stage, like the high Middle Ages in Europe, with an emphasis on the primacy of spiritual values. (The idealistic stage is intermediate, as in the Renaissance.)

The concept of crisis brings images of development in stages, like a staircase composed of a series of vertical rises and horizontal runs. (See the essay Rise and Run in Section X) The runs are plateaus of tranquility, integration, maturity, consolidation of previous gains; the rises are the crises, times of troubles and turmoil, chaos, an accumulation of fluctuations in Prigoginian structures. Instances are: (a) Toynbee’s image of the mountain climber (successive civilizations ascending to a ledge where they are arrested, and from which the next civilization resumes its ascent; or his alternative image of a wheel rolling along the road; any point on the rim ascends and descends, but the carriage moves forward. (b) Gesell’s or Erikson’s stages of child development, which show successions of growth spurts and plateaus of consolidation. © Piaget’s stages of cognitive development as stages of basic reorganization of intellectual functioning. (d) A similar scheme of moral development stages outlined by Kohlberg.

A crisis is understood as the time of reorganization, during which nothing is certain. (How well we recognize its signs in world politics today!) The original meaning of crisis was the turning point of an illness, in which the life of the patient hangs in the balance; by morning he/she will either recover or be dead. Patricia Close defines a political crisis as a time of maximum uncertainty, when perhaps dominance passes from one world power to another, as in George Modelski’s model of 100-year long cycles in recent history. It is a crisis when a caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis to a butterfly; during the great chrysalis of transition, the creature is neither caterpillar nor butterfly; its tissues and organs are in seeming confusion, as in embryonic development, but in both cases, new order emerges out of chaos. The creature is being “born again”, undergoing a “Second Genesis”, like our civilization in crisis.

In evolution, we mostly lack a fossil record of transitions between species, because the “missing links” go through their period of crisis/transformation too quickly in terms of geological time. The viability (fitness) of transitional forms must be rather low — a jump between two highly adapted plateaus. This is why Stephen Jay Gould (1980) speaks about “punctuated evolution”, the same staircase-like pattern that we have been describing.

Or think of “rites of passage”: from childhood to adulthood in a primitive initiation ceremony or modem confirmation or bar or bat mitzvah; from virginity to sexual activity; from fetus to newborn; even perhaps from the living to the dead — each passage is a crisis. What we think of as the end may be the beginning, like Phoenix rising from the ashes — another great symbol for our time. Each crisis is a “becoming”, each plateau is a “being” — the two modes of existence.

(13) The centre of gravity of our new ethical orientation must be reverence for life, the ethic of Jainism and Albert Schweitzer. This has been called “Polaris for the Spirit” (i.e. the guiding star for our navigation) by Carl Casebolt. The principle springs partly from scientific insight: all life on Earth is based on DNA rather than RNA (except for a few retro-viruses, like the HIV that causes AIDS), on proteins with “laevo” amino acids, on sugars with “dextro” orientation. These are all symmetry-breaking choices; it could have gone otherwise, and on some other planet perhaps did. This shows the unity or at least the “cousinhood” of all life forms, from bacteria at the base to the various pinnacles of the evolutionary tree, the flowering plants, the insects, the vertebrates. (I think that we should abandon the idea that humans are the only pinnacle — pride goes before a fall.)

We have an innate sense of kinship with mammals, though we do kill them for food and even (heaven help us) for sport; even though some of our theories arrogantly deny them souls. We see flowers as beautiful, symbols of peace and love, though we do pick them to decorate our tables and so destroy them; but we do not really regard flowers as fellow-beings. We see insects mainly (except for honeybees) as competitors or enemies, devouring our food supplies in “plagues of locusts” and the like, and we exterminate them mercilessly, though we seem sometimes to be losing the fight. Our understanding of the unity of life is dim and incomplete.

Ecological ethics is an actively evolving concern. Some of us have grown from a concern about “the environment” (a human-centred image of “us” being immersed in “it” and needing be kept neat for our own uses) to an ecological consciousness of being part of nature’s system of niches and cycles, something like the flow of Tao; to a spiritual union with the biosphere as Gaia’s body, the matrix (literally “the mother”) of our being. Betty Cole once said that we are passing through a gap between the intuitional view of kinship with nature that native people had and a still incomplete scientific evaluation of the same facts of unity. So the sources of respect for life are both scientific and spiritual. We know the kinship “from both sides now”, yet, because we are in that gap or pupa stage, we “really don’t know it at all”, as in the popular song about clouds.

(14) After all the science-based theorizing, we must return to the spiritual basis of all religion, in what Aldous Huxley has called “The Perennial Philosophy” (1946). Basically this is mysticism, a direct religious experience of God as the ground of all being, which has its place in all religions. This ineffable and inexpressible “peak experience” (Maslow) is achieved only with great spiritual effort by saints and those “pure in heart”. (The Medieval book “The Cloud of Unknowing” describes the effort and the struggle to reach this stage.) But a lesser degree of this different kind of knowledge is achievable by all with only a little reflection and concentration; I call it “the sense of the Sacred” which can be felt in nature and all things beautiful, and which lifts one’s spirit above the level of the mere humdrum secular humanism which some would tell us is sufficient. Sure, a moral life is totally possible at that level; but it leaves one’s spirit unsatisfied in its yeaming for spiritual sustenance on which to thrive.

Various concepts are related to the mystical experience: Carl Jung’s “individuation” (which he sees as the inclusion of certain unconscious contents into the narrow Ego, thus creating the wider Self), Buddha’s “Enlightenment”, in which the meaning of everything becomes totally and immediately clear (does not require intellectual explanation), “self-transcendence”. The path to this higher consciousness is meditation, now recognized, even by physiological measurements of heart-beat, breathing rate, metabolic rate etc. to produce a distinct state of consciousness different from both wakefulness and sleep. Other “psycho-technologies” (Marilyn Ferguson) can be used, and the paths through knowledge (Jnana Yoga), loving worship (Bakhti Yoga), and good works (Karma Yoga) are well recognized in Hinduism, besides the path through meditation (Raja Yoga).

Mysticism has been a part of all the great religions, though sometimes an unrecognized, unofficial, even a subversive or heretical part; since, as a highly individual practice, it undermines the authority of priest and church, and eliminates the role of all intermediaries and intercessors between the human soul and God. G.B. Shaw in “Saint Joan” thought that Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake mainly because she heard and followed direct voices rather than being an obedient child of Mother Church.

Mysticism means direct, radical empiricism, though different in quality from scientific empiricism. We might note here E.F. Schumacher’s reference to four kinds of knowledge, especially his distinction between knowledge of external physical reality through reason and knowledge of internal psychic reality through love. Such radical individual empiricism is opposed both to abstract dry theological doctrines supported by church authority and ritual, and to super-conservative fundamentalism based on the Word as revealed to others. Although Ultimate Reality (“The Ground of All Being”) is profoundly eternal and unchanging because it is outside time, its direct experience by humans may take varied forms; compare e.g. William James’ case studies in “Varieties of Religious Eperience”.

(15) Related to mysticism is the realm of the archetypes in the collective unconscious, as postulated by C. Jung. The collective unconscious is the ancient (perhaps timeless) gathering place of human and pre-human cultures and archetypes. The latter are seen as the deep expressions of the basic schemata within which human mental and spiritual experience is framed. Archetypes are vehicles of cultural and spiritual heredity, just as genes and chromosome are vehicles of physical and biological heredity.

We might picture consciousness like a spotlight in the middle of a darkened room, with doors leading to other rooms in the unconscious (personal and collective) and the superconscious. The archetypes of the collective unconscious inhabit one of the rooms, and are accessible to us in dreams and legends. (See the essay Realm of the Mind in Section VI.)

(16) Then there is the tension between existential responsibility and Buddhist-type non-attachment. There is this dizzying realization that it is we, as free individuals, who make decisions at the crossroads between catastrophe and transformation, without necessarily always knowing the consequences of our actions, because these consequences may be counter-intuitive. The full realization of this responsibility is so awesome that it cannot be endured undiluted. It must be tempered with nonattachment, in which we do not fervently hang on to the object of our desires, no matter how noble and altruistic. We finally say “let it be” or “Thy will be done”, even about human survival.

In this tension between responsibility and non-attachment we teeter on the knife-edge between being “destroyers of worlds” (as Oppenheimer quoted the Rig Veda after the first atomic bomb test at Alamogordo) and being “children of the Universe who have a right to be here”, feeling that “the Universe unfolds as it should”, flowing with the rhythms of the Eternal Tao. Non-attachment, yet commitment; surrender to the Everlasting Arms, yet remembering that “God has no hands but yours to do His work on this Earth, no eyes but yours, no feet but yours” (as St. Theresa said). The tension is brought out in many other images: the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, the Yogi and the Commissar (Arthur Koestler), Mystics and Militants (Adam Curle).

(17) A somewhat unlikely, but nevertheless vital, ingredient in the new religion is humility, traditionally a great Christian virtue (pride being the most deadly of the deadly sins). The catatonic children of the story “Childhood’s End”, who deflected the Sun, the Moon and the planets from their courses, are not the Son of Man or Daughter of Woman, not the spiritual evolutionary successors of humans, because they lack the main attribute of God, which is Love, not Power; the power of love, not the love of power. The gentle and humble Francis of Assisi is more along the true upward path toward the Omega convergence.

Some recent advances in game theory help to tell us why. In Robert Axelrod’s computer tournament of Prisoner’s Dilemma games, Rapoport’s short and simple “tit-for-tat” program won — not because it could defeat any other program (in fact it could not), but because the more sophisticated programs killed off each other. Similarly in a truel (a three-cornered duel), the two best marksmen tend to kill each other, leaving the worst one as the winner (or, better, the survivor). “The meek shall inherit the Earth.” Humility may be closer to the meaning of evolutionary fitness than strength. One thinks of the children’s story of the ten billion cats, who fought about which is the most beautiful, until all were dead except the one who knew she was not beautiful and so stayed away from the fight; she was then recognized as the most beautiful cat after all.

In spite of Nietzsche’s attempt to revaluate the values and his apotheosis of Superman, the old Christian and Buddhist ideal of humility stands scientifically vindicated, as we now understand the mechanism.

(18) Synchronicity is illustrated by the “hundredth monkey” phenomenon. The basic myth (a true story) is that one monkey, and then another, learned to wash her sweet potato before eating it, as observed on the Japanese island of Koshima in 1952-58. The practice spread slowly, in linear fashion, until the hundredth monkey was reached. This exceeded some threshold of criticality, and the practice then spread exponentially, like wildfire, even jumping from island to island where monkeys could not even observe each other. It is this last point, learning without direct contact, as if frequent enough performance of the act had smoothed the way somehow for its own repetition, which constitutes synchronicity.

The mechanism is thought to consist of “morphogenetic fields” (Aristotle’s “formal cause”) fields which orient growing tissues in embryos and emerging behaviour in monkeys along predermined lines of force, like iron filings around a magnet. The field is formed by the first few tissue cells, or by the first 100 monkeys (the pioneers, like the leader stroke before the main stroke of a lightning flash which pre-ionizes the path), and then influences the successive units directly but invisibly, not by imitation.

This explains such puzzling phenomena as (a) the ease of crystallizing certain new chemical compounds with increasing rapidity after previous successes in crystallizing them, even in widely dispersed laboratories, although crystallization is extremely difficult to induce the first time around; (b) the frequent occurrence of new inventions or discoveries simultaneously in several places by different researchers, as if somehow “the time is ripe”; © the observation that we sometimes encounter a new word, sight, sound, or smell, if we have experienced it once, in quick temporal succession, again and again.

Above all, the phenomenon gives us hope that transformation to a peaceful, just and sustainable world order could occur much more rapidly than the linear extrapolation of the present slow rate would suggest. We are still pushing the rock uphill like Sisyphus — but unlike Sisyphus, we may find the top of the hill and then the rock will roll down the other slope without further effort. This hopeful implication makes this a valuable component of the new religion, especially since the aspects of the Crisis model are so awesome.

And so we have it, the 18 ingredients of a new religion for our age: 1. Megasynthesis of the Great Religions. 2. New universal humanistic religions. 3. Consonance of religion with science. 4. Panentheism. 5. Emergence (holism). 6. Panpsychism. 7. Love as a primordial principle. 8. Relationism. 9. The Gaia theory. 10. Teachings of Teilhard de Chardin. 11. Self-organizing structures. 12. Crisis transitions. 13. Reverence for life. 14. Mysticism, the Perennial Philosophy. 15. Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. 16. Existential responsibility in tension with non-attachment. 17. Humility. 18. Synchronicity.

We have the 18 ingredients, but not yet an over-arching founding myth or unifying concept or charismatic leader. “Charisma” means “grace”, and grace is a free gift of God. In the extreme of our crisis, may it come to us soon.


The Kabbala (a Jewish mystical tradition) has formulated a theory of “emanations” from the Divine, since the Godhead itself is totally ineffable and incomprehensible to humans. I have derived knowledge of these emanations partly from Karen Armstrong’s “History of God”, p. 269, and partly from Caetani’s “Recapitulation”. The diagram is given at the end of this essay. (In Caetani’s book, it is reversed, as an upside-down tree, which emerges on the Earth’s surface only at the end. All of Caetani’s book presents her art in pictures accompanied by text.) My own descriptions and interpretations are given below. (I have not read any original Kabbala writings.)

What emerges from the White Hole of En Sof, the Godhead who is a vast ocean of supreme Knowledge/wisdom, perfect and complete Being, all-embracing Love, and unquenchable Joy? First Kether, the Crown (reminiscent of the Seventh Chakra above the head), appears, whose symbol encloses a lock from En Sof’s forehead. Like En Sof, Kether is still genderless.

Then a yin-yang bifurcation or symmetry-breaking occurs giving rise to three successive male-female pairs, while two central configurations still exist. The first pair to emerge is Hokhma (Wisdom or Knowledge) and Binah (Intelligence or Intuition). To me, these represent male left-brain knowledge and female right-brain knowledge. Together they can be summed up as Sophia, integrated knowledge. Like Pallas Athena springing from Zeus’ head, they emerge from Kether, but in two complementary halves. Male and female genders long precede biological sex.

The next pair is Gevurah (Stern Judgment) and Hesed (Gentle Mercy). These represent male and female aspects, respectively, of dealing with human shortcomings or transgressions (sin). The male view is that of retributive justice, making the punishment fit the crime. The female view is love and forgiveness. Thus they represent conditional love and unconditional love, usually associated with father and mother figures. They lead to either the fear of God or the love of God, in human responses. Together, we can admire them as Amazing Grace.

Together, the two couples, Hokhma-Binah and Gevurah-Hesed, combine to Tiferet, the Flower or Beauty. The Flower, of course, is a Mandala; the White Hole is reflected at its centre. This deity or emanation is often worshipped in Kabbalistic rituals, probably as an incorporation of all aspects of Wisdom and Justice, intellectual and moral qualities (Truth and Goodness) combined to form an aesthetic entity, Beauty. Tiferet, being centrally located in the diagram, is again genderless.

The third pair is Hod (Majesty) and Nezah (Lasting Endurance). The male quality here is transcendence over Nature (Creator aspect) and the female quality is immanence in Nature (Tao aspect). Between them they symbolize the miracle of Life, though this fully emerges somewhat later in the diagram.

The two pairs, Gevurah-Hesed and Hod-Nezah, combine to form (at the centre) Da’at, Death and Renewal. Judgment may bring death, but mercy brings renewal. (Male) pride may bring about a fall, but endurance means sustainability through the (largely female) birth cycle. Stern judgment through survival of the fittest is tempered by the survival of the gentle small mammals but not the huge dinosaurs in the late Triassic Extinction. The strong and tough may be brittle, while the weak and soft may be pliable and adaptable.

A recombination of the yin and yang branches then gives Yesod (Fruitfulness), representing the origin of biological life. This in turn leads to Malkuth, the Kingdom, representing the Five Kingdoms of Life on Earth according to Lynn Margulis. It may also mean the phrase “be fruitful and multiply, and .exercise dominion over the Earth” from Genesis.

The final emanation is Shekinah, representing humanity. This represents the Holy Spirit of the Christian Trinity, ministering to human spiritual needs, and accompanying us into exile, e.g. to Babylon in the Hebrew tradition; but perhaps also exile from Paradise, because of original sin, and exile from the Earth, because of the final (ecological) sin.

The Return of the Shekinah. for which Kabbalistic ritual implores, is our goal, so that the Tree of (Divine) Life may again be complete.

The Kabbala Emanations correspond rather closely to the Chakras from the Hindu tradition, as follows:

Kabbala Chakra
1. Kether Crown (Sahasrara)
2. Hokhma/Binah Forehead (Ajna)
3. Gevura/Hesed Throat (Vishuddha)
4. Hod/Nezah Heart (Anahata)
5. Yesod Navel (Manipuraka)
6. Malkuth Loin (Swadhisthana)
7. Shekinah Root (Muladhara)

The first line is about Sainthood, the second line is about Wisdom, the third line is about Justice, Grace, and Prophecy, the fourth line is about Transcendence/Immanence, Worship and Bhakti, the fifth line is about Physical Life and Ego, the sixth line is about reproduction (death and renewal), and the seventh line is about Adam and Eve and the Serpent (since this Chakra represents Kundalini or Serpent Power).

In a comparison of Kabbala to Christianity and Hinduism (e.g. see p. 136 in “Everyone Is Right” by Roland Peterson), the analogy is made.

Kether Father Shiva
Hokhma Son Vishnu
Binah Holy Spirit Brahma

This does not ring true to me. Father as Kether is all right, but then I would prefer to go down the genderless line for the other persons of the Christian Trinity, interpolating Sophia (Mother) between Father and Son to make a Quatemity.

Father Kether
Mother Hokhma/Binah Sophia
Son Tiferet/Da’at
Holy Spirit Yesod/Malkuth/Shekinah

The Son could be subdivided into

Cosmic Christ (Logos) Tiferet
Human or historic Jesus Da’at (because he died on the cross)

Ordinary humans are incarnations of Yesod/Malkuth/Shekinah (i.e. the Holy Spirit), while Jesus was the incarnation of Tiferet, a higher rung of the Kabbalistic hierarchy. Neither comes close to Sophia or Kether, let alone the immovable diamond being En Sof. But this solves the problem of Jesus’ divinity and humanity, by showing how he could be both and yet different from both.

Regarding the Hindu analogy, I can see Shiva the Destroyer as Father, or maybe Gevurah of the Stern Judgment, Vishnu the Preserver as the Son, who through Tender Mercy (Hesed) brings salvation from that Stern Judgment, and Brahma as the Holy Spirit, echoing in “Brahman is Atman”.

We should note that incarnations of the Son happen in both Christianity and Hinduism, with Jesus Christ being paralleled by Rama and then Krishna.

It is noteworthy, however, that ancient Egyptian and Babylonian religions do not fit into this model at all. In them, the Mother (Isis or Tiamat) was absolutely prior, giving birth to the Son (Osiris) who became her husband, and who died and was resurrected. Ancient Greek/Roman and Germanic God hierarchies do not fit either, being on the contrary strongly paternalistic, with a thundering Zeus/Jupiter/Wotan. In any case, it seems that Kabbala and Christianity are not truly monotheistic, in spite of all the talk about the divine Persons being really unified into One. This does not ring true. The only genuine monotheistic religions are non-Kabbala Judaism and Islam, the latter stricter and in more highly evolved form. And the only non-theistic (but not atheistic) religions are Buddhism and Taoism. (Maybe Jainism — I don’t know it well enough.) (Confucianism is really a moral philosophy, not a religion.) Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and sometimes Christianity are dualistic (God and the Devil), i.e. bitheistic.


What is being attempted here under this rather pretensious title is drawing a series of analogies between the Kabbala system of “Emanations” or “Sefiroth”, the Hinduist system of the Chakras, and the science of cosmology. In other words, it is trying to achieve a unity of Western and Eastern religions and science. It is highly tentative and hypothetical and should not be taken too seriously. I may be seriously misunderstanding all three systems. (See also previous essay “Kabbalistic Evolution”.)

The scheme is presented in tabular form below.

Kabbala Chakras Cosmology
En Sof
The fractal super-universe
Kether Elyon Crown Our universe
Binah-Hokhma Brow Cluster of galaxies
Tiferet Throat Galaxy (Milky Way)
Hesed-Din Heart Star cluster (burst)
Da’at Solar Plexus Star (Sun)
Nezah-Hod Loin Planet (Gaia)
Yesod Coccyx Life (Kundalini,Chi)
The Five Kingdoms
Humanity (in exile)

Some explanations and comments follow. The theory of the super-universe as a self-creating fractal comes from an article by Andrei Linde. According to this theory, our universe is only one of a series that come into existence from the primordial scalar field or “quantum fuzz” through Big Bangs followed by rapid inflation. Each may have different numbers of dimensions (ours has 4; 3 of space and 1 oftime) and different laws of nature. We can only know this one, because it is the only one in which we can live. (The anthropic principle.)

The tree of fractal super-universes resembles the tree of evolution, in being an escape from flat equilibrium and a series of self-generated and accentuated fluctuations. It is a good image of En Sof, the inscrutable Godhead whom we can never hope to know. (By the anthropic principle, i.e. human limitations.) Yet He is immanent in all His creation as well as transcendent: He is in all there is, but far bigger than that.

We can imagine a Divine Hierarchy, a deputy god for every physical structure smaller than the super-universe. Each universe, including our own, would have its own Kether Elyon, the Crown of Creation. Each super-cluster, each galaxy, each star cluster, each star, and each planet would have its own deity subordinate to the whole, in a structure of cosmic subsidiarity. Our planet Earth has its own local Goddess named Gaia, also self-reproducing and self-regulated, as befits a spark of the Divine.

The correlation of the Sefiroths with the Chakras (also given in the previous essay) is straightforward: Kether Elyon, the Crown of Creation of our universe, is analogous to the Crown (same word is used!) above the head, i.e. the halo or aura. The Binah-Hokhma pair, symbolizing (female) intelligence and (male) wisdom (different but complementary ways of thinking) go naturally with the Brow or forehead where the brain is located. Tiferet (the Flower) goes with the Throat, or prophetic speech. The Hesed-Din (or Gevurah) pair, symbolizing mercy (compassion) and judgment, go naturally with the Heart. Da’at, symbolizing death and resurrection, goes with the Solar Plexus, the centre of the body’s metabolism, e.g. the liver. Also note that it goes with the Sun, reflecting the word “Solar” in “solar plexus”. The Nezah-Hod pair, symbolizing patient lasting endurance (or adaptability) and majesty (or the miracle oflife) goes with the loin, where the reproductive organs are located. Yesod and Coccyx are both sometimes called “the Root” or Foundation, and represent the primal life force, called Kundalini in India and Chi (Qi) in China.

What is meant by “Shekinah as humanity (in exile)”? This refers to the Jewish belief that the Shekinah accompanied them to the Babylonian exile, while the Lord God was punishing them for disobedience. Different parts (or aspects) of God can show simultaneously Judgment and Mercy, as shown already by the Hesed-Din pair. (The Lord is a super-personality, like the Christian Trinity, but with more than three aspects. This is perhaps not polytheism, as Muslims would say, but a belief beyond monotheism — more advanced because it is more paradoxical.) (“Credo quia absurdum est. “)

The Shekinah again accompanied the Jews into the diaspora after the Roman conquest in 70 A.D. The “return of the Shekinah”, for which they then prayed, is the creation of the state of Israel. Yet, because of the displacement of the Palestinians (like the Canaanites of the Old Testament), this may yet lead to the final Battle of Annageddon, initiated by the Children of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

In the bigger picture, all humanity is “in exile” after the Original Sin. Exiled from Paradise by Judgment, yet we are followed into the cruel World by Mercy (or Grace). The Holy Ghost remains with us. God cannot totally abandon His creations, because we are His thoughts.

The correlations of the Sefiroth with cosmological structures are not too obvious, and I will not force them into a bed of Procrustes. They could represent the divine hierarchy mentioned above, but it is not clear why certain Sefiroth should go with certain cosmic structures.

The 16th century Kabbalist writer Isaac Luria (see “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong, pp. 266-270) later consolidated the original Sefiroth into only five Parzufs: (1) Kether Elya, (2) Hokhma or Father, (3) Binah or Mother, (4) Hesed, Din, Nezah, Hod, and Yesod, together called Zeir, and (5) Malkuth and Shekinah, together called Nuqrah. We then have (ignoring the very high Kether) a very satisfactory grouping of Father, Mother, a grouping we could call the Son, and finally the Holy Spirit. It is a better approach to androgyny in the divine realm than the Christian Holy Trinity which is all male. The Mother could be either Sophia or Mary, perhaps preferred by the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity respectively. (protestant Christians are much more patriarchal.) Christians usually pray to the Father, already two notches below the Very Highest.

Luria based his schemes on mystical insights, and represent his endeavour to explain the problem of evil. Thus the schemes are not just fanciful inventions, though they do not come from an application of scientific methods. However, mystical insight may be a valid alternative way to obtain knowledge.

Creation of the Sefiroth or Emanations (parts of Himself) and of the world by En Sof can be thought of as parallel to the symmetry-breaking of the four forces of nature (strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational) envisaged by cosmologists within brief fractions of microseconds after the Big Bang. Creation necessarily involves a differentiation of the initially simple into the complex. It is like Bohm’s “unfoldment”, to be eventually followed by a grand “enfoldment” back into the Creator or into the scalar field, the non-empty vacuum. En Sof is both Zero and One, which is why He is beyond our understanding. He is too simple for our complexified minds. But we can symbolize the process by a Mandala with a luminous but colourless centre breaking up into a periphery of iridescent kaleidoscopic colours. Yet a re-combination of primary colours again yields a luminous white.

In a sense, we and the world (meaning the whole super-universe) are En sors thoughts, concrete and substantial because He is so far beyond substance.

En Sof making room within Himself for His creation is analogous to Don Bryant’s concept of altruism as a person making room within his or her sphere of interests for the interests of others — which he calls “the crypt of disinterest”. (Don Bryant presented this concept in papers to the Canadian Peace Research and Education Association.) It is a type of altruism which does not predetermine what is good for the other, but lets the other practice self-determination. It is appropriate that En Sof, the Highest, should exemplify this highest form of altruism, even though He is already perfect and complete.


Comparative religion usually discusses so-called Great Religions, dividing them into two large clusters: 1. Western (Middle Eastern) religions, or religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the religions of the Children of Abraham. 2. (Far) Eastern religions, divided into those originating in India (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism), those stemming from China (Taoism, Confucianism), and those from Japan (Shintoism). Sometimes an introduction provides information on animism, totemism, and Greek/Roman and Germanic polytheism. Zoroastrianism is usually missed, as are Egyptian and Babylonian religions, Druidism, Gnosticism, Bahai Faith, Unitarianism, and Esotericism (Theosophy).

Many books, e.g. Huston Smith’s “The Religions of Man” and Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s “The Faith of Other Men”, treat the great religions as unique cultural constructs, without attempting any systematic classification. In fact, “The Faith of Other Men” is explicitly opposed, in principle, to such an attempt, since the author considers each religious faith as so unique that outsiders have great difficulty even understanding it.

Yet I think that a classification may be truly useful, if we consider different religions as different paths to the same mountain summit (knowledge of God or of ultimate reality), as is often asserted. The different paths would then illuminate or illustrate different views of that distant summit, converging as we get ever higher, thus advancing our understanding. Certainly, local culture does influence the local religion, but that religion surely also contains a kernel of universal eternal Truth.

With that goal of understanding in mind, I propose here a classification which is not linear, but contains both trees of descent and cycles of similarity, as sometimes similar themes arise in different branches of the “tree”. This repeated re-emergence emboldens us to claim that such a theme may have a more legitimate claim to validity, like a discovery made independently in different places or at different times.

The main stem of this scheme is based on the number of Gods worshipped, nom many (polytheism of two different kinds, nature-based and human-based) to several or a few (oligotheism of two kinds, God-based and Goddess-based), to two (dualism of God and Devil), to one (monotheism), to one again. but a creator not interested in intervening in history (deism), to “at most one” (Unitarianism), to none (humanism and atheism). But polytheism I (nature-based) can also lead to pantheism (a single God immanent in nature), and then to non-theism (spiritual enlightenment without a specific God).

Science is most compatible with non-theism and pantheism, on the one hand, and with deism and atheism, on the other hand. Esotericism is a more elaborate form of religion, sometimes a form of monotheism, sometimes dualism (the Gnostics), and sometimes a third form of polytheism (the celestial hierarchy, i.e. a god for each planet, for each solar system, for each galaxy, and for the universe as a whole). It is often secret (occult), like the Rosicrucians (who don’t consider themselves a religion) and the Masons, and often considered heretical by Christians. Their system is quasi-scientific (Le. complex, but without a strict empirical foundation), and thus possibly also compatible with science.


In the capital city of Bulgaria. Sophia. stands the great church of Eastern Christianity, dedicated to Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). It is a concept inviting re-examination.

Wisdom is a compound of deep knowledge (in the sense of genuine understanding, not mere information) and ethical orientation and resposibility. I see Sophia as the ancient Goddess, co-eval with Yahweh. She represents Holy Wisdom. He stands for Power and Creativity. The Holy Pair I visualize as something like Yin and Yang, a marriage of ethical understanding and creative power, of agape/empathy and emergence of novelty.

Some see the problem of Evil in the world as a contradiction between two of God’s crucial attributes: omnipotence and all-encompassing love. Others argue that the gift of freedom to humans requires the admission of the possibility of evil through sin, but this is not totally convincing because of the existence of natural evil, such as floods and earthquakes, which are not the result of human sin.

If I had a choice, I would prefer an all-loving God to an all-powerful God. Power is something that can gradually evolve as creativity unfolds in time through emergence, but love has to be there from the beginning. Perhaps that is a woman’s insight, a Sophia attitude. But some men have seen it too. Hawking argues that God could not help but choose the physical laws He did for the creation of His Universe, if He was to create the creatures He loved. His Power was constrained by Love.

With Sophia by His side, Yahweh gave up some of His options, some of His implicit Power as a sacrifice to Wisdom. (I picture Sophia as gently pleading with Him on our behalf, as many believers picture the Virgin Mary, aptly named Regina Mundi, interceding for forgiveness of our sins.) This choice of Yahweh distinguishes a God from a Devil; given the same choice, a Devil would choose Power. (By a strange “coincidence”, a powerful movie about a mother’s decision under great moral pressure was entitled “Sophie’s Choice”.)

In terms of Charles Osgood’s “semantic differential”, the set of three dimensions which has been found to govern human perceptual responses to the world, transculturally (good/bad, strong/weak, active/passive), Sophia represents “Good”, Yahweh represents “Strong” and “Active”. The Devil too would be Strong and Active, but without Sophia by his side. Perhaps Kali would be there instead. Kali and Her forces of Darkness are now taking us to our “Kali Yuga”, the Iron Age of sorrow and misery.

Sophia’s other name (translated from Greek into Latin) is Sapientia; She has given Her name to Homo sapiens, perhaps undeservedly — it remains to be seen. The results of this experiment are not yet in.

“Hagiosophy” means a doctrine of Holy Wisdom, Sainthood emanating from empathic knowledge. But concretely it means, for us humans striving for “sapientia” to deserve our species name, an effort to achieve a confluence or synthesis (synergy, symbiosis) of science, ethics, and religion (spirituality). Ethics has long been considered linked to religion (though it can. exist separately for atheists), but science was long considered something apart, something hard, objective, practical, technical, rigorous, logical, unsentimental, value-free (except for the value of Truth) — in sum, masculine, Yahwelike.

It needs to return to that Yin-Yang partnership of the Divine Pair, and fuse with spirituality and moral responsibility, as some scientists are already doing. There are already Codes of Ethics being promoted in many professional scientific associations. The existence of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and Engineers [and others] for Social Responsibility, also shows that at least some scientists are taking their ethical responsibility seriously. Science was always Power, but now Loving concern is beginning to infuse it as well. The rise ofbioethics as a distinct discipline is another sign of this.

The new synthesis of science, religion and ethics also needs to be inspired by the esthetic dimension of poetry, art and music. Modem physics and biology are very conducive to this transformation, which has been called “re-enchantment”. The new science at the leading edge is now very far removed from mechanistic materialism, lifeless reductionism. and strict determinism. Some of the new concepts — such as uncertainty, chaos, catastrophe — mirror poetically our times of crisis, but others — like charmed quark — reflect beauty and playfulness. There is even an Eightfold Path in particle physics, a concept borrowed from Buddhism. Freedom and purpose are re-invading biology. The Holy Spirit will again be incarnated in Matter. We are all invited to the Eternal Wedding Anniversary ofYahwe and Sophia. All are welcomecome as you are.


Deism sets up a Creator God who established the primordial matter and energy in the Universe and the laws which they are to obey, and then retired and watched, like someone feeding starting data and a program into a computer and letting it run in a grand simulation. (See essay “Simulation” in Section I.)

We do not yet know all the laws; they are certainly not the simple ones that made Laplace say that, if he knew the positions and velocities of all the particles in the Universe, he could predict the future with absolute certainty. The Principle of Uncertainty would not allow this, since we cannot determine the exact position and velocity of even one particle, let alone the zillions in the Universe. Also, the laws now include those describing chaos, not only order. But presumably the Divine Mind knows all the laws and so the future IS set.

We also do not know the total amount of matter and energy that exists in the Universe, as cosmologists still talk about the “dark matter” which they have not yet found. But again, human ignorance about these things is no indication of what God knows, in the Deistic scheme.

The Deistic God is a cold God, not a loving Father or Mother; the God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham and Jacob. One could even imagine Him experimenting sadistically on His creatures in the grand simulation. God as a mad scientist! A real nightmare.

One quality He surely has, though: He is transcendent, outside and above nature. He is also allpowerful. “The power and the glory, forever and ever.” A picture on my study wall depicts a giant holding in the palm of one hand an embracing human pair, with his other hand held above them, an ambivalent smile or sneer on his huge face. The question is: has he just created the pair and is smiling with pleasure, or is that upper hand coming down to crush them and that is a sneer on his face? Visitors to my study split about 50-50 on the interpretation.

Taoism does not have a personal God, but teaches a profound reverence for Nature’s Way, which flows like water and is beyond our understanding. It is not “classical” but quantum mechanical (see Fritjoff Capra’s “The Tao of Physics”); it is full of paradoxes that our reasoning faculties cannot grasp; it is sometimes smooth like laminar flow and sometimes turbulent like chaos; it is somewhat predictable but not really in the long range; it is mysterious and alive.

Tao (do we, should we, call it God?) did not create the world and is not created in the usual sense, but it is emergent and self-organized in the entire process of Nature. We are still co-creating it, though we are part of it. This God is totally immanent in Nature, not at all above it. Its power is great, but not unlimited. Love and Hate, gentleness and violence, Good and Evil coexist within its nature, for It is greater than both, is all-enfolding. Yet It is an It, not a Thou; not a loving Mother or Father either.

Deism and Taoism (they sound almost alike when pronounced quickly) are not deeply satisfying religions, in my mind. I want something in-between, a Golden Mean, with some emergent qualities added. I want a God who is both transcendent and immanent, both creator and emergent, both Alpha and Omega. Moreover, I crave a Loving Parent, neither a mad scientist nor an impersonal stream of water.

I want…! want…what does it matter what I want or what would satisfy my longings? What is, is, whatever it is, and it conforms to no wishes of such as I.


It may be better to think of God as powerless rather than powerful (especially all-powerful); but
always unconditionally loving. Examples are given below.

1. From Karen Armstrong’s book, “The History of God”, p. 375. She quotes Elie Wiesel’s account of his experience in a Nazi concentration camp. “One day the Gestapo hanged a child”, a boy with “the sweet face of a sad angel”. A prisoner asked” ‘Where is God? Where is He?’ And Wiesel heard a voice within him make this answer: ‘Here He is — He is hanging here on this gallows’. [This could be taken as meaning “God is dead”, but I take the meaning as below.]

2. The former story is reminiscent of Jesus on the Cross — the redemptive suffering of the innocent Lamb. It has been said that whenever, wherever humans suffer, God suffers with them. (ComPassion as renewed Passion.) “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me” was cited in the Gospels as a saying of Jesus. It was meant positively there (feeding the hungry, housing the homeless etc.), but it applies negatively too.

3. The Hanged Man in the Tarot Major Arcana represents Transfiguration, i.e. new hope. It is like the metamorphosis of insects, when a beautiful butterfly emerges from a putatively “dead” pupa, which is really the Chrysalis of rebirth. This is a powerful symbol of regeneration. like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, or a forest regenerating after a forest fire, or Earth life recovering after the Permian megaextinction.

These images emphasize God’s Love rather than His Power. However, “Power” of a different kind emerges then too. I am reminded of Jim Douglass’s book “The Nonviolent Coming of God”. That Power is long-range rather than immediate. “The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” Karma is in Eternity, not on the Wheel of Life.


Science and religion have been in a state of uneasy coexistence with each other, after tiring of their sharp conflict raging in the 18th and 19th century. They agreed to disagree, to run on parallel rails in the collective human mind; but of course parallel lines never meet. The only way that science and religion could abide each other at all was to avoid each other, not engage in discourse.

However, the human mind cannot for long be split in half, to engage in consecutive “doublethink”: one kind on Sunday, the other kind during the rest of the week. It is a dualism worse even than that of Descartes. Fortunately, we do not have to choose between our two loves, or act like a furtive bigamist, living a lie in both places. For now, we glimpse that some convergence to a unified view is finally emerging; and it is fostered by, of all things, art and poetry. It is Beauty that is permeating Truth both kinds of truth, that seemed so irreconcilable.

Science seen as deterministic and mechanistic is fading, and so is religion as dogmatic and doctrinaire. Science as insight into the beauty of nature, and religion as experience of the ineffable, are emerging — and merging, coalescing. No longer are they merely coexisting in icy isolation; they are converging in the friendly embrace of beauty.

Whether considered scientifically or spiritually, the Universe is incredibly, overwhelmingly beautiful, in a many-faceted way, and still revealing more and more of its mystery and beauty. We can touch this beauty with our reason. with our feeling, and with our intuition; preferably aU of the above. Each approach enhances the other, far from contradicting it. The flower appears more beautiful, not less, when we know some plant physiology. I have heard people say the opposite: e.g. for George Grant (interviewed on CBC radio some years ago), the beauty of the sunset was destroyed when he realized that the colours were just different wavelengths of light. I cannot understand this; for me, this makes the sunset only more beautiful. It is not reductionist; it adds to the holistic experience. The more we know about something, the more we can appreciate it.

It was a scientist who said that “the world is not only stranger than we think, it is stranger than we CAN think.” He was referring to the paradoxes of quantum theory and the theory of relativity. Our minds and brains and reason evolved as instruments for survival, not for satisfying curiosity or apprehending truth; and are unable, beyond a certain point, to grasp physical reality in all its strangeness. We had no need to know the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in order to deal effectively with our environment, or to realize that time slows down at extreme speeds since such speeds are not experienced in daily life. So in truth-seeking through science, we must expect, and accept, paradoxes. Science is not only conditioned by the society in which we live (as many have pointed out), but also by our mental apparatus, as Kant realized when he defined mental categories. This affects the concept of time especially, as I hope to explain further on. In a similar fashion, religious writers speak of God as “ineffable”, not describable in words or concrete images, because, again, our minds were not designed for this. We have to stretch our minds to the limit to achieve a mystical experience of God, and those few of us who have found this possible (myself excluded) still cannot express it in words understandable to others. This surely is because ultimate reality “is stranger than we CAN think” with our imperfect minds, just as quantum phenomena are.

However, I am convinced that art and poetry can serve as a bridge for the convergence of science and religion, because the beauty for which they strive is capable of transcending reason and touching the mystery of being. There is beauty in science and mathematics (theoretical physicists speak of “elegant” equations) as there is beauty in religious symbolism. Our sense of beauty, unlike our reason, was not so closely fashioned for mere survival; it has more affinity to scientific curiosity and spiritual quest. These are not mere instrumental skills; they are goal values.

Time is a dimension of the space-time continuum, but we perceive it in a particular way, as flowing, and we inexorably flow with it. We have no degrees of freedom to wander, as we have in the three space dimensions. Yet if we admit the possibility (the paradox!) of the “strange wrap-around”, in which we create God and God creates us (He is the Alpha and the Omega), we can explain many things, and be reconciled to many things, such as death. The two views of mutual creation form a unity-in-duality similar to the particle-and wave views of matter and energy. This strange, quantum-like scientific dialectic can be symbolized by artists and poets as the yin-yang principle, which is then used by religious thinkers. Art can use fractal structures like Julia and Mandelbrot sets to model the complexity structures needed by biologists and ecologists. The fractal Devil’s staircase can model both development and evolution, of society as well as organisms.

Let us rejoice in the newly-forged reunion of science and religion, with the aid of poetry and art, and celebrate the insights gained, now and in the future.


Why do we believe that God and not the Devil (Good and not Evil) rules the world? Because if (D)Evil rules, the world would have self-destructed long ago, and we would not be here to talk about it.

Evil (or Violence — the same root) is DEFINED (cf. Laborit) as aiming at the destruction of living things, returning them to dead equilibrium. The Devil is both Augustinian (favouring entropic drift) and Manichean (actively engaged in destruction). Destruction literally means de-structuring, wiping out of structure. With either an Ausgustinian or a Manichean Devil, evolutionary progress is arrested or reversed.

To succeed, the Devil must fail. He makes us fail and then fails with us, ceases to be. That is what he wants and works for, and if he rules, he will get it, being powerful. In C.S. Lewis’ “Perelandra”, the Devil, though in human disguise, could not refrain from tearing legs off live frogs.

The fact that we are here, and nature and society still exist, proves that the Devil does not rule the world, at least not entirely. At the very least, God must have been supreme until recently. Of course, this might be the hinge of history when the Devil is gaining supremacy; at times it seems that way. Maybe they are getting ready to square off against each other at Armaggedon.

The outcome of that final battle may depend at least somewhat on us. If the forces of Good and Evil are almost equally balanced, even our tiny contribution can swing it either way. We dare not be Augustinian about this and merely drift: that way lies entropy. We need to be active on God’s side.

What an awesome effort. What an awesome responsibility.


My image of God was never that of an old man with a beard. Nothing like Michelangelo’s picture of the finger of the Creator passing life into Adam like an electric current. I now find that image quite appealing, but it was not part of my childhood imagery. I did not hear God in thunder nor did I see Him in lightning. I did not see fire or water as containing a divine essence, though many people do, and I now respond to this. But not then; it never occurred to me. My parents once gave me a neck chain with a small medallion on it. I think it was supposed to be my guardian angel. It was a beardless androgynous face with an enigmatic smile, like a Buddha. It was not a figure of power, nor of love exactly, but of mystery. I have always thought of that image when the word “God” is mentioned.

This is why I do not respond with much interest when people argue whether God is male or female. I can see that emphasizing traditionally feminine qualities rather than masculine ones may be useful if we want to stress Love rather than Power, but I really do not see God as either. I see that androgynous, universally human, face on my medallion.

Of course God is a Spirit and not an image; not a human face nor a guardian angel; but I agree with C.S. Lewis that we need something concrete to imagine. He said that every time he tried to imagine God as a pure spirit (as he was told to do), all that came to him was something like a shapeless grey tapioca pudding.

I remember another childhood image, this time an image of my own place in the world in relation to God. That too has never left me. The image was one of God placed at the very top or zenith of the sky like a luminous source; its rays were reaching each and every point on the perfectly flat and round uncluttered horizon on a flat plane. Each person was a point on the horizon, and I was one of these innumerable points; similar to all the others, and yet unique.

I was thinking the other day: When I die, that horizon point will be empty. Perhaps when another person not yet born fills it, that will be like me being reborn. It can be an image of reincarnation.

I was also thinking that each ray from that luminous source is like that finger of God to Adam in Michelangelo’s picture. Each of us is Adam or each of us is Eve.


The Mandala is a sacred pattern in Eastern religions, and in some Western traditions as well. Jung referred to it as an archetypal image. It can symbolize many things, as detailed in the beautiful book “The Mandala” by Jose and Miriam Arguelles, where pictures accompany the text (or the text accompanies the pictures) in a most insightful way.

Jung believes that fourfold symmetry is the essence of the Mandala, but many of the pictures in the Arguelles book have different types of symmetry — 3 or 5 or 6 or 8 — like flowers. The essence of the Mandala is really a pattern grouped symmetrically around a centre, and this circular (or rather spherical in 3 dimensions) symmetry is its real hallmark. The centre represents something special: the creative origin of the peripheral pattern, and also the pattern’s eventual destination — the Alpha and the Omega. Here I want to cite a few examples of Mandala patterns in nature, covering the scale from the very small to the very large.

At the centre of an atom is a super-dense nucleus, where most of the mass is concentrated and all the positive charge, but which occupies only a tiny fraction of the volume.

At the centre of a cell is a nucleus where all the genetic information is stored in the form of DNA. (Note the strange linguistic quirk of “nuclear” vs. “nucleic”, referring to the atom and the cell, paralleled by other such quirks, e.g. “proton” vs. “protein”, “neutron” vs. “neuron”, “H-bomb” vs. “Hbond” — a rich parallel symbolism of death and of life.)

At the centre of a flower, held lovingly within the crown of petals, are the generative parts, the pistil and the stamens, which serve the life function of the entire plant.

At the centre of the Earth is a hot molten iron core, which generates the magnetic field and indirectly controls volcanic eruptions and geothermal phenomena and plate tectonics. One is reminded of the Age of Iron — Kali Yuga — with its cruelties, as well as the iron core of a dying star just before it goes supernova — because iron is at the bottom of the mass defect curve which predicts nuclear fission and fusion. (Iron cannot do either.)

At the centre of the solar system is a star generating a steady stream of prodigious energy from thermonuclear fusion at ITS CENTRE.

At the centre of our galaxy, and perhaps other galaxies as well, is probably a super-heavy black hole with a mass of 3 million suns.

At the centre of the universe? Well, there is no centre, but perhaps we can imagine an echo of the original Big Bang and a foreboding of the eventual Big Crunch at a hypothetical centre.

All these are images of great power and beauty, sometimes of life and sometimes of death. C.S. Lewis in “Perelandra” has the scientist Weston who is in the Devil’s power express his horror of “the insides of things”: “All the colours and pleasant shapes are merely where it [the outside] ends…Inside, what do you get? Darkness, worms, heat, pressure, salt, suffocation. stink.” Weston was describing Hell, which he says awaits all who die. The opposite image of “inside” as life comes from a passage by James Lovelock, describing degrees of aliveness as you get closer and closer to the sanctum sanctorum. I have lost the quotation, so I am citing it approximately from memory: As you approach the Earth from outer space, it is more alive than the surrounding spaceS on the Earth, the biosphere is more alive than the upper atmosphere or the interior (the biosphere has been compared to the cambium layer around a tree trunk, the only living layer embedded in the dead wood)~ a specific organism is more alive than the surrounding atmosphere or ocean; in that organism, the soft tissue is more alive than the bone or shell; in a cell, the nucleus is more alive than the cytoplasm (but I am not sure of this last step).

Heaven or Hell, life or death, the centre of the Mandala is more intense than the periphery; but the centre is so intense that its pattern is eclipsed by the very brightness of its being — like the blazing Sun or the gaping and all-swallowing Black Hole. I call it “the White Hole”, because it cannot help creating just as a black Hole cannot help swallowing. The pattern in its diversity is most readily discernible in the periphery, where the creativity of the centre best manifests itself And so Lewis is right in saying that all the colours and pleasant shapes are on the outside.

One more example: the colour wheel. Colours have three properties: hue, saturation, and brilliance. Hues range over the rainbow from red to violet and sometimes outside (infrared and ultraviolet); saturation means depth of colour, e.g. from pink to red; and brilliance means brightness, i.e. shades of grey ranging from black to white superimposed on the hue. Imagine a wheel (a cylindrical disk)~ the hues are arranged around the circumference~ saturation increases along each radius (spoke) from the centre to the circumference; and brilliance increases upward parallel to the axis of the cylinder. All colours (combinations of hue, saturation, and brilliance) can now be represented by points in the cylinder. The CENTRE (the axis of the cylinder) is deep black at the bottom and bright white at the top. This particular Mandala well illustrates the nature of the Centre: black or white, it is colourless (patternless) itself, but is the origin and the source of all the colours.


Cores are nuclei, at zoom-up sizes

  • Nucleus of an atom — protons and neutrons (compounds of quarks).
  • Nucleus of some aromatic compounds — the resonating benzene ring.
  • Nucleus of a cell — DNA wound on histone rods, unwinding when turned on.
  • Nucleus of the earth — a partly molten iron core, churning out a magnetic field.
  • Nucleus of solar/stellar systems — a main-sequence middle-sized yellow star.
  • Nucleus of a galaxy — Originally a starburst, later a giant black hole.
  • Nucleus of a supernova — a rapidly spinning neutron star, after generating heavy elements.

All of these are Mandalas, prayer wheels on which to meditate.


Since iron is the element at the bottom of the mass defect curve, both fission and fusion of atomic nuclei converge toward iron as its final product, as they generate energy from mass.

When stars exhaust their hydrogen fuel, they start producing heavier nuclei: carbon, oxygen…and finally iron. Then the process can go no further and the dying star collapses catastrophically in a supernova explosion.

Dig deep down in the Earth, in a thought experiment; drill down through the crust, the mantle, into th~ core. The core, the heart of our planet, the source of its magnetic field, is made of iron, molten or solid. In the breath of life, we take in oxygen, conveyed by the blood to every cell. The red blood cells can transport oxygen because of the red pigment, hemoglobin. In the midst of its central heme molecule is an atom of iron. Hemoglobin is changing its structure, almost as ifbreathing, when it absorbs and releases oxygen. Similar to hemoglobin are the cytochromes which are active in oxygen transport inside cells they also contain a central iron atom. I find this, well… “inspiring”.

Iron is always in the centre: in the centre of the mass defect curve, suspended between fission and fusion; in the centre of dying stars about to scatter life-giving elements to other worlds; in the centre of the Earth, keeping the continents moving; in the centre of key molecules of life, as conveyors of energy.

That mysterious centre of the universal Mandala, the super-luminous centre of All; is it then made of iron? It seems to be in our age, the Iron Age, the age of the blood and iron of war, the Kali Yuga, when murderous Kali rules the world. Perhaps in the Golden Age, the Mandala centre was made of gold.


There are at least 8 alternative theories of what happens after death: annihilation, torment, bliss, heaven/hell, addition of purgatory and limbo to heaven and hell, the last judgment, reincarnation, and timeless eternity. Since no one knows for sure, the choice of belief can be according to personal taste, but truth value is not guaranteed. As we each go into the death process in our turn, there may be surprises, as unthought-of alternatives emerge.


This is the naturalistic theory, which makes no distinction between soul and body. Since the body obviously disintegrates at death, it follows that the soul must also. Another line of evidence: consciousness fades in conditions such as fainting and anaesthesia, or even in deep sleep; so that permanent unconsciousness is easy to conceive — though in another way difficult to imagine, since we have trouble thinking of the world going on without us.

According to the book “The Crone”, the naturalistic theory of the life-death cycle was the original religion of humankind, linked to the ancient Goddess religions, called fertility cults or paganism or Wicca (witchcraft) by the Christians who persecuted them. The Goddess created life in the beginning (as all women create life), and swallowed it again in the end (as Mother Earth does when we bury the dead). In a bigger cycle, She created and swallowed the World. As Kali she was feared as the agent of destruction; as Demeter (Dei Mater = Mother of God), her daughter Persephone ruled the underworld in Greek myth, as Ceres she produced life-giving crops, as Isis of Egypt she saved her sonlhusband Osiris from death, as Morgan of Avalon she was King Arthur’s sister, as Diana/Artemis she was a virgin Goddess requiring periodic death of the king (see Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”), as Venus/Aphrodite/Freia she was a seductress as in the opera “Tannhauser”. She represents the female incarnation of life-fertility-death intimately intertwined, as in the world of nature.

The basic belief is that “life is meant to circulate”. No being or creature, not even the gods, can or ought to monopolize it for ever or for very long. Just as matter and energy circulate in metabolism, so spiritual substance (soul) also circulates through innumerable living forms. Recycling is the norm for everything. Even time is not linear, but cyclic. While each creature’s life is finite and limited, Life as a whole is potentially eternal and limitless as a principle — though the largest cycle seems to end it, it reemerges as a Phoenix from the fire.

There are other expressions of the idea of death as annihilation. It is probably the most common belief, even among traditionally religious people (nominal Christians). Though they may cover it up by a veneer of public pretence, and sometimes the private denial of wish-fulfillment, at bottom they know that “dust unto dust, ashes to ashes” refers not only to the body, but to the soul as well. They believe that animals are extinguished at death, and it is difficult to pretend that human animals are any different.

With the newly aroused consciousness now of nature and the Earth, this naturalistic view of death is coming to the fore again. Dualistic notions of an immortal soul residing temporarily in a mortal body are fading. The physical side of life is emphasized, as science reveals more about its wonders, and as we realize how precious life is, because it may be on the edge of destruction on a large scale. There is a new spirituality connected with deep ecology, but it is not of the dualistic body-soul type. It is much more goddess-like — her new name is Gaia. It is akin to the old Nature worship, which never really disappeared. e.s. Lewis warns against worshipping nature instead of “Nature’s Maker”, but some of us, having lost all faith previously, have to make this lengthy detour — if it is a detour.

I read a simple account of death as annihilation recently, though I don’t remember where. It goes something like this: For half of endless time, there is nothing. Then suddenly this peephole opens, and voices start explaining what it is all about before you can decide on your own. Then soon the peephole closes and there is nothing again for the second half of endless time.


Another theory of death, though not a very commonly believed one, is that consciousness continues after death in undiminished clarity, that we will fully know all the details of our disintegrating body, with incredible pain and torment still pulsing through the nervous system. It is an unbearably horrible image, which is why few choose to believe it. It is also not a very likely one: where would the energy come from to operate the brain and nervous system when respiration and blood circulation stops? Yet the torment could exist for a time after clinical death, before progressive cell death spreads slowly through the system (for death does not occur all at once, it is a process).

In spite of its long-range improbability, this view remains a recurrent horrific nightmare. Weston (the Devil) describes it to Ransom in e.s. Lewis’ “Perelandra”. “Down here they take your head off…” There are stories of people not quite dead being embalmed and buried by careless undertakers, or burned alive in cremations. In certain medical conditions, patients’ muscles can be completely paralyzed while their mind is fully awake: treatment by certain drugs, advanced Parkinsonism, or awakening from “paradoxic (REM) sleep” before the muscles are “reconnected”. This latter experience I have had repeatedly, and it is still incredibly frightening, though I now know about it. I often feel that I will choke to death on a piece of phlegm before I can cough. Perhaps that could happen, but I doubt it. Yet precisely this may happen to infants in “crib death” or “sudden infant death syndrome”, when they stop breathing during deep sleep because of some defect or immaturity of the nervous system’s “panic button” in the brain’s respiratory centre.

The nightmare continues when you think about surgical operations. In deep anaesthesia, the doctors have your natural respiratory centre in the brain temporarily turned off by drugs, while machines breathe for you. What if your consciousness is not turned off, as everybody thinks, but only your memory? You may fully suffer the intense pain of the surgeon’s knife at the time, but simply not remember it afterwards; so no patient ever complains. When I say this to people, some say “even if it’s true, does it matter?” To them, a momentarily felt but unremembered horror is no problem. I disagree vigorously, as a believer in the Eternal Now; it matters like Hell, literally!

When I was having a broken wrist set, I was supposed to breathe nitrous oxide-oxygen mixture through a mask. When I did feel the surgeon pulling my band as if it would tear off completely, I thought amid the pain “It’s true!” Then I took a really deep breath of the gas mix and I was out like a light. Now this was not deep anaesthesia, and also I did remember it afterwards, so it was not quite what I postulated. But what if! was not really “out like a light” a little later?

I have never had deep anaesthesia; but I bad a muscle relaxant for dental surgery, which gave me a high — the opposite of torment. But more about tbat later.

In one of my essays (“Nightmares of the Dead”) (not in this collection), I go more into this theory of the afterlife as torment; though another theory, reincarnation, is mentioned there also.


This theory is favoured by tbe wish-fulfillers, though it is scientifically no more plausible than the theory of torment. The theory of bliss holds that the physical body is like a cage, preventing the soaring of the soul to its natural destination, pictured as “the Light”. When the cage releases its hold at death, the soul goes toward the Light by natural attraction, and finds eternal bliss and release from all pain automatically. This release or liberation is not conditional on good works or faith or any of the preconditions for salvation in heaven in the Christian scheme, to be described later. Liberation at death is unconditionally guaranteed to everyone, being simply the next stage of existence after earthly life.

Release into the Light follows death like life follows birth — everyone’s “death right” analogous to “birth right”. In fact, the process of death is often compared to the process of birth: both are physically painful, full of anxiety as one goes through a narrow passage like a tunnel, squeezed and not knowing when it will end. In both cases, there is light at the end of the tunnel; the new-born babe sees earthly light for the very first time on emerging from the birth canal, and the soul emerging from the body-cage sees the unearthly Light for the very first time. In each case, the light is a shock, a surprise, but when the surprise passes, it becomes a source of bliss and joy — a delight. The babe and the soul have to learn new ways to accommodate to their new mode of existence, whose rules and skills are radically different from the previous mode.

Yet there are connecting links. Above all, the soul is reunited in fellowship with dear and beloved ones it knew on Earth who have passed on before.

Relevant to this are recorded “near-death” experiences, recounted in several recent books and articles. The experiences of patients thought to have died, but later revived, include accounts of seeing a bright light, meeting loved ones who lead them toward the light, and feelings of bliss and happiness. In many cases, the patients are sorry that they were revived, forced to return to heaviness and materiality, sometimes even pain. In most cases, the result of the experience is the disappearance of the fear of death, at least until the vividness of the experience fades.

My own experience was not “near-death”, only an anaesthetic dream; it was nevertheless remarkable. I was administered a curare-type muscle relaxant for dental surgery. In the dream I found myself in an admission office to heaven, where a kindly man asked me to fill out an application form and asked me questions. He seemed puzzled, as if the information I provided did not quite fit — like a hotel clerk who denies having any record that you reserved a room for that night. Still, he seemed inclined to let me proceed through the door (still closed) to the next room, where, with great excitement and anticipation, I expected to find hitherto unimagined delights. But just before he could open that door, to my great dismay I found the dream dissolving, and I crashed down to earth with a very unpleasant shock. It was npt like an ordinary dream awakening, which is usually pleasant and easy. Alan was leaning over me in the recovery room, reporting later that I had looked very pale and still while under the anaesthetic and that he had been feeling sorry for me.

Near-death experiences are often cited as evidence for the existence of life after death. Yet this truth claim must be doubted. The patients whose experiences are cited were not really dead, nor could they ever be, if death is defined as permanent cessation of life from which one does not return. So judgment must be suspended. It has even been suggested that the source of the near-death experience is the dimly remembered event of our own birth — hence the similarities between birth and death noted above. In that case, we should be able to test this hypothesis by comparing the near-death experiences of people born by vaginal birth and those born by Caesarian section — for the latter have never passed through the birth canal.


The previous two alternative views were torment and bliss, but of course, it is possible to combine them, as is the Christian view. In general, the “good” or “virtuous” people are rewarded by going to Heaven, and the “bad” or “evil” people are punished by going to Hell. However, opinion differs on how “good” and “bad” is judged, Le. what constitutes merit.

In general, Catholics say that people are “saved” (i.e. go to Heaven) by works, i.e. virtuous behaviour, while Protestants say that people are “saved by faith”, i.e. by accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Both branches of Christianity agree that all people would go to Hell because of Adam’s and Eve’s original sin (let alone their own personal sins), if it were not for Christ’s sacrifice. Presumably, if Adam and Eve had left that apple alone, we would all go to Heaven, as long as we did not incur any deadly sins, without any vicarious sacrifice being required; or else we would all live forever in earthly Paradise — it is not quite clear.

The argument for being saved by works is similar to that of Karma in Eastern religions: by a law of spiritual causation, good actions automatically lead to beneficial results and bad actions lead to harmful results for the perpetrator; but in Christianity, unlike in Hinduism, the pay-offs happen in the afterlife, not in this or a future incarnation. The image is one of God as the keeper of the book of records for the lifetime of every soul, writing down the pluses and the minuses as in a ledger and working out the final balance. If it is in black ink, you go up to Heaven; if it is red ink, you go down to Hell. The process is so automatic that it could be done by a computer, but perhaps God must evaluate how many points (good or bad) each action deserves.

The argument for salvation by faith rather than by works is that human good works are not good enough to deserve Heaven; they are always tainted with sin (through hidden motives etc.), never pure. There would always be red ink at the end of every life, unless the deficit were made up by Jesus Christ. The extra brownie points he earned for us are a free gift (Grace), unconditional — but we have to claim it by believing in it and accepting him.

In contemporary Christian practice, Hell and the Devil are being de-emphasized more and more. Stories of eternal torment in Hell are said to frighten children too much; and indeed descriptions of Hell are incredibly sadistic. It is hard to believe that even the worst sinners deserve THAT much punishment let alone ordinary fallible human beings. If THIS is what most of us are destined for, it would be much better by far if we were never born, because after a relatively brief and not always pleasant life here, we would spend all the rest of endless time in incredible torment. How could a merciful God create such a scheme? Or was he forced into it by Satan, in some kind of a Job-like bet?

Most ordinary Christians nowadays, when their family members or friends die, assume without question that they have gone to Heaven, and all funeral eulogies say so. Otherwise, the grief of the mourners would be overwhelming. (Though some victims of the departed one’s misdeeds might vengefully prefer to see them in Hell.)

If Hell is shut off as a post-life destination, then the Christian description collapses into the “bliss” alternative previously discussed, and nothing more needs to be added here.


Some Catholic theologians have worked out very elaborate schemes of post-life alternatives, because they disliked the stark “either-or” alternatives of Heaven and Hell. After all, there are bound to be shades of grey among sinners, and if the punishment is made to fit the crime, then every person should not be treated in only one of two ways; there must be finer nuances.

There may be minor sinners who do not quite deserve Hell, but are not good enough for Heaven they need to be “purified”. For them, an in-between station called Purgatory was invented. In these temporary way-stations, souls are “purged” of their sins by a limited type of torment, and eventually they are admitted to Heaven. In Purgatory a soul expiates its sins, by doing penance as is done after confession among the living. Purgatory is like a limited sentence by a judge, while Hell is like a life sentence (really eternity sentence). Relatives and friends of the departed one light candles to shorten their loved one’s time in Purgatory — each candle being worth so many years.

Another conundrum is where the souls of the unbaptized go: children who died before baptism, or “savages” who never heard of Christianity and so had no chance of getting converted. These unfortunates lack the admission ticket to Heaven, even after a term in Purgatory, but obviously do not deserve eternal punishment. They are consigned to Limbo, the great catch-all category of left-overs or “miscellaneous” or “missing data” that every classification system must have. Presumably, these poor souls are permanently suspended in “nowhere”, at least until judgment day, because the authorities don’t know what to do with them. Maybe this comes close to the annihilation alternative, but the Christian writers do not want to admit that some souls might not be immortal.

Finally we have to add a place for the souls of the unborn, and perhaps never-to-be born, called Guv. I use this concept in my story “Changeling of the Universe”. It does not usually figure in the writing of Catholic theologians, but it is a part of Judaism.

Somewhere I have seen a diagram of this complicated scheme drawn up as a computer program, documenting “states of the soul” and the processes that lead to each. It is an interesting exercise in mathematical theology. And why not? I try to reconstruct it from memory.

From Guv a soul goes through birth to the state of non-salvation (if death occurs there, it goes to Limbo). Through baptism the soul enters into a state of salvation (if death occurs there, it goes to Heaven). If it commits a deadly sin, it enters a state of damnation (if death occurs, the soul goes to Hell). But through the process of confession and absolution, the soul moves from the state of damnation to the state of salvation (if death intervenes, the soul goes to Heaven). If a soul in the state of salvation commits a venial sin, it enters a state of conditional salvation (at death it will progress to Purgatory and eventually to Heaven). But if a conditionally saved soul goes through confession and absolution on Earth, it enters a state of salvation (from which it goes directly to Heaven at death). This scheme produces a neat and orderly state-of-the system diagram, where we. can always know where we stand. The nine states of the soul (Guv, non-salvation, salvation, conditional salvation, damnation, Limbo, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory) are unambiguously and deterministically connected by seven processes sometimes involving the sacraments (birth, baptism, deadly sin, venial sin, death, confession with absolution, expiation). An elaborate schem~, but satisfying to the believer.


This view is held by Judaism and also the Jehovah’s Witnesses in modified form. In this view, decision on an individual soul’s merit and fate is deferred until the End of the World. At a person’s death, the soul is temporarily annihilated, or perhaps put in Limbo; but on Judgment Day, both the soul and the body will be resurrected. The soul-body person, thus reconstituted, is judged as to its merits, and either continues to live forever in Earthly Paradise, or undergoes final and total annihilation.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses accept this view, and in addition believe that the Judgment will come in the lifetime of people now living. (“Millions now living will never die”, goes the saying.) Hence comes the urgency of their proselytizing, since only Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved for Paradise — all others will perish.

The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) teaches that this “sorting of the sheep from the goats” will occur at the Battle of Armageddon, the Last Battle. Armageddon is not a suitable model for nuclear war, though many people are taking it that way; for nuclear war would kill indiscriminately, sheep and goats, not do any sorting. However, some rightwing Christian Fundamentalists add the feature of “ravishment”, a process by which God plucks out all the righteous from the effects of a general nuclear war and saves them from death. Such people may even look forward to nuclear war as a process of purging the Earth from all sinners and evil-doers. Needless to say, this belief is extremely dangerous if such a believer gets into a position of power and tries to help the Lord along with his purge. Reagan was supposed to hold such views, and this inspired terror in many; but we now know that he did not do it, for whatever reasons. The Last Judgment view shares with the “salvation by works” view the idea that a ledger record is kept of each soul’s merits and demerits, in order to reach the final decision on that soul’s fate. The two views differ in three aspects: (1) when the judgment is administered (at the end of the world or at the time of death); and (2) the nature of the reward (Earthly Paradise versus Heaven) and (3) the punishment (annihilation or Hell). The Last Judgment view also has something in common with my essay “The Importance of Being Saved” (in Section IV), which postulates that lifetimes that are worthwhile contributions are “saved” like a computer text to be added to the build-up of Omega, while less worthy texts (lifetimes) are erased.

The long Limbo time that most soul-bodies have to wait until the final dispensation is reminiscent of the recent high-tech possibility to quick-freeze the body at death to await eventual resurrection when a cure for the disease that killed it has been found. However, that is the only similarity. The requirement for the high-tech resurrection (if in fact it proves feasible) is only to have enough money to pay for the service, not any moral merit. This “solution” also runs counter in a very fundamental way to the naturalistic annihilation view, which teaches that “life was meant to circulate”. It is also irrelevant to the Christian view that the survival or revival of the body does not matter, only that of the soul. If the Torment view is accepted, physical preservation of the body would only prolong the soul’s suffering, or perhaps postpone it.

The second-last card of the Major Arcana of the Tarot cards is called “Judgment”, and carries the appropriate picture of the dead rising from their graves as the archangel blows the trumpet. This may shed some light on the origin of the Tarot cards and their underlying religious philosophy. Probably they do not come from the East (India or China), where the view of death is more linked with reincarnation; but perhaps from esoteric cults of the Western (Middle Eastern) religions. The carriers, if not the originators, of the Tarot cards may have been the Gypsies.

How bodies are resurrected is a problem. Not only how to reconstitute the web of life once it has lapsed; but also at what age and state of health will each body be revived? For the organism changes greatly. during a lifetime, through aging and medical history; it is an extended “life-line”, not a point event. Proponents of this view do not usually mean (if they have thought about it at all) that the body will be resurrected as it was at the moment of death; this would usually produce a diseased or damaged body, not suited for long-range happiness in Paradise. The bodies rising from the graves on the Tarot card are pictured as young and healthy, some of them children.


This view is common to the Eastern religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. The soul is seen as circulating through a succession of bodies, animal and human (of different castes and classes). The next reincarnation in each cycle is determined by the Law of Karma, i.e. the merit or demerit in the life just ended. Only the truly perfect life is at the end rewarded by “getting off the Wheel of Life” and entering Nirvana, a state of perfect bliss and union with the Divine. A perfect life probably requires Enlightenment while still on Earth, i.e. a preliminary vision of Nirvana attained by deep meditation.

Presumably, the soul has a lesson to learn, called variously Enlightenment, Awakening, or Liberation; and it will keep getting reincarnated until it learns this lesson. Christians, too, see this earthly life (“vale of tears”) as a learning or testing time, to qualify for the next grade like a student at examinations; but in Christianity it is a once-only exam, while the Hindu student has a chance to repeat until he/she passes. In a way it’s like a Purgatory on Earth. It is assumed that every soul will eventually pass if it is recycled often enough, though some take longer than others. Therefore there is no need for Hell in the Hindu system, but one can descend to a lower grade as well as ascend to a higher one from one lifetime to the next, by the Law of Karma, in a very long and tedious game of Snakes and Ladders.

The aim of getting off the Wheel of Life seems like an anti-life orientation; but actually, believers only want to escape from suffering and enter into the bliss of a higher state of life. This higher state is the state of pure Being (having gone through the tortuous path of Becoming on the Wheel). This state of Being is the real goal of life, and getting off the Wheel is like finally reaching home, not at all like sliding into dissolution. It is an upward climb, not a downward slide. However, insofar as natural biological life is very much a state of imperfect Becoming rather than of perfect Being, the Nirvana orientation does seem other-worldly and anti-natural.

Reincarnation is also known by the name of transmigration of souls. In some primitive cultures allover the world (i.e. not only in the East), the soul of each new child is supposed to be the soul of a recently deceased relative, and sometimes the name is transferred to symbolize this. This kind of reincarnation has nothing to do with Karma; it is only the soul’s attempt to stay with the family or the tribe — its people. This belief provides spiritual continuity to reinforce the biological continuity “through the blood”. .

This tribal view is a dualistic one; it sees the circulation through the generations of people of two “substances” or “essences” — the physical and the spiritual, body and soul. They circulate quite independently of each other: the physical through “the blood” (i.e. the genes) of mother and father, the spiritual through the timing proximity of deaths and births in the tribe. No soul wants to remain for long without a body, so it seeks out and enters the very next expectant womb. Some tribal doctrines specify that the ancestor’s soul enters the fetus at the time of “quickening”, i.e. about 4 months after conception. A fetus younger than that presumably has no soul, though it does have life — a living body and a beating heart. Perhaps in our debates about the ethics of abortion, we should realize that, for tribal peoples, the question “when does life begin” has a different answer than the question “when does the soul enter”; the answers are, respectively, “at conception” and “at quickening”.


This is a view of death which I developed in my essays “Time and Eternity” (Section I) and “The Importance of Being Saved” (Section IV). Because it is described there, I will not repeat it here in detail, though I will outline it for the sake of completeness in this essay.

The idea is that time is only one of the four dimensions of the space-time continuum; while we are alive, we move uniformly along the time dimension and cannot control the rate of this movement. However, at death we enter a new reality or mode of existence called “eternity”, which is not at all an infinite extension of time, but a state of being in which we CAN control our movement through time — go forward or backward at whatever speed we choose, just as we can now already control movement along the three space dimensions. Thus we can relive — truly relive, not just remember — any part of our life, or all of it at once. It lies there all laid out like a panorama.

It follows that, if our life has been a good one and we are satisfied with our conduct of it and with our contribution as co-creators of the universe, we are automatically in a state of bliss. (This is not a reward, but a straight causal consequence; and it is a self-judgment, not the judgment of an external God.) If we messed up or our contribution has been negative, then we can see at a glance all the harm we have done and we enter into a state of irretrievable regret (torment) — irretrievable because we can no longer change even one iota of our life performance after death. We see it all, but have no access to means of redress — it is done. We are no longer co-creating, but contemplating. We have perfect knowledge, but zero power or influence. We have created our own Heaven or Hell for eternity while still alive in the temporal order. A perfect self-administered Karma system has given us our exact just deserts. No ledger book is needed.

Yet the system is not sadistic like the Christian Hell. There is no mention of fire and brimstone. We only gain clear insight into our own actions or inactions, and the torment is spiritual, not physical, which is appropriate.

The other part of this theory has to do with “being saved” or salvation. This is compared to saving a text in the computer, i.e. accumulating it in long-range memory. This is seen as a cumulative process for all humans and possibly for other life forms as well, on Earth and perhaps on other planets. A good life-text is saved, a bad or useless one is scrapped. Only the poor tormented soul who lived the unsaved life can still read it; or perhaps that soul is eventually erased along with the faulty text and its torment is ended.

The saved life-texts gradually build up (co-create) the Omega according to Teilhard de Chardin. Eventually there is enough wisdom and virtue in the Omega file to deserve the name “God”. But because time as we the living perceive it is unreal (it is only a dimension in Eternity), an ultimate wrap-around (Hofstadter’s “tangled hierarchy”) joins Omega to Alpha, and God is our creator as well as we being the creators of God. This is expressed by the ancient symbol of the snake eating its own tail; also the symbol for infinity (a figure eight lying on its side) which looks like a Moebius strip, a space figure with only one surface. We contribute different amounts to Omega — the Saints a great deal, ordinary people only a little bit, sinners nothing at all. The contributions could be quantified by one with perfect knowledge. Creation is a collective enterprise. Death is only the time when we hand in our assigned homework.

This collective cumulation feature is the distinctive one. The other beliefs described here, except perhaps the naturalistic annihilation one or the tribal version of reincarnation, are individualistic schemes. In the Eternity scheme, each individual soul is not required to reach perfection, either in a single lifetime or in repeated reincarnations; it is taken as it is, and if its Karma is positive at all, even slightly, its contribution is accepted and merged into the common pool.


This “tour d’horizont” of death theories may not be complete, but it presents a fascinating variety of views. Unfortunately, their validity cannot be established. Death remains as much of a mystery as ever. Yet the greatest mystery is life. It is easier to accept that there is nothing than that there is something.


There are four Yogas or paths recognized in Hinduism: Jnana Yoga, the path of philosophical reflection on meta-physical reality; Bakhti Yoga, the path of worshipful adoration of the revealed deity; Karma Yoga, the path of faithful service, good works, and ethical conduct in the secular realm; and Raga Yoga, the path of supra-conscious meditation and direct encounter with God. They represent Knowledge or Salvation (whichever is regarded as more valuable) through either Thought or through Love or through Goodness (Merit) or through Transcendence.

The four Yogas are like four paths or approaches to a mountain top, and they converge at the peak. Some paths are steep and short (like the Eiger Nordwand in the Swiss Alps), some are more gradual but longer (like the approach to the Eiger from the Jungfraujoch), but the altitude or elevation difference that must be traversed is identical. The vertical distance from the Human to the Divine is a constant of nature.

The four Yogas are like the four elements of the Greeks (Jnana = Air, Bakhti = Water, Karma = Earth, Raga = Fire), or like the four cardinal astrological signs (Libra, Cancer, Capricorn, Aries), or like the four seasons (Autumn, Summer, Winter, Spring — not in order but arranged to correspond), or like the four primary colours (blue, green, yellow, red), or like the Light, Love, Will (or Power), and the Divine Plan on Earth of the Great Incantation of World Goodwill. It is a case of complementary quaternity, just as the Yin and Yang symbol is one of complementary (not antagonistic) duality.

I am beginning to experience a fIfth path or Yoga. It is not deductive/rational like Jnana Yoga, not emotional/enthusiastic like Bakhti Yoga, not practical/ethical like Karma Yoga, not supraconscious/transcendent like Raga Yoga. It is experiential/inductive like science, but also intuitive/inspirational like poetry. It depends on Serendipity, on receiving “messages” or “signs” in everyday life that could be coincidences (they are not supernatural), but are so appropriate to my situations and needs of the moment that it takes my breath away. If I had asked God for a sign, this is the form it would have to take, short of a miracle which I have no right to expect. It is the form that Divine Guidance would be expected’ to take. It requires active attention on my part, being open and atuned to receive the message and to decipher and understand it. (The Christian doctrine is that one must be open to receive Divine Grace when it is freely given.)

The “induction” involved lies in interpreting these occurrences as messages rather than coincidences; not because of any statistical tests or correlations, but because of the appropriateness, the Meaning. This is not a “proof’ of the existence of God, but “evidence” (not certain, but provisionally acceptable like a scientifIc theory until falsifIed). It is like the evidence derived from other repeated observations, such as the succession of the seasons or of day and night (we DO expect the sunrise tomorrow although we cannot PROVE that it will come); or like the evidence that the external world continues to exist when we are not looking at it, which every child accepts, even if all philosophers do not. The evidence is not water-tight, but, as night follows day, it is very commonly accepted. I did not at fIrst believe that these were messages, but there are now enough of them that in all fairness I have to acknowledge their presence and their reality — because of their relevance. In what follows, I want to give several examples of my own experiences. I surmise that if others search their memories, they will find instances of their own, relevant to them, that speak to their condition.

1. CANTERBURY HILLS. That day I was very disturbed by a family quarrel. I drove out of the house with no intention ever to return, but I did not know where to go. I took Old Ancaster Road, but then on impulse I turned off before reaching Ancaster, though at that time I did not know where that side road led. It took me to the main lodge of Canterbury Hills, an Anglican retreat centre. “All right”, I said to myself in my agnostic testing mode, “I will ask God for help, if He is really here.” With that, I tried the front door, but it was locked. The side door and the back door were also locked, and there was no one around. “Here is my answer”, I thought. “Either God does not exist or he shuts me out.” And I walked further, stopping to sit and cry on a tree stump and then walking on.

And then it happened. Suddenly in front of me was an outdoor chappel, with pews and an altar up front. God was telling me “I don’t just live in that locked house, I am out here and open to everyone at all times. What can I do for you?” I sat down in the pew and poured my heart out, silently and in words. There was no word answer, no advice, just a gentle breeze and then a great calm. The grief was gone, and I knew that I should go back home. Walking uphill to the parking lot, I met a man (probably tbe caretaker) who had apparently been watching me. “Can I help you in any way?” he offered gently. “No, thank you, I will be all right now”, I said, got in the car, and drove home. Everything was peaceful there. The quarrel was not resumed nor ever referred to again.

2. HEY JUDE. This was a top popular song by the Beatles in the 1960s. For a time I heard it everywhere, even in Prague airport near the time of the Soviet occupation of 1968. But what I am referring to here is a series of three car accidents, all of which ended with relatively little harm to me though it could have been much worse, and in all three cases “Hey Jude” was on the car radio immediately before the accident. I took it to mean “You’ll be all right even though something is about to happen.”

In the first accident, my motor failed when I was driving up steep Old Ancaster Hill. I tried to back up downhill without power, but there was a curve in that road and I ended up with my rear going through the guard rail and then just hanging there over the cliff by the wire, I got out and someone pulled the car back up for me. I just had to pay for the guard rail damage.

In the second accident, I was driving home on the Queen Elizabeth Way from Toronto Airport in the snow, and I skidded on a bridge and almost turned right around, but came to a beautiful stop on the shoulder facing the right way. After collecting my wits a bit, I just drove the rest of the way home.

In the third accident, I was driving to Kingston on the 401 and was already past Toronto near Morningside Drive, but the morning sun was in my eyes and I didn’t make it around a sharp curve where 401 and Lakeshore used to join (they have changed that now) because I was going too fast. I went through the guard rail which did not stop me this time, but I ended up in a soft snowdrift down beside the road without any damage, though the police would not let me drive on to Kingston without having the steering repaired. I went on to Kingston (a World Federalist meeting) by train.

There is nothing too remarkable about these accidents, or about my luck in emerging unhurt. But each time just before it happened, the car radio played “Hey Jude”, and I took it as reassurance that I was under divine protection.

Maybe this one is not too convincing because they played that song so often, but it felt significant to me at the time. Later they did not play it so much, but I stopped having accidents.

3. About 20 years later I liked walking the path through woods and meadow between the A&P shopping Plaza and Hope street in Dundas. That path goes right beside Spencer creek, the main Dundas waterway. I sometimes sit on the stone wall beside the creek and watch the water flow by.

One time when I sat there I prayed to God to give me a sign, even though I knew that this should not be done; who am I to challenge the Ground of All Being? I half forgot it by the time I got in the car to drive home. Then I noticed the song on the radio, a spiritual called “The Storm Is Passing Over, Hallelu”. I was ready to recognize it as a sign of sorts, but there was no storm, either literally or figuratively.

Yet within a week, Alan’s last illness began (the last stages of Parkinsonism), and I was spending day and night in the hospital, not able to continue my work which I love, and thoroughly frustrated because I could no longer understand his speech so that I could better serve him. Then he started having hallucinations, and insisted on going home although he was not medically ready for it. I just gave up, hired round-the-clock nurses regardless of the cost. I remember the head nurse in the hospital asking me how am I doing myself, and me saying in a flat voice “Oh, I am finished.” And she said resolutely, “No, you are not. I know, I have been a caregiver.” Alan died the very next night after coming home. It was as if he had wanted to die at home and not in the hospital.

At the same time that this was going on, the Gulf War broke out, which was profoundly depressing to me, because I had thought that the 1989 revolutions meant a turn for the better in the world. I was so depressed by the confluence of the two storms, the domestic one and the world one, that I kept rubbing my eyes though there were no tears, and my hair kept falling over my face because I had no time to go have a haircut.

And after Alan’s death, and after the Gulf war ended, I got sick and could not get over it for a whole month, which is very unusual for me, and Dr. Richardson could not figure out the reason. I thought that Alan was calling me to come join him in the grave, which already had my name on the marker, without the final date. But I did recover, I did adjust, the storm passed over.

I had had no idea the storm was even coming when I asked my question beside Spencer creek that day. And the term “passing over” had meaning for me, in the sense of the Passover celebration, commemorating the time when the Angel of Death who took all the firstborn in Egypt at the time of the Exodus “passed over” the houses of the Hebrews whose doors were marked with the blood of a lamb.

4. Very recently I was depressed when the accountant told me that our Institute was running out of money and could not continue in this way. I am not a businesswoman by instinct or training, and did not know just what to do. Then within less than an hour, while I was driving somewhere in Hamilton, I saw no less than four signs that seemed to say “cheer up”. One was a banner stretched across Main street announcing “Earthsong”, a local festival to which I had certain emotional associations. The second sign that flashed by was a billboard saying “The Beat Goes On”, the very words I had used in my poem about the storm passing over (“Passover”). (See previous paragraph). The third sign was a piece of grass

growing out of a tiny crack in the cement wall beside our driveway. And the fourth sign was the outline of the tall tower of the Century 21 building against a blue sky.

Very tiny signs — but put them together: the heart beat goes on in the Song of the Earth, as Life Overcomes the stone walls, and the Future will be glorious.

5. Just last week, I was worried about my son Ian and his wife Merrill separating and engaging in mutual recriminations and accusations. I looked up at the window sill where I had put a card saying “God loves you” some years ago, and it was missing. I felt that perhaps God does not love me any more, has abandoned me. (One has to be open to negative messages too, not only positive ones, to make the induction valid.) I went to bed feeling miserable.

When I got up in the morning, the first thing I did was to look for that card. Without much trouble I found it — it had just fallen off onto my desk which is right up against the window. Much relieved, I picked it up; but how did it get way over here on the left side when it had been on the right side on the window sill? It was as if it was trying to draw attention to itself.

Then I noticed that there was a note pinned to it. I don’t remember putting it there years ago, but I must have. The note quoted from Tennyson’s “The Passing of Arthur”:

The old order changeth
giving place to new
and God fulfills himself
in many ways
lest one good custom
should corrupt the world.

I was stunned by the appropriateness of it. And the card had fallen off not to give a negative message, but to make me pick it up and read the note.

Inside the card was Alan’s signature — he gave me the card on Valentine’s day while his writing was still legible, so it must have been in the early 80s. But the writing in the poem was not Alan’s. Who had written this to me?

I turned the note over, and it was an address card of Tom Pepper in Saskatoon. I couldn’t believe it. He had sent me this shortly after the episode in June 1979 in Saskatoon when I was staying in his and Betty’s house for a CPREA conference. I had tried to commit suicide, gave up on it, came back to the house, and told Tom about it, and he comforted me, having had some experience with attempted suicide in his own family. (His mentally disturbed son actually did kill himself many years later.)

This last experience was really too much. I cannot deny it any more. Someone — some One — is sending me signs. I’d better start believing it.


God is said to be “ineffable”, quite impossible for us to understand or approach. He is outside our experience. We can say nothing at all about Him. Is that really so?

He is outside of space and time. Especially time, for eternity (simultaneity) is very difficult for us to grasp. Yet we can stretch our mind to achieve it. God seems immutable to us, because in a way He extends throughout time. Yet His fingers (emanations) can reach into history.

He is good by definition, since, being the ground of all being, he is a precondition of our existence as well. Yet evil things sometimes happen in this world, perhaps being necessary to reach a long-range goal which is good. God and God alone can use the principle that the end justifies the means, because only He can clearly foresee the goal.

He is all-knowing also by definition, by the same principle which in the human case we would call the anthropic principle: if He were not good, omniscient and omnipotent, the world would not exist and we would not be here to talk about it.

He is all-powerful by the same principle, the same kind of argument as above. Yet there is the very deep question (raised by Einstein and more recently by Hawkins) whether He could have made the universe obey different laws. Are natural laws like the theorems and axioms of mathematics? Could even the latter (and logic) be other than they are?

He is infinite, in the same sense that the points on the horizon circle are. I often imagined as a child that I was one of those points on the horizon while other people were other points. I am unique, yet identical with others. Later I found out that a line (straight, circular, or otherwise) is made up of an infinity of points, so that there is room for us all. Any continuity is internally an infinity.

He is immanent as well as transcendent, because He is bigger than His creation which He permeates; He extends beyond it as well as being in it. It is like coffee in the cup permeating the dunked doughnut, but also extending beyond it. So He has at least a duality of persons — the God-head and the Holy Spirit. The Logos could be an agent of creation, a Word that issued from the eternal Centre like a finger, saying “Let there be light” (or life). It connects the eternal and the temporal, the transcendent and the immanent. God and His creation remain linked non-locally. It is like the gluons that hold the quarks together.

He is Truth because He is all of being; there is no truth, no existence, no reality beyond Him. He is the bedrock of reality, the only “thing” that is truly real, or really true. All else is maya.

He is Love, as mirrored in His creation, in the way in which quarks came together in protons and neutrons, and protons and neutrons came together in nuclei, which came together with electrons to form atoms, atoms came together in molecules and crystals and macromolecules and living cells and multicellular organisms and societies (of ants and humans). His love is also made manifest in the way in which galaxies and stars conspired to produce the heavy elements needed for life. Note: sometimes through evil, like the agony of dying stars, nucleosynthesis assures the coming of later good, such as life on planets. Even the Star of Bethlehem was probably a supernova, which may have destroyed its planets in the explosion millennia before its light, travelling through the vastness of space, reached the Earth at Bethlehem to announce the Good News.

He is Beauty. As His creatures, we cannot help admiring all there is, and singing hallelujahs to His splendour.

He is Joy, to be experienced as everyday communion with nature, family and friends, as well as in occasional peaks of ecstasy. It is a joy free from association with pain, unlike sexual ecstasy; joy pure and simple.

He is a constant Presence for those who know Him. His immanence is deep in our souls, but accessible in meditation. Because of the divine spark, the light within, artificial intelligence machines will never be alive as persons. They are built from the outside in, while we were created from the inside out. The dimensions may meet at intermediate sizes, but the soul will be lacking. Human technology cannot reach deep enough, nor have enough power to implant it.

It seems that I have said quite a lot about that which is said to be unreachable by words. It is not deductive or inductive knowledge, not a proof of existence or of attributes, but it is knowledge nevertheless.


The bread and the wine are trans-substantiated
constantly and unmiraculously into flesh and blood.
We eat and drink and absorb substances
into our own body and energy.
The Eucharist is a symbol of physical reality,
or rather its spiritual translation.
It is like saying “as below, so above”.
We ingest the qualities of the Holy Spirit,
break them down into info-bits that we can understand,
like starches into sugars, proteins into amino acids.
We then link them up in our own way
into different mega-bytes
(sugars into starches, amino acids into proteins).
We do this according to our own genetic programs,
and they become Self and not Non-self
The spiritual bits we absorb from the Holy Spirit
are reassembled into theological structures
of which our mental apparatus is capable,
transformed from their original Divine self
which is quite beyond us.
But these bits of the Divine Essence
are like that of God within us,
splinters of the diamond Godhead
assembled into human patterns.
And they become different religions
with different Messiahs, who fight each other
with sword and spear,
not only word and pen.
How can splinters from the same diamond do this?
Each builds up, in us, an immune system
which defends Selffrom Non-self,
not knowing that each Non-self is another version of Self.
The diamond chips are pure crystalline carbon,
but each becomes contaminated with the other elements
(hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, potassium, calcium…)
with which our bodies are necessarily encumbered,
so that we tend to lose the message from God.
We must make an effort to reassemble the diamond chips
back into the perfect crystal of the Holy Spirit.


If DNA is the Word, then the Word was not in the beginning. So says Freeman Dyson. DNA or RNA was only the second beginning, hooking into a pre-existing protein life like a virus parasite.

Extending Lynn Margulis’ (1981) picture of the eukaryotic cell as the result of cooperation (symbiosis) of two or three more primitive (prokaryotic) cells further back in time, Dyson sees even the nucleic acids as only later adjuncts, though necessary for subsequent evolution, as it turned out. However, if this very early symbiosis had not occurred, other lines of development, quite inconceivable to us, might have resulted.

What happened in the first beginning, he does not say, except to indicate that metabolism began as chemical cycles involving proteins and energy production and consumption. And he adds a third component of the earliest life, besides replication (DNA or RNA) and metabolism (protein), (which he calls software and hardware, respectively); the third component is spatial segregation of the initial living matter into droplets of “coacervate” (a kind of a liquid precipitate from the main aqueous phase, like the oily droplets in an emulsion; this concept was used by Oparin in his book “The Origin of Life”). The coacervate droplets were separated from the surrounding medium by a primitive membrane (somewhat like soap films stabilizing an oil-in-water emulsion) and became proto-cells, even before the metabolism inside became fully functional. The separation is necessary, because the intricate mechanisms of life can develop and stabilize with sufficient intensity to become self-sustaining in only limited regions of space, and they must be kept from being constantly diluted by the lifeless medium in which they are suspended.

I will try to speculate now about that initial push, the real first beginning. This is a bit audacious, because little is known about it. James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, wrote that to him the origin of life is “ineffable”. But it is not tabu territory to speculate about, which many have done. Our very real fascination with it will not permit us to stay away.

Many years ago, Lecomte De Nouy “proved” that life could not have arisen by chance or accident, because it is just too improbable to have all the right atoms to come together by chance in the right numbers and configurations. He calculated the probability of this n-body collision, and concluded that the time required for this to happen by chance would be far longer than the known age of the universe. Ergo, he reasoned, God must have created life.

To me, that argument is fallacious, because no one has ever assumed such an n-body collision — the coming together would be gradual and stepwise, from building block to bigger building block, as in many ordinary chemical reactions. Moreover, he totally ignored inter-atomic and inter-molecular forces of attraction (valence or Van der Waals), which make atoms “stick together” in collisions instead of bouncing off elastically. Atoms are not just a bunch of billiard balls. The thermodynamic equation F = H — ST describes the situation. (F is free energy, H is total energy, S is entropy, T is absolute temperature.) F is a measure of the tendency of macromolecules to build up, H is the chemical bonding attraction which helps it along, and S is the tendency to disorder, i.e. the tendency for the macromolecules to fly apart again, which they do with increasing alacrity as the temperature goes up. So the build-up is governed by these two opposing tendencies, to build up and tear down. The entropic tendency to tear down large improbable structures like proteins is admittedly very high, and therefore the probability of their formation and preservation is very low — but not quite as low by far as Lecomte De Nouy calculated. The universe has had enough time to form proteins spontaneously, but probably not to preserve them for continuous operation, without further processes helping out.

Thermodynamics is all about equilibrium; but living systems are Prigoginian structures — far from equilibrium, open to through-flow of matter and energy, and continuously self-regenerating through intricate cycles. These are called dissipative structures, and they build up high negentropy inside by exporting entropy outside. (This is why even primitive proto-cells need a membrane — to distinguish the inside from the outside.) Not all dissipative structures are “alive” (whatever that means — I have not even defined “life”); some are just self-perpetuating chemical reactions like the Belousov Zhabotinsky reaction maintained by Prigogine in his “Brusselator”, or the patterns one gets by heating shallow layers of water. But of course, the most interesting dissipative structures are alive, and Prigoginian theory is interesting mainly because of this connection.

The main feature of Prigoginian dissipative structures is pattern maintenance; while matter and energy flow through quite freely and sometimes quite rapidly, the pattern is preserved, in what has been called a hyper-stable condition. In the case of early life, “the pattern” refers to the metabolic energy cycles that Dyson mentions. The initial push to form the pattern would come from the energy of sunlight, lightning bolts, or volcanism on the primitive earth in a reducing atmosphere.

It is known from Miller’s experiments that, even today, we can form amino acid solutions by passing electrical discharges through a reducing mixture composed of water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. From the reactants to the products, the path is not very steeply up in the free-energy landscape, and the amino acids formed are fairly stable. Amino acids are even found in meteorites, so they are not that uncommon in the universe. They are less stable in today’s oxygen-rich atmosphere, but now that does not matter any more. (Carbon dioxide is the most stable form of carbon under today’s conditions.)

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, but they don’t hook up (polymerize) spontaneously. There is a free-energy hill to climb up to proteins. Perhaps (this is speculative) the energy transfer needs an intermediate, like the ATP-ADP-AMP system (or some other molecules with high-energy phosphate bonds). (ATP is adenosine triphosphate, ADP is adenosine diphosphate, AMP is adenosine monophosphate; they form from each other by the addition or subtraction of phosphate groups, absorbing or liberating energy in the process.) This system could be “charged” by solar energy and then help polymerize the amino acids to proteins. The proteins would eventually fall apart again (depolymerize), so we still have no stable cycle. Repeated injections of energy would still be needed. We have not yet achieved a take-off into self-sustainability.

The proteins formed would vary in their amino acid composition, the sequence of the amino acids along the polymer chain, and therefore also the conformation (the folding of the chains, overall shape, and the polar and non-polar groups displayed on the surface). There are some 20 different amino acids that compose proteins today; the assortment may have been somewhat different in the beginning, but the number was probably about the same. This would give extremely high numbers of possible combinations and permutations in the sequences (assuming they form at random), and therefore in conformations. Every time a polymerization to protein would occur, the product would be somewhat different, as in a giant lottery machine blindly seeking for a most favorable conformation. There would not yet be any RNA guiding the synthesis of specific proteins, no ribosome machinery for the assembling of amino acids — only the energy from ATP and the supply of assorted amino acids as the raw materials. The selection would be quite unguided at this point, as it needs to be to find the right combinations, which are as yet unknown. If we don’t know the combination in a padlock, all we can do is dial numbers at random, hoping eventually to unlock the treasure box. It might take eons, but we have the time. (It does not take as long as the age of the universe.)

One of these protein macromolecules some day might have the right shape for becoming an enzyme; i.e. have a “site” on its surface, a pocket of the right size and polarity, to catalyze a chemical reaction, and have at least a reasonable specificity for that one reaction only. The specificity and catalytic power might not at first be as high as that in modern enzymes of present living forms, which are very “high tech”, but be sufficient though crude tools for their time. The chemical reaction catalyzed by the proto-enzyme might be some fermentation, e.g. producing energy from hydrogen sulfide or methane, as some Archeobacteria still do today. The energy from the fermentation would then charge up the ATP system which could produce more protein. It could also produce the materials for the bilipid layer for cell membranes and supply other needs. We now have a stable sustained energy supply, no longer dependent on bolts of lightning and the like; we can produce proteins rapidly, speeding up the selection of more enzymes, and improving the efficiency of previous enzymes. New and better enzymes can catalyze new and better fermentations producing more energy. We have achieved take-off to a self-sustaining, even self-accelerating cycle.

It can feed on itself and maintain its pattern, like a true dissipative structure. It still does not “breed true” in the sense that the same enzyme may not be produced in the next polymerization, because it is unguided. Exact replication has to wait for the nucleic acids, RNA or DNA, which are not yet there. But, as Dyson says, high variability may be an advantage in the beginning, when the search for the right combinations is still on. It is only when the really excellent combinations have been found that we want to hang on to them for sure and replicate them faithfully.

In a memorable passage, Dyson talks about the boundary between life and death being very fluid at this stage, and moreover easily reversible. It would have been just as easy to originate life in repeated little jumps and revert to non-life just as repeatedly; death and resurrection as common-place recurrent events. I would compare it to the flicker in a fluorescent lamp just before it finally takes off to a steady light. (Or sometimes it doesn’t.)

Besides the detailed chemistry, what is important to me is the holistic image: a strong jet of energy from the sun keeping an unstable (but hyper-stable) structure balanced at a free-energy peak. Imagine a strong air or water jet pointing vertically upward (like the famous water-jet in Geneva), with a ping pong ball balanced on top of it; the ball keeps on falling under gravity, but the jet keeps it up, dancing forever in its precarious perch way up the free-energy mountain. That is what has happened on this planet, and the sun is still keeping our ping pong ball high up, in fact ever higher over time, by its strong whoosh of energy flux. But it can do it only because the energy transfer systems are in place, the fermentations and the ATP and the amino acid polymerization and the enzymes. (Nowadays also photosynthesis and respiration, but these came later.)

By focusing both on the macro and the micro picture, the bouncing ping pong ball and the chemical cycles, the holistic and the reductionist image, we can gain an overall insight into this event of primal Genesis. It was not really a point event, but an extended historical process. Understanding of it is not only an intellectual process, but a spiritual experience. There is a “Eureka” feeling of revelation in finally but suddenly grasping the complex aspects in their totality. This is what happened on this planet! My God!

The story is, of course not complete as told. We must proceed now to the “second origin” of Dyson, the introduction of the replicator systems. I will stick quite closely to his description here, which I found very enlightening.

At the stage of protein life as described up to this point, there would have been present in the proto-cells a certain concentration of the members of the ATP system and some of its chemical cousins. We need more chemical details here: adenosine monophosphate (AMP) is an example of a nucleotide; its chemical cousins would be other nucleotides, such as uracil, guanine, thymine, or cytosine. These too might be active in energy transfer systems in the proto-cell, because they too can add extra phosphate groups and hold them by high-energy bonds. Now the nucleotides are in the same relation to nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) as amino acids are to proteins; i.e. nucleotides can be polymerized to nucleic acids like amino acids can to proteins.

Experiments by Eigen (described by Dyson) have shown that nucleotides polymerize to nucleic acid if there is a protein present to act as an enzyme for this process. So we can visualize that in an early proto-cell of protein life, an “accident” happened: an RNA was produced by a spontaneous polymerization. (“An Eigen reaction 3 billion years before Eigen did it”, says Dyson.) An Eigen reaction produces an RNA with a random assortment of nucleotides (in the absence of a pre-existing RNA or DNA as a template). However, even the random RNA would have the capacity to replicate itself with high fidelity, by essentially the same base-pairing mechanisms that are now well known in molecular genetics. So the product of the “accident” would be like a highly infectious virus affecting the proto-cell and making it “sick”. (Later it was also found that RNA can act as an enzyme as well as a template; this configuation is called a ribozyme.)

Like a virus, the RNA can replicate itself only inside a living cell where the appropriate enzymes are available, not outside. This is still true of modern viruses, whether of the DNA kind (most of them) or the RNA kind (retro-viruses, like HIV that causes AIDS). It has long been a puzzle for biologists to decide whether bacteria or viruses came on the scene first — in fact, whether viruses were alive at all. We may now be close to an answer: what we might call “akaryotic cells” (ones without any nucleic acids) came on the scene first, viruses second, and their union produced bacteria, i.e. prokaryotes, with which the story as told in our text books usually starts.

How did the akaryotes (what I previously here called “protocells”) overcome the “sickness” introduced accidentally by the newly synthesized RNA virus? This is a case of converting a parasitic relationship (where the parasite exploits the host to the parasite’s benefit and the host’s disadvantage) gradually through reluctant tolerance to coexistence to adaptation and finally to symbiosis, a cooperative relationship in which both partners benefit. A zero-sum game becomes non-zero sum and then cooperative, a win-lose game goes to a win-win game.The two “origins” of life, the metabolizers and the replicators (proteins and nucleic acids), co-evolved not only to be complementary in their functions, but became so tightly coupled that they are now almost inconceivable without each other. “Overcoming your enemies by converting them into friends” has never seen a better example. DNA transcription into RNA, and RNA translation into protein, now requires specific protein catalysts (enzymes), and proteins cannot be formed other than by translation from RNA. “The Central Dogma” of molecular genetics dictates in which direction the genetic information flows, and there are few transgressions from this dogma.

You might wonder what happened to flexibility and the random search for perfection in enzymes and — yes — the replicators themselves. Dyson has a theory, which he calls his “toy model” because it is so oversimplified, according to which it was an advantage at first to be able to tolerate a high error rate (about 20%) in copying macromolecules, because it then requires fewer types of molecules (maybe 100) to put together a smoothly working homeostatic system. With the very low error rate now achieved with RNA and DNA replication, it would need some 10,000; it would probably never get off the ground. However, the advantage is reversed later on, and very accurate replication becomes desirable. With certain enzymatic “proof-reading” and “correcting” steps, genetic information is now copied with an error rate of about 1 in a billion. (As a professional editor, I am green with envy.)

The arrival of the replicators can be seen in several ways. In the ping pong ball metaphor, it means that another big whoosh of the water jet has put the little ball sky-high above the high-entropy background, like a rocket that almost disappears from sight. We are going to increasingly less probable structures, sucking negentropy from the surroundings very greedily as we go.

Another view is that life has come under a dictatorship of the replicators; that “selfish genes” now rule the roost, not really caring about the well-being of their temporary protein envelopes as long as they can reproduce and perpetuate themselves. (This is the view of Richard Dawkins.) Genes are potentially immortal, and by a strange reversal of roles, genes are the only ones that matter; the rest is a “mortal coil” to be shuffled off and a new one found as time goes on. Some genes are even “neutral” (convey no evolutionary advantage); these are carried along as “free riders” and have been termed “junk DNA” (the non-coding portions that cannot direct the making of proteins). Some genes even “cheat”: hook themselves onto successful genes to keep from being eliminated by natural selection if their gene products (proteins) prove to be disadvantageous.

Such “biological fascism” then leads to socio-biological theories of behaviours like altruism (in ants and in humans) purely on the basis of wanting to benefit one’s genes. (Sociobiology theory was developed by E.O. Wilson.) I help my own child in preference to my niece or nephew, because I share more genes with my child. I do not accept the rule of selfish genes, either as a natural fact or as a rule of moral conduct. Genes are the servants of the organism, not its masters. My choice of whose life to save first in a mass drowning is the choice of my brain, not my genes — and I might well choose a genetically unrelated friend, or in fact my husband whose genes are different. Realistically, I would probably just grab whoever is closest, if I could still think straight at all under the circumstances.

The facet of the gene-protein symbiosis that I prefer to think about is the close coupling. I don’t know what that means in chemical concreteness, but I am reminded of some of the authors in the “Gaia” book (Bunyard and Goldsmith) writing about the close coupling that occurred at some early point between the Earth’s biota and the atmosphere/water/soil. They insist that more than co-evolution is involved; that would be a loose coupling only. Close coupling at some point became inevitable, like with a teen-age boy and girl being put in bed together naked. As with the biota and the rest of the biosphere, so with proteins and nucleic acids, close coupling was inevitable, even though the relationship began as a virus infection.

I will not pursue the story of the origin of life any further, or I would end up writing a biology text book. Even so, the events of the “double origin” that I described may well have taken more time in Earth’s history than the rest of evolution, with its myriad different life forms. As with so many phenomena, the beginnings are the hardest.

Only one more question: was the development of life on Earth inevitable? Being such an improbable event, or series of events, I don’t think so; things could have gone otherwise, even under the favorable circumstances we had here. The experiment could still end, as it almost did in the Great Permian Extinction. But I refrain from speculating — this time — about ends. This essay is about origins only.


“Oh”, said Goldilocks, “this bowl of porridge is too hot. And this one is too cold. But that one is just right.” And she ate it all up. Then one bed was too hard, the second one was too soft, but the third one was just right. So she curled up in it and went to sleep.

As with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, so it is with our Three Sister Planets. Venus is too hot and has a tremendous greenhouse effect with its CO 2 -rich atmosphere; Mars is too cold with hardly any atmosphere at all; but the Earth is just right. Goldilocks would like it here, as we all do.

It seems that Goldilocks tends to avoid extremes, prefers to sail right down the middle. In this, the little girl is representative of life in general. Life thrives on Earth because of its middle position. But life also prefers middle positions on many other scales. Let us review a few of them.

Life must avoid the extremes of boiling and freezing; i.e. it seeks the middle range of the temperatures at which water is a liquid at atmospheric pressure. (The latter is an Earth-bound concept, but never mind.) The optimum is about 25 degrees C. The range of air and water temperatures suitable for life then has to stay between about -40 and +40 degrees C. This range is rather narrow, and Earth temperature has probably been regulated for billions of years by Gaian mechanisms to stay within this range.

The requirement, implied above, that water must be in the liquid state can be seen as another generalization: life is between the extreme rigidity of a solid and the extreme tenuousness of a gas, mainly in the flexible but stable state of matter characterized as liquid. Solids and gases are utilized by life processes, e.g. skeletal support and breathing by lungs; but most of the process goes on in liquid or semi-liquid phases, aqueous or oily.

Being between water and oil phases is another dimension of life. Oil and water do not mix, of course, so they form two distinct liquid phases. Life not only utilizes both phases, but actively exploits phenomena at the interface of the two. Some parts of proteins are hydrophilic and other parts are lipophilic (or hydrophobic), which helps to determine the structure and function of these building blocks of life. Cell membranes are hydrophilic on both inner and outer surfaces and lipophilic inside, being composed of a bilayer of fatty acids with their polar groups pointing outwards into the aqueous media in both extra-cellular and intra-cellular space. In general, polar groups (with either electric charges or electric dipoles) are hydrophilic (e.g. COOH or NH 2 ), purely covalent groups like long hydrocarbon chains are lipophilic.

Another set is between highly oxidized and highly reduced compounds. With respect to carbon compounds, this means between carbon dioxide and methane. Between CO 2 and CH 4 , life is on the average about CH 2 O, just about halfway. That is the level of glucose, and biochemical processes fluctuate around that state of oxidation. The valence of carbon is +4 in CO 2 and -4 in CH 4 . Although the bonds are covalent rather than electrovalent, the shared electron pair is closer to oxygen than to carbon in a C-O bond and closer to carbon than to hydrogen in a C-H bond. The in-between oxidation states of carbon could then be +3, +2, +1, 0 (as in formaldehyde or glucose), -1, -2, -3, as well as various fractional states. In multi-carbon compounds like ethanol, the overall oxidation number is an average; e.g. in ethanol, one of the two carbons is in a -3 state and the other one is -1, the average being -2. On the whole, we can say that carbon-based life (the only form we know) moves in a broad redox band between CO2 and CH4.

Various other redox systems are also active in life processes; e.g. the central iron atom in hemoglobin is in the Fe+3 state in the oxygenated form and in the Fe+2 state in the reduced form; this enables hemoglobin to function as an oxygen-transporting molecule.

Again, life does best in the middle range between extreme acidity and extreme alkalinity, in a pH range between 6 and 8. Maintaining the pH of the blood at a steady middle-range value is one of the prototypes of homeostasis.

Carbon itself is in the middle (in a left-to-right sense) of the periodic table of the elements. The metals are on the left and the non-metals on the right. Extreme metals (like sodium) tend to combine with extreme non-metals (like chlorine) with an electrovalent bond, as in sodium chloride. Carbon, as an element in the middle, tends to form covalent bonds with non-metals, as well as with itself — hence the ability of carbon to form long chains and rings, and therefore large enough molecules to introduce enough complexity to support life.

Under carbon in the periodic table is silicon, which possibly will get to support a new form of life if computers prove to be capable of artificial intelligence. But this is really based on a different property of silicon, not its ability to bond with itself like carbon. However, this property of silicon is again a “middle” property, namely semiconductivity. As the name indicates, semiconductors like silicon are halfway between electrical conductors (mainly metals) and electrical insulators (mainly non-metals).

While carbon is in the middle of the short period Li (lithium) to F (fluorine) (atomic numbers 3 to 8), the transition metals, (like Fe (iron) which functions in hemoglobin, Cu (copper) in the blood of crustaceans, Mg (magnesium) in chlorophyll, Zn (zinc) in a transcription promoter, and others are in the middle in the longer 18-member periods further down. As indicated by the examples, some of the transition metals function as parts of enzymes and other biological catalysts, particularly because of the variability of their oxidation states, i.e. multiple valence. This is why we need traces of these transition elements as “minerals” in our diets.

Turning now to mental states, life runs between hyper-activity and catatonia, in an equilibrium between mania and depression. An accidental disturbance of this equilibrium may produce an oscillation between the extremes: manic-depressive or “bipolar” disease. It is as if a single attractor split into two attractors, just prior to chaos. A healthy state of mind shows only a mild oscillation (like a thermostat), if any at all. There is a similar equilibrium between chronic anxiety and placidity, between phrenetic political activism and apathy, between frenzy and drowsiness. Many of these polar opposites are linked to levels of particular neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and adrenalin, high levels usually tending to overactivity and deficiencies to underactivity. With respect to the neurotransmitter dopamine, an excess is linked to schizophrenia (and sometimes to chorea), while a deficiency is linked to Parkinson’s disease. It seems that at one extreme there is too much muscle movement and at the other extreme too little of it.

The above can be further generalized. In chorea there is too little inhibition of spontaneous involuntary movements, while in Parkinsonism there is too much inhibition even of voluntary movement. This stimulation vs. inhibition polarity is the very basis of all neural mechanisms. Connections at synapses between neurons can be either excitatory or inhibitory, and both are necessary for proper balance.

Similarly, our bodies have two kinds of autonomous (involuntary) nervous systems: the sympathetic, which stimulates (e.g. constricts blood vessels, increases the heart rate — like adrenalin in the fight-or-flight reflex); and the parasympathetic, which has the opposite effects. It seems that the two systems keep each other in balance. “Checks and balances” are built in, to prevent overstepping the limits of Goldilocks’ middle band where healthy life resides.

Let us turn briefly now to politics. The polarity between activism and apathy has already been mentioned. The trouble with extreme activism is that it might lead to too much conflict, and possibly violence. This it would do by producing a bi-modal distribution of political views within a nation, which means polarization; this is like a bifurcation in a cusp catastrophe diagram. (See essay on “Swallowtail and Butterfly”.) This situation would be prone to wide swings from one extreme political regime to another at consecutive elections (or revolutions if the system is not democratic), with resultant instability. The opposite of extreme activism, namely extreme apathy, also has dire results: a docile population will passively accept dictatorship and tyranny; democracy would be impossible, the result probably being oppression and deprivation of basic human rights. A healthy political system, one which avoids the extremes of disorder and violence, on the one hand, and injustice on the other, is again Goldilocks’ middle range. There we could hope to realize the values of order, peace and justice simultaneously.

Political opposition movements must also avoid their Scylla and Charybdis; i.e. avoid too much zeal (never trust the government to cooperate with it) while also avoiding cooptation (i.e. trust the government too much). The political parties in Palestine in Jesus’ time were called the Zealots and the Herodians (who cooperated with King Herod, who was subservient to Rome, thus hoping to obtain independence from Rome by this route). They are the prototypes for streams of thought in many contemporary movements. In our time, we fluctuate in our treatment of oppressive regimes: apartheid South Africa, China, Burma, Nigeria, Cuba… ; is it better to engage in punitive economic sanctions or “constructive engagement”?

One more example will suffice: In the Green Party of Germany, there are two factions: the Fundis (adhering to fundamentals and keeping them pure by not cooperating with other parties) and the Realos (“realists” who do cooperate with others in order to obtain political power and achieve at least some of their aims). In peace plans, ecological improvement plans, or indeed any reform plans, this tension is often felt: (1) should we make the plan far-reaching enough to be truly effective if implemented, although such a plan probably will not be acceptable and therefore not implemented; or (2) should we formulate a plan which has a chance of being accepted and implemented, but which would not be completely effective because it does not go far enough. The desirable middle ground is very difficult to find, as any social reformer knows; yet that is where true effectiveness dwells.

Goldilocks developed a feeling for what is “just right” by experimenting and rejecting extremes. It is impossible to define that golden middle ground in the abstract, especially in politics and psychology. (In biochemistry, the experiments were performed by nature aeons ago.) So we end up zig-zagging somewhat, like a thermostat, between the permissible limits. We go through a stormy “crisis” when approaching the frenzy limit, and follow by a quiet plateau when headed for the catatonic limit. (Cf. essay “The Rise and Run” ) Radicals and conservatives should take their turns at the helm. But we must beware of those limits. Those who exceeded them are with us no more.


There are two great schemes of thought: science and history. In science we seek unchanging, eternal and universal laws of nature, the essence of BEING. Objects may indeed be in motion and substances may be in process and flux; there is a science of dynamics in physics and of reaction kinetics in chemistry; but the LAWS of motion are unchanging and seen as unchangeable.

History, on the other hand, is the description and attempted explanation of BECOMING, an interpretation of how (and if possible why) whole systems have come to be structured and to behave differently now than in the past, how they may be expected to be and to behave in the future, how and why even the causal links have become rearranged. People like Marxists who talk about “historical laws” as being similar to unchanging scientific laws may be profoundly mistaken, for the laws themselves may change as the process unfolds. The historical process may be more like embryonic development, where there is “time for everything under heaven”: now to start the heart beating, now to grow arms or legs, etc. The “laws” of development are time-dependent, not eternal; place-specific, not universal.

By “history” I mean not only human written history, not only that plus human unwritten pre-history as gleaned from archaelogy, but also the whole evolutionary history of life on Earth, which used to be called “natural history”, as gleaned from paleontology. I could also include the drifting of continents, the evolution of stars, and the creation of heavy elements in supernovae — overlapping with the physics of the very large and very slow with the physics of the very small and very quick. I am calling this all-inclusive concept “meta-history”, the description and explanation or interpretation of system changes over time, all the way back to the Big Bang.

Science and history overlap, of course. Perhaps they are complementary; the fundamental laws do not change, but systems evolve. Yet there have been some intimations that some fundamental “constants” depend on the age of the Universe, and so we should not be too dogmatic about the eternal universality of natural laws. In any case, there are basic differences between the two modes of knowing, the scientific and the historical.

In this essay, I will not consider cosmic and stellar evolution; I will stay “down to Earth” and will cut out the very large and the very small in favour of the middle range of human-size dimensions. What I want to emphasize is the continuity, or the “nesting”, of human written history within human pre-history within the natural history of primates, mammals, vertebrates, Animalia, eukaryotes — all life on Earth. They nest within one another, the whole long series, like a set of Chinese boxes.

It is often said that human evolution these days is mainly cultural, not biological evolution. (Though we cannot be sure that there are no further physical changes, because these take a very long time. But in any case, the cultural changes are so much faster that they completely overshadow the physical.) Cultural evolution is what is really described in “history” in the narrow sense, plus prehistory. As nature has passed into culture (whenever that happened — perhaps with the introduction of language), so evolution has transformed into history. But I would argue that both really are the same process continued by other means, even though we can roughly picture them as “nested” (which implies discontinuities in terms oflevel).

In both evolution and history, in nature and culture, changes seem to occur owing to vast “forces” which we do not control or understand, though in hindview we try to interpret. We do very poorly on prediction (unlike in science), because of the complexity (multi-causal chains and networks) of the systems, and because of instabilities due to non-linearity, as modelled by the new mathematics of Chaos.

Essentially the whole flow of meta-history is a turbulent flow, and turbulent flow we cannot completely analyze even if it is only the flow of water through pipes. Events are not predictable, at least to us at our mental level, though God may know where every unit particle is at any given time. To our way of thinking, the events may have gone differently than they have gone in fact, so that we can imagine counter-factual worlds (alternative pasts).

Nothing seems pre-determined. The dinosaurs might have survived to this day if that meteorite had not crashed, and possibly might have evolved a human-like consciousness in a reptilian body — with some modifications. World War I might not have happened as a result of the terrorist bullet in Sarajevo -as it has not in some simulations of that situation. Life may have failed to appear on Earth, as it failed on Mars and Venus.

This contingent generation of events is similar to the weather; a prediction of a cold front replacing a warm high pressure area did not materialize yesterday — the high continued to sit here for another day. A lightning bolt does not necessarily follow a predetermined zig-zag path or hit the same point. Major earthquakes arrive at a point of time which cannot be exactly predicted — we know only probabilities for extended time periods. Perhaps World War I would have come in 1916 or 1912 or not at all. Perhaps human-like consciousness would have come earlier or later in evolution, in a different type of body — cold or warm-blooded, walking or crawling or swimming. That is why we picture extra-terrestrial intelligent beings with antennas like insects or snails, to symbolize that uncertainty.

These are chaotic systems, and meta-history is chaotic (i.e. not entirely predictable) — both variants, natural and cultural. We are immersed in multiple chaotic systems — embedded in riddles within enigmas. There is playroom for our free will, since even the wings of a butterfly can change the developmental course of a chaotic system. We can steer history; we are actors in the cultural and political history of humankind. Even if we don’t feel very powerful, we are butterflies. “Historical forces” become manifest when a bunch of us butterflies beat our wings in unison — as in Berlin and Prague in November 1989. With genetic engineering, we might even affect biological evolution.

The reason why I am leery about that — especially the latter — is because unintended and even counter-intuitive consequences often arise in chaotic systems, especially when actors with incomplete information (like us) try to intervene according to some comprehensive but untested plan. We can act of our own free will, all right — but we will not necessarily arrive at our intended goals. We are purpose seekers (“teleology” is a bad word in science, but not in history), but we are not always purpose finders or fulfillers.

Still, while micro-history, like the weather, is chaotic, macro-history, like climate, may be more predictable, with large-scale “forces” or trends in evidence. Can we dissect out the mega-trends in evolution and history?

From Lynn Margulis’ wonderful book, “The Five Kingdoms”, (1982) we can discern some of these mega-trends in biological evolution. Among bacteria (prokaryotes), one trend of change is from fermentation to respiration plus photosynthesis, from anaerobic to facultative aerobic to obligatory aerobic. This trend is due to the changing atmosphere of the early Earth, changing from reducing to oxidizing by the very activity of these same prokaryotes — bacteria and photosynthetic blue-green algae (cyano-bacteria). Another trend among bacteria was from Gram-positive to Gram-negative, (These names are based on the different responses of these cells to the “Gram stain”, a method of “fixing” them on microscope slides.) which translates into thick-walled to thin-walled cells. In the evolution of sex, the trend is from symmetrical conjugation to unsymmetrical male-female sex (but at first with alternation of roles). In alternation of generations, plants go from wholly haploid (1 N chromosomes) to alternation of haploid and diploid (2 N), or gametophyte and sporophyte, to almost complete preponderance of sporophyte. The sequence can be clearly seen in going from fungi to mosses to ferns to Angiosperms. The reason for this mega-trend is wholly unknown to me. It looks like a resolution of inter-generational conflict in a very unsymmetrical way.

Another well-known mega-trend is that from autotrophic organisms (bacteria and plants), which obtain their own food from minerals and sunlight or other energy sources, to heterotrophic ones (fungi and animals), which either scavenge on previously living matter or engage in predation or parasitism. From a human moral perspective, this trend is hardly an “advance”; it makes fungi and animals the terrorists and criminals of the living world, and yet crime pays off — they prosper, and the carnivores and raptors, the beasts and birds of prey sit smugly on tops of food chains. Bacteria and plants are the real producers, and prodigiously creative in the variety of chemical compounds they can make, which animals can never rival. (Significantly, most national symbols are lions, eagles, and bears — the super-imperialists of the natural world.)

The progression of means of locomotion from flagella (which involve the protein tubulin) to undullopodia (which use myosin) to muscle cells (which use myosin and actin) is one in which animals excel rather than plants. Both plant and animal kingdoms share the progression from the marine environment to a fresh-water aquatic one to a land habitat and finally (but only birds and insects) to flying through the air. Note that it was not only the amphibians who made the transition to land, but insects and plants made it before them. (Our species-centrism is showing in glorifying the transition only in our own line of descent.)

Other mega-trends will be mentioned only briefly: From soft tissues only to various hard parts also: vascular bundles in plants, wood in trees, shells and corals in non-vertebrate animals, exoskeleton in arthropods, endoskeleton in vertebrates. (It is these hard parts that make the fossil record more complete.) Again: from no symmetry to radial symmetry (like jellyfish or starfish) to bilateral symmetry. In embryonic development, from blastula (hollow ball of cells derived from a fertilized ovum) to gastrula (made by indenting that ball to make a cavity in a two-layered structure) to a three-layered (i.e. 3 cells thick) structure (ectoderm, mesoderm, endoderm) from which all tissues and organs differentiate. There is also a progression from unsheathed to myelinated nerves, from cold-blooded to warm-blooded temperature regulation, from using ammonia as waste product in excretion (in marine animals) to using urea (in terrestrial animals) to using uric acid (in birds), and many other trends. Obviously, we have only selected some salient ones.

As for mega-trends in human history and pre-history, we can again only touch the bases by way of examples. From the paleolithic to the neolithic to the bronze age to the iron age, there is a progression in the use of materials for tools, as indicated by the names: from the use of stone to the use of metals, first the easily smeltable ones and then the more difficult. Other developments in technology accompanied this: improvements in pottery-making, in the tanning of animal hides, in food preparation, in the making of textiles. Many of the trends in human history concern technological developments, right up to the modem era, when this trend has speeded up enormously, building on its own momentum (i.e. one discovery speeds up another in positive feedback). The development of each technology, e.g. transportation, represents a mini-evolution of its own, with new species (trains, cars, planes) appearing and changing as time goes on. The sequence of old to new models (e.g. in museums) looks remarkably like a sequence of fossils of biological forms.

As to life-style, there is the well-known sequence from foraging (hunting and gathering) to settled villages (agriculture and animal herding) to industrialism and various versions (as yet unconvincing) of “post-industrialism”. In the first two stages, I like to picture the dealing with animals (hunting and herding) as men’s work and the dealing with plants (gathering and agriculture) as women’s work; but perhaps it did not divide up that rigidly. The industrial age is more mixed up in gender roles, as we well know. At first men worked in factories while women kept house and reared children (but women and children worked too in the early factories and mines in England). Now there is an attempt to erase all boundaries between men’s and women’s work.

As for development of family life and kinship structures, I want to refer to an article in Scientific American, May 1990, (Caldwell) which postulates two basic modes, the African and the Eurasian. The African is based on polygamy and emphasis on fertility — each wife to have the maximum children possible. This is thought to have been the prevalent human mode everywhere originally. The Eurasian mode arose in alluvial river valleys (Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus, Yangtse) “with the dawn of civilization”, as the phrase goes. It is based on stable monogamous family units, with emphasis on curbs against premarital and extramarital sex, at least for women (the double standard), in order to make sure of each child’s paternity. It seems clearly associated with patriarchy, though the association of the African mode with matriarchy clearly does not hold — it is just another variant of patriarchy.

The trend from matriarchy to patriarchy, or at least the tracing of descent along the matrilineal way at first and patrilineal only later, goes along with knowledge about the role of women and men in reproduction. (This is traced out in more detail in the essay on The Archetypal Battle of the Sexes in Section IX.) In feminist literature, it is now commonplace to assume that there was in pre-history a stage in which matriarchy prevailed, and men were only the “second” or “helping” sex (Eisler). However, some anthropologists and archaeologists still dispute this.

The trend in religions has been from polytheism to either monotheism (“Western”, really Middle-Eastern religions) or pantheism (“Eastern”, i.e. India and China, religions). A concurrent trend has been from worshipping a Goddess (Mother Earth or a destroyer figure like Kali) to worshipping a male God, obviously a trend buttressing patriarchy. While Goddess religions (contemptuously called “fertility religions”, paganism, or witchcraft by Medieval European Christians) had a cyclical view of life and death, very much in accord with the flow and cycles of nature, God religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) had a linear view — we live only one life on Earth and then live forever in Heaven or in Hell according to our merits. Pantheism in the East represents an alternative development, closer perhaps to the Goddess religions, since it is also cyclical: reincarnation cycles until the soul learns Enlightenment -after which the view again becomes linear — remaining forever in Nirvana. A feature of this view seems life-denying — the striving of holy men is to escape from the Wheel of Life (the reincarnation cycle) to reach eternal bliss, to progress from Becoming to Being. I think that the original Goddess religion (which I tend to consider the original human religion), in staying close to nature and fully acknowledging the total annihilating reality of death, is, paradoxically, far more life-affirming. For you have to accept death to fully realize life, and so you must eschew all wish-fulfilling myths about the afterlife.

In the arts of communication, the biggest step, at the very threshold of the transition to humanity, was the origin of language. The trend then continued from preliterate or oral cultural traditions to the literate — in which, some would say, something was lost of the immediacy and intimacy and conviviality of

story-telling, as well as in the better training and use of memory. But the literate tradition was more cumulative in preserving knowledge, and prevailed. Writing then evolved into printing, i.e. mass production of books and spread of knowledge (at least potentially) to the masses of people. Present technologies, from Xerox and Fax machines to computers and e-mail, are growing explosively. It has been said that, while the invention of the printing press made everyone a reader, the Xerox machine made everyone a publisher.

In size of social unit, the development has been from a clan (extended family unit) to a tribe to a city state (as in ancient Greece) to a nation to an empire (persian, Roman, British). Many wishfully extend it in the future to a global society, as I would, but seeing many obstacles along the road. There has also been the opposite trend, to nationalist fragmentation, separatism, and partitions of existing nation states, much in evidence in modern times. These opposing trends, aggregation and fragmentation, compete with each other in a dynamic equilibrium. There is an overall trend to larger units (regional free trade areas etc.), at least loose ones, made possible by the increasing ease of communication and transportation and the increasing economic interdependence. But nationalist passions and religious fanaticism still burn high and tend to tear apart the still fragile integrating structures. What we humans have not yet learned very well, or really figured out, is the principle of subsidiarity: which issues should be resolved or addressed at which level. It is crucial that we learn this soon.

Are we getting more peaceful or more war-like? It seems that early hunter-gatherer societies were more peaceful than later agricultural and industrial societies. Perhaps they did not have the technical means to fight too destructively, or the units were not in much contact because of low population density, or they were preoccupied in making a living. (Though it has been said that the early societies spent relatively little time in “work” and proportionately more in “leisure”.) But mainly, in all probability, the reason is that they had little property to “defend”. This changed with the settled mode of life and especially the private ownership of land. Perhaps humans were never innately territorial until this late stage of development — the beginning of agriculture.

There could be — but we don’t know yet — a transition to more peaceful ways now beginning. Part of the reason may be the destructiveness of modern weapons; deterrence not so much of each other, but of ourselves as a whole; as a species, we are not ready for omnicide, though it could happen accidentally. Historians are beginning to talk about “the long peace” in Europe. The trend has been the opposite in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central America, i.e. toward more war; but perhaps they are lagging behind Europe and North America and Japan in this political-military development just as they are in economic development, and can be expected to catch up in time. However, alternatively, we in the North may simply be exporting violence to them (via arms sales and interventions) just like we are exporting toxic waste — because we no longer want it in our own backyard. Are areas of stable peace (like Scandinavia and European Union) expanding — now to include Eastern Europe and the Soviet successor states as well? Are areas of stable (or perpetual) war shrinking — with the end of the Iran-Iraq war, developments in Namibia-Angola-South Africa, etc.? The answer really is that our time horizons are too short. Mega-trends do not become obvious in a single year, or a single decade. We must not jump to conclusions.

Another mega-trend, one that would really hit an observer from outer space as the most visible, is the explosive increase in human population; it has been exponential or more. While population increase is normally a sign of species success, this one has worrisome aspects in terms of the possibility of exhausting resources and overwhelming the environment with toxic pollutants. Whether or not there is an adjustment, in terms of a die-off, due eventually or soon, remains to be seen. (See the essay “From Chaos to Extinction” in Section I.)

Where do all these mega-trends converge? If meta-history is like a giant embryonic development, what is the final organism that is slowly growing up? Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega comes to mind, ‘though we do not know its exact nature. It seems to be something god-like. But many fetuses get aborted, and our own time and place is under multiple threat. If advanced technical civilizations on different planets tend to self-destruct, as has been postulated, we may be doomed sooner or later. We may be saddened by the wasted effort on such a gigantic scale, but our own spatial and temporal range persists in eternity — which is another way of saying that we had a good time doing it. We accept death at the individual level; this scaling up makes such acceptance no different, like the self-similarity in a fractal structure.


There have been three major transformations (called “Revolutions of Homo sapiens” by Digby McLaren) in human history and prehistory: the agricultural-pastoral revolution, the industrial revolution, and the information revolution. This covers four major epochs, the age of hunting-gathering preceding the three mentioned above. This most ancient epoch was by far the longest (from about 100,000 years to 10,000 years). Conveniently, if only very roughly, we can proceed by powers of ten: the agricultural-pastoral age lasted from about 10,000 years ago to 100 years ago (really more like 300, but we are dealing “,ith orders of magnitude), the industrial age from about 100 years ago to 10 years ago. We are converging to shorter and shorter duration of the “ages” seemingly converging to the year 2000, our own time. However, this may be an artefact of our point of view. Probably every generation tends to see itself as being at the hinge of history.

It is interesting that “the three essences” mentioned in the essay in Section II (namely matter, energy, and information) can be fitted to these ages or epochs: the hunting-gathering stage and the agricultural-pastoral stage correspond to the provision of “matter”, the material needs (mainly food) of human beings; the industrial age is concerned mainly with the provision and use of energy, and of course the present information age has to do mainly with the provision of information, including services rather than commodities or manufactures.

Another way to classify ages or epochs is by the instruments or means of production used. In prehistoric times we see means of mechanically upgrading the use of human muscles: at first tools (knives, axes, hammers), then machines (e.g. levers and wheels). In agricultural-pastoral times, we have the use of animal muscle power (such as horses and oxen). In industrial times, we proceed to heat engines, using non-human and non-animal energy sources (especially coal and oil). In our information age, we rely on computers. Again we can trace the progression from aspects of matter in tools and machines (based on principles of mechanics) to the use of energy in thermodynamic engines to the use of information processing in computers.

Yet another way is to look at the materials from which things were made. Here we go from the stone age (divided into paleolithic and neolithic according to the sophistication of the stone implements made) to the bronze age to the iron age, and perhaps now to the age of plastics (organic polymers). Many other materials run concurrently and overlapping with this rough scheme: ancient materials like tanned hides progressing to woven or knitted or matted fabrics; clay pottery to glass; metals other than tin, copper, lead and iron; etc.

These three ways of classifying ages do not concur in their beginnings, durations and ends, but overlap to some extent. Yet roughly, the stone age, simple tools, the use of wood fire for energy and hunting and gathering go together; the iron age, the age of machines and animal power, and the age of agriculture go together; the industrial age goes with the use of coal to generate steam for steam engines, and later the use of oil to generate electricity for electric motors, and with the production of plastics; and the computer-electronic age uses silicon and other semiconductors to make computers and optical lasers.

So far, in this essay, this progression has been portrayed as progress. But is this progress or regress? Both views can be sustained. The use of silicon-based artificial intelligence leads to conjectures (fanciful at present — but it is still early in the game) of a transition from carbon-based natural life forms (including humans) to silicon-based artificial life in the future. Silicon is, after all, right under carbon in the periodic table of elements. Already, robotics are becoming common in industries, with machines replacing workers, resulting in unemployment. This is spilling over from the factory floors to the offices, involving white-collar as well as blue-collar workers. Possibly managers will be next. What will we do if we become totally superfluous?

Another source of negative ideas is the realization that, in the ancient scheme of “ages”, the iron age was a downgrading of the earlier silver age, which itself was a step-down from the golden age. That series represents a descent, not an ascent. Jeremy Rifkin presented a similar idea: that we humans used up the abundant cheap energy sources (like burning wood) first, then proceeded to scarcer ones like fossil fuels (coal and then oil and natural gas), and then to exotic ones like nuclear fission and fusion. This is not progress, but rather being pushed to greater and greater efforts to get the same result, like a dying star running out of hydrogen fuel and turning to burning ever more exotic fuels as it prepares to explode as a supernova. Interestingly, the final fuel in a supernova is iron, after which further nucleosynthesis would require, rather than produce, energy. Iron spells the end. And so in human evolution, the iron age may be the end. The Hindu mythology calls it the Kali Yuga, a cruel and nasty age. Or as physicists might say, looking at the nuclear mass defect curve, we are hitting bottom.

Another source of good news-bad news scenarios is the link of the information age to globalization. This used to be a positive concept — a vision — for world federalists and other idealists. Now it is increasingly seen as the ascendancy of multinational corporations over democratically elected governments, crushing local interests which are desperately hanging on to their vanishing ethnic identities and rapidly disappearing rights of workers, women and children, and various disadvantaged groups. This too is regress, not progress. And yet globalization from below rather than from above, a true unity of humankind in peace, justice and sustainability, remains possible.

Progress or regress? Like the gladiators in the Coliseum, we await the sign: thumbs up or thumbs down?


Brian Goodwin in “Gaia and Evolution” claims that evolution is like embryonic development, aimed at a final design in gradual goal-oriented steps. He sees the evolution of life forms on Earth as being really the embryonic development of Gaia as a living organism. Evolution is an orthogenetic process.

I have previously used the concept of “planned gradualism” in quite a different context, so I should be well-disposed toward Goodwin’s view. Yet I have doubts in this case.

On the other hand, Stephen Jay Gould in “Wonderful Life” presents evidence, stemming from a re-analysis of the early Cambrian fossils from the Burgess shale, for a new model of evolution, in which the “replaying of the tape” from the Burgess animals to the present would not run the same way nor produce the same result we observe today. There are myriads of possible pathways from the Burgess into the future (our present), all possible in the chaotic system we call history, in which chance and good fortune play a large part. Who survives is not always determined by superior fitness, but by luck — e.g. whose pond did not dry up. Evolution, in this view, is not an ortho (i.e. goal-directed) process, as postulated by Teilhard de Chardin. A chaotic system like the weather or cultural and natural history certainly produce interesting and creative results, but emergent and unexpected rather than predetermined or predestined. In embryology, the adult is already implicit in the embryo, really in the zygote. In evolution, consecutively appearing forms are truly new, emergent, not pre-programmed.

There is thus a basic difference between evolution and embryonic development, between phylogeny and ontogeny, much as the latter may follow the former. Embryonic development is minutely pre-programmed, down to every last detail, by elaborate genetic and epigenetic mechanisms which operate as multi-stage relay systems. At the lowest level of this cybernetic heap, the genes specify and build every protein needed for either functional or structural purposes. At the next level up, homeobox genes make proteins that turn the first-level genes on or off. Probably third-level gene products (proteins) turn on or off the homeobox genes. Just how many cybernetic levels there are, nobody yet knows — it seems like an infinite regress, but there must be a limit.

In any case, the main point is that embryonic development is pre-programmed in a detailed way and therefore runs in a goal-oriented (ortho) direction to a predetermined goal. One of the epigenetic mechanisms in this process is the creation, by homeobox genes, of morphogenetic (“structure-creating”) fields, which define e.g. the head-to-tail direction of the body or the proximate to distal direction of a growing limb. These fields are defined by concentration gradients of the proteins made by homeobox genes. They give the cells of the embryo positional information on where they are located in the developing organism or limb, and thus provide cues to cell differentiation needed to form bone, muscle, tendon, blood vessels, nerve fibers etc. in the right places.

Evolution (phylogeny) must be a radically different process. There can be no morphogenetic fields, because the process is occurring for the very first time. It cannot be pre-programmed because it is a trail-blazer. The cook inventing a recipe does not follow a recipe, she is writing one. The person making dress patterns does not follow a dress pattern. And so on for other first-time creations. The first-time creative process is like the leader stroke before the main lightning bolt; the leader is a much fainter discharge, but it ionizes the molecules in the path which the main stroke will follow, thereby making the main stroke possible. The leader stroke DEFINES the path for the first and unique time. The path could have been elsewhere (an unknown number of possibilities), but only one is chosen, as in symmetry-breaking (see my essay on this), except that here there are more than two possibilities. The leader stroke creates the morphogenetic field, which then directs future events, but is not itself directed by any such field. Of course ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, as is stated in a famous principle of zoology, but the reverse cannot be inferred. Phylogeny is like the leader stroke, a pioneer (which means “path-builder”).

Sheldon Drake talks about morphogenetic fields in other circumstances, that may seem more doubtful or more mysterious. E.g. a new chemical compound is difficult to crystallize the first time, but once it has been done, it is easier the second or third time. This could be explained by postulating the presence of tiny seed crystals from the first crystallization — except that the greater ease of subsequent crystallizations also occurs in far-distant laboratories. Perhaps it’s merely the knowledge that it can be done that enables the chemists to do it, by inducing a positive frame of mind.

Other instances of this “it’s easier the second time” effect exist. Discoveries and inventions are often made in clusters, the same thing being discovered or invented at almost the same time in widely different places. Maybe the time was ripe (an idea whose time has come), or the necessary antecedent knowledge and equipment and methods have been accumulated, or there was an intense search (even a competition, a race for prior claim), but the time between the discoveries is so short (they are sometimes almost simultaneous) that additional explanation may be required.

And then there is the “hundredth monkey” phenomenon: each monkey learned to wash its sweet potato before eating it, first from another monkey in a simple chain process; but eventually, when about 100 monkeys were doing it, the innovation jumped from island to island in a sudden sweep of change, even when the monkeys could not even see each other or communicate. It’s like reaching a critical size in a nuclear reactor starting up. Try and explain that one!

Is each innovation smoothing some kind of path in a mental field, a morphogenetic field in which future events could follow the pioneering event? It is difficult to picture a mechanism, but we know next to nothing about mental fields.

And so evolution, along Gould’s “Burgess shale” conceptions, may have blazed the way through the primordial chaos in certain directions, which were not at all pre-destined, but are now followed faithfully by countless developing embryos following genetic blueprints, or rather cybernetic hierarchical computer-like programs written in the language of the genetic code. But there was no blueprint or program the first time, and it might well have gone differently.

And close to the time of the origin of life on Earth, 2 billion years before the Burgess shale animals, the first batch of micro-globules of protein pre-enzymes may have flickered into self-sustaining cycles many times before finally “catching” into steady light — like a not-too-well functioning fluorescent lamp being turned on. The leader strokes were trying to establish a morphogenetic field for the innovation called life, but it was extremely difficult the first time. It was not at all sure that it would “catch”. But “the hundredth monkey” did learn the trick, and thereafter the Holy Flame spread like wildfire over the surface of the Earth. It was much easier to do the second time, even easier to keep it going. Our whole planet became a giant morphogenetic field for life.


Is it only a mental habit that we explain things and events in terms of efficient causes rather than final causes? That we expect events to be pushed from behind by past antecedents rather than be pulled into the future by intended consequences? Is the exclusion of teleology essential to science? Could we use Occam’s razor to find which explanation is simpler, more parsimonious, and choose it in preference to the other?

Igor N. Todorov describes how cells recover from a severe poisoning of their protein-making machinery. It is a beautiful repair mechanism that is most simply described by such phrases as “the cell mobilizes more energy and raw materials”, “stops making export proteins until its own protein needs are satisfied”, etc. This sounds like what human disaster crews might do after an earthquake, in terms of planning and setting priorities.

Any description that would take the intentionality and planning out of it would sound awkward and lengthy; e.g. “more energy becomes available to the cells that we observed, because the cells that did not do that were eliminated by natural selection and so we could not observe them”. We don’t want to use these circumlocutions every time we describe any of the hundreds of elegant mechanisms! How tedious! But what then of Occam’s razor? Are not simple descriptions preferable to convoluted ones?

However, these are only the DESCRIPTIONS. The same article goes on to EXPLANATIONS, and these are in terms of efficient causes and mechanisms — e.g. how the breakdown of ribosomes stimulates the production of promoters and inhibitors of certain groups of genes; etc. These are typical causal chains all the way. This too is simple and elegant, and Occam would leave it alone.

It seems to me that the explanations are at the more detailed, micro, molecular level, while what I called descriptions are at the more holistic, macro, cellular level. So perhaps efficient and final causes can coexist (as I think Aristotle intended), but operate at different levels. Hofstadter, too, (in “Goedel, Escher, Bach”), refused to choose between reductionism and holism, illustrating his plea for their coexistence in a series of insightful diagrams, e.g. of a large letter H consisting of small letter r’s.

The usual objection to teleology in science is that intention implies intelligence, mind, consciousness, and we are allowed to speak only of matter, energy, forces. But why, especially in biology? Materialism is only an assumption, usually an unspoken one, and the more pernicious for being unexamined. It would be far better to accept the simpler explanation, whatever it is, and razor out the awkward circumlocutions, as Copernicus excised the epicycles from planetary orbits by accepting a new theory, though it sounded revolutionary for his time.

Materialism is not necessary as the philosophical basis of science, just as the Earth did not have to remain the centre of the universe after Copernicus. Radical vitalism is a possible alternative. We can assume, as a hypothesis, that mind is coextensive with matter throughout the universe and all space and time. It was there at the Big Bang, just like matter, though both were very different from today. It is present at the farthest galaxy, we know not in what form. Life is a fusion of matter and mind (we don’t know the connection in detail), and life we know only on Earth so far, though we must keep an open mind about its possibilities in other places. But matter and mind somehow coexist separately everywhere and for all time side by side even if not linked by life.

Mind can operate on matter at all levels, though it gets a much better handle at it in living organisms. Mind is what elsewhere we have called “information” (see the essay on “The Three Essences”, Section II). Information is negentropy (or what someone called “syntropy”), i.e. a striving for organization, structure, pattern. “Striving” is already a word denoting intention, in some elementary form. I choose it deliberately instead of the more passive word “tendency” or “propensity”, but I would settle for the latter at this level if the reader prefers. For there are degrees of mind, and at the level of separate particles or atoms, mind is still weakly expressed; it comes to full expression only in higher organisms, with living cells, tissues and organs intermediate — and it is also weaker (though always present) in lower organisms than in higher ones.

When quarks get together to form protons and neutrons, when protons and neutrons get together to form heavier atomic nuclei, when atomic nuclei capture electrons to form atoms, when atoms combine to form molecules — there are in operation forces of attraction which organize the smaller units into larger ones. Physicists call these forces the strong, electromagnetic, weak, and gravitational forces; poets might call them different forms of love. There are repulsions as well as attractions among the forces — there is hate as well as love. Actually both attractions and repulsions contribute to the building of structures or patterns, such as crystals, which tile space with their more or less perfect repetitive symmetries. This far mere physics and chemistry can get in its striving for form. It is quite a step up from the chaotic gases and plasmas, in which the particles occupy random (unordered) positions and move at random speeds in random directions.

The tendency to disorder, or entropy, at every step impedes the striving for organization. But the attractive/repulsive forces are sometimes stronger than the randomization; the sorting of the cards is sometimes more effective than the shuffling. Each system moves spontaneously to the best point of balance between the forces and the randomization — i.e. the equilibrium between the enthalpy and the entropy. Entropy does not come from striving, it comes from drifting. It represents where the system would go if the striving stopped, i.e. if the forces shut off. All systems would go to a thin uniformly spread gas, without form, without mind, without beauty — and profoundly uninteresting.

The word “force” itself comes from our observation of our own bodies, when our muscle power pulls or pushes material objects. We are certainly applying muscle power intentionally — why a priori deny this interpretation to particles? It must be an intentionality very different in kind from that which we display — for one thing, very stereotyped (always the same between the same kinds of particles); yet there are strange hints of free will or at least indeterminacy in quantum theory. But no matter how different the forces are, they are compatible, it seems to me, with the assumptions of radical vitalism.

Yet the physical forces can build structures only so far. More intricate structures than repetitive crystals cannot exist at equilibrium. How to maintain structures far away from equilibrium by a flow-through of matter and energy in open systems is an invention of life. This is the further step that forms macromolecules and eventually cells. It is a constant struggle against entropy, in which victory (pattern maintenance) is always only limited and temporary, and yet life has learned to perpetuate itself on Earth -so far, anyway.

Can we then still say that small molecules build up macromolecules, and macromolecules build up cells, and prokaryotic cells build up eukaryotic cells, and so on — by the operation of both intentionality and love? I would argue that we are more and more justified in saying this as we go up the scale; that mind and love is more in evidence between cells than betw~n atoms, for instance. We all picture cancer as an act of revolt or treason by body cells no longer working for the common good of the body; but most people would consider this a metaphor. I differ only in taking it literally, stepping from metaphor to reality. A similar consideration applies to the immune system as the police or army defending the body against invaders (viruses) or criminals (cancer cells), even to the extent of sometimes turning against its own “citizens” in auto-immune diseases (acting like death squads). Other example could be cited. We all think this way about bodily functions at some level; I only add — let us take it literally. There are differences in degree between physiological and social mechanisms, as I have been stressing all along; yet the similarities are too great to be accidental. It is much more arrogant to think that we humans have a monopoly on intelligence and intentionality, than it is to “anthropomorphically” read intentionality back into nature, as vitalists are accused of doing.

Erich Jantsch in “The Self-organizing Universe” writes of the metabolic mind, the genetic mind, the epigenetic mind, the hormonal mind, and the neural mind. These are all ways of organizing and communicating information. Each higher order (and the above represents some kind of scale) comes into existence later to supplement the lower orders, but not to displace them — they continue to operate side by side. Neural mind is not necessarily the end of the line. Metabolic mind is not the lowest order — pre-biotic chemistry had other forms, and the elementary particles have forms of their own.

What is the final end of this striving, this intentionality? The drive seems to be toward union, unity, system-building; so probably the end in view, if it can be attained, is to make the whole universe into a single living system. The drive toward unity of earthly humanity is already getting stronger, though it may yet be swamped by the forces of disorder and annihilate the whole attempt. That final goal, a unified living universe, may be what Teilhard de Chardin meant by the Omega Point.


This is a comment on Erich Neumann’s book. He comments on the tale by Lucius Apuleius, taken from “The Golden Ass”. His is a Freudian/Jungian interpretation. I present a different one, in terms of my interest in the origin of life. In my view, different interpretations show the .richness of meaning in myths. I do not deny or dispute Neumann, I only choose a different facet or strain which is also present in Psyche.

In the myth, Psyche is asked by Aphrodite (whose son, Amor or Eros, has become Psyche’s husband which made Aphrodite angry) to perform four tasks, all extremely difficult, almost impossible. Psyche almost gives up and kills herself before attempting each one, but is cheered on and advised by various entities, a different one in each case, to carry on. The theme of heroic tasks appears in many myths and fairy tales, but these are usually performed by male heroes. Here they are done by Psyche, depicted as a simple and naive young girl. Also there are usually three tasks, but here there are four.

In the first task, Psyche was presented with a heap of seeds, “corn and barley and millet and poppy seed and chick peas and lentils and beans, all jumbled and confused in one heap”, and told to sort them out. This nearly impossible task of working against entropy and the Second Law, of being in fact a Maxwell demon, could not be done by the purely human Psyche; but friendly ants came to her aid -because of their large numbers, they were able to sort the heap of seeds on time. This is of course the same task that Cinderella was given by her stepmother and ugly sisters, and she also received non-human help (her fairy godmother) in performing the task.

I take this to represent the stage in the development of life when there were many randomly

sequenced peptides and nucleic acids, and they had to be sorted out to find the combinations that would “work” to produce functioning proteins, RNAs and DNAs to constrnct the first living cells. The ants might be primitive enzymes, imperfect but numerous, that accomplished the task in far less time than pure chance would take to do it.

In the second task, Psyche was asked to clip a wisp of golden fleece from the fierce sheep grazing near the river. At mid-day these beasts were powerful and would have torn her apart if she approached them at high noon. But the reeds growing in the river advised Psyche to wait till night time, and then pluck the pieces of wool that the sheep left on the branches of near-by trees, without approaching the sheep directly. This part of the Psyche myth reminds us of the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and also of such fairy tales as plucking the three golden hairs of the sleeping giant.

This task represents the harnessing of solar energy by living creatures through photosynthesis. The Sun’s heat is too fierce to be approached directly, but through intricate chemical mechanisms the process of transferring the Sun’s energy gradually to living systems without harming or disrupting them can be carried out. The “inventors” of photosynthesis are the blue-green bacteria, sometimes called “algae”, and the further developers of it are the green (true) algae, which are related to reeds (psyche’s helpers in this task). The trees on which the golden rays of the Sun were caught are a further reference to photosynthesizing plants.

Psyche’s third task was to bring down a cup of water from a waterfall going over a mountain cliff; this site was guarded by fierce dragons, besides being almost inaccessible. An eagle came to Psyche’s rescue and filled the small urn with the “Stygian water” (so called in the tale) for her.

This could represent the invention of circulation, of blood in animals and sap in plants, which conveys nutrients and wastes each to their proper places. Circulation via aqueous “juices” is necessary for the functioning of multicellular creatures, both animals and plants. The eagle represents the steep upward swing of multicellular creatures in the early Cambrian — the invertebrates and the vascular plants (first ferns) .

Psyche’s fourth task was to visit the underworld and obtain a box filled with Persephone’s own magic ointment. In her despair she was advised by the tower. She managed the difficult and dangerous trip to the Realm of Death by obeying all the complicated precautions and injunctions taught her by the tower, but then lost everything by opening the box and releasing its hidden evils — somewhat like Pandora with her box and Eve in Eden with her discovery of Good and Evil. Forbidden things and broken tabus abound in folk literature; sometimes a door to a secret room not to be opened, sometimes a name not to be asked about as in Lohengrin — or even in Psyche’s own tale, not asking about the identity of her lover (an injunction which she broke to her sorrow earlier on).

This fourth task represents the invention by life on Earth of the close-coupled phenomena of death and sex. By visiting the underworld is meant the passage of life forms through the soil (dust unto dust, ashes to ashes) to re-emerge as new life, fashioned by the hereditary mechanisms of sexual reproduction. Psyche succumbed to this powerful knowledge of good and evil after obtaining the secret, and had to be revived by Eros, Love Himself.

The Tower is card No. 16 in the Major Arcana of the Tarot cards. Using Jane Lyle’s book “Tarot”, we garner the following clues: (1) The associated planet being Mars, the symbol is the standard symbol for Male (circle with an arrow pointed North-East). (2) On the card, lightning strikes the tower and the people who were in it are dashed to the ground. It is without doubt an image of death, though the explanatory text tries to soft-pedal this by talking about sudden change. (3) The quotation at the head of the article is from Alfred North Whitehead, “Adventures in Ideas”: “It is the business of the future to be dangerous… The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.”

Without a doubt, Psyche (and the life on Earth which she represents) flirted with death when visiting the underworld (denying immortality to the somatic cells of multicellular creatures), and actually succumbed to death on opening the Pandora box (finding the secret). But Life is thereafter always resurrected by. the Kiss of Eros (like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and Brunhilde).

Thus Psyche reiterates the developmental stages of life on Earth, as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.


Psyche’s tasks were analyzed in the previous essay. However, some other aspects, especially the role of Eros, need further elucidation.

Psyche, the beautiful maiden in the original Greek myth, should be seen as disembodied Soul or Mind floating disconsolately over the primeval sea of Matter, as the Spirit of God is said to have done before the Creation. The Mind-Matter connection which created the world did not yet exist. Psyche was mute, virginal and unfulfilled.

Eros was the Love impulse in Matter, the push to create long-range order from the chaos (=gas) of disordered molecules. (Low temperature could do it through crystals and the macro-coherence of ferromagnetism, superconductivity and superfluidity — but that was too rigid, like Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, who was ignorant of Love and Eternity.) Forces of short- and long-range attraction were one of Eros’ tools, assembling quarks into nucleons, nucleons into nuclei, nuclei and electrons into atoms, atoms into molecules; but more was needed to overcome Entropy, the Augustinian Devil or Maxwellian Anti-Demon, or whatever Principalities and Powers opposed the Love impulse.

Psyche and Eros had to get together, to initiate the Incarnation of Soul, to breathe Life into Clay, incorporate Word into Flesh. This would be the great Fool’s Leap symbolized in the Tarot Card Major Arcana Zero; making Zero into One, the greatest qualitative leap in the number line. But the love-making of Psyche and Eros, though suggestive of the right path, was not sufficient at this point to conceive Life. Hard, hard work against blind chance had to be done to layout the path. The pattern that leads from love-making to conception and birth was not yet laid down. The morpho-genetic fields were not there to guide the process through channels, relays and cascades to get through the giant maze to the desired end.

Psyche had to break the Lohengrinian Oath, as Elsa von Brabant did, and ask Eros who he was, his name and identity. She could not forever just let him make love to her in the dark. The activity had to pass from the unconscious realm to conscious thought. But by breaking her vow of silence, she lost him -temporarily (just as Elsa lost Lohengrin — in her case permanently). Psyche searched and prayed for a long time, to be allowed to continue on the path.

Then the Mother of Love, Aphrodite or Venus, who can be identified with the Mother Goddess of all original religions and with Demeter (Dei Mater = Mother of God), set Psyche to her tasks, with hostile intention: she did not think that Psyche could do it in the allotted time. (E.g. sorting out working enzymes from all the combinatorial possibilities may take more time than the Universe has had since its inception.) Aphrodite also punished Eros for his infidelity to her (for she had had incestual relations with him) by making him ill. (This incestuous relation between a Mother-Goddess and her Son-God is like that between Isis and Osiris in Egyptian religion or Tiamat and Kingu in Babylonian religion (Armstrong).)

A detailed analysis of Psyche’s tasks is given in the previous essay, but here is a brief recapitulation with some additional comments. Here the hard work of Life initiation begins.

1. The first task was the Cinderella-like task of sorting a mix of multiple seeds (peas and lentils and many others). This represents the sorting of life-molecules to winnow out the proper combinations of working genes and enzymes. Through this process of trial and error (as in present-day “genetic” computer algorithms), an optimization of function is “learned” rather more quickly than expected, with the aid of

small trolls helping Cinderella or ants helping Psyche. Both are prototypes of Maxwellian demons overcoming the blind forces of entropy. The gambling game with nature, which you cannot win (First Law of Thermodynamics) and which you must lose (Second Law of Thermodynamics) was no longer “the only game in town”. Here we attain the world of pro-karyotes, i.e. bacteria. Vital dust took fire. The clay began to metabolize. And it was the end of the First Day of Creation, first task accomplished.

2. But then Psyche ran headlong into a huge energy crisis. Fermentation was not enough. Resources lying around as a stock endowment were finite; something renewable was needed for utilizing flows. She looked up longingly at the Sun’s seemingly inexhaustible energy, wondering how to plug into it.

This is symbolized by Psyche’s second task, which was obtaining a piece of the woollen fleece from the fierce golden sheep that would burn her if touched at high noon. The harnessing of solar energy for photosynthesis was accomplished by Cyanobacteria, in a process continued by all green plants ever since. This is like Prometheus stealing Fire from the Gods, like the legend of Jason’s Golden Fleece, like the fairy story of the Giant with the Three Golden Hairs. Mythic themes run through all this, coming straight from the Collective Unconscious.

Interestingly enough, humanity today is on the threshold of the “Second Photosynthesis”, (Newcombe, 1995) designed to overcome the second great energy crisis. We are about to launch (if we are intelligent enough to act for our own self-preservation) the solar-hydrogen cycle for our economic energy needs. We shall do this by using photovoltaic cells to electrolyze water, releasing oxygen to the atmosphere while using the hydrogen for fuel by burning it in oxygen, and in the end returning to water to complete the cycle. The hydrogen can be pumped around in pipelines with far less loss than if electricity were distributed in high-voltage transmission lines.

This is a far safer process than approaching the fierce golden sheep directly at high noon, i.e. producing thermo-nuclear power on Earth. This kind of Promethean stealing of fire directly from the Sun-god would carry its own penalties. The wildness and fierceness of thermonuclear fire must be tamed down, first to chemical fire by travel through space, then through a cascade of enzymes handing down the “hot” energy to one another like a bucket brigade tossing down a hot potato, until it is safe t6 handle. “Don’t clip the fleece at high noon”, Psyche was advised. “Wait until dusk, when the sheep are tired and sleepy. Then you will not get burned.” Thus Psyche accomplished her second task. Then everything changed, even the atmosphere. The energy available for the metabolism of living things increased tenfold, and many other things became possible for life forms which managed to survive the toxicity of an oxygen-rich atmosphere. And it was the end of the Second Day of Creation.

3. Bigger cells with a nucleus formed, as symbiotic communities of several smaller ones. Not satisfied with this initial community building, nature proceeded with the construction of multicellular communities. At first these were quite loose, and coUld disassemble and reassemble, like slime moUlds, and regenerate when cut up, like sponges. Later the cells specialized (differentiated) much more, and individual cells were no longer viable apart from their community. Different types split up into fungi, plants and animals, and there was a veritable “explosion” of different body plans among animals (all invertebrate at this stage). And because of all the tenfold-available energy, plants could synthesize all sorts of fancy chemicals for their defence or to attract insects for pollination, and animals developed the capacity for locomotion, crawling, swimming, running, even flying (first invented by insects).

But before this could happen, a way had to be found to distribute goods and services (bring food and oxygen and take away waste) to all cells, now much too specialized to do this for themselves, the way free-living self-reliant cells coUld do. What was needed was the circulation of sap in vascular plants and blood in higher animals. In addition to the above-mentioned services, these circUlating liquids also provided hormomil communication and immunological defences. If task 1 represents the element of Air, an intellectual effort, and task 2 represents Fire, a push for life, the third task represents Water, the service of Love.

(The fourth, we shall see, represents Earth — descending into it.)

So Psyche was told to fetch the water from the almost inaccessible sacred spring, guarded by fierce beasts. This was “the Water of Life”, celebrated in Pagan religions and many fairy tales. When she achieved this, the whole Cambrian explosion of the Five Kingdoms could happen. And so ended the third day of creation, Psyche’s third task completed.

4. And was life then to be immortal (barring accidents)? Originally it had been so, after the completion of Psyche’s first task, in the world of bacteria. The answer to our question is “yes” for life in general, but “no” for life in particular. Individual lives were to end, but be stitched together into a ribbon of successive generations. Psyche knew that sex and death were linked, and she accepted the challenge.

The fourth task was Psyche’s descent into the Underworld, like Orpheus seeking his beloved Euridice (he too broke his vow of non-recognition by turning around to look at her, and lost her), or like Dante guided by his beloved Beatrice. This represents descent into the Earth, or its dark underside, the return to it after death, “dust into dust, ashes to ashes”. This last task means actually flirting with Death (Demeter’s daughter Persephone) to obtain the final Secret of Sex and sexual selection of gene reshuffiing for more rapid evolution. Persephone, Death herself, the daughter of Demeter who preceded all Gods, gave the secret of sex to Psyche, the originator of all Life.

Psyche won this prize, but her excessive curiosity led her to open the box, like Pandora. Again she disobeyed a Divine command! This was almost the triumph of the Dark Goddess (the Crone, the other face of Aphrodite) — but not quite. It actually turned out to be Psyche’s triumph.

Psyche died, but Eros, recovered from his mother’s spell, kissed her back to life, as the Prince did to Sleeping Beauty and another Prince to Snow White. Sexual Love has the power to awaken the Maiden to become a Woman, and it can also overcome Death through the miracle of reproduction. “Grave, where is thy victory?” And it was the fourth day of creation, the fourth task accomplished.

But now a few more comments, to elucidate the full significance of the Fourth Task.

Eros’ illness (Aphrodite’s punishment) was cured by the very act of Psyche’s disobedience in opening Persephone’s box. In essence “she died for him”, like Abby in the film “The Seventh Sign”, thus in effect saving the world.

Her redemptive sacrifice, though unintentional, released the Secret of Sex from Persephone’s box, the Secret which was the essence of Eros. This happened before his mother Aphrodite could intercept it. (She had ordered Psyche to deliver the box to her, which would have ended the whole Great Experiment. So Aphrodite was prepared to betray Psyche, in spite of promising her rewards upon the fulfillment of the four tasks.)

Psyche’s disobedience was like Prometheus’ defiance of the Gods, or like Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden, or like Pandora’s, who after all was in a kinship relation with Prometheus. It seems that ultimate disobedience of the Laws of Nature, God, or Goddess, is required near the end of the sequence of the Origination of Life. Free Will has to find its way through the crack between necessity and chance. Original Sin leads to Ultimate Victory.

Why did Aphrodite not want Psyche to succeed? Psyche was her rival for the love of Eros, a disobedient daughter-in-law. The primordial patterns of conflict between the bride and the mother-in-law was being enacted: it was the drama of the succession of generations, as well as of the paternal and maternal lineage. These are sex-related conflicts, which is why Aphrodite wanted Persephone’s box of ointment for herself and not for Psyche. But sex and its joys and benefits can only be snatched from the jaws of death, which is why Psyche had to perform this task by visiting the Underworld, crossing over the rivers of Styx and Lethe, and addressing Persephone herself.

In the biological world, asexual beings do not die: unicells just divide perpetually and are potentially immortal, barring accidents. But sexually reproducing creatures are programmed to die, to allow new genetic combinations to emerge. Sex and Death are linked at deep levels. Even psychologically, the brain mechanisms aroused by sex are also aroused by fear of death, through the hormone/neurotransmitter adrenalin and its brain receptors. This is why sadists and masochists associate sex and violence.

The Mother Goddess at first resisted the initiation of Life, the marriage of Mind and Matter. Put differently, Matter (in the guise of the Earth Goddess), resisted the impending invasion of Mind (in the person of Psyche) into her realm. Aphrodite herself had emerged from the sea, i.e. the Matter Ocean, without benefit of conception or birth. She wanted the reign of the immortal Gods of Olympus (or Valhalla) to continue undisturbed. She had premonitions (or precognition) of “Gotterdamerung”, through such semi-divine semi-human beings as Siegfried and Brunhilde (or Eros and Psyche) — i.e. of potential human destruction of the Divine Order.

But Psyche defied the Gods, like Eve and Pandora and Brunhilde and Elsa and Prometheus, and won her Victory. Eros was hers forever. No longer a silent virgin (for initially she did not speak), she became a fulfilled woman. The Fool became the Magician and began to transform the world. Zero turned into One.

Yet what of the fifth and sixth day of creation? We must finish our Creation Myth.

At the end of the four tasks, Psyche, who was Mind, was still dissatisfied. She surveyed her five kingdoms, each skilled in its own art, and saw that they were good. She chose the animals to bestow on them the gift of mind, that of a nervous system. Intercellular communication speeded up a thousand-fold over hormonal and pheromonal systems, since nerve information was carried by insulated cables with greater efficiency. And neurons began also to talk to each other, and Mind was born in Matter. And it was the fifth day of creation, the fifth task accomplished.

Then Psyche stopped, peered into the future at the dawn of the sixth day, and foresaw disaster. She wanted to refrain from the next step, yet she also longed to continue. She did not want to jeopardize the creation effort of the first five days, yet she was lonely for the company of someone created in her own image. There was Eros, of course, and realizing her struggle with the dilemma, he tied her hands behind her back through all that sixth day, though she wept copious tears. And so ended the sixth day, a day without creation.

And on the seventh day Psyche rested, and the Earth Song has continued undisturbed and undiminished ever since. Both the G::\ttercUtmIDerung and the Last Great Extinction were avoided. Humanity “died for her” before being born.


The November 6, 1992 issue of SCIENCE is a special issue on cellular membranes. It contains some fascinating insights. One of these concerns the transport of certain proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane. As the protein is being newly formed (translated) in a ribosome, its NH2 tail which comes out of the “machine” first has a signal sequence on it (a short stretch of particular amino acids) which is read by a signal recognition particle (SRP). The SRP receptor (another protein) sits on the ER membrane and binds to the SRP which is still attached to the newly forming protein and the whole ribosome. The whole thing is pulled close to the membrane, and the new protein, as it is growing, is immediately being threaded through the membrane where it is supposed to be sited and functioning.

The new protein is threaded through the membrane 8 times back and forth, like a sewing machine stitching it on, and this helps it to fold in the right way to function properly, which it otherwise would fail to do. If the SRP did not grab the tail in the nascent form and thread it through before it is fully formed, it would never function as it is supposed to. The whole process is not a sequence of events, but a smooth seamless whole.

Another example is the transport of mRNA from the nucleus into the cytoplasm across the nuclear envelope (double membrane). The nuclear pore through which it goes is shaped like an.8-sided basket, in which the mRNA rides accompanied by “chaperone” proteins, which present the proper signal sequence to make the pore open. (Like presenting a ticket when going to the theatre or a boarding pass when entering an airplane.) Again, the mRNA goes right into a ribosome from the pore, ready for translation into protein. The whole sequence is one smooth continuous process without a break, the steps that we artificially divide it into overlapping in time.

We are too ready in our descriptions oflife processes to chop them up reductionistically into little time bits as well as little space bits. We talk of translation first, transport next, then anchoring on the membrane, and finally threading through. It is not like that at all “in real life”, Le. in vivo. In fact, it would not work at all if done sequentially — the protein would not fold correctly if it were not guided through the membrane pores as it is coming off the assembly line.

There are no separate processes, all is one continuous process. The word “process” has no plural. This is why we keep running into “chicken-or-egg” problems when trying to describe the life process as a series of sequential operations. There is no beginning or end in a cycle or in a seamless web.

It is like the flow of music, themes and motifs chasing each other in counterpoint patterns, ever changing and ever the same. The patterns are more like the Mandelbrot set than like a crystal lattice, more fractal than super-regular.

As mRNA is transcribed from unzipping, uncoiling DNA, its front end starts protruding through the nuclear membrane into the cytoplasm. With the hind end still forming on the transcription machine, the front end in the cytoplasm is grabbed by a waiting ribosome, like a taxi snatching a passenger just arrived by bus or train. The ribosome (also made of RNA) snaps shut its jaws and starts reading the mRNA like a freshly arrived ticker tape from the stock exchange. Little cross-shaped tRNAs bring in their loads of amino acids, attach their eager mouths to fit and kiss the appropriate triple-base bits of the ticker tape, and discharge their loads from their tails to hook onto a growing protein chain, which starts protruding from the ribosome like the knitted braids in a children’s handicraft kit.

While the hind end of the protein chain is still forming on the assembly line, its front end is already coiling and folding, with the aid of chaperone proteins, which also conduct it quickly to its place of destination and future work, let us say as a hormone receptor in the cell membrane. The chaperones help it to thread through the membrane, stitching it in place by passing it through three or four times, like a needle passing thread through a fabric on a sewing machine.

Could it be that the protein is already threading through the membrane while the hind end of the mRNA is still being transcribed in the nucleus? The process has to hurry, since the mRNA is not too stable, is rather rapidly degraded. It has to pass on its message on the run before it dies, like the original Marathon runner.

The “central dogme” of molecular biology talks about information transfer from DNA to RNA to protein as a sequential process: first transcription, then translation, than relocation. In reality (“in vivo”), it is a seamless conveyor belt, with overlapping stages. Because the chains are so long, their front ends can already be in the next stage while their hind ends are still in the previous stage.

It is like a Bach fugue with three stages of counter-point, musical themes weaving in and out with time lags, but in perfect harmony. And the music starts when the zinc fingers of a transcription factor gently strum the DNA base pairs like the strings of a harp.

There are 9 metaphors in this one short piece: the taxi, the ticker tape, the kiss, the children’s handicraft kit, the sewing machine, the Marathon runner, the conveyor belt, the Bach fugue, and the harp.


Evolution proceeds mainly by deterministic causation (Darwinian variation and selection) plus blind chance (Gould: “whose pond happened to dry up”, or when a meteorite hit). Is there in addition any trace of an orthogonal (Le. preferred) direction, such as postulated by Teilhard de Chardin? Is there a final cause as well as an efficient cause in the evolutionary process?

There may be room for orthogonality superimposed on necessity and chance, just as in an individual mind free will may be able to operate in the presence of necessity and chance. There is, first of all, the obvious push for greater complexity (from prokaryore to eukaryote, from unicell to multicell, from mosses to flowers, from worms to vertebrates); but this may still be the result of variation-selection mechanisms — more complex structures and functions “work” better because of greater flexibility that can be built in.

Yet one can also discern, superimposed on the taxonomic classifications that trace the evolutionary tree, the repeated emergence of certain “types” or lifestyles which can crystallize in different parts of the evolutionary tree in morphologically modified forms: e.g. the marsupial lion, cat, or dog; or even an “ant lion”. What are these types? Are they just metaphors? Do they represent similar adaptations to similar niches, or similar relationships to species with which they interact, e.g. as predators? Are these ecological or morphological types? I am still trying to get a foothold on understanding their meaning. One thing is clear: they are analogues, not homologues; i.e. similar adaptations, but not genealogically related. (Cf. essay “Convergence in Biology” later in this Section.)

There are herbivores, insectivores, carnivores etc. among the mammals, the dinosaurs, and the fishes; but these descriptors are perhaps too general to qualify as “types” — I mean something much more specific. Yet even with these more general descriptors, nature possibly “aims” to fill certain niches with whatever organisms come along to be able to perform the required tasks — like a personnel manager hiring new staff to fit certain job descriptions. Yet again, this can all be explained quite plausibly by Darwinian mechanisms. With marsupial lions and ant lions, more may be involved. The push to create something “lion-like” transcends taxonomic boundaries, as if there was a steady one-directional wind blowing through the tree branches, or like gravity pulling all the separate rivulets from the hilltops to the valleys.

There has been speculation that if dinosaurs had not been killed off by an accident of astronomy (a meteorite impact), they might have developed a species with human-like intelligence. There have been hints that one such species may have been on the way before the C- T boundary catastrophe aborted it. After this failure, nature’s steady wind tried again among the mammals. It does take a very long time to achieve a filling of the void (65 million years in this case), but there is a long-range tendency to do so.

What does this portend about the future? Perhaps only that extinction is not a total disaster; but it is nevertheless a long-range disaster, one to be avoided if at all possible.


Living systems can be defined as complex dynamic systems capable of self-maintenance and self-reproduction. Whether or not they originate by self-organization may be arguable, but in any case this is not part of the definition.

This brief definition is sufficient, but should be supplemented with some explanations, and the addition of other properties usually or probably also present.

In the definition, “complex systems” means sets composed of a large number of closely interacting and inter-related units. How large is “large”? Well, large enough to become capable of self-maintenance and self-reproduction. How “closely interacting”? Again, closely enough to be capable of self-maintenance and self-reproduction. For it is clear that if there are too few units (below a critical limit) and not enough connectivity (with its own critical limit), self-maintenance and self-reproduction’ cannot occur. Thus “complex” denotes exceeding both critical limits — in numbers of units and in their interconnections.

“Dynamic”, in the phrase “complex dynamic systems”, refers to continual changes with time. This excludes from the definition of living systems all systems, even if complex, which remain statically in equilibrium, either in constantly the same state or in small oscillations around such a static state. In other words, living systems are not in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, defined by a “well” (local minimum) in a free-energy surface.

Self-maintenance is correlated with cycles of negative (homeostatic) feedback, which may give an :illusion of equilibrium; however, it is rather a flow-through system maintaining a steady state by balancing an inflow and outflow of matter and energy, at a quite high free-energy or negentropy point. Self-reproduction is correlated with cycles of positive (self-accelerating or autocatalytic) feedback, such as is required not only for reproduction, but also for embryonic development (connected with differentiation of cells and simultaneous integration of the organism) and for long-range evolution (emergence of new ddferent living systems). Thus both negative and positive feedback (stability and change) are essential parts of the definition of life.

Evolution is honed by natural selection, i.e. only “viable” (maintainable in the long run) structures and systems survive and perpetuate themselves. The negative and positive feedback cycles are partly simultaneous: our bodies maintain themselves from day to day by negative feedbacks, but also change — mature and age — on a yearly or decade basis by positive feedbacks. However, sometimes these feedbacks are periodic or temporally alternating between predominantly negative (forming a steady plateau) and predominantly positive (producing a spurt of change). Together, the periodicity of plateaus and spurts form typical “staircase” or “spiral” temporal patterns in life-cycles and evolution.

This very abstract definition of life deliberately omits any mention of the material or chemical basis of earthly life, in order to permit extension to possibly existing extra-terrestrial life with a different material basis, or to semi-conductor-based “artificial life” computer systems which may develop on Earth through human intervention, though presently existing such systems are not yet alive.

Essentially, life is a property ofform, pattern, structure, or organization, not of its chemical basis. It has a formal cause, not a material cause, in Aristotelian terms. Because matter and energy flow through it. like through a flame or a water stream, matter and energy do not define it; only the overall form, as of the flame or the stream, can define it.

However, somewhat more concretely, biological life on Earth is based on mutually reinforcing networks of nucleic acids (N) and proteins (P). The Ns, in the form of genes, code for and generate the Ps when the Ns are “expressed” or actively functioning, by processes of transcription and translation; but these processes require the activity of “transcription factors” which are other Ps, which thus regulate P expression. Call the first -mentioned Ps “P 1” and the regulatory transcription factors “P2”. But the P2s are produced by other Ns (call them N2), which in turn require their own transcription factors P3, which are generated by N3, and so on. The question is “what regulates the regulators?” In order to avoid infinite regress, the whole system is somehow locked into a cycle, perhaps through RNA, which can act both as a N and a P (an enzyme called a ribozyme). The cycle acts as a Hofstadter-like self-reference system or Uroborus (the sacred symbol of a snake eating its own tail).

In this more concrete example of living systems (though the only example presently known), a material basis has been explicitly specified, since Ns and Ps are both based on carbon, with several other elements also being necessary: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen; and also phosphorus in Ns and sulfur in Ps. In some particular specialized Ps and other life molecules, metals are also present: iron in the cytochromes, hemoglobin, and ferritin; zinc in so-called “zinc fingers” transcription factors; iodine in thyroxine; bromine in the “juvenile hormone” of metamorphosing insects; sodium and potassium ions in nerve transmission; calcium ions in cell communication systems; magnesium in chlorophyll, etc.

Could this be otherwise? Is a different material-chemical basis of life possible? Is our sole existing example only the result of a particular history on this planet, more or less based on chance? Or is it the only possible combination of chemicals that will work in producing these complex dynamic systems capable of self-maintenance and self-reproduction which we call living systems?

One particular property of life systems on Earth seems clearly to be the result of a chance selection: the chirality or “handedness” of certain life molecules: sugars are always dextro-rotatory (d) and amino acids are always levo-rotarory (I). This almost certainly could have been otherwise, but after the initial choice was made “by the roll of the dice”, chirality had to be consistently maintained, or the lock-and-key specificities of enzymes and antibodies would not have worked. It is like driving on the right side or the left side of the road (on the right almost everywhere, on the left in Britain and Australia); it does not much matter which way you choose, but then everyone has to conform henceforth to the rule. Probably I-sugar d-amino acid life is possible, and may exist somewhere in a comer of the universe (persisting in being odd like the British). Whether I-sugar I-amino acid life or d-sugar d-amino acid life would work I am not sure — some of the “fitting together” might be vitiated by these combinations.

However, the more general question is: does life have to be based on carbon plus a few other elements, or could it be otherwise? We simply do not know. Nature has invented the one and only system we know, and the invention was probably very difficult; it may not be possible to repeat the invention with other starting materials. However, we should not be too Earth-bound or anthropomorphic in our thinking; Nature or God can be very inventive and creative. Perhaps our experiments with silicon will show another way, which can be invented only with the intervention of carbon life in human form. Or perhaps our continued space exploration will provide other examples which already exist.

What about adding the principle of “self-organization” to “self-maintenance” and “self-reproduction” as an intrinsic property of living systems? While it is not necessary in the definition of life, it addresses the question of life’s origin. Life was either self-organized or created by an external agency (God) in an act of special creation. Without attempting to answer this question, let us explore what the idea of self-organization would imply.

Self-organization can be visualized as a “boot-strapping” operation that first brought living systems into being — after which “spontaneous generation” ceased occurring, and the principle “omne vivum ex vivo” came to apply. The principles underlying the possibilities of “auto-poiesis” (self-organization) were laid out by Erich Jantsch in “The Self-Organizing Universe”, following the investigations by lIya Prigogine of “dissipative structures” (DSs).

The self-organization of complex dynamic self-maintaining self-reproducing systems could not, of course, occur all at once; the entropic barrier is just too high. It has been estimated that the chance collision of all the needed atoms to construct even one complete DNA or protein molecule would take more time than has been available in the IO or so billion years since the beginning of the universe. The combinatorial possibilities are overwhelming. So it seems clear that the assembling of these complex systems had to occur in gradual steps, which at some critical threshold became self-reinforcing and achieved a “take-off’.

Simple DSs, like the chemical system of the “Brusselator” which keeps a cyclic chemical reaction going indefinitely, accompanied by periodic colour changes, or the convection patterns formed in a flat shallow pan heated from below, are not yet alive, but show self-organization in open flow-through systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium, maintaining their structure by complex. feedback cycles, usually more than a simple thermostat-type feedback. They are not self-reproducing, however, though they are self-maintaining. DSs are complex dynamic systems, non-linear, operating “on the edge of Chaos”, i.e. almost turbulent but not extremely so. This gives them the required balance between too much stability (which would amount to rigidity) and too much flexibility (which would amount to chaos). This stability-flexibility balance is an essential property of both simple DSs and living systems.

Simple DSs experience fluctuations from the basic state in which they exist and which they “try” to maintain. Most of the time, these fluctuations are damped out and the system returns to its original state. However, from time to time a “crisis” occurs in which the fluctuations are too large for pattern maintenance, and then the DS system undergoes a bifurcation: either it breaks down and disappears (a kind of a death), or it breaks through to a more complex and more “viable” structure — a new DS. It is like a musical instrument in a state of multiple harmonic vibrations reorganizing itself into a different vibrational state, or like an electron doing a quantum jump to a higher energy level. However, these are only metaphors and should be used with caution.

Successive reorganizations through bifurcations, though leaving behind many “failed states”, lead to the creation, by “emergence”, of entirely new states of being, farther and farther from equilibrium, less and less “probable”, more and more accumulations of local negentropy at the expense of the surroundings. This process is like incipient evolution, including natural selection through the elimination of the failed states and the survival of the newly emergent states. A qualitative jump occurs in some of the more complex emergent DSs from non-living to living systems when self-reproduction is achieved, possibly by RNA which can act as both a gene and an enzyme, and therefore can “bootstrap” itself into a fully alive state.

One word of caution: The term “living systems” is not used here in Miller’s sense, which would include under that term not only biological organisms, but also societies, eco-systems, and machines. These non-biological systems are complex, dynamic, and sometimes self-maintaining (eco-systems and some of the more successful societies, but not machines), but not self-reproducing and not always self-organizing (only eco-system may be). To some extent they all “evolve”, even machines, and so Miller’s inclusion of them is justified from some points of view. However, they are secondary structures in all cases, derived from and dependent upon the primary living systems, biological organisms.

They form some sort of a scale: eco-systems and ant and bee societies being closest to our narrower definition of living systems, chaotic human societies being next, and machines being last. Perhaps the first multi-cellular organisms also seemed at first chaotic compared to the near-perfect internal organization of the cells. Evolution is still continuing. It is like a progressive revelation or emergence.

Our machines, and societies in a different way, are “created, not begotten” by us humans. (The children we beget, not create, are much more perfect.) One can imagine a building up of hierarchical structures on a planetary scale, from organisms to ecosystems to Gaia as the living planet to dimensions beyond — solar, galactic, universe. An entire Universe vibrantly alive would be Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point”, the God that, in the ultimate Uroborus strange wrap-around super-cycle, created it all in the first place, at the Alpha Point.


The theory of vitalism, which maintains that a special life force different from material forces is manifested in living organisms, has ancient roots, but has had a hard time lately. In the age of modem science, with its materialist, reductionist philosophy, it has been driven more and more into a remote comer and eventually abolished. Anything remotely smacking of vitalism is now despised and discounted as “unscientific”.

Vitalism was rooted in the most universal ancient religion of humankind, animism and manaism. “Animism” does not refer to animal as opposed to plant or mineral, but to “anima”, meaning soul or spirit. Mana is a fundamental natural or divine force or principle that inhabits everything in nature, but is especially abundant and accessible at certain sacred places.

According to this ancient primitive religion, everything was considered to be alive; not only animals and plants, but also rocks, mountains, lakes, and rivers. This is the exact opposite (a mirror image) of the modem conception of materialism which considers everything to be reducible to non-living units — not only rocks and rivers, but also plants and animals. Both of these mirror-image beliefs are kinds of monism — the belief that everything in the world is reducible to a single essence — either living or non-living, i.e. spiritual or material.

Manaism is related to the pantheistic religions of later times, especially Taoism in China, as Mana can be related to Tao, being both natural and divine — fundamentally alive and spiritual. Mana or Tao is life or spirit permeating matter in an indissoluble unity. This type of monism is neither materialism nor mentalism (usually called idealism in Western philosophy); it does not reduce everything to either matter or mind. Rather, it is a super-synthesis, a holistic view of the world being a matter/mind unified essence, like the two sides of a coin; or better, the one and only side of a Moebius strip. Or, poetically, a love-union. (See final poem in this collection.)

It is incorrect to consider animism to be a polytheistic religion, though it sometimes speaks of many gods; for these gods are only aspects of the one and only Godhead, the ground of all reality. The Godhead is the luminous, numinous centre of the Mandala, while its manifold aspects can be distinguished around the Mandala’s circumference as intricate and beautiful patterns (multiform gods and spirits), displayed as in a Mandelbrot set of fractal design. The Centre is dazzling white, the circumference multi-colored; but the many colours, being mutually complementary, can merge back into the White essence.

Monotheism, in rejecting pantheism and conceiving of a transcendent rather than an immanent God, created a gulf or chasm of separation between God and nature, between the One and the many, between the white centre and the multi-colour periphery. This split the monism into dualism, and mind and matter came to be regarded as basically different, even irreconcilable, essences. This was best expressed by Descartes, who contrasted “res cogitans” and “res extensa”, the essence which thinks and the essence which occupies space. He could not think of any way for them to interact at all, and invented the tortured device of “parallelism” ordained and regulated by God to explain their separate though synchronized coexistence. The gulf between mind and matter widened into an unbridgeable dualism; they drifted apart like Europe and America when the Atlantic Ocean opened up.

This split was also a split between religion, which opted for the primacy of spirit, and science, which opted for the primacy of matter. Their first near-violent clash was soon moderated into uneasy coexistence, since both were considered useful to humanity, but their two spheres rarely touched, and created a curious split personality in the modern human consciousness — almost like Orwell’s “double-think”.

With the arrival of modem materialistic science, the realm of the Vital Force gradually began to shrink. The universe was seen as a mechanical machine, not alive with multiple spirits. There were cogs and wheels, levers and pulleys, not “principalities and powers” of Good and Evil. Values like good and evil, and all others, were excluded from science, which became “objective” and objectified. When thermodynamics was added to mechanics within the science of physics, engines were added to the machines, and the arrow of time acquired a sense of reality missing from mechanics, but the universe was still lifeless, even drifting toward ultimate thermal death — a dismal end for what, at first sight, naively, seems like a wonderful world to the untrained observer.

After physics, chemistry also fell under the sway of mechanistic materialism: solids, liquids, and gases, minerals, crystals, solutions, compounds and elements being no more alive than rocks, rivers, or stars. Fair enough: but what about biology? Was it not defined as the study of life forms?

At first, biology kept the Vital Force alive, so to speak, for a while longer. There was widespread belief in spontaneous generation, such as living frogs or mice emerging whole by themselves from mud or refuse. However, this was soon disproved, and the principle was firmly established that “all life comes from previous life”, i.e. “omne vivum ex vivo”. This was found to hold even for protozoa and bacteria when these were discovered by Leeuwenhoek with his new instrument, the microscope.

This new principle left the primal origin of life hanging loose, but divine creation was usually assumed — religion reaching out to science across the widening gulf. God was either the Creator moulding the clay with His own hands, or more abstractly and philosophically, the First Cause or the Prime Mover. An offshoot of this (though it did not survive long as a doctrine) was deism, which taught that God created the world in the beginning, but wound it up like a machine and has ever since let it run on by itself like a clockwork without taking any further notice. This would of course make any prayer or worship wholly inefficacious. For that reason, perhaps, it was not a religion satisfying to the common people, while it may have pleased some philosophers.

The life force was at first assumed to be necessary even to create so-called “organic compounds”, chemical entities thought to be incapable of being synthesized by chemists. This assumption was proved wrong when Wohler synthesized urea in the mid-1800s, and others quickly synthesized many other “organic” compounds. From then on, organic chemistry became simply the chemistry of carbon compounds, and the realm of the life force shrank further.

When cells were discovered, and it became clear that all organisms, animals and plants alike, were composed of cells, the semi-liquid jelly-like substance inside the cell membrane was called “protoplasm”, and for a time this was thought to be the site of the life force. Somehow protoplasm was thought to be different from all other ordinary chemical substances, to be uniquely alive. Yet, when analyzed, it was found to consist of ordinary chemical compounds — water (mostly), sugars, fats, amino acids, nucleic acids — though many of these in polymerized forms such as polysacharides, proteins, glycoproteins, lipoproteins, etc. These were all well known from ordinary organic chemistry. Yet maybe something called life was magically added — as had been assumed earlier about phlogiston in combustion, or caloric in heat. Yet all these semi-magical postulated additions to ordinary matter hit the dust-bin of science, one by one. There was no phlogiston, no caloric, and no life force either, all abolished as unnecessary by the rule of Occam’s Razor: don’t assume anything to exist that is not absolutely’ necessary to produce a scientific explanation.

Next to the rescue of a special place for life came the science of colloids — particles larger than molecules, but small enough to remain in suspension without settling out under the influence of gravity. Perhaps this was the state of matter where the life force resided, rather than in particular compounds. Colloids appeared as either gel (semi-solid) or sol (liquid), and were capable of transitions back and forth between these two states. Their consistency resembled the state in which protoplasm existed, for both gels and sols were discernible within the cell.

Another structure in colloidal science, the micelle, as exemplified in a globule of oil held in an emulsion in water by a film of soap (the soap molecules being aligned in a monolayer with the hydrophobic tails in the oil phase and the hydrophilic heads in the aqueous phase) became a model for the cell, also enclosed in a similar lipid membrane, except that here it was an oil bilayer rather than a soap monolayer. But in both cases, the inside of a globular body could be separated from the outside by a lipid membrane or film. Was this the secret of life? The Russian scientist Oparin thought so, with his theory of “coarcervates”, membrane-surrounded gel particles of colloidal size suspended in a sol-like medium being thought of as the precursors of the first cells during the origination of life. It seemed to make sense (it still does) that a proto-living system has to be isolated from its surroundings in order to develop its negentropy-generating mechanisms, or simply to prevent itself from being diluted out of separate existence by diffusion into the medium.

Later still, it was realized that colloidal particles could be (though they were not always) simply high polymers or macromolecules. Many such were produced synthetically from varied monomers and became our plastics (like polyester or polystyrene), synthetic rubber (like polyisoprene), or textile fibres (like nylon or polyacrylate).

The macromolecules in living cells were not any of these synthetics, but were polymers of sugars, fats, amino acids, and nucleotides, as already mentioned. Perhaps the phenomenon of life somehow resided in the high-polymeric or macromolecular state. Simple organic molecules were not alive, but if enough of them hooked up into a long chain, suitably folded into complex shapes and maybe even sheets or space-filling networks, the life force came into operation as an emergent quality, just as molecules are qualitatively different from atoms, atoms are different from protons, neutrons and electrons, and protons and neutrons are different from quarks. (1 am jumping ahead in the history of science; quarks were not known yet at this time.)

The philosophy of “emergent qualities”, i.e. the whole being more than the sum of its parts, came into existence. This is now recognized as “general systems theory”, and with it began the incipient science of complexity, i.e. of complex but non-random structures. The significant change of focus here is that the life force was no longer seen as residing in particular substances (i.e. matter), but in structures (i.e. form).

Yet the idea of a “living substance” returned when proteins were singled out from the other macromolecules as the particular site oflife. From the science of nutrition we discovered that sugars (even polysacharides like starch) and fats served merely as fuels in respiration, being oxidized by atmospheric oxygen to yield energy, almost as in a furnace or a fire, though much more slowly. On the other hand, proteins were the building materials of which cells and whole organisms were largely constructed, and thus more properly “truly alive”. The fuel chemicals were only means, while the proteins were seen as ends.

The notion of protein-centred life was reinforced by the discovery of protein specificity in their functions as enzymes (catalysts) and antibodies (in the immune system). This property of specificity seemed highly purposeful and almost magical. Enzymes act as organic catalysts to greatly speed up chemical reactions necessary for life, each enzyme being exquisitely specific to its particular substrate and the reaction to be catalyzed; an enzyme even clearly distinguishes between the two enantiomers of a compound, the pair of enantiomers being related to each other as mirror images. The antibodies produced by the B-cells of the immune system similarly bind very specifically to particular antigens only (compounds or viruses or bacteria foreign to the organism). To look after all possible “invaders”, there are astonishingly large numbers of different antibodies on the various B-cells, each multiplying and releasing antibodies only if the antigen is present and needs to be combatted or neutralized.

Enzyme and antibody actions were interpreted as due to “lock-and-key” mechanisms, resulting from particular amino acid sequences and consequent folding of the protein chains into complex three-dimensional secondary and tertiary structures. Since enzymes carry on metabolism and antibodies confer immunity against diseases, both forms of proteins seemed peculiarly suitable candidates for being carriers of the life force.

Yet the site of the life force shifted again when the structure of the nucleic acids was elucidated (by Watson and Crick.) (Cf. Watson’s account of this discovery.) DNA with its elegant double helix and the base pairs actually representing the genetic code became the next perceived carrier of the life force. Here was a molecule that was the carrier of heredity and reproduction, the very essence of life. The genetic information was transcribed from DNA to RNA and translated from RNA to protein — this became the Central Dogma of molecular biology. It was soon violated by the retro-viruses such as HlV, but generally it remained a valid model. The genetic code was soon “cracked”, and we now know which codons (composed of 3 base pairs each) correspond to which amino acid in the protein produced. Research findings are still growing explosively in molecular biology.

It is now fashionable to consider the DNA double helix as the central core of the mystery of life; and yet it was probably RNA which was the first on the scene at the origin of life, since it can act as both an enzyme and a gene in some circumstances. In any case, the nucleic acids and the proteins together constitute a system capable of self-regulation and self-reproduction, so perhaps they all deserve the pride of place in the biological system.

Yet proteins, RNA, even DNA are still ordinary molecules; very large, very complex, but nevertheless, like all molecules, subject to rapid thermal motions — rotation, vibration, bending, twisting of all sorts, even getting tied in knots. They can be degraded by heat or by the extremes of acidity or alkalinity. They are not like any carved-in-stone eternal templates. Are they really the final site of life?

I suggest that we stop looking for the elusive molecule of life; it does not exist. DNA is not primary, neither is RNA or protein. They need each other, in repeating cycles, to perform their functions; none can do it alone. Even the three of them together are not enough; they need the sugars (e.g. in glycoproteins for inter-cellular signalling), and the lipids for cell membranes, and a whole host of hormones and coenzymes and growth factors and neurotransmitters.

Without elaborating on this multiform chemistry too much, I would argue that life does not reside in any particular substances or combinations thereof; it resides in complex spatio-temporal structures, processes and systems, many of them positive or negative feedback cycles or perhaps self-organized networks as conceived by Stuart Kauffman (1995). There are degrees of life, the more complex systems being more alive than the less complex ones. Life is an emergent property of matter, or rather a form or pattern; and further on in evolution, mind is an emergent property of life, specifically of the nervous system. Yet the whole edifice is a seamless web, like the original “dream-time” of God immanent in Nature, a periodically unfolding and enfolding order as postulated by Bohm. (See essay “From Bohr to Bohm” in Section III.)

Our knowledge and understanding grows like a spiral: from mind/matter monism through separation into dualism back to monism, but on a higher level of detail. The spiral staircase of knowledge is well symbolized by the DNA double helix. It would be strange if this is a coincidence.


When birds and bats and bumblebees all fly, although they share no very close common ancestors, that is convergence; it results when widely diverse organisms seek a similar niche, and naturally arrive at somewhat similar solutions. These solutions, e.g. wings in the above case, give rise to analogous (but not homologous) structures: the wings all have surfaces that provide lifting power, and flap to provide propulsion, but the anatomical structures are different, and the wings developed from different preceding organs, e.g. forelimbs in birds and bats, but not in bumble-bees. Other cases of convergence are: fish and whales both swim, but they belong to different vertebrate orders; and there exists a marsupial wolf in some ways similar to the mammalian wolf.

The facts of convergence in a way deny Stephen 1. Gould’s (1989) claim that, if the tape of evolution were wound back, and then allowed to proceed forward again, it would not produce the same results. True, it would not run exactly the same; but surely convergence would fill the same niches and thus produce similar structures and functions (analogous ones).

Was there ever a big-brained, intelligent dinosaur? Did they get wiped out in a nuclear war’? Could there have been human-like intelligence in other classes, orders, phyla? The insect brain is too small, unless it can exploit quite different (quantum-like?) mechanisms…Plants don’t even have a nervous system…But that stilI leaves lots of scope among the animals. Whales have been suggested, and dolphins, currently living species with whom we cannot communicate…Even elephants…Or anteaters…

We do not need to look for intelligent life on other planets, though that is useful too. Let us follow a Mission to Planet Earth, already a NASA project in a different context.


Note: The first part of this essay is rather technical, but is used only as an introduction to the subsequent more general reflections.

Steven A. Benner discusses the role of selection in the maturing of the immune system — a good example of catalytic selection. Millions of amino acid sequences are provided in the hypervariable region of the antibody of each T-cell or B-cell; selection and multiplication occurs only when stimulated by contact with antigen. Deletion (negative selection) can also occur early on, during maturation in the thymus or bone marrow, to eliminate self-reacting T — and B-cells. Catalytic enhancement of selected antibodies is about 2 to 6 orders of magnitude.

Bartel and Szostak (B&S) quoted by Benner performed catalytic selection with a pool of some 1015 different ~A sequences (N=220, as stated on p. 1369); this is only a small fraction of the possibilities (42 ). Repeated rounds of mutation and selection improved ribozyme catalytic activity in a ligation reaction (lengthening by one unit at the tail end) by a factor of 3 to 6 orders of magnitude. Further improvement is possible if more rounds had been done. Ligation is not the same as replication, but is suggestive.

Was RNA the first form of life on Earth? Fewer than 1 in 1013 random RNAs catalyzed ligation at the enhancfg rate in B&S’s experiments. True replication is more difficult than ligation, but maybe more than 10 sequences were available at the start. Still, Benner considers the probability too low. He says: “It is difficult to believe that a self-replicating RNA molecule could…have emerged spontaneously from a prebiotic soup…without the gentle coaxing of a graduate student desiring a completed dissertation.” However, the RNA-world model may still be true if the initial RNA pool was not random, or if the units were not nucleoside triphosphate, or if other co-factors were present.

B&S achieved an enhancement by 7 orders of magnitude. (?) Natural RNA achieved an enhancement by 10-11 orders of magnitude. Protein catalysts achieve 10-13 orders of magnitude. But

B&S can probably eventually do better, and even the already achieved enhancement is better than that of the immune system (2-6 orders of magnitude), and is the same as peptides achieve by the design method.

This article led me to some further speculation, on two different ways of thinking and acting, by deliberate design or by natural selection. This is expressed below in several couplets of contrasting ways.

  1. Deductive proofs give certainty without true novelty. Inductive inference can give fairly high probability, with flexibility to change if contradictions emerge.
  2. Perfect crystals grow in regular rows and arrays with no defects. Living cells grow in functional assemblies of parts, with enough redundancy to adapt to change and some capacity to correct errors.
  3. Goal-directed planning can consist of precisely designed steps, meshing predictably to reach the summit; or it can constitute an initially random search, like evolutionary algorithms or the computer game called “Life”, or the evolution of ribozymes (see above), that reach the goal chaotically by a combination of variability (mutation) and selection.
  4. Logic can be of the classical “right or wrong”, “true or false” kind, rigidly binary choice; or it can be “fuzzy logic”, admitting half-truths and half-lies, but comfortably accommodating paradoxes.
  5. Attractors of iterated operations can be neat points or lines or surfaces of convergence, easy to visualize and understand; or they can be the “strange attractors” of Chaos, like tangled balls of wool, seemingly random, but deterministic in depth.
  6. Events can converge to unique consequences by negative feedback, giving a stable regime like a thermostat does; or they can diverge imaginatively by positive feedback, yielding beautiful fractal patterns like the Julia sets.

Linear vs. lateral thinking? Left brain vs. right brain? Male vs. female style? Not exactly; it is a different kind of duality, though there is some correlation. It is more like plateau-thinking in times of stable rational social order, vs. crisis-thinking in times of rapid change, such as ours.

We do not live in classical times of Euclidian geometry, perfect crystals, rigid planning, either/or thinking, absolute truths, neat attractors, uni-linear causal chains, stabilizing feedbacks, and laid-down moral rules.

We resonate more to Riemann geometry of curved space, crystal defects that facilitate semiconductor applications, moral and cognitive relativity, numerical computer experiments, rapidly mutating viruses, evolutionary algorithms, fuzzy logic, strange attractors, and exploding fractal designs. We have atonal music, abstract art, catastrophe theory, continental drift, black holes, and hot spots.

Yet our random search for patterns may be rewarded by higher insights on the ascending spiral of wisdom, if we can safely navigate the rapids of chaos. In a metaphor taken from molecular biology, I can see the zinc fingers strumming the DNA bases of the double helix like a harp, inducing the music of transcriptional change in an explosion of creative amplification.


Christiane Nusslein-Volhard discusses gradients that organize embryo development. Rosie Mestel discusses embryonic development of the compound eye of the fruitfly, Drosophila. Over the years, I have become somewhat familiar with this concept of gradients, though not in the detail explained in these articles. Yet there has always been something missing that scientists do not discuss: how does the whole cascade of events get started? We hear about homeo-boxes and homeo-genes that turn on other genes — but what turns THEM on? It seems like infinite regress.

The two articles mentioned do not clarify this either. The story they tell goes something like this: In embryonic development, a whole cascade of concentration gradients of certain chemical compounds is established, which give positional information to cells, telling them which differentiation path to follow. The chemical compounds in the gradient are promoters, which help turn genes on or off. (When a gene is turned on, it produces its corresponding protein, which goes on to perform its particular function.) A critical concentration of promoter is required to turn on a gene; at concentrations below this critical value, no gene activity results. The direction of the concentration gradient could be from head to tail, or dorsal-ventral, or (later in the development sequence) along a limb (proximal to distal). This has been established in several organisms, especially in Drosophila and its eyes.

Some of the genes turned on by the primary promoter pulse subsequently produce other promoters which establish secondary gradients for further differentiation, and so on through a very long cascade, elaborating the details of eyes, limbs, and organs. I visualize this metaphorically as twinkling lights being turned on and then turning on other twinkling lights, in a very precisely predetermined sequence.

However, what starts the original pulse is not known, or at least never discussed. To my knowledge it has not been studied, though the question must have occurred to many. It seems to me (and this is a guess on my part) that it might be the very act of fertilization. Perhaps something on the sperm turns on something in the egg, which starts the whole cascade rolling. Then fertilization would be not only a fusion of the nuclei and a pairing of each gene with an allele from the other parent, but also an initiation of the chain of development by pressing the master switch.

Several observations are relevant to this hypothesis.

  1. Sea urchin eggs can develop parthenogenetically without fertilization by stimulating them with a pin prick. In most other species this cannot be done.
  2. Whiptail lizards reproduce regularly by parthenogenesis, since there are no males in this species. Perhaps their simulated Lesbian intercourse does something to press the master switch in their eggs.
  3. A blighted ovum is one without a nucleus. In humans this leads to a “molar pregnancy”, described in another article in July 1966 “Discover” (Massad). The sperm can supply the missing genes, by dividing in an N to 2N division (anti-meiosis?), but still no proper development occurs. Only an undifferentiated mass of cells results, which is usually aborted spontaneously halfway through the pregnancy. If aborted too late, it may produce a dangerous form of cancer.

These three observations lead me to conclude that the main part of the master switch must be in the egg and not in the sperm, although the sperm is usually required to activate it (but a pin prick may do). While female parthenogenesis, though rare, is occasionally observed, I know of no case of male parthenogenesis, though an attempt is made in a molar pregnancy.

However, the next essay argues that no master switch is required, that there is only a seamless cycle. I find this difficult to imagine.


(According to article by Richard C. Strohman, “Ancient Genome, Wise Bodies, Unhealthy People” in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vol. 37, No.1, Autumn 1993, pp. 112-144. )

Quote by Barton Childs: “The reality (of disease) is the inability of one person’s homeostasis, conditioned by his genotype and a lifetime of special experiences, to maintain equilibrium; neither genes nor environment “cause” disease, it is simply that the organism is unsuited for adaptive action in one or several environments.”

Only 2% of diseases are monogenic (caused by the deletion or mutation of one gene, e.g. Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs disease, phenylketouremia); 98% are polygenic, involving a whole epigenetic network of many genes and many regulator proteins. When something goes wrong with one or a few genes in the network, the network can usually adapt by rearranging; the same type of rearrangement occurs when the environment changes. It is only when the change in the genes or the environment gets beyond a certain limit that disease develops. This applies to schizophrenia (for which there is a genetic “predisposition”, but triggered only by specific environmental influences), manic depression, hypertension, cancer, and perhaps AIDS. Gene change (sometimes caused by a virus) is necessary, but not sufficient, to produce disease.

The molecular genetics of embryonic development shows the same epigenetic complexity; there may be no “master switches” (see previous essay “The Master Switch”). The genome is ancient and highly adaptive — this is the idea ofthe “wise body”. Genes and environment are not additive in their influence on disease or development, but interactive (non-decomposable). This is an evolutionary outlook. Epigenetic adaptability has simply proved to be more conducive to long-range survival.

My comment: No single-cause genes for diseases; no master switches for development;. add to this no central integrator (“pearl of the mind”) in the brain, according to Dennett (see the essay “Consciousness Explained?” in Section VI) — do I detect the existence and superior efficiency of acephalous networks? Applied to the structure of society, does that point to the desirability of a lack of a central government, i.e. self-organized self-regulating anarchism?


The mind is distributed throughout the body,
as metabolic, genetic, hormonal, immune, neural
communication between organs, tissues, cells,
organelles, nuclei and molecules. At all levels.
Mind permeates the body,
like ether was supposed to pervade all matter,
like neutrinos interpenetrate the Earth,
like language links human society worldwide
through the spoken, written, printed, electronic word.

Disembodied, non-incarnated mind,
free-floating, may also exist,
like Plato’s Ideas of chairs and objects,
like heavenly eternal archetypes,
like patterns of beauty in an artist’s mind
before they are expressed in stone or pigment
or the vibrations of a string.

EXPRESSED! Like genes switched on
to incarnate their protein products
by material processes, EXPRESSING
the abstract Platonic ideas already fully present,
implicitly pre-formed like a Homunculus
in codon language. “Parlez-vous DNA?”
We are learning, but not yet fluent,
in the language of the other culture-mind.

Implicit, immanent, implicate order
unfolding into explicit, created order:
wave crystallizing into particle,
DNA into protein,
thought into action,
The Word (Logos) that ruled the World
from the Big Bang onward
and before, in the Guv of Universes.


Several writers have given examples of levels of development of various systems. In schemes of Piaget and Kohlberg, the levels run strictly consecutively; in fact, we are told that it is impossible to skip levels, but that each level has to be reached, consolidated and “fulfilled” before the next level can be begun. In Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” this is less strict; while the lower levels of safety and nutrition have to be satisfied as preconditions of life, in the higher levels (affiliation and achievement etc.), it would seem natural to jump back and forth to reach ever higher satisfaction on each alternately. It would seem that this is what most people do.

When Norman Dowsett speaks of 6 levels of being (physical, vital, mental, psychic, spiritual, transcendental), are these strictly hierarchical stepping stones or do they overlap? I would argue for the latter, and I have in mind as an analogue the rather complex image of electrons filling the energy levels in atoms as we proceed through the Periodic Table. (The next paragraph is in text books, and can be skipped if readers are either familiar with it or not interested in such details.)

From hydrogen to helium (2 elements), shell 1 subshell s is being filled. (Symbolized as Is.) That is the only subshell there is in this first shell. From lithium to berylium (2 elements), subshell 2s is being filled. Then from boron to neon (6 elements), subshell 2p. (Shell 2 has subshells sand p only, a total of 8 elements.) After that come complications. We go into 3s with Na and Mg (2 elements) and then into 3p from aluminum to argon (6 elements), which continues the previous pattern; but shell 3 also contains subshell d (10 elements), and its filling is deferred until later. What happens before that is the filling of 4s (potassium and calcium). Only then is 3d started 10 elements from scandium to zinc). Then we pick up 4p (6 elements from gallium to krypton). We continue as follows: 5s (2 elements, rubidium and strontium), 4d (10 elements from yttrium to cadmium), 5p (6 elements from indium to xenon), 6s (the 2 elements caesium and barium), 5d (taking just the first element of this subshell, lanthanum), then 4f (the 14 rare earth elements from cerium to lutetium), then the rest of 5d (the remaining 9 elements from hafnium to mercury), then 6p (6 elements from thalium to radon), then 7s (2 elements, francium and radium), then the first element only of 6d (actinium), then 5f (14 elements from thorium into the trans-uranium series)…The succession is then interrupted because of the rapidly increasing instability of the heavier nuclei. It would be a nice question for an intelligence test to be asked to “continue the series” according to the pattern indicated. It can be done up to a point, until we wonder what the next letter will be in shell 5 after f and when does it start filling in. (See summary of this scheme in Appendix to this essay.)

The interweaving pattern is due to the overlapping of energy levels; some of the lower levels (subshells) of a higher shell have lower energy than the higher levels of the previous shell. The pattern weaves an increasingly more complex braid, until interrupted by nuclear instability. If the pattern could continue, it would resemble the structures being uncovered in modem chaos theory: we seemingly go from a simple linear consecutive pattern into turbulent complexity, which seems like “chaos” to our simple minds, but which really has a super-pattern that a super-mind is able to follow.

I propose that Dowsett’s levels, mentioned above, interweave in some such analogous pattern, for example as follows: “Vital” is always there in every shell, like s. (This assumes that even stones are “alive” in some low-grade sense, but have not yet got organized enough to express recognizable “life”.) Mental (P) starts only in the second shell, and then develops increasing orders of complexity in succeeding shells (stages). Psychic (d) starts only in the third shell, and spiritual only in the fourth shell; but each attains higher and higher stages as they proceed. The main feature of the pattern is that the four intertwine in their development. The vital level still continues to develop when the mental is started, and so on. The result is a seamless web of development instead of a hierarchical staircase.

This scheme is, of course, highly tentative, being argued only by analogy. The pattern is probably different in detail. Also, the first and last levels (physical and transcendental) have been left out, for the sake of simplicity, and to fit in with the s,p,d,f model. This is too artificial and almost certainly not true.

Other theories of developmental stages may follow similar patterns. One that comes to mind is Jantzsch’s levels of “mind”: genetic, epigenetic, metabolic, hormonal, and neural. (Discussed in the nex1 essay “Levels of Being”.) These are increasingly sophisticated methods of manipulating information into meaning (see essay “The Three Essences” in Section II), and they certainly all coexist right into the most highly evolved organisms today. How the methods overlap or interweave is an interesting topic for speculation. .


Some details of shell-filling in the Periodic Table.

Shell 1 has subshells s.
Shell 2 “ “ s,p.
Shell 3 “ “ s,p,d.
Shell 4 “ “ s,p,d,f,[x]. fictitious
Shell 5 “ “ s,p,d,f,[x].
Shell 6 “ “ s,p,d,f,[x],[y].
Shell 7 “ “ s,p,d,f,[x],[y],[z].
td>The number of electrons in each shell (or elements in each row of the Periodic Table) is given by 2a2 where a is the shell number. Thus:
Subshell s is manifested in shells 1 to 5.
Subshell p is manifested in shells 2 to 6.
Subshell d is manifested in shells 3 to 5.
Subshell f is manifested in shells 4 and 5.
(The x, y, z are purely fictitious.) (Shells 6 and 7 are fictitious.)
Shell (row) I has 2. e. = 2 electrons (elements).
Shell (row) 2 has 2.22. = 8 electrons (elements).
Shell (row) 3 has 2.32. = 18 electrons (elements).
Shell (row) 4 has 2.42. = 32 electrons (elements).
Shell (row) 5 has 2.52. = 50 electrons (but is incomplete).
Shell (row) 6 has 2.62. = 72 electrons (does not exist)
Shell (row)? has 2.72. = 98 electrons (does not exist
Each s subshell has 2 electrons (elements).
Each p subshell has 6 electrons (elements).
Each d subshell has 10 electrons (elements).
Each f subshell has 14 electrons (elements).
These numbers are obtained by subtracting the shell totals:
e.g. 6 = 8 — 2, 10 = 18 — 8, 14 = 32 — 18.
Each p subshell ends with a rare gas.
Elements filling each d level are the transition metals.
Elements filling the flevel are lanthanides (rare earths) or actinides (including trans-uranium elements).
Filling of d level intervenes between the next higher s and p levels.
Filling of f level intervenes between first d and the rest of d of the subsequent level. (Or almost between s two levels up and d one level up.)



The organizational structures of living beings can be visualized in stratified levels, but they are not separate levels, they interlink or inter-leave, so to speak. That is, higher levels reach into lower levels and lower levels feed back up to higher levels, in a manner of mutual penetration or interdependence. The whole structure is thus not decomposable into separate parts, but forms a holistic entity, a “system” that is more than the sum of its parts, because of these inter-level interactions.

Yet it is convenient analytically to discuss these levels separately, as long as we remember, at the end, to reassemble them synthetically. A symphony does not really suffer if we describe separately the role of the violins and the wind instruments, but then we should listen to the whole orchestra playing together.

To some extent, the levels may correspond to the temporal sequence of the appearance of these levels in evolution, but again in an interwoven, overlapping manner. In time sequence, we do not encounter one level being perfected or finished before the next one begins, or even the one after that. It is somewhat like the electron shells of atoms filling up as we proceed from element to element in the periodic table: the sequence 1s, 2s, 2p, 3s, 3p, 3d, 4s, 4p, 4d, 4f, 5s and so on, does not go in that order, but intertwines; in that, for example, the filling of 3d is postponed until after the first part of 4p, and 4f until after part of the 5d which comes after part of the 6p. (The d’s are the transition metals and the fs are the rare earths.) It is an intricate and beautiful pattern, like a knitted rug. (This is explained in more detail in the preceding essay, “Intertwining Levels”.)

After these general considerations, it is time to specify the levels in the functioning of living beings that we have in mind. These levels are: the metabolic, the genetic, the epigenetic, the immune, the hormonal, and the neural. (This scheme was suggested by Erich Jantsch in “The Self-organizing Universe” and is somewhat modified here.) Further levels in human societies (also “living systems” in Miller’s sense) are: the sensory or pre-linguistic, the linguistic- oral, the literate, the technological, and possibly the extrasensory (future and perhaps already foreshadowed).

These are all modes of communication, ways of structuring cooperation, bonds of love in some primordial sense, all the way from the metabolic at the origin of life and the technological of the present or the extrasensory of the future. They are, in a way, the hallmarks of an emergent mind, first cellular, then organismic-individual and then planet-wide social. This “mind” is newly emerging, and yet really an unfolding (in Bohm’s sense) of a pre-existing eternal entity — an incarnation of God — the Word becoming Flesh — the enfolded order of holistic coherence becoming manifest. God is both transcendent (i.e. preexisting as Creator) and immanent in Nature (i.e. permanently incarnated as Word or Meaning in Flesh).

Yet the communication links should not be pictured in some vague and mystical manner as “bonds of love” only; they often more resemble Rube Goldberg machines of weird submicroscopic natural technology. (These two views are not at all contradictory; they are complementary.) Nature is revealed as a superb inventor-tinkerer in a very precise and practical manner, not working by some mana-like emanations of disembodied spiritual “energy” understood in the esoteric sense.

It is time now to describe in a more detailed way what phenomena and structures are contained in each of these levels. It will be understood, of course, that these are only sketches. Whole books have been written, whole scientific disciplines have been constructed, of each of these levels. Yet the links between them have sometimes been neglected in the rush of overspecialization.

The Metabolic Level.

At this level, which presumably was the first to appear on Earth (I agree with Freeman Dyson in “Infinite in All Directions” that proteins came before the nucleic acids) (see “The Origin of Life” in Section VIII), we observe the processes of energy production, energy use and storage, and the flowthrough of substances (“Stoffen-wechsel” in German means “exchange of substances and is their word for metabolism, whose Greek derivation is “metanoia” or change.) The flow-through of materials is an essential characteristic of life, since life can only exist as an open system far from equilibrium, as Prigogine has shown. In this sense of flow-through (of form being more important than matter) (see “Matter and Form” in Section III), life is like a flame or like a river, both used as symbols of life. This property of flow-through seems to be more fundamental than reproduction — hence the plausibility of the hypothesis that proteins came before nucleic acids, enzyme-assisted substance-changes before replication.

Energy production is necessary for maintaining the balancing act lify has to perform to stay at the local apex of a free-energy or negentropy “hill”. Energy production is achieved either by fermentation (the primitive mode performed by some of the prokaryotic bacteria — the so-called anaerobic ones) or by the photosynthesis-plus-respiration process, the more “modern high-tech” way invented already by a subsection of the bacteria (photosynthesis by the cyano-bacteria and respiration by the aerobic bacteria). (See also the essay “Evolution of Mind” in Section VI.)

There has since developed a division of labour or specialization, by which photosynthesis is carried out almost exclusively by plants, while animals carry on more of the rapid locomotion which requires more extensive respiration. Plants respire too, but in them the rates of photosynthesis exceed the rates of respiration, at least in bright sunlight. Thus they can supply the excess accumulated energy to the animals through the food chain, albeit “involuntarily”, by being eaten.

Animals (and fungi too) are thus always parasites on plants. Plants are autotrophic, i.e. selfreliant and self-sufficient, while animals are dependent — but can also be regarded as exploiters. The situation of interdependence here is somewhat like that in the globalized interdependence of world trade: the North or the animals get the better part of the deal, while the South or the plants are, of course, literally the grass roots, the basis of the world economy or the food chain.

Who is “higher” or “lower” here depends on a judgment whether self-reliance is more valued than dominance. The predator seems “higher”, the parasite “lower”, but it comes to the same thing: dependence by robbing the primary self-reliant producers and suppliers. Animals could not exist without plants, and yet mercilessly exploit them. Other parallels from human society come to mind instantly: capitalists and workers, industry and agriculture, men and women. Are such hierarchical structures .natural”? It would seem so, though it appears abhorrent.

The first prokaryotic inventors of this up-grading of the planet’s energy system, the cyanobacteria (popularly known as blue-green algae) and the aerobic bacteria, actually still operate in running Gaia’s carbon and oxygen cycle. When eukaryotic cells were formed, the cyano-bacteria became the chloroplasts of the plant cells where they carry on photosynthesis, and the aerobic bacteria became the mitochondria of all eukaryotic cells where they carry out respiration. The theory that eukaryotic cells were fOrmed by the symbiotic fusion of different prokaryotic cells was formulated by Lynn Margulis, (1981) and seems very plausible because the chloroplasts and the mitochondria still carry their own genes, quite separate from the main complement of genes in the eukaryotic cell nucleus.

Photosynthesis has also accumulated energy in fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, exploited extensively and intensively by human users. This super-dependency on ancient plants may prove yery destructive in dumping huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere all at once (when it was accumulated over millions of years) and thus disrupting the temperature regulation by the greenhouse effect (which is beneficial, even essential when properly balanced) and causing global warming.

After metabolic energy has been produced by photosynthesis, or, in case of the animals, from food consumed, digested and absorbed, it is either used immediately or stored. Storage can be temporary or long-range. Temporary storage and transfer to use is mediated by molecules which carry a high-energy phosphate bond; usually this is either ATP (adenosine triphosphate) or GTP (guanosine triphosphate), which, on delivering their energy to other systems which need it, become ADP or GDP respectively, i.e. the corresponding diphosphates. (Sometimes they can go all the way to the monophosphates, AMP and GMP respectively.) The high-energy phosphate group usually phosphorylates a protein which is thereby activated to do work and perform the function for which it was designed, or it transfers the energy to yet another protein which does so. (Cascades are very common.)

A TP and GTP are really phosphorylated nucleotides, or monomers of nucleic acids. Freeman Dyson’s theory is that, early in the evolution of life, they accidentally polymerized to the nucleic acids RNA and DNA (probably RNA first), which turned out to have the capability to replicate themselves. At first this accidental event was a disaster like a sickness, but it eventually turned out to be very useful, and is now quite essential. (See again “Origin of Life”, Section VIII.)

The symbiosis of proteins and nucleic acids led to the prokaryotic cells, i.e. bacteria. This symbiosis thus preceded by many aeons the later symbiosis, already mentioned above, of several prokaryotic cells to produce the larger eukaryotic cell, of which all protozoa, fungi, plants and animals are composed. Once eukaryotes existed, multicellular organisms became possible (another symbiosis step), and so we witnessed the “Cambrian explosion” of animal diversification, from which stem our first observed fossils.

If the putative life forms composed only of protein are called akaryotic cells (my term), then we have the three steps of increasing symbiotic integration: 1. from akaryotes to prokaryotes (proteins and nucleic acids start to cooperate), 2. from prokaryotes to eukaryotes (several prokaryotes merge), and 3. a multitude of eukaryotic cells get together to form multicellular organisms. Will there be a 4th step, integration of multicellular creatures to multi-individual societies? Highly integrated ant and bee societies already exist which would qualify as such; human societies are still not integrated enough to act as units. Perhaps we would not want them to, for fear of fascist totalitarianism. (1 guess 1 am showing my Western individualistic bias.)

The step from nucleotides to nucleic acids leads straight from the metabolic level to the genetic level (we warned the reader that the levels were intertwined!), and we shall not pursue this any further now, because we are not through yet with describing the metabolic level.

Long-term energy storage occurs partly in glycogen and starch (polymers of glucose as the primary product of photosynthesis and a component of many foods). Starch is stored mainly in plants and glycogen (“animal starch”) in animal liver and muscles. Glycogen stores are drawn on during mild exercise or for normal use. Even more long-term storage occurs in fats, which are readily interconvertible metabolically with carbohydrates, but less readily than glycogen or starch; this storage is drawn on only during prolonged or strenuous exercise (when runners get their “second wind”) or during starvation.

Metabolic transformations are mediated by enzymes, organic catalysts which are almost always proteins. Their high specificity for a single substrate (or a narrow class of substrates) depends on the folding or conformation of the protein to provide a favorable site or pocket for the reagents to come together, or for the single reagent to re-arrange its structure. What matters is not only the size and the shape of the pocket, but also the nature of its internal surface — acid or basic groups, hydrophilic or lipophilic ones, positive or negative charges. These properties come from the side chains of the amino acids which constitute the protein enzyme; among the 21 amino acids, all these varieties occur; and this is why the amino acid sequence of the proteins (specified by the genes, as we shall see) is crucial.

Energy utilization or consumption is done by either fermentation or respiration, as already mentioned. Primitive fermentations can have many substrates, depending on the bacteria — for example methane or hydrogen sulfide. These substances would have been present on the Earth in its early history, (as they are now, but in limited quantities), so that these early Archeobacteria were living on capital stocks, not on current income flows. This mode of life is not indefinitely sustainable, as the stocks get exhausted, and so something had to be done to solve this first ancient “energy crisis”.

We are now, of course, as a society living on the capital stocks of fossil fuels, which is also not sustainable. We shall also have to invent new energy sources, probably again solar, which is the source for photosynthesis. The solution to both the ancient and the modem energy crisis is the Sun; I call it “hitching our wagon to our Star”.

Archeobacteria still exist in environments where oxygen is low (since oxygen is poisonous to them): in marshes where methane is present, in deep wells, and on the ocean floor, especially around the thermal vents of the mid-ocean ridges where tectonic plates are separating and new ocean floor is welling up from the Earth’s mantle. These organisms are thought to be the earliest life forms that have existed.

The primordial energy crisis was solved by the invention of photosynthesis by another class of bacteria, the blue-green ones. This first and still the only sustainable energy-generating reaction for all of life on Earth uses sunlight to split a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen (photolysis), and then uses the hydrogen to reduce carbon dioxide (through a complex series of reactions, catalyzed of course by enzymes) to produce the simple sugar glucose along with oxygen, which is liberated into the atmosphere.

However, it appeared that this marvellous solution to the energy crisis had a serious drawback the oxygen it liberated was a poison to the anaerobic bacteria, which then formed the majority of Earth’s living creatures. They lost their habitat on the surface and had to go hide in remote oxygen-free places, as already mentioned. But then something equally marvellous happened; the oxygen which first appeared to be a poison (the first serious pollutant from energy production) was transformed into a benefit (and eventually a necessity) by coming to be used in respiration by those organisms that learned how to do the trick.

Originally, energy was obtained from glucose by fermentation, which did not use oxygen. ThaT process, called glycolysis, splits the 6-carbon sugar glucose (through several enzyme-assisted phosphorylation steps which supply some initial energy to get it going) into two three-carbon fragments. the last of which is pyruvic acid, which can then go to lactic acid. The process could stop there, as it does when the lactic acid bacteria make milk go sour, or as happens in our muscles if we work them so hard and fast that they have no time to go on to the oxygen-consuming step which would normally follow. Or the pyruvic acid could, by another series of reactions, produce ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide (as yeas: cells do in making bread rise or in the making of beer and wine). Or pyruvic acid could form the glycerc: and fatty acids which compose fats and become stored food.

But when oxygen became available and then plentiful through photosynthesis, a whole ne\’ process was added at the end of glycolysis: it took the pyruvic acid through the so-called Krebs cycle, no\. carried out in all mitochondria, in which through several steps the pyruvic acid is oxidized all the way t: carbon dioxide and water, liberating ten times as much energy from the same glucose molecule as glycolysis ever did. (See also essay “The Evolution of Mind” in Section VI.)

It will be noticed that this complete oxidation of glucose in aerobic respiration can be summed up (if we ignore the complex intermediate steps) as the exact opposite of photosynthesis: the latter takes carbon dioxide and water and produces glucose and oxygen, while aerobic respiration takes glucose and oxygen and produces carbon dioxide and water. The two reactions together form the basic cycle of the Gaian system run by the cyano-bacteria and aerobic bacteria, or the same in the form of cWoroplasts and mitochondria from inside the eukaryotic cells of plants and animals, keeping the total amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere constant — until someone comes along to meddle with it and upset it by burning fossil fuels.

It will also be noted that the energy absorbed from sunlight in photosynthesis is all recovered in aerobic respiration, since the two reactions are the reverse of each other and energy is conserved. In fact, the energy obtained from glucose in aerobic respiration is exactly the same as would be obtained by simply burning glucose in full access to air — just setting a match to it. Living things take it much more slowly than ordinary combustion because they could not stand the heat if all the energy were liberated at once. They had to learn to tame the reaction by taking it through very gradual steps and handing on the energy through multiple redox systems of enzymes and coenzymes. With the very powerful catalysts which enzymes are, this can be done at ordinary temperatures. (This connects to the myth explored in “Reinterpretation of Psyche’s Labours” in Section VIII.)

But if we want to know how many calories are in our diet, the scientists who tell us the calorie values of fats and carbohydrates measure them by burning the food substances in a calorimeter, because the overall energy liberated has to be the same, no matter what path was taken from the starting to the final materials.

Respiration “burns” not only carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and fats, but also proteins. The latter diffeLby containing not only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but also always nitrogen and sometimes sulfur. The breakdown of proteins therefore produces waste which must be eliminated or excreted. The body tries to conserve proteins, since both their production and breakdown is energy-intensive, but they do have a limited lifespan, and can also be drawn upon for energy production in case of dire need, i.e. starvation after exhaustion of stored fat.

In humans and other mammals, excretion takes place via urine, which is a filtrate from the blood produced by kidney glomeruli. Some of the solutes are transferred by passive osmosis, going down a concentration gradient spontaneously; but many have to be actively “pumped” against a concentration gradient, a process which consumes energy (is endothermic) and requires elaborate enzymatic mechanisms as well as ATP as an energy source. Under normal (e.g. non-diabetic) conditions, sugars and proteins are retained in the blood, or returned to it by active pumping if they leaked through the passive filters by osmosis.

Aquatic animals, such as fish, can excrete waste nitrogen directly as ammonia into the surrounding water, where it gets quickly diluted so that it does not accumulate and poison them. Land animals, however, have to employ other strategies, such as further processing of the ammonia to urea by mammals, or even to the more condensed uric acid, as birds do. Urea and uric acid are increasingly powerful ways of concentrating and sequestering away potentially poisonous products of protein breakdown until getting rid of them in liquid or solid form: urea dissolved in water is liquid, while uric acid is a solid. Learning how to do this was part of the adaptation of vertebrates to living on land instead of in water. When insects adapted to land living, they had to introduce similar changes.

Many more things could be said about the metabolic level, which is very rich in intricate chemistry, cycles and mechanisms. We did not enlarge on the gas exchange (oxygen for carbon dioxide) in the lungs, food elements (digestion products) being absorbed from the villi of the small intestine into the blood, digestion itself in the upper and middle gastro-intestinal tract (enzymatic breakdown of ingested proteins to its constituent amino acids, of ingested starches and sugars to glucose, of ingested fats to glycerol and fatty acids), elimination of food residues from the lower gastro-intestinal tract, elimination of harmful substances by the liver (detoxification), and many other processes.

The Genetic Level.

At the genetic level, the structure of the proteins that (as we have seen) serve as enzymes at the metabolic level, is determined by the genes, composed of DNA, whose full name is desoxyribonucleic acid. This happens via RNA (ribonucleic acid). The “central dogma” of molecular biology is that the process goes from DNA to RNA (which is called transcription) and from RNA to protein (which is called translation). However, a few viruses (including mv which causes AIDS) go backwards from RNA to DNA by the action of an enzyme called inverse transcriptase, and are called retro-viruses.

DNA and RNA have a backbone composed of sugars and phosphate groups, and side chains of purine and pyrimidine bases called adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine (in case of DNA), (RNA has uracil instead of thymine). These are usually abbreviated as A, C, G and T (or U). Long chains of DNA then coil around each other in a double helix. (RNA is usually a single strand.) The bases on the two DNA chains pair together through hydrogen bonds; the pairs are always AT and CG, the others do not bond. Therefore the base sequences on the two strands of the DNA double helix have to be complementary all along the very long chain, or the double helix would not form. The structure is very reminiscent of a zipper.

The base sequences along the DNA sometimes form genes, which code for proteins, but some sequences are non-coding. These are called introns and exons, respectively. Someone called the exons ‘Junk DNA”, because presumably it has no function; but I suspect that a function will yet be found, perhaps in turning genes on and off.

The DNA resides in the cell nucleus in eukaryotes (in prokaryotes it is dispersed in the cytoplasm, since there is no nucleus), protected by being wound in a super-coiled form around a histone cylinder. Histone is a protein, highly basic to complement the acid nature of DNA. Normally the DNAhistone complex exists as dispersed chromatin in the nucleus, but at the time of cell division (mitosis) it assembles into distinct chromosomes, which are then duplicated and pulled apart into the daughter cells’ nuclei, so that each one has an exact copy of the full complement of genes and exons.

When a gene is “turned on” (i.e. about to be “expressed”) (more about how this is done will be explained in the next section), a protein enzyme called transcriptase copies the base sequence of the gene into the base sequence of a messenger RNA (mRNA). The exons, or nonsense sequences, are excised by special enzymes, and the cut ends are then spliced together like film being edited. The fixed-up RNA then goes from the nucleus into the cytoplasm, where it attaches to an organelle called a ribosome — the real protein factory. Sequences of the bases on the RNA (which strictly correspond to those on the DNA gene from which they were copied) are then translated into the amino acid sequences of the protein being produced.

The ribosome consists of two disk-like parts, and the mRNA runs between them like a tape or ribbon. Each three base pairs constitute a codon, which translates into a particular amino acid. (This genetic code has now been “cracked” and we can read it like a book, routinely.) When a codon has been “read” in the ribosome, a small RNA fragment called a tRNA (transfer RNA) containing this code is sent out to grab an amino acid corresponding to that codon, bring it back and attach it to the growing chain. Thus the protein chain is gradually built up, unit by unit. This mechanism is reminiscent of Turing’s ultimate self-reproducing computer machine, where a tape is read a “bit” (unit of information) at a time by the machine in eventually reconstructing it according to the instructions contained on the tape, while also reproducing the tape for the next round.

The folding of the protein being produced in the ribosome is determined by the amino acid sequence coming from the translation of the genetic information. It is this specific fol<iing which, as already noted, gives the protein its specific enzymatic properties. Enzymes are destroyed by heat, because this “unfolds” or “denatures” them, and they lose their catalytic powers although they still retain the same amino acid sequences.

DNA and RNA also have the ability to duplicate themselves, which DNA does prior to mitosis; the DNA double helix unwinds and the two chains separate, under the influence of enzymes, and on each single strand is built up a new complementary strand from available nucleotide units, so that we end up with two double helixes. The RNA is a single strand to start with; it builds up a complementary chain to itself and then, by building a complement of the complement, it makes an exact copy of itself.

In copying, whether in replication or in transcription, mistakes can occur (as any human typist would appreciate). In the genetic system there are enzymes that “proof-read” the newly produced copy and “correct” it, with a residual error rate of only 1 in a billion, which any human proofreader would envy. These long molecules are not stationary, but rotate, tumble and wiggle with heat motion; and so the faithfulness of copying is like a miracle.

Any mistake in copying would be a mutation, which might be fatal, by making the protein to be formed inoperative in performing its function. Mutations also occur spontaneously, by the action of various kinds of radiation or very reactive chemicals (e.g. oxygen free radicals, thought to be involved in the natural aging process and eventually death). Many of these defects or breaks are corrected or repaired by enzymes that are continuously active to maintain the basic code as intact as possible. However, some remain. The process of entropy is inevitable and unrelenting. (But somehow, cancer cells manage to be immortal !)

Some of the mutations that remain are harmless though not useful; these are tolerated as neutral and ride along with the rest ofthe genome (complete gene collection) to the next generation. They are not eliminated by natural selection because they are not expressed in the visible organism (the phenotype). They are “free riders” in the system, contributing nothing but getting the benefit of replication and reproduction just like the vital contributors. They have been called “selfish genes”.

Other mutations are harmful, even fatal, and these are quickly eliminated by natural selection and do not persist. Then finally there is a very small proportion of beneficial or useful mutations which produce an evolutionary improvement, and they are positively selected and favored in the next generation, finally replacing the original gene. Thus, although mutations are generally harmful or neutral, it is useful for .the organism to maintain a certain optimum mutation rate, in order to be able to adapt to a changing environment and to improve its chances for survival in the face offuture challenges.

There is a balance in all living systems between the tendency to conserve structures that have proved useful and the tendency to retain the flexibility that may be needed for adaptation. On the whole, the genetic system is highly conservative. Some genes and proteins, or at least part-sequences of them, have been conserved unchanged for over a billion years in many diverse creatures, because they code for some essential function. All forms of life on Earth share the genetic mechanisms, and even many of the base-pair sequences are shared all the way from yeast cells to mammals, though the latter have many more genes, and also more “junk” exons. Yet along with the conservation there is the mutation rate — the concession to flexibility, with all the risks that it entails. (Human societies likewise require both traditions and readiness for change, as we can easily appreciate. It is useful to have both conservative and radical political parties and social movements.)

The molecular biology revolution that unravelled the role of genes and the structure of DNA began only some 30-40 years ago, when people realized that the base-pair sequences represent the genetic code. Gradually the “language” became understood. First scientists realized that it was a language or symbolic code, i.e. a way of transmitting information, not just a meaningless chemical structure. Next, they deciphered it like some ancient Rosetta stone and found that they could read it. Now they can rapidly “sequence” any gene or protein, and there is even a mega-project in the U.S. to read and record on computer the entire human genome — billions of base-pairs. It will take years; yet a human couple can initiate its reproduction in the real world in 5 minutes. We shall have the recipe for making human beings just as we are going extinct, probably. Maybe “someone” (?) will be able to reconstruct us from the computer recipe.

The structure of the genetic language is somewhat as follows: Three base-pairs on RNA or DNA form a codon and specify one amino acid of a protein. If a base-pair is like a letter of the alphabet, then a codon is like a word. There are only 4 letters in the genetic alphabet, and the words are all 3-letter words, so the number of possible permutations is 43, which is 64. There are only 21 amino acids, so some of the words represent the same amino acid, and some words are reserved for “punctuation”, such as signalling the start and the end of translation. It must be clearly specified where in the sequence the reading should start, or else the whole message would be “out of register” and totally wrong, i.e. other than was “intended” (by whom? you might ask). Perhaps some words are never used at all.

In this scheme, a gene (many codons, usually thousands of them) would be a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter or even a book; the whole genome would be like a vast library, with (in the human case) 46 shelves analogous to the chromosomes. Actually each cell has all the genes in pairs, one from each parent, and so I suppose there would be 92 library shelves. The exons would be whole rows of nonsense books mixed in among the meaningful books. (Unless we later find otherwise.)

We recognize genetic base-pair sequences as “letters” and “words” (linguistic-like elements) because we are familiar with these in our own human language structures. What would a “non-lingual scientist”, if there could be such a creature, make of them? Would he/she compare/analogize them to musical elements/motifs, like tones and scales? Or visual elements, like beads, chains and networks? Or olfactory elements, which we can hardly imagine, but dogs might? (Dogs recognize individual humans by smell, which probably means that they can smell the MHC complex in which people differ genetically.) All these are information-containing or encoding patterns, which is their common feature and which can be taken in and interpreted by different sense organs and specialized brain centres.

Apparently all humans share 99.9% of the same base-pair sequences, but the commonality is quite a bit lower at the gene level. We are all very largely the same in one way, and yet different individuals in another way. (I wonder how they expect to deal with the variability in the human genome project?) I suppose most of the base-pair sequences specify the structure of organs like kidney, liver, lungs, hands that we all share — hence the similarity. Yet we do have biochemical differences in how we react to drugs or attacks by disease organisms, not only differences in eye color and hair color.

The variability among individuals is especially apparent in the so-called Major HistoCompatibility (MHC) complex, which defines the immunological “self’. The immune system, of course, must distinguish between the self and the non-self (foreign proteins and other antigens), since it must attack the latter and spare the former. More about the immune level will be explained later.

The Epigenetic Level.

All cells of the body contain the entire genome, but each cell uses only some of the genes, the ones it needs for its specific function for which it has been “trained” (differentiated). There are “housekeeping genes” which all cells need and use just to stay alive, but the specialized genes are “turned on” or “expressed” in only some of them. Liver cells or muscle cells or nerve cells only make the specific proteins they need to function as such. Most genes at most times are silent, i.e. “turned off”. What is it that turns genes on and off? These are mechanisms that belong to the epigenetic level, which is not yet fully understood.

There are substances called promoters, enhancers, and inhibitors, which together orchestrate gene expression. Some of these are other genes, some are proteins, some are shorter fragments of one or the other. The inhibitors normally sit on the genes (stretches of DNA) to make them inaccessible to the transcription enzymes, which are also proteins. (proteins of various functions seem to buzz around DNA like worker bees serving a queen bee. This image is appropriate, because the worker bees are also daughters of the queen bee, while the queen bee is the only one capable of reproduction.)

When the gene needs to be expressed, the promoter comes along and removes the inhibitor, giving access to the transcription enzymes. The enhancer can increase the rate of transcription.

The obvious question is: what controls the promoters, inhibitors and enhancers? How do they “know” when the gene products are needed and when the gene should be turned on? If there are some additional genes or proteins involved in regulating the regulators, we seem to be facing an infinite regress. Obviously it is not infinite, since the system operates in the real world in real time. (But recall the Djinns in Hofstadter’s “Goedel, Escher, Bach”, who could reach the last Djinn in an infinite series of Djinns in finite time because the time kept shortening by half each time between Djinns, and the series 1+ 1/2+ 1/4+…has a finite limit of 2.) Perhaps there is a feedback from the cytoplasm that tells the nuclear machinery what is needed. (But see essay “The Master Switch” in Section VIII.)

The epigenetic mechanisms are especially active during embryonic development and during insect or frog metamorphosis, i.e. at times of rapid change. (This is when, in brief bursts, the flexibility tendency overcomes the conservation tendency, i.e. when positive feedbacks of acceleration are more prevalent than negative feedbacks of homeostasis.) Somewhat slower, but still fast changes occur during sexual maturation when sex hormones “kick in”, or the adaptation from river water to sea water in salmon maturation.

No one yet understands in detail how the morphological changes observed during embryonic development and the other rapid changes are triggered at the molecular level, although there are some fragments of knowledge. The epigenetic promoters, enhancers and inhibitors do their “dance” as prompted by positional cues; each cell “knows” where it is located in the developing organism. How does it know” People have postulated hormone gradients, e.g. along the body axis (head to foot), dorsal/ventral, and left/right. What establishes the hormone gradient? Again that hint of infinite regress, but we know that cannot be, it must be a cycle somehow. (But see also “The Master Switch” in Section VIII.)

The whole orchestration of embryonic development, metamorphosis etc. is somehow specified in the genetic blue-print — truly the Holy Writ of life. It specifies not only spatial structures, but temporal sequences as well, in strictly-to-be-followed detail. No wonder it takes a whole library. I have sometimes tried to demystifY genes (which have become modem icons with some racist tendencies) by saying that they merely code for proteins, but they seem to do much more than that; there is a whole superstructure of meaning at the epigenetic level.

Proteins, phospholipids, nucleic acids, glycoproteins~ steroid hormones, neurotransmitters are like some micro-micro-tools, opening pores and channels in membranes for ions and sugar molecules to pass through (or even bigger objects like themselves), sometimes pump-assisted if going up against a gradient like a ship through locks, with tiny phosphonucleotide energy sources powering the pumps or locks. (Energy sources previously charged up by fuel cells in the mitochondria.) The exquisite micromachinery runs in cascades like Rube Goldberg technology, each chemical “gear” or “relay” triggering the next, on down the line, in a multi-jointed chain of causation.

It is a seamless web: DNNRNA makes proteins and proteins control DNNRNA expression, in “chicken-and-egg” fashion. Micro-micro-machinery and holistic organisms are not necessarily opposed images, though often contrasted. However, machines such as cars can be disassembled to repair them, while human bodies must be kept going. (Except for using a heart-lung machine when doing a heart bypass.) On the other hand, organisms are sometimes self-repairing and cars are not. If machinery is closely and minutely integrated spatially and temporally, and if it runs in cycles, it becomes holistic and organismic as an emergent quality. (Our technology and industrial production must imitate this mode in order to become sustainable.)

The micro-micro-machinery of life is also like the printed micro-circuits on computer chips, but still smaller by several orders of magnitude. Of course, we only began to make chips a few decades ago while living structures go back over a billion years; but they probably started from the micro and not the macro erid, building up, not miniaturizing. Some scientists talk about designing tiny drug dispensers circulating in the blood stream to deliver continuously regulated doses of a life-saving drug like insulin. They are getting close to macromolecular dimensions, but are not quite there yet. Building up structures “from below” rather then “from above” should be imitated in institution-building in society.

The Immune Level.

Here again, a great deal of signalling and communications takes place. I am not quite sure whether to place the immune level or the hormonal level first. It seems to be at about the same hierarchical level. (Erich Jantsch did not include this level in his scheme.) In fact, some of the messenger substances of the immune system (the interleukins) operate somewhat like hormones, in that they deliver messages to specific spatially distant target cells; they are just not secreted by endocrine glands.

Since the hormones coordinate systemic functions internally and the immune system acts on external intruders, we could roughly compare them to the department of internal affairs and the department of external affairs in human political state organizations. In the vertical hierarchy, they are both at Cabinet level of the executive branch of government, but they differ horizontally in function.

The immune system consist of cells, antibodies, and messenger substances. The cells generally circulate in the blood and the lymph, and thus have access to all organs and tissues. Macrophage cells swallow foreign intruders in amoeba-like fashion by engulfing and ingesting them. Then they “present” on the outside of their cell membrane the surface markers of the swallowed foreign cells or molecules along with a marker of the “self’ proteins of the MHC complex. The T cells (thymus-trained cells or thymocytes) encounter the markedmacrophages and the surface display says to them: “I am one of us, and I met and swallowed one of THEM, and here is a description of THEM.”

The T helper cells then go into action; they mobilize the B cells (bone marrow trained cells) to produce antibodies to the particular antigen (foreign particle) displayed on the macrophage, and tell the T killer cells to destroy any cells they encounter that display the antigen — not only the intruder cells themselves, but also any “self’ cells that have become infected, say by a virus. This serves to stop further virus reproduction and thus infection of additional cells.

The T cells spread the “red alert” message by secreting interleukins as messenger substances. The system destroys cancer cells (the body’s own “criminals”) as well as foreign invaders, and thus acts as the equivalent of both police and army. (This is where internal and external affairs get mixed up and the analol!V to l10vemment denartments fails.)

The B cells are higWy specialized and come initially in an immense variety; each has an antibody different from all others, so that together they possess antibodies against almost any conceivable antigen difficult as this is to imagine. The alarm message from th~ T cell tells only the specific B cells that possess the antibody against the particular antigen encountered to proliferate rapidly; the others do not take part. The clone of identical B cells from this proliferation then pour out their antibodies in great profusion; they bind to the antigen and neutralize it. Accurate lock-and-key type of fitting is involved in antibody-antigen reactions. Sometimes a less specific “complement”, freely circulating in the blood, is involved, and helps to destroy the intruding antigen (if it is a cell) by cytolysis.

Killer T cells kill their targets by punching holes in the cell membranes so that the semi-liquid cytoplasm leaks out — like a micro-version of a policeman shooting a criminal and leaving him dying in a pool of blood. (National Geographic Magazine once had an article describing these “cell wars” as a parallel to “star wars”.)

Eventually the T cells signal that the counter-attack has succeeded (if it has); the system can be overwhelmed, like any army, especially if it is weakened by drugs like cyclosporin (administered deliberately as anti-rejection agents when surgical transplants are performed), or by the AIDS virus (which attacks T cells), or by fatigue conditions that “lower one’s resistance”. The “stop” signal, when given, stops the proliferation of B cells and the production of antibodies, but it leaves behind a few “memory cells” — B or T cells that will for a long time (sometimes for a life-time) remember the infection and will be able to mount a faster and more effective immune response if the infection is ever repeated. Thus the organism has acquired immunity.

Immunity can also be promoted without the experience of the full disease by using a vaccination serum of weakened, attenuated, or killed virus (or whatever the disease agent is), since the antigen from this weakened artificial infection will look similar to that from the virulent virus when displayed on cell membranes.

The subjective feeling of being sick (the fever, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite etc.) may be due mainly to the effect of the immune response itself rather than the direct effect of the pathogen. A vigorous immune response takes a lot of energy, and so less is left over for the digestion of food or for moving around in vigorous activity. The fever makes the internal environment less favourable for the proliferation of the pathogen. (This group of symptoms, common to many different diseases, has been called “the general stress syndrome”.) So we must gladly suffer the unpleasant symptoms and hope for speedy “victory” of our internal defensive army. A war does demand sacrifices.

However, sometimes the army turns against its own citizens, as in some military dictatorships of our 20th century. Normally the cells that have antigens against “self’ in their repertoire are “deleted” (killed) during their “education” — T cells in the thymus, B cells in the bone marrow. Actually, they are ordered to commit suicide, so called “apoptosis”. This makes less of a “mess” than externally killing a cell, or a cell dying by “necrosis. The “mess” would have to be cleaned up by macrophages, causing “inflammation”. But in apoptosis cells die quietly, neatly, without fuss. However, sometimes this fails and auto-immune diseases develop: the body’s own cells are destroyed. /’

This may happen if a cell’s “self’ marker resembles too closely some foreign marker; this seems to be involved in the destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the islands of Langerhans in the pancreas in juvenile-onset diabetes. Lupus is another auto-immune disease, as is multiple sclerosis, in which the myelin sheaths of nerve fibers are destroyed. Allergies are a milder version of immune system over-reaction — but not always so minor: hay fever is not too serious, but anaphylactic shock (the result of repeated exposure to the same normally non-threatening antigen like lobsters or strawberries) can be lethal, by obstructing the air passages by an exaggerated surface swelling of the epithelium lining the respiratory tract.

The immune reaction also causes the rejection of transplants, both of tissues or of whole organs. Unless these come from the patient’s own body, as is often done in the case of skin grafts performed in burn cases or for cosmetic reasons. Grafts from an identical twin are also not rejected, since identical twins are genetically the same, i.e. have the same MHC complex. To perform transplants from foreign donors, immuno-suppressive drugs such as cyclosporin must be given, a treatment which makes the patient more susceptible to infections.

The Hormonal Level.

Hormones are substances secreted by the endocrine (internal secretion) glands (pituitary, adrenal medulla, adrenal cortex, thyroid, testes or ovary, corpus luteum, islands of Langerhans, etc.) directly into the blood stream, and conveyed by the latter to target cells, tissues or organs to initiate or promote or inhibit a variety of functions and reactions.

The pituitary is the “master gland”, secreting hormones which prompt other glands to start secreting. (This includes the adrenal glands and the gonads.) The adrenal medulla produces adrenalin, also called epinephrine, which acts in the “fight or flight” reaction when the organism is in some external danger, e.g. from a predator or an accident. The adrenal cortex produces cortisone, which reduces inflammation in tissues. The thyroid gland produces thyroxine, an iodine-containing tyrosine derivative which speeds up the metabolic rate. (Shortage of iodine produces hypothyroidism or goiter, while overproduction of thyroxine or hyperthyroidism causes weight loss.) The gonads (testes or ovaries) secrete various sex hormones, which regulate sexual and reproductive functions. The islands of Langerhans secn,;te insulin, which regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates; its shortage produces diabetes.

How do the hormones deliver their “messages” at the cellular level? This is a very active area of research. Hormones and the related growth factors (e.g. nerve growth factor) act through elaborate cascade mechanisms, at two levels:

  1. the action of hormones from some glands on other glands to influence their secretion, and
  2. at the intra-cellular level, by producing “second messengers”.

A good example of the first type of cascade is the secretion of ACTH (adrenocortico-tropic hormone) by the pituitary gland, which in turn stimulates the secretion of cortisone by the adrenal cortex; the cortisone then controls other processes and functions, especially anti-inflammation mechanisms.

The pituitary also controls growth and maturation, through other cascades. It stimulates the testes of the male to produce androgens such as testosterone, which give rise to secondary male characterics such as facial hair and voice change; and the ovaries of the female to produce estrogens, which control the female estrus cycle. At one stage of this cycle, the corpus luteum which remains behind after ovulation (release of the ovum into the Fallopian tube) starts secreting progesterone, which acts to maintain pregnancy if the ovum has been fertilized.

Hormones also act in cascades at the cellular level. Their target cells (those that receive the message) have protein-type receptors in their cell membrane into which the arriving hormone molecules fit like a key in a lock. This binding of the hormone alters the structure of the receptor in such a way that it activates other molecules inside the cell cytoplasm, such as a protein kinase (an enzyme which can phosphorylate a given protein and thus activate it) and a G-protein. This chain reaction or cascade eventually produces cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which acts as a “second messenger” (the hormone itself being the first messenger). In many cases, calcium ions are also involved, being admitted into the cell by the opening of a specific ion channel through the action of the same cascade. The cAMP then effects the functional change that is required — constriction of blood vessels or whatever.

Hormone cascades of both types described above are obviously signalling or communication sequences. The cells in an organism interact continually; adjacent cells often through their intermembrane junctions directly, distant cells through hormone messages delivered through the blood — the common carrier which is like a combination of mail and telegraph services. The cellular cascade is then a way to read the message and act on it, executing the order which it contains. By means of this communication network, the whole organism can act in a coordinated way. The differently specialized (differentiated) cells of pancreas, muscle, mucosa etc. are integrated in their functions.

Since growth factors are related to hormones, we can postulate one way in which unrestricted cancer growth may be initiated. If an altered or abnormal growth factor is bound to a cell membrane receptor, or if the receptor itself is abnormal, the growth factor, which is usually removed by enzymes after it has delivered its “message”, i.e. begun the cascade, can become “stuck” and continue to stimulate growth which then cannot be stopped. This can be visualized as the growth factor becoming truncated so that the part on which the stopping enzyme would act is missing, or else the receptor has become altered so that it hangs on to the growth factor too tightly. The abnormal growth factor or receptor would be one made by a mutated oncogene, some of which have been identified. It is somewhat like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice knowing only the initial order to the broom but not the stopping order.

Hormonal communication between cells is efficient, but slow. The effects occur in minutes or hours or days, depending on the case. For fast communication we need an up-graded technology — the nervous system. This is like going from surface overseas mail to telephone or fax.

The Neural Level.

At the neural level (the last biological level we shall discuss), the messages are delivered in seconds or fractions of a second. Like telephone or fax, these are electrical impulses, but really electrochemical in their detail. The primitive nervous system was at first slower than the “state-of-the-art” system in higher vertebrates, because its message-carrying fibers (nerves) were not “insulated” and so electric charge could leak out of them. Insulation was later introduced in the form of myelin sheaths around nerve fibers. In multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath comes under auto-immune attack, leading to severe disruption of normal communications.

Humans and higher vertebrates have three nervous systems: the sympathetic, the parasympathetic, and the voluntary. The first two are sometimes grouped under the name “autonomous” or “autonomic”, as opposed to the third, the “voluntary”. The sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems tend to counterbalance each other. The sympathetic causes activation, mobilization, arousal similar to the action of the hormone adrenalin, which mediates the “fight or flight” reaction in situations of danger: constriction of the peripheral blood vessels, faster heart beat, conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver and muscles, etc., all designed to mobilize the body for rapid action. The parasympathetic system reverses all these effects, and so tends to counterbalance the sympathetic. Without it, we would remain permanently excited after the danger has passed — a state of chronic anxiety from which some people suffer to the detriment of their health — a cause of several psychosomatic diseases.

The above is a horizontal classification of the nervous system. Vertically there is the peripheral and the central nervous system (CNS); the latter consists of the spinal cord and the brain, the former of the afferent fibers which bring in messages from the sense organs and the efferent fibers which send orders to the muscles, not only the skeletal muscles for locomotion (which are under voluntary control), but also those involved in heartbeat, digestion, breathing and other functions, which are in the province of the autonomic nervous system.

The smallest elements of the nervous system are the nerve cells or neurons. Each consists of a cell body, afferent branched dendrites which receive the signal, and a long straight axon which conveys the signal. The signals or messages pass from the axon of one neuron to the dendrites of the next neuron through a small gap called the synapse.

The axon releases a neurotransmitter, such as acetylcholine, epinephrine (adrenalin), norepinephrine, dopamine, glutamate, serotonin and others, from subcellular vesicles which merge with the cell membrane and turn inside out to empty their contents into the synapse. (This process is called exocytosis.) From there, the neurotransmitter is picked up by the dendrites of the next neuron and conveyed to its cell body for further action.

The signal may be excitatory, i.e. tending to make the second neuron “fire” (emit a neurotransmitter into its efferent synapse) or it may be inhibitory, making it less likely for the second neuron to “fire”.

The “firing” of a neuron is an electrochemical event in which the initially electricaltY polarized cell is depolarized, or its polarity is actually briefly reversed, by an instant inflow of potassium ions when the potassium channel in the membrane is opened by the action of the neurotransmitterJrom the preceding neuron, and then the pore is again quickly closed. The result of “firing” is a brief pulse which then travels down the axon to the next synapse, to communicate the signal to further neurons down the line. Note that this is a digital signal like that on a computer; a neuron either fires or it does not (no gradations in between); it is 1 or 0, yes or no.

After performing its task, the neurotransmitter is quickly cleared from the synapse cleft by decomposing enzymes. For example, acetylcholine is split into choline and acetate (both inactive) by the enzyme choline esterase. So-called nerve gases (chemical warfare agents) interfere with the action of choline esterase; as a result, acetylcholine accumulates and causes permanent muscle spasms, convulsions and death. The only antidote is atropine, also a poison but of opposite effect, so one must use precisely the right amount. Nerve gases are phosphorus compounds very similar to certain insecticides, which act in a similar way on an insect’s nervous system.

The nervous system is used both for internal regulation like hormones, and for external interaction like the immune system. The three levels are closely related: interleukin from the immune system is like a hormone, while adrenalin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter.

We can imagine that the hormonal and immune systems evolved gradually from the. epigeneticusing a similar type of cascades and balanced counter-actions of promoters and inhibitors ~ and that the nervous system gradually evolved from the hormonal and immune by greatly speeding up the reactions and transforming them from an analogue to a digital type of operation.

The internal actions of the nervous system were already mentioned in the case of the vasorestriction effect of the sympathetic nervous system, for example. The autonomic nervous system also regulates the heart -beat, breathing rate, digestion, and many other functions beyond voluntary control. Locomotion, and muscle action in general, is under voluntary control.

But how meaningful is this distinction? We shall not here engage in the philosophical debate about free will and determinism, but there are some considerations of a more empirical natute that tend to blur the distinction between voluntary and autonomic neural control. By bio-feedback methods, people have been trained to control their heart-beat rate and surface temperature, and in some Eastern mystical religious cults, such training is commonplace. On the other hand, it has been shown in psychological experiments that the physical impulse to move one’s hand precedes in time by some microseconds the conscious decision to do so (described by Dennett). There are some complex cross~vers between the voluntary and the autonomic neural mechanisms, showing that there is not a sharp distinction, but some overlapping continuum.

Among the most important tasks of the nervous system is the maintenance of contact with the external environment through the sense organs. Very large areas ofthe brain are devoted to this task. The sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, skin) are in essence transducers of signals (light, sound, chemicals, etc.) into nerve impulses which the brain can interpret; but the interpretation involves complex computations, like some CAT scans invented by humans; it is not a simple matter like taking a photograph of a visual scene, for example.

The interaction of the organism with the environment also, of course, involves outgoing signals, which in turn translate into acting on the environment. The transducers for this action are primarily the skeletal muscles, which not only transform, but greatly amplify the energy of nerve impulses into kinetic energy of motion through chemical energy transformations. The inputs from the sense organs and the outputs by the muscles can be linked by a “reflex arc” through the spinal cord — a short circuit which bypasses the brain — or they can be routed through the brain for further consideration (“sober second thought” like legislation going to the Senate before being enacted into law). The reflex arc is used when speed of reaction is essential, like withdrawing one’s hand from a hot stove. The full brain circuit is used when there are several good choices or options.

The intermediate stage is the “conditioned reflex”, like Pavlov’s experiment with dogs salivating when the bell rings which has previously been consistently associated with the bringing of food. The conditioned reflex is the basis of certain theories of learning and memory (e.g. B.F. Skinner), and the whole behaviourist school in psychology which tries to reduce everything to “stimulus and response” patterns, implicitly or explicitly denying the reality of the intervening mental states. (At least it insists that mental states are not available for empirical investigation and thus lie outside the sphere of science.)

In any case, it is clear that we are beginning to cross here in our discussion from the field of physiology to that of psychology. However, inter-disciplinary lines should be seen as blurred in the same way as the boundaries between levels or between different parts of the nervous system.

We cannot go into details of sense perception or muscle action here, just as we could not cover all aspects of hormone action (omitting e.g. the regulation of the estrus cycle and of pregnancy, or the insulin-diabetes connection), or of metabolism (omitting details of food digestion and absorption). Each of the “levels” we are describing represents vast fields, which have been studied for decades or more by specialists and about each there is a prolific literature. Mainly we are trying to get a bird’s eye view of the levels and get an overall impression of each and of their interactions and overlaps. We shall not stop at the neural level, but try to go beyond it, linking biology with sociology.

At each level so far, we observed communication between cells and their products or sub-units: enzymes, genes, promoters and inhibitors, antibodies, hormones, neurotransmitters. Now let us look at communications between human individuals in societies, which are also Millerian living systems, though far less completely integrated. But before we discuss the human mode of communication, which is predominantly and typically through language, let us look at some predecessors of this mode. How do various animals and plants communicate?

The Pre-linguistic Level.

Animals often communicate with each other through their sense organs. Male insects are attracted to females by pheromones, chemical “smell” attractants whose name was deliberately coined to rhyme with “hormones”. The sense of smell is used widely in animal communication. Wolves mark the boundary of their territory with their urine, whose smell identifies them individually since their nose is sensitive and discriminating enough for this task. Dogs, who are related to wolves, also have a keen sense of smell, probably using it more than sight or hearing. How different their world must be from ours! Our sense of reality is not the only possible or the only existing one, which should make us humble. 1 almost said, above, “their IMAGE of the world”, until 1 realized that this is a visual term coming from our own experience.

Bees communicate by their famous “waggle dance” (which is visual communication), to tell their colleagues where rich food sources are located. We are not sure how whales communicate; their “songs” may be a way, or they may be an expression of joy and beauty, like our art forms. Birds mark their territories by the sound of their songs, bats use sonar. Crickets and cicadas attract sexual partners by the sound of their chirping, generated by rubbing their legs together. Some plants (angiosperms) use lavish displays of colourful flowers to attract pollinating insects visually. Some butterflies and toads even advertise to their potential predators that they are poisonous and inedible; sometimes this is fraudulent advertising, through mimicking the colours of the truly poisonous species. Perhaps these examples will suffice.

Animals, including humans, use body language for communication; gesture with hands or faces, smiles and frowns, nodding or shaking your head for “yes” or “no”, slightly turning your body left or right as you walk through a crowd to signal which way you intend to pass — all these are body communications. Many of them among humans are transcultural; e.g. smiles indicating friendship or joy. Others differ rather sharply across cultures, and one can quickly get into trouble when travelling in a foreign country by having one’s signals misunderstood.

Sounds such as grunts and coos, whistles and yells can be used for signalling and conveying meaning. (I often wish that car horns had distinctive sounds at least differentiating anger from warning from “hi there”.) This has been shown to be the case in macaque monkeys, among whom a mother can tell when her offspring is in serious trouble or when he/she is merely engaged in rough play with other youngsters; the cries uttered have a distinctly different quality. This surely is also the case with human children; however, there it is supplemented very early on by language, when the tearful child announces between sobs “He hit me first!”

The Linguistic Level.

Language is a human invention, though perhaps not unique — we do not know enough yet about whales or dolphins and some apes and monkeys. A gorilla named Washoe has been taught American sign language and knows the meanings of over 100 words, like a small human child. There has been speculation whether she would teach sign language to her offspring. Apes cannot use voice )anguage, because they lack the physical apparatus for articulated speech sounds in the throat and mouth. However, Washoe can use signed words to make her wishes known (ask for special foods at various times etc.) and put words together in sentences of primitive grammatical construction. Other instances of apes,learning sign language are known.

True language, unlike other sound signals such as grunts and cries, can express entire concepts and ideas. The words of a language are symbols (something that is an arbitrarily defined stand-in for something else), not only signs like a cry of alarm or warning or a purring indicating pleasure. Humans not only have the brain capacity to formulate concepts and ideas, even quite abstract ones (sometimes too abstract), but also the physical apparatus (lips, palate, tongue) to create the required sound modulations, to utter the symbols and send them out on sound waves for other humans to hear and interpret. There are specific areas in the brain specialized for language production; in some cases of stroke these may be destroyed, and these patients lose their faculty of speech, although the physical apparatus is undamaged, and they can also still write down their thoughts in words.

There was a price to pay for having the physical mouth and throat parts for speaking. Because the voice box had to be higher in the throat, the trachea (tube to the lungs for breathing) and the esophagus (tube to the stomach for eating) are joined at the top, somewhat compromising the swallowing apparatus. Every now and them someone chokes when food goes down the wrong way.

Most experts (including Noam Chomsky) think that certain linguistic rules (how words are put together into sentences) are innate in humans, i.e. genetically programmed. If this is so, it would be truly amazing — the far reach across almost all the levels that we have outlined here.

The rules for correctly assembling words into sentences is called grammar. Some of its rules are common to all the thousands of languages spoken in the world; e.g. the sequence of subject — predicate object (noun — verb — noun, or “who does what to whom”), with adjectives modifying the subject and object and adverbs modifying the predicate. There are then higher-level rules for properly combining these simple sentences into complex sentences by means of conjunctions and punctuation. All this a child learns without explicit instruction, by simple imitation of adults. (The next three paragraphs repeat what has been said in the essay “The Three Essences” in Section II.)

However, a grammatically correct sentence can still be “nonsense” semantically, i.e. not express any meaning. Any example will do: e.g. “The joyful house jumped over deep thoughts.” Sometimes poets use such sentences at the edge of semantic chaos, to convey existential moods; but in ordinary or scientific discourse they are not used.

Even a semantically meaningful sentence may violate the rules of logic: e.g. “I am a woman and you are a woman; therefore all humans are women”. The conclusion here does not follow from the premises. Even if logic is not violated, a sentence can still be false rather than true, if one of the premises is false (not corresponding to reality). E.g. “since grass is blue, it must contain a blue pigment”.

Thus a sentence, to qualify for meaningful discourse, must pass through four successive sieves: the grammatic, semantic, logical, and truth criteria. In normal quick conversation, we do not even think about these complications, but chatter away with abandon, not aware that we are doing something quite complex and special. We do sometimes say things that violate logic and truth, and may be corrected for this; but we are considered really weird and in need of psychiatric attention if we consistently talk nonsense; and Chomsky would say that not even the youngest child utters sentences that are ungrammatical.

The linguistic mode of communication that we have been discussing is at the oral-aural (mouth to ear) level. The so-called “oral tradition”, practised in all traditional cultures for millenia, probably goes back to the origins of modem people some 200,000 years ago. It is still carried on in many places. Whole legends of origin, stories, and religious rites and ceremonies are memorized and passed on from generation to generation. Cultural transmission of “memes” has been compared to the biological transmission of genes.

The great emphasis on memory (and therefore the required excellent memory training) and the immediacy of the rapport between the story-teller and the audience were culturally valuable traits, and there has been much regret expressed at the passing of the oral tradition when it was superseded by the next, the literate level. This is reminiscent of present-day complaints at the decreasing importance of reading books and their replacement by television, and now the Internet. We always regret abandoning the past and going into something new. However, I do not mean to imply that television is at a higher evolutionary level than books. We simply do not know yet.

The Literate Level.

The invention of writing is much more recent in human history than the invention of language, going back to the beginning of recorded history, perhaps 3000 years ago. Many people today are still illiterate, and world organizations like UNESCO and World Literacy are trying to promote reading and writing skills among preliterate people.

The switch from the oral to the literate tradition meant changing from mouth-and-ear to handand-eye, from the auditory to the visual sense. It meant inventing a whole new set of symbols — letters standing for vocalized phonemes. Originally there were, in some systems of writing, symbols for whole words or concepts (Egyptian hieroglyphics or Chinese characters), the symbols often being like sketchy pictures of the objects represented. Eventually the use of separate letter symbols for each phoneme was found to be more useful and parsimonious, because far fewer written symbols had to be learned and memorized by the user.

By using combinatorial methods, one can always easily construct awesome complexity from a small number of elements. Remember, the genetic code has only four letters, the musical scale has only 8 tones (“notes” in writing), hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds can be made from only about 100 elements, an infinite series of numbers is composed of ten digits (in fact two would do in the biruuy system) — and the English alphabet has only 26 letters to make tens of thousands of words in our dictionaries. Yet these systems based on a small number. of elements can generate whole complex organisms, beautiful symphonies, arrays of crystals, the whole edifice of mathematics, and all the great works of literature. Emergent qualities? You bet!

The same emergence of greatly increased variety is observed when we go from words to sentences. The number of words in a language, though vastly greater than the 26 letters, can still be put into reasonably-sized dictionaries, but the number of sentences that can be formed from words is virtually infinite; or at least, from the human point of view, inexhaustible. The flexibility of these systems formed from a small number of elements and gradually assembled in successive hierarchical levels is truly amazing.

The Technological Communications Level.

The first step in the series of new communications technologies was the invention of the printing press in medieval Europe. This enabled people to go from the laborious copying by hand of a few important books (like the Bible by monks in monasteries) to the quick machine production of any required number of copies. Along with Luther’s Reformation, this put the Bible into the hands of ordinary people (at least the literate ones), no longer limiting it to the priests. Other books quickly followed, catering both to serious learning and to entertainment. It was a true democratic revolution, the first in a series.

It has been said that while the printing press made every person a reader, the invention of photocopy machines made every person a publisher. Every office can now produce multiple copies with ease. The progression went from lithographic printing to mimeo or ditto machines to Xerox, each time making the process easier and less demanding. Again it was a democratic tool: the old Soviet Union tried to prohibit private use of these machines, which could be used for subversive propaganda by dissidents, but the effort was unsuccessful. Samizdat presses flourished and the Soviet Union, a world superpower with awesome destructive potential, disintegrated.

Telephones can carry human speech over any distance on the Earth, and telegraph (now almost outmoded), Telex, Fax, and e-mail via computer can similarly carry the written or printed word or pictures or graphs (even in colour) to any place in the world that has the receiving machines. (I almost said “receptors”!) In the oral tradition we have audio cassettes, record players, radio, CD ROMs, and other devices. Ordinary consumers do not understand how they work, but anyone (especially children) quickly learn how to use them. Television and VCRs combine the aural and the visual aspects.

These technological advances are too recent to chart. They are still evolving at an extremely rapid rate (since cultural evolution is so much faster than biological evolution). If you bought a computer ten years ago, it is probably obsolete today. (Even this statement, written 4 years ago, is obsolete: A recent T-shirt proclaimed “While you were reading this your computer became obsolete. “) The social impact of the new communication technologies is still controversial. Perhaps we are changing too fast, need to stop and take stock. While evolution means change, it must be built on a careful consolidation of previous levels, so that the new level being created does not collapse for lack of a solid foundation.

The February 1997 issue of Scientific American contains a comparison of the rates of biological and technological evolution, concluding that the latter is 10 million times faster (See W. Brian Arthur).

Is There an Extrasensory Level?

Many instances of telepathy, clairvoyance, “spoon-bending” and other mind-over-matter phenomena have been reported, from ancient times to the present. Scientists are still skeptical, perhaps unjustifiably. Why is it that they investigate all these claims so strictly for fraud, when we usually trust mainstream scientific experimenters in traditional laboratories not to cheat? (Some of them have cheated, in fact.) There seems to be a double standard here.

Also, the failure to replicate results in extra-sensory perception (ESP) experiments may be due to the fact that some persons possess this ability while others do not, like some people having musical ability or mathematical skills in greater abundance than others.

Finally, scientists are reluctant to admit the possibility of ESP because they cannot think of a mechanism for it; but then, we do not know what gravity or electricity is, either. We merely give it a name.

Are all people, not only those presently living, but also all our ancestors, tied into a great communications net which Jung called the Collective Unconscious? Again we do not know.

In any case, we can envision the whole scheme of intertwining levels (some of them temporal evolutionary stages) in the succession we have traced here. Much has been left out at each level, and the level of artistic creation was not even mentioned. Nevertheless, the emergence of Mind from Matter is made apparent in this sequence, and the story is not over yet.


The source of these reflections is a book by Roland Peterson. The book is mainly concerned with comparing the texts of different religions and pointing out the similarities; but it also tries to show that the esotericist traditions succeed in an overall synthesis, with some embellishments.

The present essay is concerned only with pp. 95-108 of the Peterson book, which explains the esoteric doctrine of the 8 “bodies” of human beings, from the dense physical to the etheric to the astral to the mental to the causal to the spiritual to the monadic to the divine. Each “body” or level is further subdivided into 7 or 8 sub-levels.

I have adapted this scheme to fit in with some other concepts introduced in this essay collection. The result is summarized in the diagram on the next page.

In the column labelled “Level”, I have placed my modifications of the “bodies” described in the book. In the column labelled “Function”, I have put some concepts from Jung, from Piaget (see the essay

“The Unfinished Road to Truth” in Section V), from Freud, and from Jantsch (see the essay “Levels of Being” in this Section). The Kohlberg stages of moral development could be put in also, but the diagram would be too crowded. In the rather spread-out column labelled “Emanations”, I have put the Kabbalistic doctrines, partially (see the essay “Kabbalistic Evolution” in Section VII). Other additions could be the Tarot Major Arcana and the Chakras, but again there is no room.

The diagram is a super-ecumenical synthesis of esotericism, psychology, biology, psychoanalysis, Hinduism, and Kabbalistic Judaism, along with Michelangelo’s artistic vision of the Christian God’s creation of Adam.

It is only a metaphoric exercise, but to me it makes some kind of sense. See diagram below.


It has been said that life on Earth is composed mainly of bacteria. i.e. prokaryotes. (Margulis, 1995). The other 4 of the 5 kingdoms (protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals) are only the eukaryotic fringe. Yet plants supply most of the organic matter to the other kingdoms through photosynthesis (though originally invented by the prokaryotic cyanobacteria), and animals provide almost the only examples of rapid locomotion (swimming, walking, running, creeping, flying) and of consciousness and thought (only animals have a nervous system). Also, sexual reproduction occurs only in the eukaryotic 4 kingdoms. It would seem that “the margin”, though small in mass (perhaps), in the number of species (probably), and in the number of individuals (certainly), is important in innovations, contributions, and functions in the eco-system.

It has also been said that ordinary matter, composed of quarks (constituents of protons and neutrons) and electrons, and energized by photons, may be only a small margin of the 90% of the “missing mass” of the Universe, probably composed of almost invisible almost imperceptible neutrinos. They have almost no mass individually, yet there are so many that it adds up to 9 times as much as all the matter in the stars and galaxies. The latter would then be only a small fringe, a rather thin margin. Yet again it can be said that this margin is important in its effects and its functions. We knew nothing about the I:txistence of neutrinos until this century and got along just fine. We have always known ordinary matter, though not in the detail of the constituent particles.

This is a reversal of centre-periphery models, in which the centre is considered important and the margins less so, as we retreat from the centre outward. For example, in an empire, the capital city (like Rome in the Roman Empire) is seen as more important than the provinces, especially the distant ones. Similarly, England was the centre of the British Empire, while the colonies (especially their indigenous populations) counted for almost nothing. And today, the Group of 7 industrialized nations in economics, and the U:N. Security Council’s 5 permanent members in politics, constitute world centres, with the smaller nations and especially the less developed nations functioning as a periphery in prosperity and political power.

A Mandala as a circle or a sphere can take two forms: either a strong (sometimes luminous) centre and weaker fading margins, or a dark centre with increasingly luminous spheres surrounding it, and a definite border. The first might represent fuzzy sets, well defined at the centre but not at its borders. The second, like life on Earth and matter in the Universe, represents the opposite pattern, in which the border is better defined than the centre. This should receive further attention.

Justice is also less well defined at the centre: for what constitutes perfect justice is debatable. However, at the margins, almost everyone recognizes gross injustice when it is encountered. The same can be said for perfect peace and perfect harmony. Sometimes it is more important to act at the frayed margins than to strive for Utopian perfection.


A succession of life cycles has been represented by a spiral winding along a cylindrical column. The half-loops of the spiral which are visible in front of the column (solid line) represent the successive living generations; the half-loops invisible in the back of the column (dotted line) represent successive reproductions. Reproduction is visualized as equally important as the somatic lifespan.

Bacteria (prokaryotes) are potentially immortal: each cell that survives accidents or sickness divides into two daughter cells. In a way this is simultaneous death and reproduction, since the life-span of the mother cell ends when that of the two daughter cells begins; but there is no break or discontinuity — no dotted line in the diagram.

Of course, many cells die in accidents or from malnutrition; otherwise the exponential growth would have long ago filled the universe solid with bacteria — but of course it would have run out of raw materials long before that. Some cells tried to improve their survival chances by producing spores when environmental conditions became unfavorable. Spores can resist extremes of temperature and lack of food and water for quite a long time. A spore is not actively alive, but preserves the capacity to come back to life when conditions improve. A spore is in a state of suspended animation, “hibernating”, so to speak. Life processes (metabolism) are turned down to the lowest possible level, to conserve energy, but still preserve the pattern (genetic, epigenetic, metabolic) that will allow resumption of full activities. We now have a true “dotted line” segment in our diagram.

Bacteria also experimented with exchange of genetic material (DNA) between cells, in a process called “conjugation”, which can be symmetrical or unsymmetrical. If it is the latter, it is a kind of primitive sex, even before the age or stage of the emergence of chromosomes or nuclei. If a bacterial cell has a circular DNA loop (plasmid) in excess, it may transfer it to a cell that lacks one — as male to female. The transfer changes male into female and female into male, an interesting role reversal occurring at every sex act. However, these conjugation experiments do not seem to be linked to reproduction at this stage. They are just bacterial play, not serious business. (Recreation, not procreation.)

But wait! The DNA exchanges introduce variety into the genes passed on, and this gives natural selection something to work on. And that is serious business indeed.

Proceeding now to Eukaryotes, let us say the Protozoa, we have larger cells with proper nuclei and chromosomes. The genes along the chromosomes are in the IN (haploid) condition, meaning that only one of all the possible alleles (variations) of a gene is present in each individual organism. However, during cell division, the nucleus divides first, and does so by a process called “mitosis”, during which, briefly, each chromosome and each gene is doubled. This gives two identical alleles, which are then pulled apart by the mitotic spindle, each to go to a different daughter nucleus. The double-allele condition is called 2N (because each gene is doubly represented) or diploid.

Here we introduce a hypothesis. Perhaps during some mitotic division the doubling occurred twice, and each daughter cell ended up in the 2N condition. Such a cell can function; even 4N has been observed. Only one allele is “turned on” or expressed to produce protein, while the other one is silent. If the two alleles were different, the one expressed would be “dominant” and the silent one “recessive”, but here they are still identical and it does not matter.

Possibly, however, such doubling could also occur during conjugation (observed e.g. in Paramecia), and then the two alleles might be different. The 2N condition may be considered abnormal or at least transitory, or it might get out of hand, producing 4N, 8N and so on (like the polymerase chain reaction recently discovered in a thought experiment and then in the laboratory). Therefore a “reduction division” (meiosis) is introduced, in which the alleles go to different daughter nuclei, and the IN condition is restored. However, note that each daughter nucleus now has a different allele of each gene, in general.

Let us progress to the third kingdom of the living world, Fungi. An organism such as a mushroom consists mainly of a mycelium of underground hyphae in the IN condition; but occa~ionally it forms a fruiting body above ground, the part we see and call a “mushroom”, which gives rise td gametes; all this is still IN. When the gametes combine to a zygote in a process called fertilization, which is like the opposite of meiosis, we get a 2N condition. Almost immediately this forms two IN spores by meiosis. Spores can then scatter and form new mycelia.

We now have two basically different generations winding in the spiral along the cylindrical column. One, still by far the main one, is IN and is called gametophyte, because it produces gametes. The other one, still very minor, is 2N and is called sporophyte, because it produces spores. Which is the “dotted line” in the diagram? It would be the sporophyte, the minor part in Fungi. But since the situation is going to reverse as we continue the story, maybe we should use red and green lines instead of solid and dotted lines.

We now turn to the plants. In mosses, the sporophyte becomes more prominent and lasts longer; it is a whole small different-looking plant. But the gametophyte is still the prominent, longest, more visible part of the life cycle. In ferns the situation is reversed; the sporophyte becomes the main, prominent life stage, and the gametophyte is an insignificant small separate plant. Talk about intergenerational conflict!

Finally in seed plants, the gametophyte is reduced to a few transitional cells during the formation of seeds, and all the rest of the plant and its life cycle is sporophyte. This is true aJready in the gymnosperms (conifers), and even more so in the angiosperms (flowering plants). There has been a complete reversal from the mushrooms to the flowers, a total revolution.

In animals, this revolution has been even faster. All animal cells are 2N from the start, except the gametes and a few helper cells. But meanwhile, other types of alteration of generations have emerged in animals, which do not represent IN to 2N transitions.

The insects have been prominent in featuring metamorphosis . in their life cycles, but another important example is the frog among the amphibians. Among such animals, the juvenile forms (larvae, caterpillars, maggots, tadpoles) differ drastically from the adult forms (moths, butterflies, flies, frogs). In insects, a pupa or chrysalis stage intervenes between juvenile and adult forms, and metamorphosis involves such a complete reorganization of body parts and structures that it can only be compared to a second embryonic development; a butterfly is a “born again” caterpillar, as it were.

The pupa or chrysalis is seemingly in suspended animation, but that is only because all vital energies are concentrated on the transformation or transfiguration. The chrysalis is not a dormant “dotted line”; on the contrary, it is a stage of turbulent crisis so intense internally that the animal has gone catatonic externally. The Chrysalis is a symbol of Death and Transfiguration, just like the Phoenix arising from the Fire.

In metamorphosing insects, only the adult forms are capable of sexual reproduction. Juveniles only feed and grow. So these are the classic cases of the solid line loops (feeding juveniles) and dotted line loops (reproducing adults) in our spiral diagram. In some species, e.g. mayflies, reproduction occurs just before death, which seems like a return to the bacterial cycle of cell division, in which death and reproduction occur simultaneously. Many additional insect species have adult forms which are incapable of eating, and therefore exist only to reproduce. Thus the insect life cycle separates the nutritional stage (juveniles) yery sharply from the reproductive stage (adults), sometimes with no overlapping of these two functions. It is as if caterpillars selfishly enjoy individual life as long as they can (they usually live much longer than butterflies); but when it is over, they quickly metamorphose, reproduce, and die, as a final outburst of altruistic creative self-sacrifice. To us, who associate sex with youth, it seems strange to observe creatures to whom sex means old age and death. Perhaps there is something to be said for going out in a blaze of glory.

Reproducing at the end of a life cycle means necessarily that no protection or care can be provided for progeny. In the absence of such parental attention, many of the young will die, and therefore progeny must be produced in great abundance, to ensure the survival of sufficient numbers. This is called the R strategy of reproduction, and is practiced by insects, fishes, plants, and many other life forms. It seems like a waste of energy to produce an excess just to have most of it die, but it does provide the opportunity for natural selection to favour the fittest among the progeny. Although survival seems to be mainly the product of chance (see essay “Contingency” in Section X), a small residue of eliminating the unfit or defective remains, and is useful as a “culling” device.

Reproducing in youth, as practised by birds and mammals, makes possible the overlapping of generations, and therefore provision of parental care for the young. As a consequence, fewer young in each generation die, and so fewer have to be hatched or born. This is called the K strategy of reproduction. It is less wasteful of energy than the R strategy, but less subject to culling by selection. Many defective human infants are now allowed to survive. I would abhor doing otherwise, remembering Hitler’s “eugenics”. Perhaps it would be sufficient to prohibit their reproduction. Or do I still hear human rights protest? .

The overlapping of generations also permits a new feature: the formation of a family as a social unit. Children can know their parents, and even grandparents and great grandparents. Eventually in humans this makes possible inter-generational transfer of cultural information, and thus a new stage of evolution, by cultural rather than genetic means.

Reproduction, from bacteria to plants, insects, and mammals, shows many fascinating trends and variations. Many minor and obscure ones have been left out, such as Gould’s story of the male fish that has become a mere parasite inside the body of the female. Gender qualities vary among vertebrate species; in most birds, the male is more ornamented and colourful than the female (e.g. the peacock), while culturally among humans females have tended to ornament themselves. Yet pugnaciousness and the construction of pecking orders seems to be a male characteristic among all the social higher vertebrates, including humans.

It is a delight to observe the very different life styles among the creatures of the Earth, and to imagine what it would be like to be a dragonfly or a frog. Just as human cultures must learn to respect their differences and find them enriching, so we must also respect our fellow creatures of other species, and glorify our differences. Together, we all sing hallelujahs to our Mother Earth.


The story to be described is somewhat hypothetical, since no one really knows what happened. In this brief outline, no archeological or anthropological evidence will be offered. The account is therefore only a tentative hypothesis, but it will be written as a story, a myth.

Once upon a time, people saw mothers as the only givers of new life, since they were the only ones visibly to do so. At this stage, the mother’s role in reproduction was seen as 100%, the father’s as zero. The child came entirely from the mother’s flesh and blood. The natural consequence would be a matrilineal society, tracing ancestry through the female line only. Possibly this even led to matriarchy, a society ruled by women; but not necessarily so, since women were too busy bringing up children and men could spend the time between hunts on politics.

When the father’s role in reproduction was “discovered” (if there ever was such a time — was this not always known through uninterrupted animal memory?), two interpretations were possible. One (mentioned in an essay by Malinowski) was that sexual intercourse only widens the passage into a woman’s womb, so that the spirit of an ancestor can enter. This belief is linked to belief in the transmigration of souls and the supremacy of the spirit over the flesh; it is the spirit or soul of the new child that matters, not its body, and the origin of that soul that is to be explained.

The other interpretation was that the father implants the seed and the mother’s womb is only the garden in which it sprouts. Mother provides the nutrients and the environment, but the vital spark (we might now say the genetic instructions) all come from the father. One image used was the Sun (usually a male god) bringing forth crops from Mother Earth (always a female goddess). We have now made a complete switch: the genetic contribution comes 100% from the father, zero from the mother.

This interpretation would lead to a patrilineal society, tracing ancestry through the male line, either introducing or confirming patriarchy, a male-ruled and dominated society. This is a total flip, a profound paradigm shift. From the Sun-Earth metaphor just mentioned, it seems that this might have occurred with the beginning of agriculture, the same time that saw the beginning of war and slavery. This is in agreement with the account given by Riane Eisler in “The Chalice and the Sword”.

If patrilineal belief were one root of patriarchy, its other root was more utilitarian: women were too busy with child-bearing and child-rearing to engage in hunting, war and politics, the perennial concerns of men. (Sports may be added in modem times.) These male preoccupations entailed long absences from home. Women worked hard at gathering and later at agriculture, which could be done from a home base. “”

With modern science, the role of the sexes in reproduction was clarified. The belief now changed to regarding the genetic contribution of mother and father as equal. Each contributed exactly half of the genes to the child, and the dominant or recessive nature of each allele (that actually expressed in the phenotype) was equally likely to come from mother and father. Do we then get an androgynous society (social equality of the sexes)? Not quite. Not in reality (which remains patriarchal) nor in myth, which leans toward a superior role for women.

Mother’s role is greater than the father’s because, while both contribute equally to the genetic endowment of the child, mother also still retains the nutritive or nurturant function during pregnancy and lactation. Even at the gamete stage, the egg is much larger than the sperm, and provided with nutrients for the first few cell divisions following fertilization. Eggs are produced in smaller numbers, but with greater care (K strategy), while sperms are produced in great profusion but provided with only the bare essentials and many of them defective (R strategy). (Cf. previous essay on “Evolution of Reproduction”.)

The K and R strategy paradigm is usually applied to different reproductive strategies among different species, where the K strategy (small numbers of progeny but great parental care, as in birds or mammals) is considered superior to the R strategy (large numbers of progeny with no care provided, so that only a few survive, as among fish or reptiles). However, this paradigm can be transferred to the difference between human gametes, and makes the female role somewhat superior even at this stage. However, it is the very reproductive superiority of women which continues to bar them from social positions with high social status, unless child care is delegated to other social agencies or the number of children produced is less, as seems to be called for now in an overcrowded world. When our ideology is no longer pro-natalist (“go forth and multiply… It), we have a chance of approaching an androgynous world (Riane Eisler’s “partnership”).

Up to this point, our story has gone through a classical dialectical sequence: Thesis — 100% female; antithesis — 100% male; synthesis — 50-50 mix, but not quite, in both biological and social terms. But the story does not end there.

A recent discovery showed that even the genetic contributions are not equal. The mitochondria in each cell, which carry on aerobic respiration, have their own set of genes. Mitochondria are present in the more highly developed egg, but absent from the bare-bones sperm. Therefore the child’s mitochondria are inherited entirely from the mother. While this is a minor part of the genetic endowment of the child, it nevertheless changes the balance of the sexes from 50-50 to one somewhat favouring women. Through genetic sequencing of mitochondria, human descent was recently traced to an “African Eve” — necessarily a woman because mitochondria were involved. (However, even more recently, this conclusion has been contested. )

Moreover, there is the different contribution of the X and Y chromosomes to the child’s genetic endowment. A woman has the XX combination, which means that the genes on this chromosome are fully backed up by alleles. A man has the XY combination, and the Y is much shorter, which means that some of the genes are not backed up. This leads to the greater frequency of genetic disorders among men, such as hemophilia and colour blindness, while women are only carriers, without symptoms. This is because the genes for the defects are recessive, and if there is another allele to back it up and it is normal, the normal one becomes dominant and is expressed. But if there is no back-up allele, the recessive defective gene has to be expressed. Possibly this is also one reason why women live longer than men. More women die in childbirth in primitive societies, but more men die in war, which might just about equalize the survival situation. However, in modern times, very few women die in childbirth, but more die in wars, since civilian deaths in wars now greatly out-number military deaths.

What kind of society goes with these changed perceptions? Perhaps a mitigation of patriarchy, though not too much while its practical roots persist. But when the need for large families disappeared in late industrial society and women joined the labour force in large numbers, a women’s movement for social equality began to erase patriarchy. This transition still continues. Whether or not the mitochondrial knowledge will penetrate the popular psyche enough to actually lean toward matriarchy is doubtful. “Partnership” would seem to be the best solution.

Will it be back full-circle to pre-agricultural times? If so, perhaps the other curses of civilization, war and slavery, can be abolished too. Slavery already has been. Can war be abolished too, as the predominant occupation of men? As we have fewer children, will we take better care of them (in a K strategy) and not send them to war? If so, we will have learned a lot from women. (See also the next essay “Sexual Dialectic”.)


This is a summary and a supplement to the previous essay.

Thesis: Only women give birth. The Goddess gives them power over Life and Death. Men can only serve Her and worship Her. This view was prevalent in hunter-gatherer times, when knowledge of a man’s role in reproduction was unknown or only dimly known.

Antithesis: Women only provide the soil in which men plant the seed. The vital force is in the seed. Men are creators, women are nurturers. Worship the Sun who fertilizes the Earth. Or the one male God of monotheism. The metaphors are agricultural, because that is when these views originated. Socially, this gave rise to patriarchy.

Synthesis: A woman and a man each supply half of the genetic inheritance. They are partners, destined to cooperate on an equal basis. This view was brought in by early modern science. However, later science brought in some provisos.


  1. The woman still also nurtures, in pregnancy and lactation and usually later upbringing, so her role remains greater than the man’s.
  2. The egg is much larger than the spenn. The egg carries all the early nutrition as well as the genetic information, while the spenn carries only the genetic information.
  3. Very few eggs are produced by the woman in a life-time, but they are well cared for (K strategy). Millions of spenns are produced by the man, but they are treated as expendable (R strategy). This is a quality paradigm versus a quantity paradigm.
  4. The mitochondrial DNA carries only the woman’s genes, not the man’s. This is a small part of total genes, but functions in aerobic respiration, a major evolutionary advance in Eukaryotes.
  5. Only women have the X chromosome fully backed up.


  1. The synthesis and the partnership between woman and man is not quite symmetrical, because of the 5 provisos. Woman is still somewhat predominant. The patriarchal antithesis was profoundly erroneous.
  2. Woman is the basic model, the “default option” in embryonic development (if that Y-chromosome-initiated testosterone pulse fails to come).
  3. Woman is stronger, more fit to survive: as the XX gamete, in the womb, and late in life, because the XX gamete is more resistant to acid conditions in the vagina, because the early testosterone pulse somewhat delays fetal development, and because the adult man is more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, being the psychological A-type more apt to worry about ego-defeats. (This may be the result of the mother-separation trauma described under 5.)
  4. Only females in some species can reproduce by parthenogenesis (whiptail lizards), males cannot.
  5. In most species (lions, whales) and most human societies, daughters stay with mother (the primary care-giver), while sons must break away from mother. This further weakens adult men.
  6. In bee and ant societies, the queen, the only fertile female, rules the hive or the ant-hill, while the drone is cast out after fertilization. The black widow spider may eat her mate. (Stephen J. Gould gives further examples, even of a vestigial male in a fish who lives only in the female’s body cavity.) Males willingly serve in such roles in order to gain access to the next generation. Even in the worst of times, human females were not oppressed to such a vicious extent.

Back to the rule of the Goddess? Not quite. Sexual reproduction promotes diversity and speeds up evolution. The Mother Goddess must have a Son who is God. She conceives Him by parthenogenesis, and He becomes Her consort. This was the religion of ancient Egypt, the first organized religion on Earth. In our tenns, instead of Isis and Osiris, we can think of Sophia as Demeter (Dei Mater). Since Sophia represents Wisdom, She is supremely worthy of being worshipped.

The birth of God from Goddess is the first symmetry-breaking, like the break-up of the unified force field at the Big Bang into 4 forces. The Christian duality of Father and Son (ignoring the Holy Spirit for the moment) does not make sense without the intervention of the Mother. How was the Son “begotten”? The metaphor does not hold.

So, you say, Isis giving birth to Osiris without a Father does not make sense either. But parthenogenesis may be possible. Even for Mary…Oh, is that it? Is a human woman in the loop?


(Based on article by Chandler Burr, Atlantic Monthly, March 1993, pp. 47-65.)

In former times, homosexuality was considered, at first a sin (as in Sodom and Gomorrah), then also a crime; the response was severe punishment, either by divine or state justice. Subsequently it was regarded as a psychological illness, caused by certain types of faulty upbringing in childhood, e.g. a domineering mother and/or an absent father producing a homosexual son. This presumed illness was treated so as to “cure” it or obliterate it, by procedures similar to deprogramming, but sometimes also physically cruel, such as destruction of parts of the brain. Recently, homosexuality was proclaimed to be none of these, as homosexuals (both gays and lesbians) demand equal rights with straights. Now some studies indicate that homosexuality may, after all, be biologically caused. This is compatible with full rights, but would provide more understanding — though this could be misused.

Three fields of biology are involved: neuro-anatomy, psycho-endocrinology, and genetics. Psychiatry had consistently failed to show that homosexuality was a deliberate preference, a malleable thing subject to reversal. (It is now called “sexual orientation”, not “sexual preference”.) It seems to be something very deep, either genetic or stemming from early (perinatal) development.

Studies of brain anatomy in rats showed that sexual differentiation of the brain occurs before birth. Originally all brains are feminine, and would remain so unless given a masculinizing stimulus by a surge of testosterone in prenatal life. There are brain structures affected by this surge. In humans, the splenium (part of the corpus callosum which connects the two brain hemispheres) is larger in females than it is in males (De Lacoste-Utamsing and Holloway). Trained observers are actually able to sex brains by examining this structure. This feature of the splenium is called “sexual dimorphism”. Remarkably, the human superchiasmic nucleus was found to be sexually dimorphic — but not by sex, rather by sexual orientation: it is nearly twice as large in homosexual men than in heterosexual men (Swaab). Similar dimorphism between homosexual and heterosexual men was found in certain interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus (INAR 2 and 3): these structures are large in individuals sexually oriented toward women (heterosexual men and homosexual women) and small in individuals sexually oriented toward men (heterosexual women and homosexual men) (LeVay). II have a question: are there not also two types among the homosexuals, the dominant and the submissive?]

These findings are not yet firmly established — there are methodological problems, e.g. sampling. Even if they stand up to scrutiny, one must remember that establishing a distinction is not the same thing as finding a cause. Anatomy is not etiology. For this we must turn to hormones and genes. (The effect of the hormone testosterone on rat brains was already mentioned.)

Adult homosexual and heterosexual men have the same levels of testosterone in the blood. This is not unexpected, since the previous discussion showed that sexual differentiation (spurred by a testosterone surge) occurs in pre-natal life, and this is its only “window of opportunity” to influence the developing brain.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAR) is a “model endocrine syndrome” for studying pre-natal hormonal events. In the CAR condition, the enzyme necessary for producing cortisol is missing, and this leads to overproduction of masculinizing androgens (such as testosterone) instead. (The brain never receives the signal that there is already enough cortisol and so never orders a cessation of production.) As a result, a baby girl (genetically female, i.e. with two X chromosomes and no Y) may be born with a penis as a result, but no testicles, and all the internal female organs. Surgery can fix her, to be brought up as a girl. But at the time of birth, this condition must be distinguished from the much more common case of a boy born with undescended testicles; he would be genetically male (XY chromosomes) and have no internal female organs.

However, the brain of the CAR woman may already have been affected by the masculinizing hormone surge; and in fact, the percentage of lesbians and bisexuals among CAR women is 37% compared with 2-4% in the general female population (Money).

One possible mechanism of hormone action involves the luteinizing hormone (LH). In adult women there is a positive feedback: release of LH by the brain (which initiates ovulation) causes an increase in estrogen released by the ovary, which in turn causes more LH release, etc., until stopped by other events in the estrus cycle. In adult men there is a negative feedback: release of LH by the brain does occur, but suppresses estrogen production. [Question: how is estrogen produced at all without an ovary?]

The speculations is that gay men, their brains presumably not masculinized by prenatal testosterone (just as women’s brains are not), would show a positive LH feedback, like that of a heterosexual female, not the negative LH feedback of a heterosexual male. This hypothesis is still under investigation, with uncertain results. We do not yet have a “gay blood test”. (Money)

There is another type of sexual orientation: the transsexuals — men or women who wish to live in the bodies of the opposite sex. Ordinary homosexuals do not have any trace of such a wish. Pillard and Weinrich theorized that, although gay men do undergo masculinization in the womb (they are, after all, fully male anatomically), they go incompletely or not at all through another part of the process: defeminization.

Fetuses of both sexes start out with complete female and male organs: Mullerian ducts (female) and Wolffian ducts (male). In females, the Mullerian ducts simply develop, without any hormones, and Wolffian ducts shrivel up. (As in brain structures, the basic prototype is female. If ontogeny repeats phylogeny, the male is an evolutionary afterthought — or, from another viewpoint, a creative innovation.) In males, two types of hormones are required: androgens from the testes to prompt the Wolffian ducts into development, and the Mullerian-inhibiting hormone to suppress the Mullerian ducts and defeminize the male fetus. The latter may be the one that also exercises the masculinizing effect on the brain. If defeminization fails or is deficient, we get various degrees of homosexuality. This is called “psychosexual androgyny”. [The origin of lesbianism in women is not described in detail.]

Psychological studies show that children who spontaneously engage in gender-atypical play (e.g. boys playing with dolls) often become gay adults (up to 75%).

Another factor is “male vulnerability”: more male embryos are produced than female ones, but the sex ratio of babies born is 1 to 1, showing that male fetuses have a more difficult time during development. General embryonic development may be retarded or hampered by the testosterone surges. It appears also that there are about 2 gay men to every lesbian woman. (6% of gays in the male population and 3% oflesbians in the female population.)

Both gay and straight men tend to favour multiple sexual partners, while both lesbian and straight women tend to prefer fewer sexual partners.

And then we dig deeper still into the causes, into genetics. First was the discovery of the “fruitless” gene in Drosophila melanogaster (fruitfly). This gene mutation caused male fruit flies to court other males as well as females, although they were unable to mate with either. The fruitless gene is recessive, expressed only in some of the offspring of males and females carrying a single copy of it [Question: Does the single copy confer some advantage on the carriers, as in sickle-cell anemia? Why else would these genes be preserved?] Could there be a “fruitless” analogue in humans? No one yet knows.

A study of human twins showed gay-gay concordance rates of 11 % for adoptive brothers (genetically unrelated, but similar environment), 22% for fraternal twins, and 52% for identical twins Thus homosexuality is up to 70% attributable to genetic factors. (For comparison, eye colour is 100~. genetic, height 90%.) Multiple genes may be involved, permitting degrees of homosexuality rather than either-or.

So much for summarizing the article. Now I would like to make up a story or a scenario of what might be happening, ignoring for the moment the uncertainties in areas not yet pinned down, and filling in the lacunae of knowledge from my imagination, but trying to stay reasonably plausible. It seems best to reverse the order of presentation in the article, by proceeding from the genetic to the hormonal to the anatomical level.

At the genetic level there is first the principal bifurcation into male and female, according to the presence of XY or XX chromosome pairs, respectively. The male is more vulnerable because, if any genes on the X chromosome are defective, there are no alleles on another X to back them up (to step into the breach). (See also two preceding essays in this section.) More on the vulnerability sequence: There are necessarily equal numbers of X -sperms and Y -sperms produced, because of the mechanism of meiosis; buJ[ it seems that X-sperms are more robust than Y-sperms — they are able to swim farther and to survive more acidic conditions in the female genital tract. It is thus possible to influence the probability (load the dice I of conceiving a boy or a girl by manipulating these factors: deeper penetration during intercourse favours a boy, a vinegar douche before intercourse favours a girl. But apparently more boys are conceived than girls. (Not many couples bother with a vinegar douche) During fetal life, more boys than girls are spontaneously aborted (miscarried) because of uncompensated X-chromosome defects as well as the stresses of hormonal masculinization and defeminization, so that the sex ratio at birth is again equal. In adult life, males suffer early death due to war and a higher rate of accidents, but females under natural circumstances often die in childbirth, so this may just about cancel out. The male vulnerability returns in late life, as females have a longer lifespan than males, but this is not relevant from the reproductive point of view.

Further bifurcations involve the homosexual-heterosexual split (possibly a different mechanism in males and females) and a third split into accepted gender identity or transsexuality (again possibly different in males and females). These 3 bifurcations would produce a total of 23 or 8 different gender (orientation and identification) types. It could be that not all of them exist. (I am not sure how the dominant and submissive roles of homosexual relations fit in.)

The second and third bifurcation probably arises from mutations on the Y -chromosome for the males (4 gender types) and on the X-chromosome for the females (the other 4 gender types). In the case of the X-chromosome, the mutation would have to be in the dominant (expressed) allele, not the recessive (silent) one; but sometimes the normally silent allele could be activated when the dominant one is missing or defective. Because of this possibility, homosexual and transsexual variants would be less frequent among f~ales than among males. Again, males are the more fragile, the weaker gender.

Let us say that the second “switch” (bifurcation) is the one that differentiates heterosexual and homosexual individuals (a few % of the cases), and the third switch (very rare) would produce transsexuals. These switches could be arranged either in linear or in branched fashion.

At the hormonal level, remember again that the basic mode of operation is female, and hormonedirected differentiation is needed to produce the male mode. In the genetically female fetus (XX), nothing needs to happen. In the genetically male fetus (XY), the first switch turns on a rush of testosterone, which makes the Wolffian ducts develop and suppresses the Mullerian ducts; this process is called “masculinization”. This switch operates in nearly 100% of the cases, with very low failure rates. The second switch then kicks in later in the male fetus; this changes the LH cascade from positive to negative feedback, and is called “defeminization”. It turns off the hormonal mechanism that in females would stimulate and support ovulation. The switch operates correctly over 95% of the time. When it fails, it cannot, of course, produce ovulation in the males, because males lack ovaries; but the continued femaletype positive LH-estrogen feedback prevents the development of male-dimorphic differentiation of the brain (brain masculinization). This preserves the neuro-psychological orientation that heterosexual females have toward men, and thus creates male homosexuality, although the body is anatomically fully masculine.

In women, the non-operation of the first switch (no early testosterone rush in the fetus) causes the unimpeded development of the Mullerian duct system and atrophy of the Wolffian system. The second switch also normally does not operate, and the LH-estrogen cascade retains its original positive feedback, eventually starting ovulation and the whole female estrus cycle. In about 3% of the cases, however, it does partly operate, and can produce the male-like brain changes, while leaving the estrus cycle normal. This gives rise to lesbian females.

The third switch operates very rarely. If it does, it flips the brain’s perception of its own gender identity to the opposite, without affecting any physical or hormonal features, as far as we know. Transvestite phenomena might be a milder variation of transsexuality.

Apparently males have a harder time of it all along the way. They are less robust as Y-sperms, more fragile as fetuses, and bear the whole burden of gender differentiation — anatomical, hormonal, and neuro-psychological. They also die younger, being more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and strokes) (perhaps because they are more often C-type personalities — ambitious/ego-defensive and under greater social stress in careers), and experiencing combat deaths in wars (although more civilians than soldiers are now being killed in modem wars). Perhaps nature considers them more expendable, since women have more of the responsibility for reproduction, and invest much more of their time and energy in it. A man not only produces millions of times more sperms than a woman produces eggs in a lifetime, but can (theoretically speaking) father several children each day, while a woman takes 9 months plus lactation time for each child (or maybe twins, at most triplets).

There is another aspect: since the basic mode of human existence is female, and the male has to painfully and laboriously differentiate from this basic mode, women are closer to nature than men. They are generally perceived that way culturally, which is the basis of the social system called patriarchy.

However, the combination of male human separation from nature (as expressed e.g. by S1. Paul, Thomas Aquinas (who regarded women as defective males!), Francis Bacon, and Sigmund Freud (penis envy)) and )atriarchal domination systems in family and society ha~ led to a conflict of human society with nature, With the consequence of environmental deterioration through human activities. Eco-feminists claim that his could lead to human downfall, and propose to prevent this by switching from male to female values, ..e. closer to nature.

There is a continuation of the need for masculine differentiation in post-fetal childhood; since )oth boys and girls are usually brought up by mothers, girls have a ready-made role model and don’t ever lave to abruptly change, but boys have to experience a drastic breakaway from mother in order to follow nale models (this was proposed by Nancy Chodorow). This may produce psychological trauma. In some ;ocieties, boys at a certain age are taken away from mothers and instructed by fathers or maternal uncles; and at puberty they undergo initiation, which is the social equivalent of physical gender differentiation — a ;eremonial which girls do not generally undergo.

The boy’s separation from the mother is well portrayed by the fable of the prince, the gold ball, md the wild man. The prince has to release the wild man from the cage, where the prince’s mother has put him, in order to get back his golden ball; but the key to the cage is under the mother’s pillow. The prince manages to get it, the wild man gets out of the cage and carries off the prince into the forest. It’s a dangerous world out there for an adolescent boy. The key to his freedom must be stolen from the mother so that he may follow the wild man mentor.

In our society, a man is the product of overcoming physiological hurdles in fetal development and psychological trauma in late childhood and early adolescence. On top of that, he is not supposed to show ~motion, and is made to feel responsible for managing society. It is no wonder that he breaks down sooner mder these pressures; he is not only more fragile by nature, but more stressed by life circumstances. Often 1e then takes out his anger by violence against women, who submit to this mistreatment because of their ;maller size, less muscular strength, economic dependency, and early conditioning to be passive.

Yet women, as already said, are nature’s basic prototype of the human (as in all other species). Women don’t need any prenatal hormone surges to be female, and they do not require initiation rites to )ecome women; they just naturally are. Their voice does not change in adolescence, their brain is less ;trictly bilateralized into the left and the right hemisphere, and they do not start to grow facial hair. Some Nould regard this as making women more child-like, especially in the similarity of children’s and Nomen’s singing voices and the similar size, and deduce from this that women, like children, need )rotection in times of danger. (They DO need protection because they represent the future of the human race.) On the whole, women can be regarded as deep, like roots; while men are high, like twigs. But the :wigs are more liable to break off in high winds.

I have strayed away from the topic of homosexuality. I guess I am more intrigued by the 95% of lUmans who are unequivocally male or female. But I do believe that homosexuals should enjoy full and ~qual civil rights.


Arthur Koestler wrote that reality consists of levels, and each level operates on different principles. It was probably not a brand-new idea. I would only add that the levels may overlap sometimes.

At the sub-micro level, quantum laws operate. At the molecular level there are chemical forces. it the macro-molecular level, genetic and evolutionary forces; at the ecological level, symbiosis and ;ompetition; at the geological level, plate tectonics and climate changes; at the stellar level, evolution dong the Russell Hersprung main sequence diagram; at the galactic level, evolution from spirals to ~llipses; at the level of the whole universe, movement from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch (perhaps).

With that in mind, we do not necessarily expect that societies (ensembles of individuals) would )perate by the same principles as multicellular organisms (ensembles of cells), although both societies and )rganisms are classified as “living systems” by Miller. In an organism, cells are the units, and they are ,trictly subordinate parts of the whole. Many undergo programmed cell death on signals (orders) from on lligh, with the mechanism all set up beforehand. Few individuals in societies would put up with their ;entral governments having that kind of power. (Although spies on dangerous missions carry cyanide pills to prevent them being tortured (if captured) to reveal information.) To model society as an organism would produce a super-fascist society. Yet ant and bee societies are close to that model, permitting Hofstadter in “Goedel, Escher, Bach” to postulate a character called “Aunt Hill” with a completely integrated personality, paying no more attention to individual ants than we do to the outer-skin cells that we shed by the millions every day.

At the level of human society, most of us (in the West, anyway) believe in individualism, i.e. considering individuals as autonomous, not subordinate units. Yet not entirely so: according to 1.S. Mill, free individuals should not be allowed to encroach on the liberty of other individuals. We get various versions of social contract theories to account for the origin of society from free-living individuals, although it must be acknowledged that these are pieces of historical fiction — free-living individuals, whether Hobbes’ brutish murderers or Rousseau’s noble savages, probably never existed. Humans were from the beginning social creatures. But the fact that we find social-contract theories plausible as explanations of the existence of human societies, even though we believe in the primacy of free-living individuals, shows that we want to limit the domination of society over individuals in very fundamental ways.

In social contract theories, free individuals (natural persons) are regarded as having given up certain rights in order to gain greater security and material benefits, usually behind the veil of ignorance of what their position in that society would be. And we get various versions of democracy to derive the procedures/for governing such a society. Even in a socialist rather than a liberal society this is true, only the rules are a bit different.

In social contract and democratic theories, individuals are regarded as fundamental and primary, social structures as derived and secondary. There are deviations from this, e.g. in group rights, nationalism, fascism, in Hegel who reified and deified the state, in chosen-nation and racist ideas and manifest destiny ideologies; but usually and most of the time, we think of individuals as the basic units.

In multicellular biological organisms, I suppose that at the dawn of evolutionary history (actually in the early Cambrian times when the animals developed, which was already more like high noon than like early dawn), the eukaryotic cells that came together as polyps or sponges were still “societies” of cells — associations of autonomous cells that got together under some “social contract” for opportunistic reasons for mutual benefit. In slime molds, these cell societies can still spontaneously disperse and reassemble. Sponges reassemble when their cells are dispersed by outside forces. Yet over the ages, “higher” organisms became much more integrated, and cells lost their autonomy and self-reliance — most could no longer survive outside the organism (except in artificial lab cultures). This development, where cells are subservient and dependent on the whole, is called “close coupling”. It is what makes the whole more than the sum of its parts.

Will this development also overcome human societies? This could happen, but will not necessarily happen. Different levels can live by different rules, as we said at the beginning. Organisms and societies have certain properties and functions in common, and hence Miller’s describing them both as “living systems” is valid; but they also have distinct differences. The main difference is that human societies, even Nazi Germany, are not close-coupled.

Ant and bee societies do tend to be close-coupled. Worker bees eject their drones when they are no longer needed, just like an organism orders some of its unneeded cells to commit suicide; but human societies support their elderly when they no longer matter in the succession of generations. Among bees and spiders, even the successful male who manages to mate is rejected after the act. Hitler eliminated the feeble-minded and mentally incapacitated, but most of us feel a horror at the thought — it is not natural to us. And our females don’t kill the male after the act, as black widow spiders do.

Human society need not become close-coupled in this sense if we choose not to make it so. Probably natural selection in our case will support this choice. Our main advantage is brain power, not reproductive prowess; and many of our sages and deep thinkers have been past the age of reproduction. It would not be to the advantage of the species to lose them. Many societies venerate their elders, turning to them for moral and political leadership. This is what is natural for us, unlike for bees and spiders and cells. Let each level live by its own principles. Carry-overs from one level to another, just like analogies, are not always valid.


Biological structures have been laid down over unimaginably long eons of evolution, and they had many opportunities to be tested for effectiveness and efficiency, superbly honed for survival fitness. Human social structures are relatively new, moulded by trial and error for only the last fraction of a second of Sagan’s cosmic clock (evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang on compressed to one year.) It is no wonder then that the social structures are still very shaky and unstable, periodically overthrown or drastically changed, often not very effective and grossly inefficient. If we want to see a process of evolution in action (something that the fossils cannot give us because the process is too fast on the geological scale), we can do no better than to look at the stormy evolution of human society. There we will certainly not see “the end of history”, but history very much in the making.

Social evolution may not exactly parallel biological evolution. It is on a higher turn of the developmental spiral, it uses different raw materials (not so thoroughly material, but partly mental), and it is partly steered and planned by conscious and rational agents — but only partly, for we often have the sense of wonder who or what produced some unprecedented sudden change — certainly not I or you looking around for the active agent in vain. So the process is different in some aspects, and we should expect some different mechanisms. (Cf. essay “Organisms and Societies” in this section, preceding this essay.) Yet there should also be some similarities, since both the biological and the social are aspects of a very long-range developmental process, toward what end we do not yet know. Both are a part of “metahistory”. And so we may feel justified in using the biological as a metaphor for the social — tentatively, cautiously, provisionally — to try to tease out some insights, or even guidelines for the future.

Important notions in the comparison between biological and social phenomena include first the simultaneous existence of differentiation and integration, secondly maturation, thirdly stepwise stages, and fourthly directionality and finality (purpose).

In the development of an embryo, which we take here as a metaphor of social development differentiation of the cells resulting from the division of the fertilized egg begin almost immediately, and yet the organism remains integrated. Cells differentiate first into ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm: then ectoderm differentiates into skin and nervous tissue, mesoderm into muscles and blood, and endoderm into internal organs. I have left out much detail, but this will suffice. The differentiation process is like a tree: the lines of cell fates or destinations branch repeatedly, and cells are committed to one path or another by genetically controlled processes which are just beginning to be understood. Yet integration is maintained, the cells, tissues and organs continue to communicate and cooperate to maintain the whole. Surely there is a lesson here for the harmonious development of society. Specialization and division of labour in society need not fracture society, unity can be maintained while individuals or groups specialize in different roles and occupations.

In the organization of the international system, for example, the differentiation-cum-integration metaphor suggests a world federal government system, with thorough structures of subsidiarity from the bottom to the top. I have developed this in previous writings, e.g. in “Design for a Better World” (1983) and “Peace Actions at the Municipal Level” (1988). “Federation” and “subsidiarity” are in fact the social equivalents of differentiation and integration, as expressed in the common symbol “E pluribus unum”, However, this does not mean abolishing the units in some kind of a smudged merger; rather, it means maintaining the diversity of the units in the framework of the unity of the whole.

Federation is often misunderstood as being only the uniting of previously independent units (“integration”); it could be that, but it could also be the decentralization of a previously unitary country to give more autonomy to its constituent units. People who despair at seeing established states fall apart in secessions often see this as a movement contrary to efforts to unify the world. However, it is not contrary: the development of subsidiarity structures means moving power down to municipal and neighbourhood levels as well as up to continental and global levels, simultaneously. This surely is differentiation occurring simultaneously with integration, as in the developing embryo.

The only problem — and it is fundamental and serious — is that in the embryo the process is laid down and pre-programmed to proceed in an orderly fashion, while in world society it is being done for the first time and no guidelines exist. In the biosphere it is development, in the sociosphere it is evolution; the difference is between following laid-down patterns and searching for patterns that do not yet exist. (See the essay “Morphological Fields”, in Section VIII.)

Going back to embryonic development, we observe another phenomenon: maturation. As the cell lines diverge in differentiation, they finally, after several branchings, reach their final destination, the form in which they will perform their function. At this point they are fully equipped. with the appropriate mechanisms for producing hormones, secreting enzymes, communicating, fighting intruders, or whatever their specialization might be.

The organism as a whole (I am thinking of animals and humans) also matures: from an infant unable to walk or talk, to a fully functional adult able to do various jobs in society: sow and reap crops, weave fabrics, interpret the law, cure diseases, repair tools or machines, or teach children. Not every human individual reaches his or her full potential, i.e. may stop short of full maturity. This does not seem to apply to animals.

According to the teachings of the Bahai faith, humanity as a whole had not yet reached maturity. We are just beyond childhood, in the stormy stage of adolescence, doing all sorts of foolish things, trying to define our identity (according to Erikson’s stages of child development). But we will grow up, become generative, then fulfilled adults. This view is in good agreement with my view that society in its evolution has not yet “jelled” into its final structure. It is still like a slowly thickening liquid, whose molecular parts need some more permanent crosslinks to be able to bear the weight of its responsibilities. (Sometimes metaphors from physical chemistry are also helpful.)

Development seems to occur in stepwise stages as described for example in “Rise and Run” (Section X). It is illustrated in, many natural phenomena: “punctuated evolution” according to Gould (1980), child development according to Erikson moral development according to Kohlberg, (1973) cognitive development according to Piaget economic development according to Rostow, social development from traditional to transitional to modern, from hunter-gatherers to agricultural-pastoral to industrial to post-industrial. It can be thought of usefully as ascending the “Devil’s staircase”, a fractal structure where the plateaus are smooth but the rises are infinitely rough.

Devil’s Staircase
“Mathematical Representation” (from Nina Hall.)

Devil’s Staircase
Impressionistic Representation” (from Rudoph Rummel.)

It is “rough” to be in a transitional developmental crisis, but it can be a rise to a higher plateau, unless there is a breakdown instead of a breakthrough. The primal pattern is that of a Prigoginian dissipative structure accumulating fluctations until it is forced to a stage of higher complexity — or crash to a lower one. But I cannot explain everything in this short essay.

Now we have to consider directionality, finality, and purpose. In biology, the strict Darwinians (in fact, most biologists) would deny this in both embryonic development and in species evolution. Yet it seems so obvious to non-specialists, the common people. This may be naive, like the pre-Newtonian view of children not yet exposed to physics lessons, who think that a force is necessaIy to maintain motion. (See “Unfinished Road to Truth” in Section V.) It seems so obvious, because in ordinary life we have to work against friction; yet it is not true.

However, Occam’s razor tells us to accept the simplest possible explanation available; for example, not get involved in Ptolemaic epicycles for the paths of the planets, when it is much simpler to admit that the Earth and the planets revolve around the Sun.

Perhaps there is relatively little directionality at the bottom of the evolutionary scale, and directionality and purpose increase at the upper end of the scale, as mind and meaning emerge as a new emergent property of living matter. (See essay “Orthogonal Evolution” in Section VIll.) I know of no scientific evidence, one way or the other; so I feel free to assume provisionally, that my view is approximately correct, and try to apply it to the evolution of human society.

Is human society evolving to some goal or end, some final Utopian plateau at the top of the Devil’s staircase? Teilhard de Chardin thought so, and he called the end goal the Omega point The noosphere (the sphere of knowledge) would then be as complete around the Earth as the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere. It may even spread elsewhere in the solar system and the galaxy, though Teilhard does not discuss it. Alternatively, it may be more a spiritual development than i spatial one. I think that Teihard would agree with this.

Our present society, at its immature stage, certainly does not handle Utopia very well. Our grand ideological schemes, like Jacobinism after the French Revolution and Leninism after the Russi.a Revolution, soon degenerated into totalitarian tyrannies. What seems to be indicated is, not that a perfea society is impossible, but that humanity is still too immature to handle it We have to first evolve as individuals to a more mature spiritual state, as the Bahais believe. Then “the most great peace”, whidl they postulate, can occur.

In discussing economics these days, it is becoming obvious to some of us that we need an alternative economic system, for at least three reasons: 1. Large-scale planning as in Soviet-style communist systems has collapsed. While it was able to industrialize the Soviet Union and produce modem weapons (unfortunately). it failed in agricultural production and the production of consumer goods. Attempting large-scale planning cannot be as efficient as self-regulatory market mechanisms. 2. Market-style economies, however, are now also failing. since they inevitable promote greater gaps between the poor and the rich both between and within countries, do not maintain full employment, and waste natural resources. 3. Both communism and capitalism depend critically on continued economic growth, which is impossible in the long range because of ecological limitations. Nothing in this world can grow forever, especially at exponentially accelerated rates.

Since K. Boulding said that economics is “the provisioning of society”. we can again reach for a biological metaphor, and consider economics as the metabolism of society. Let us consider what cells do. Briefly. the genome is divided into four blocks: M, M’, R. and N. The M block produces proteins needed for the cell’s own use; so-called “house-keeping” proteins. The M’ block produces proteins for export, i.e. carrying out the cell’s specific function in the organism as a whole, e.g. secretion in a gland cell, contraction in a muscle or heart cell, etc. The R block produces proteins for building ribosomes, the organelles within the cell which help produce all other proteins. Finally. the N block produces the proteins needed in the nucleus to turn on the genes which produce all the proteins, i.e. for transcription of DNA into RNA and hence to proteins, and also for the replication of DNA in cell division.

The societal economic analogy would be: a family or a society produces goods to feed, clothe, and house its own members or population (M block). then sells the surplus to other families or societies for money or barters it for other needed goods (here specialization/differentiation becomes important); this is the M block. However. the economic unit must also look after its tools of production (the R block). usually defined as its capital; and above that, it must maintain or upgrade its knowledge or information stock, to know how to produce the capital goods and the manufactured consumer goods themselves. This is the N block. The whole machinery operates like a series of relays.

So the economy is not primarily about exchange (markets, supply and demand, prices). but about supplying basic needs most efficiently. and about specializing in functions while cooperating and intermeshing with others for the best overall effect Cells are smart enough to know that if they only “maximize their own utility” and compete with each other (like “economic man”). they will soon be dead. (The cells that did not know this have become extinct long ago.) Normal cells know it; only cancer cells forget it. All they can think about is their own immortality. and thus they cause disaster eventually to themselves as well as the organism. Will humans in societies be smart enough to become normal cells instead of cancer cells? This may require spiritual growth,. but actually common sense and rationality might suffice. if only we can take a long-range point of view instead of a myopic one.

In economic production in societies, seven factors of production enter the process and three leave it. (See diagram above.) The seven inputs are land, natural resources. energy. labour, technology (knowledge), capital, and enterpreneurship. (Some economists make shorter lists, but I try to be inclusive.) Of these, the first three come from nature and the last four are social. The outputs are: goods, waste materials, and degraded energy. The energy input necessarily gets degraded, according to the law of entropy. The raw materials put in split into goods and “bads” (wastes) during the process. The first output (goods) is what we want, the reason for operating the process; the last two unavoidable outputs degrade the environment. We cannot entirely avoid them, but should look for reusing the wastes in some other process, or recycling them. Nature works in cycles, and so must the human economy, to be sustainable in the long range.

In the new alternative economy, the three natural inputs into production should be the common heritage of humankind, that is held and managed in common, worldwide. The exact institutional arrangements will not be discussed here. As Henry George maintains, land, natural resources and energy are free gifts of nature, not created by humans. We don’t make people pay for the air they breathe, and in some places for the water they drink, except when human technology has to be applied to keep the water safe and clean. Deep-sea metal resources have also been proclaimed a common heritage in the Law of the Sea Treaty. Why not mineral resources on land as well? This would be a very big change, to which many would object. I suggest that we begin to think about it.

The common management should also apply to the safe removal of the wastes (matter and energy), preferably by reuse or recycling. We cannot any longer enjoy the goods without managing the bads. An organism has organs for removing wastes as well as other organs to ingest fresh supplies of air and food. Society must also look for its own means of excretion and elimination. Wastes necessarily increase entropy, but like the biosphere, we must harness the energy of the Sun, directly or indirectly, to upgrade wastes again to be cyclically reusable. In analogy to a space ship, all materials must circulate in a closed system. This is impossible without an energy input, but plenty of energy is available from the Sun. There are no limits to solar energy, at least for the next billion years or so.

The last four input factors (labour, technology, capital, and entrepreneurship) are social, or human-generated. Therefore a case can be made to have them operate under free market mechanisms. These can be efficient, being a form of negative feedback (meaning self-regulation). The problem of allocating goods and benefits to the four sectors fairly are difficult and vexatious, as we well know. I am not sure that the market can provide social justice as well as economic efficiency. Further thought is needed here.

Of course, we need to rethink what we really want: an endless flow of goods from the industrial process, some of it luxury items for the rich? Do we want this even at the expense of environmental damage that will haunt future generations? Do we want it even if the poor cannot even get their basic needs fulfilled — their children dying of preventable causes? Or can we moderate our wants, live simply so that others can simply live, and derive our happiness from family, friends, and spiritual values? Again we end up with the desirability, even the necessity, for human spiritual growth.

Finally, I would add one more consideration. In the argument about which should be prior. individual rights or group rights, we need to consider the fact with which this article started. Societies. groups, or cultures have not yet evolved to the organismic stage, they are not coherent, harmonious, or conscious entities. Since human individuals have evolved to that stage, individual rights must take precedence over group rights, whenever the two are in conflict. (Of course, the extermination of a whole group in a genocide is the greatest evil of all, because it means the killing of a large number of individuals as well as the obliteration of their culture.) To kill or disable a human being is a greater loss than the disappearance or submergence of group identity. There is. direct physical pain and a loss of something experienced as a mirror of the whole world. This is not to say that the extinctjon of a cultural tradition is a minor matter — it is not. Loss of a tremendous amount of important information and diversity is involved The loss of the library of Alexandria is still mourned by scholars today. It is just that the worth of individual human beings still towers way above that of the still somewhat diffused, uncertain human cultures and societies.

We have yet to invent a proper metabolic regulator for the global provisioning economy, and provide the hormonal and neural mind for global political society. However, the process is underway. albeit too slowly and hesitatingly for many of us, and it is tremendously exciting to be part of this co-creation.


Just as life exists on the edge of chaos, so “society [exists] on the edge of anarchy”. (Simmons) We cannot be frozen like a crystal in perfect order. We must be able to make mistakes (even in cell replication) in order to evolve.

Internally, states are not quite orderly. Externally, the international system is not quite anarchic. Both are at different stages of a partially socialized state of nature. Each system is partly socialized, not so much by contract (though later that may happen), but rather by reciprocity (as formalized by Robert Axelrod in terms of game theory) and by sociobiology (concern for kin). Surprisingly, there may even be innate higher ethics, as Kant thought. This “conscience” may be just as innate as aggression, though of course they work against each other.

The internal order in stable democracies is in a more advanced stage of socialization than in “failed states” like Somalia, and also more advanced than the international system, but all of these are along the evolutionary spectrum toward an integrated order, in different stages, not at the extremes.

World federalists seek to convert international society (seen as totally Hobbesian) into a wholly integrated “Weltinnenpolitik” (Weizsacker). But not so fast! International society is not entirely Hobbesian, it is at least Grotian (obeying SOME international laws and sharing SOME functional norms), though not yet Kantian (cooperatively unified or federated). And domestic society is not totally stable, it can malfunction or even disintegrate (examples currently abound).

Even making humankind into one family fails as a metaphor — viz. Cain and Abel, so early on. We must proceed along the developmental path, from Hobbesian through Grotian to Kantian, at whatever speed it takes. In other words, ascend the Kohlberg moral development ladder from national selfishness to universal conscience. Perhaps we can speed up this natural process a little.


Synopsis of book by Peter Russell.

Note: This was prepared for a science and religion study group. It repeats much of what has been said in other essays in this collection but is included here as a good summary.

When humankind first caught a glimpse of Earth from space, there was a genuine feeling of awe and surprise. Beyond the beauty of the image lay something even deeper — a feeling that the whole planet is alive. Like a flea sitting on an elephant, we had been aware, up to this point, only of a small spot of our immediate surroundings. But as we jumped off the elephant’s skin and gained some distance and perspective, we began to wonder if the elephant could be actually a giant living creature.

Then James Lovelock formulated the Gaia hypothesis, which postulated that the Earth is a living organism in some sense, because it possesses several mechanisms of homeostasis, i.e. maintaining certain parameters constant, in spite of changes in the surroundings. For instance, it has kept its temperature within limits favourable to life over 4.5 billion years in spite of the fact that the Sun generated much less energy at the early time than it does now. Also, in the atmosphere we have oxygen and methane coexisting, when normally they would react to produce water and carbon dioxide. The salt content of the ocean also has not increased since very early times, although rivers keep on washing more salt into the oceans from the land. There are more such cases that can be cited. It is very similar to our bodies keeping a constant temperature, and our blood keeping a constant concentration of glucose and salt, for example, and other such homeostatic mechanisms. These are the well-recognized properties of living entities. (Regarding this see also the essay “Religion for the Coming Age” in Section VIII.)

Living systems, in the definition of James Miller, comprise not only bacteria, protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals (the 5 recognized Kingdoms of living organisms on Earth), but also societies (anthills and beehives as well as human societies), ecological systems, and the biosphere as a whole. They have certain properties in common, and certain subsystems or organs. Miller enumerated these as the ingestor (mouth), distributor (blood), converter (stomach and intestines), producer (protein synthesis or growth of new cells), storage (fat, bones), extruder (anus, lungs), motor (muscles), supporter (skeleton), input transducer (eyes, ears), internal transducer (part of the brain), channel and net (neural and hormonal system), decoder (retina, visual cortex), associator (parts of the brain), memory, decider, encoder (other parts of the brain), output transducer (voice box), reproducer (sexual organs), and boundary (skin). The items in brackets indicate examples of these from the human body, but these types of mechanisms also exist in societies and in the biosphere, which makes all these systems comparable.

Possession of these 19 subsystems is necessary, but not sufficient, to prove that these are living systems. Most machines and engines have many of these (though not reproduction, except the hypothetical Turing machine), but are not considered alive. They evolve (e.g. motor cars and computers), but only with human intervention, not spontaneously. The other two properties systems need to have, besides the 19 subsystems enumerated above, in order to be considered alive, are maintaining homeostasis and being spontaneously self-organizing; and the biosphere does have these. (Gaia still lacks a reproductive system, but this would happen ifwe establish space colonies or colonize other planets.)

So what is humanity’s role in the Gaia system? There are two choices: we could become the global brain, or we could become a cancer that will kill the system. There is some evidence of the latter: aerial photographs of urban sprawl look remarkably like microscope pictures of cancer tissue; and we are obviously damaging the system in many ways. But there is also evidence for becoming Gaia’s brain: cities are like nerve ganglia, mail and telecommunications are like nerve fibers, libraries are like memory. The cultures of East and West are. comparable to right brain and left brain hemispheres. Humans are late additions to the biosphere, just like complex brains are late additions to animal bodies.

Where do we come from, in space and time? Ancient religions and cultures tell various creation stories, and science has some of its own to tell. None of them are necessarily THE definitive, final story. because all our knowledge, from whatever source, is to some degree tentative and hypothetical. But the science-derived creation story is very inspiring, nevertheless.

Once I saw a McLaren cartoon from the National Film Board of Canada, entitled “The Cosmic Zoom”. It starts with a mosquito alighting on the bare arm of a boy sitting in a small boat on the Ottawa river in the city of Ottawa. From this image, the camera zooms up to the whole city of Ottawa, a map of the surrounding area, a map of Canada, of North America, the Earth from space, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the local galaxy cluster, the super-cluster, the structure of “bubbles and voids” and the “Great Wall”, the whole visible Universe…Then back we zoom to the boy in the boat, and down to the mosquito, the boy’s red blood cell which the mosquito has just swallowed, the protein and heme molecules, the amino acid units, the atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen…the electrons and atomic nuclei, the protons and neutrons, the quarks within them…Then zoom up again to the boy in the boat who had just been bitten by a mosquito.

We are located in space about midway in this range of sizes; that is the only world we know directly through our senses. The extremes of the very large and the very small are known only from scientific inference, but we have come to believe them, provisionally, because there is a considerable body of converging evidence. Yet there is never a water-tight “proof’; theories change with time as new evidence comes in. Also we should remember that actually even the data derived directly from our sense organs are already interpreted and elaborated a great deal by our brain processes, so that we never really observe “things in themselves”, reality in the raw. Everything is only a reasonable but uncertain inference on the basis of converging lines of evidence.

Where can we place ourselves in the time dimension? Cosmologists now believe (again tentatively, but with some consensus) that the universe began with the Big Bang, an explosive expansion from an incredibly small, dense, and hot place about 15 billion years ago, and that it has been expanding ever since. In the very early stages there was a superfast expansion stage called “inflation”, but then normal expansion continued. At first all the 4 forces of nature (strong nuclear, weak nuclear. electromagnetic, and gravitational) were united as a single force, but very quickly they split off, one by one, in a process called “symmetry-breaking”.

Note: The following paragraphs should be read in conjunction with “Eons of the Universe” (Section X) and “The Temperature Zoom” (Section III).

By 10 -43 sec the universe had cooled to 10 32 K, and the gravitational force separated out.

Matter and energy were not yet separate entities. By 10 -34 sec the temperature was 10 27 K. Quarks and electrons and their anti-particles formed as the first form of T8tter (fermions rather than bosons) and the strong force (which holds quarks 3ogether) split off By 10 -10 sec the weak and electromagnetic forces separated from each other. By 10 -5 sec the temperature was down to 10 12 K, and quarks were able to stick together as protons and neutrons. (They have been “confined” there ever since and no one has ever observed them outside.) At some stage the particles and anti-particles annihilated each other producing photons of light; but there was a small excess of particles over anti-particles, and from this small excess all the matter which now exists in the universe is derived. The bulk of the initially existing matter and anti-matter was changed into energy in the form of photons (which are bosons, not fermions). [“Let there be light” said the Lord and there was light.]

Note: Fermions differ from bosons by the fact that no two fermions can be in the same place at the same time (matter is impenetrable), while bosons can. Still, matter and energy are inter-convertible by E = Mc 2 , where c is the velocity of light. And while fermions are primarily particles with some wave properties, and bosons are primarily waves with some particle properties, yet both partake of both modes of being some of the time.

Continuing our story: By 1 sec, electron-positron annihilation produced more photons. By 1 minute, nuclei of the three lightest atoms, hydrogen (H), helium (He), and lithium (Li) formed — but mainly hydrogen. By 300,000 years, and at 3000 OK, nuclei captured electrons and formed the first atoms. Photons were now free to travel great distances in the form of light, no longer being squeezed in by the material particles and buffeted about by them in multiple collisions as in a thick soup. The universe suddenly cleared as intermediate empty spaces became available. This event is called “matter-energy decoupling”. (One could compare it to “illumination” or “enlightenment”, but that is poetic licence.)

After 1 billion years galaxies formed. After 3 billion years stars were formed within galaxies. Both these processes were due to the gravitational collapse of large masses of gases (mainly hydrogen) because of initial inhomogeneities in the distribution of matter. (Evidence for this was just very recently obtained from slight inhomogeneities in the background radiation left over from the Big Bang.) As the first generation of stars went through their lifetime sequence (rather shorter than that of presentgeneration stars, because the first stars were more massive and used up their thermonuclear fuel much faster) and burned out in massive supernova explosions, the nuclei of all the heavier atoms all the way up to uranium were formed, in a process called nucleosynthesis. All future generations of stars after that contained these heavier elements as well as the primordial H, He and Li, since the expanding shells of debris from the stellar explosions blew this new “star-dust” all over the universe. (Compare this with “Nucleosynthesis — Then and Now” in Section III.)

After 10.4 billion years the solar system was formed; the sun as a middle-sized star like many others in one of the spiral arms of one of the spiral galaxies. But our star, the Sun, had a planetary system formed at about the same time. The inner 4 planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) were largely made of the heavier elements, with the hydrogen mainly blown off because their weak gravity could not hold this very light element (except when combined with oxygen as water or with nitrogen as ammonia or with carbon as methane, etc.). It is not known how many stars in our own galaxy or in other galaxies also have planetary systems, because we are not able to observe planets (except in our own solar system) with our telescopes. Probably there are many, but likely not around the binary star systems, where two stars orbit around each other.

In another 2 billion years after the creation of the solar system (that is 12.4 billion years after the Big Bang) life began on Earth, first as bacteria, i.e. prokaryotic cells (without cell nuclei). Life on Earth has now lasted for 4.6 billion years. We have not been able to find any life on any other planet or satellite in the solar system, but we know nothing about other possible planetary systems. (This would make the universe 17 billion years old rather than 15, as we originally said, but there is still much uncertainty about the age of the universe.)

Stars are too hot to have atoms assemble into molecules, but on the much cooler planets this process went on. (So remember: we had quarks going together to form protons and neutrons, the latter to assemble into atomic nuclei, the nuclei and electrons forming atoms, and now atoms going together into molecules; but the aggregation process continues from there, as we shall now see.) (Cf. “Radical Vitalism” in Section VIII.) On Earth water became very common; this has been called the water planet, since the oceans cover 2/3 of the surface, and importantly, the water is in liquid form, because the Earth receives just enough solar radiation to keep much of the water from freezing to ice (though some of it does), but not so much radiation to make the oceans vaporize (though there is some water vapour in the atmosphere). The Earth is located in a fairly narrow belt around the sun where water can exist in the liquid form. Without this, life as we know it could not exist. (“As we know it” is an important qualification; we know nothing about the possibility of silica-based life or other forms.) Simple compounds also form on asteroids, comets, and as clouds and dust in interplanetary space (in very dilute form, since this is a near-vacuum), but perhaps not in interstellar and inter-galactic space — again, we don’t know.

In all these places and on Earth as well, simple carbon compounds assemble themselves into straight or branched chains and rings, since carbon is unique in its ability to bond to itself into larger molecules. Some of these simple carbon molecules contain not only carbon and hydrogen, but also oxygen (like sugars and fats) and nitrogen and sometimes sulfur (as in amino acids) and phosphorus (as in nucleotides) and occasionally iron, manganese, copper, zinc, etc. Energy is needed to assemble some of these molecules, since the most stable form of carbon is carbon dioxide; but in a reducing atmosphere, such as existed on the pre-biotic Earth, this did not take too much energy — it could have been derived from lightning or volcanism, for example. (See “The Origin of Life” in Section VIII.)

The further step to macromolecules also requires energy: here amino acids assemble themselves into long chains of proteins, and nucleotides to nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) by polymerization. Again, from the energy point of view, this process is quite feasible, though it is “uphill). But there is a bigger problem: in order to create proteins and nucleic acids that can function in living cells, they have to have very particular and specific sequences of the 20 amino acids and the 4 kinds of purine and pyrimidine bases on the nucleic acids, because the proteins have to function as enzymes and so have to have very particular folding configurations and conformations. These sequences are very “improbable”, in the sense that only a few from among incredibly huge permutations and combinations would “work”. The problem is, how were these “selected” from among all the possibilities? It goes against the law of entropy to have them assemble purely by chance. You say that there were billions of years of time to achieve this? Yes, but is this enough time? According to some calculations, it is not. There might have been some short-cut, or a way to speed it up, by preferred selection. (Cf. Psyche’s first labour in “Reinterpretation of Psyche’s Labours” in Section VIII.)

Nobody really knows how life started. (Notice how often in this story we have to say “we don’t know”? But this is healthy, far better than pretending that there is certainty and making it into a dogma. It leaves room for further learning.) Some say it had to start with the nucleic acids, because only they can self-replicate. But then, in living things as they are now, proteins are needed to help nucleic acids replicate, and in turn proteins are made from the information stored in nucleic acids as genes. So we seem to have a closed cycle which could not start by itself, like the question about chickens and eggs. In fact the “dogma” in biology is “omne vivum ex vivo”, life comes only from life, i.e. no spontaneous generation.

Except the very first time, somehow.

Some people think that the first precursor might have been RNA, because it has been shown that it can sometimes act as an enzyme as well as being able to replicate itself, so it could have pulled itself up by its bootstraps, so to speak. Freeman Dyson (“Infinite in All Directions”) thinks that life started with proteins: natural selection would produce partially functioning enzymes (though inefficient by modern standards) which could catalyze energy production and keep these very primitive proto-cells operating as Prigoginian self-organizing structures (it would take us too far afield to explain this). (But see “The Origin of Life” in Section VIII.) Later, he thinks, the primitive energy-storing nucleotide A TF “accidently” polymerized to the first nucleic acid, which for a time made the host proto-cell “sick” because it was like a virus (viruses are also nucleic acids) — but then the proteins and nucleic acids developed a symbiosis to form the first true (bacterial) cells. Ingenious, but is it true? No one knows.

The first cells that formed did not have cell nuclei and are called prokaryotes. These are the bacteria, the earliest and still most abundant form of Earth life. The whole very long pre-Cambrian era had nothing but bacteria, for almost 3/4 of the whole history of life on Earth. They derived energy from various forms of fermentation, i.e. breaking up methane, sulfur compounds etc. to liberate energy, but when these energy supplies ran low, producing the very first energy crisis, the cyanobacteria (blue-green “algae”) invented photosynthesis, a process which uses the sun’s energy to build sugars from carbon dioxide and water, while liberating oxygen. The sugars could then be used for energy production, at firST by fermentation while atmospheric oxygen was still low. But eventually the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere built up to its present levels of 21 %, largely derived from photosynthesis, though the weathering of certain minerals might have helped. For some so-called anaerobic bacteria oxygen was a poison (so to them this was the very first pollution catastrophe), and they retired to remote corners of habitat where air could not penetrate, such as marshes and hotsprings and the ocean bottom. But other bacteria (aerobic ones) and higher forms of life which now got a chance to develop learned how to use oxygen in respiration. Using the same molecule of the simple sugar glucose, respiration liberates ten times the amount of energy than is available from fermentation. (The respiratory cycle of reactions, the Krebs cycle, is still attached as an afterthought at the end of anaerobic glycolysis, because this is how ir happened historically in evolution.)

Cell biologist Lynn Margulis (1982) has a marvellous theory of the origin of the bigger, more complex type of cell, the eukaryotic cell. (Notice: we are still assembling larger and larger units from smaller components.) The eukaryotic cell, she thinks, formed by a symbiosis of various kinds of simpler, smaller prokaryotic cells. The photosynthetic unit called the chloroplast, which green plants have, is derived from cyanobacteria; the respiratory units called the mitochondria which all eukaryotes have are derived from aerobic bacteria; the host unit in which the other two are incorporated is derived from a cell which first segregated its genetic material (DNA) in a distinct cell nucleus, from having been scattered throughout the cytoplasm. The presence of a nucleus then made possible true cell division by mitosis, and eventually sexual reproduction. (Bacteria can conjugate to exchange genetic materials, but not really fuse as in fertilization.)

Another great advance resulted from the creation of the eukaryotic cell: multicellular organisms appeared for the first time. This was the signal for the beginning of the Cambrian era, sometimes called “the Cambrian explosion” of the great diversity of (especially) animal life. Living forms on Earth are now generally divided into five Kingdoms, of which the bacteria are the first. The next one up, consisting of eukaIyotic unicells, is the protists or protozoa, like Amoeba and Paramecium. Three multicellular kingdoms sit on top of the protists: fungi, plants, and animals. Animals and fungi depend on plants for energy supplies, since only plants among the multicellular kingdoms carry on photosynthesis. Plants are the primary producers, fungi and animals are the parasites or exploiters. Plants are the chemical virtuosos, able to synthesize everything they need, plus a lot of drugs that we can use or abuse. Animals are particularly good in locomotion and in having a nervous system, so that they can develop various increasing forms of consciousness. (But they can also feel pain.)

Diagram: copy of the “5 Kingdoms hand”. (Margulis 1982)

In multicellular organisms, cells differentiate to perform various functions (nerve, muscle, skin, blood cell), but that also means that most of these cells become dependent on the others, no longer capable of independent existence, like the bacteria and the protists. In sponges and slime moulds, tIi.e cells come back together again after they separate or are artificially separated, but in the higher multicellular beings this is no longer possible. Multicellular organisms also need broad highways for transporting materials, like the blood of animals and the sap of plants, and ways of communication, as in the immune, hormone, and nervous systems of animals.

Some of the multicellular organisms associate themselves into societies (ants, bees, birds, lions, apes, and humans). (We are still building bigger and bigger units.) Even among non-social animals, a family unit sometimes stays together to protect the young.

Humans are late-comers on the scene: if the history of life on Earth is represented as one year, humans evolved less than a minute before midnight on December 31. (See also “Twelve Hours from Noon to Midnight” in Section I.) But humans have the largest and most complex brains, and they form loosely organized and often chaotic societies which are still evolving.

Summarizing then: Through time, there is a succession of sizes of aggregates along the cosmic zoom axis:

  1. From the very large to the middle-sized, we go from universe to galaxy to star/solar system to a planet like Earth.
  1. From the very small to the middle-sized, we go from quarks to protons/neutrons to simple atomic nuclei to the bigger atomic nuclei to atoms to small molecules to macromolecules to prokaryotic cells to eukaryotic cells to multicellular organisms to societies, with a side branch in which individual nerve cells (neurons) form complex brains.

We have selected only some of the multiple aggregation processes which occur, of course; but our skeleton scheme is designed to come together at the human size, like the double zoom on the boy in a boat on the Ottawa river. This is an anthropomorphic view (and Canadian ethnocentric as well), but nevertheless meaningful and valid for us.

Peter Russell stresses the sequentially emergent entities (hidden orders) becoming manifest: energy, matter, life, mind, consciousness. The evolving complexity occurs through three mechanisms: diversity, organization (i.e. pattern), and connectivity. This could also be described as simultaneous differentiation and integration, as observed e.g. in a developing embryo. (See “Social Development”, Section IX.) But evolution differs basically from embryonic development, in that it is being done for the first time, laying down (pioneering) a pattern, not following a pattern. The first-time pattern-formation (evolution) can be likened to the leader stroke of lightning, faint but ionizing the air, preparing it for the powerful main stroke, the repeated pattern reproduction along a previously smoothed path, followed during embryonic development. The overall process has been called morphogenesis, the creation of form, by Rupert Sheldrake.

Russell also stresses the critical threshold number of 10 billion. There are about 10 billion atoms in a living cell, about 10 billion neurons (nerve cells) in a human brain, and he predicts that, when there are about 10 billion people on the Earth (as there already almost are), Gaia’s brain will come together as a higher functioning integrated whole, a new emergent quality. This does, however, depend on our choice whether we want to function in this integrated spiritual way, or be a disorganized and disorganizing cancer on Gaia, of which she would have to cure herself by arranging for our extinction, or succumb herself.

Russell explains the principles of self-organization in Prigoginian dissipative structures. These are open systems (i.e. with inflow and outflow of matter and energy), far from thermodynamic equilibrium, and containing self-reinforcement (positive feedback) cycles as well as homeostatic (negative-feedback) cycles. The most primitive ones, like the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction (a system of chemicals which periodically turns blue and colourless as it cycles through repeating stages) are in no sense alive, though they seem to have some precursor properties of life, namely self-organization and pattern maintenance.

The most interesting part of the behaviour of dissipative structures is how they can further evolve. If fluctuations from the strictly repetitive periodic behaviour occur, they will subside if they are weak and allow the system to revert to its previous state. However, if fluctuations accumulate or become stronger beyond a certain limit, the system either breaks down and returns to thermodynamic equilibrium (a process equivalent to death), or reorganizes itself spontaneously to a more complex state, in which it can again persist and maintain itself. (This is called “bifurcation”.) This is the process of evolution through repeated breakdown-or-breakthrough crises, which accounts for the “punctuated evolution process” with its rapid step-ups and intermediate plateau stages of consolidation (the staircase or rise-andrun process pattern). (See “Rise and Run” in Section X.) In yet another view, the state of high fluctuations or rapid change or crisis can be seen as a passage through “chaos”, in the new physical-mathematical theories of that name, on the way from the old order to a new order (or to oblivion). (The world political process of human history is passing through a stage of Chaos right now, with the New World Order as yet undetermined as to its characteristics.)

Russell then makes the point that the tempo of evolution has been increasing. The age of the prokaryotes took a very long time, more than half the time of life on Earth. When the more complex eukaryotes developed, it did not take too long for them to give rise to multicellular organisms in the higher kingdoms. Jumping ahead to human evolution, most of the time of human existence on Earth was spent in stages of hunter-gatherer societies. But cultural evolution is very much faster than biological evolution, because information gathered in a life-time can be passed on through language and other instruction to the young, so that we have something akin to the inheritance of acquired characters like Lamark’s old theory, which was disproved by Darwin in biological evolution, but is flourishing in cultural evolution.

The book shows exponential curves of agricultural development (not shown in the figure), then an even steeper curve of rising incl.ustrial development, and now the superfast growth of information technologies (computers etc.), each curve crossing the previous one in its rise, though it began later. (Somehow that reminds me of the crescendo of excitement in the rising stages of Ravel’s Bolero.) Finally he appends one more curve, which he sees rising even faster than computers — the curve of rising interest in spiritual development of human faculties. It is this which could save us, in his view.

First of all, the linking up of us 5 to 10 billion humans around the world with telecommunications, fax machines and e-mail can be likened to the development of the embryonic brain, in which nerve fibers grow out rapidly to link up with each other in synapses until the whole brain becomes integrated into one vast communications machine. We are now engaged in this linking up process with all humanity as a whole. But when we are all interconnected, the final outcome will still depend on the content and the quality of our communications. If we remain each of us separate as a “skinencapsulated ego”, the process will fail. We have to become aware of our interconnectedness at a spiritual level. Only then will a new emergent quality appear — from consciousness to supermind. This is happening not so much to humans as to Gaia.

Thus we have the following main transitional stages (emergence through emergency): energy to matter through symmetry-breaking (but remaining related through wave-particle duality and interconversion); matter to life by self-organization; life to mind and consciousness through brain organization; persons to planet through communication and spirituality.

From Peter Russell The Awakening Earth, p.168.

This last step, which is the main point of Russell’s book, means a transition from a low-synergy society to a high-synergy society. Low synergy is due. to the self-defensiveness of individuals, evident in models such as “economic man” and “rational (game) player”, both meaning a maximizer of individual gain. We now know that this leads to certain paradoxes of rationality, such as Prisoner’s Dilemma and Tragedy of the Commons. Adam Smith thought that it leads to the common good “as if by an invisible hand”, but this is true only under some special circumstances, not always. It works in certain systems when there are many small buyers and sellers of approximately equal power, but not when economic bargaining power is concentrated in only a few hands. As well, the safeguarding of collective goods, such as clean water and air and a fertile soil, must be done by collective policies, to eliminate the problem of free-riders (people who benefit without contributing). All this means that we need to transform ourselves from maximizing our individual good to maximizing the collective good. This will overcome the above-named paradoxes of rationality and lead to the high-synergy society. It does mean a paradigm change in our concept of self and who we are in relation to others and to nature as a whole. (See also “0. Common Essence” in Section IX.)

Our deeper identity is the greater Self; the process of attaining it was called “individuation” by C. Jung, “self-actualization” by Maslow, “enlightenment” by Buddhists, and “being born again” by Christians. All is one in the Perennial Philosophy of mysticism (Aldous Huxley), and in general systems theory as well. Individuals relate to each other in a “I-Thou” relationship (not “I-it”), according to Buber. The observer and the observed are not separate. David Bohm’s “implicate order” is like a hologram — every pixel contains the whole image. We need experience of this, not only intellectual knowledge. This would be the new Copernican revolution. It would lead to enlightenment, to unconditional love. Maslow discussed the “peak experience” which is attainable by many. Transcendental meditation, Zen, biofeedback, sensory isolation, and hypnosis are some of the “psychotechnologies” that people are using to achieve it.

Are minds directly affecting each other? If not yet, can they eventually? Do exceptional individuals do this already? Are they the wave of the future? Is enlightenment contagious? Transcendental meditators ™ claim that they have decreased crime and violence rates in a city through meditation (Hagelin and Johnson). Is this the effect of some kind of “coherence” of minds, like the light in a laser beam being all in phase? (Superconducting materials, superfluid liquids like helium, and ferromagnetism are other, physical examples of coherence, with different “emergent” properties, Why not minds?) The TM theorists themselves refer to “the unified field”. (Compare these with the super-cold turning into the super-hot in “Eons of the Universe”, Section XII.)

These are some of the questions being asked. It is too early to tell. We are in one of those rapid transitions, in “the rapids of change” (Theobald’s phrase). We must be open to change, while remaining critical and careful evaluators of the evidence. Both imaginative innovation and use of accumulated experience and wisdom are needed to be able to steer safely through the white-water rapids in our frail craft.


It is sometimes said, in arguing in favour of human unity, that we are all connected to one another at some level. To some, it seems to indicate a supra-conscious or unconscious connection, as in Jung’s Collective Unconscious or in a Collective Supraconscious attainable by group meditation, as in a Quaker meeting.

To my way of thinking, we are not so much connected to each other (though we may be), as we are aware of sharing a common nature or essence. It is not only that of God in each of us, but also a common evolutionary origin, a common (though differentiated) structure of body, brain, and mind, a common way (more or less) of functioning in action, of processing information, oflearning and acquiring knowledge, of feeling love and hate, pain and pleasure, joy and alienation, fear and anger, and a common way of interacting with others and building social relationships. We see the world in similar ways: the colours red and green, the sounds of wind and waves on the beach, the smell of violets and roses, the touch of the grass on bare feet, and above all, the loving touch of each other’s bodies. We KNOW what it is like to be another Thou. A person similar in all essentials to ourselves. This, in turn, is the basis of all ethics: since we don’t want ourselves to be hurt, we have no right to hurt others, who share our common essence.

Human links are not bonds of contiguity and confluence, primarily, but bonds of similarity and commonality. (Imitative magic, not contagious magic.) This is felt intuitively, as in the very different reaction to mannequins (or statues) than to living persons, to the recorded message and to spoken words.

It is a feeling of Presence.


We are certainly fortunate that the Cold War ended before the Iraq crisis broke out. Otherwise we would have had a superpower confrontation in the most dangerous hot spot in the world — the Middle East. Imagine facing not only Iraq’s chemical weapons and Israeli nuclear weapons (it doesn’t matter that the latter are on “our” side; we are all on the same side, like a Moebius strip), but in addition also the entire U.S. and Soviet super-arsenals aimed at each other.

But the Cold War did end in the nick of time (we don’t deserve to be so lucky), and we now have a different configuration, about whose consequences we might also be doubtful. Effectively there is now only one superpower in the world — and who will keep the U.S. in check? They feel that they “won” the Cold War, and that they can do no wrong. Such self-righteousness, combined with unchecked military might, spells pride, the deadliest sin which precedes a fall.

However, it will be objected that there is now a much better chance for cooperation of the Big Five in the U.N. Security Council, and in fact, we have witnessed this cooperation in the Gulf crisis. They not only declared military sanctions against Iraq when Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait, but also approved the use of minimum force to enforce the sanctions — really a blockade, though it is euphemistically called a quarantine (because blockade is defined as an act of war). It does not demand such use of minimum force, but only permits it; the USSR was able to soften the wording of the resolution to this extent from what the U.S. had originally proposed.

To have the Big Five cooperate in the U.N. Security Council is something new, and some would say hopeful. They used to veto each other’s resolutions during the Cold War, thus blocking effective action in crises in which their proxies or client states were involved. As we were repeatedly told, this Cold War polarization of world politics prevented the U.N., especially the Security Council, from operating as the founders had intended. But now, with the polarization dissolved by the great changes of 1989 in Eastern Europe and the USSR, The original U.N. design can be realized and the founders’ dreams can come true. It is claimed that we are seeing the first example of this new mode of U.N. operation in the Gulf crisis. So how do we like it?

This mode of operation is called “collective security”. Its essence is that, if any nation commits aggression against any other nation, all the nations in the U.N. (i.e. in the world) will unite and cooperate to oppose the aggression, and will take appropriate joint actions to force the aggressor to retreat from its conquest and restore the situation as it was before the aggression (i.e. to return all loot and pay reparations for damage done). The “appropriate actions” might include economic sanctions or military intervention or both. This type of U.N. enforcement action is quite different from U.N. peace-keeping, which usual means impartial supervision of an armistice, truce or cease-fire. U.N. enforcement was tried only once before, in the Korean War in the late 1940s, and this developed into a large-scale war with millions of people killed, civilians as well as military.

The application of U.N. collective security in the Gulf crisis has its positive side: the near-unanimous consensus of all nations to condemn Iraq’s aggression and to stay united as a coalition; moreover, this coalition includes most of the Arab nations as well. But there is also a negative side, such as the U.S. acting too fast (ahead of U.N. authorization), not putting its forces and those of its allies under U.N. command (as had been done in the Korean War), the U.S. reacting with excessive vigor, pressing at the U.N. to allow military intervention before the economic sanctions had a chance to work, and sometimes declaring that they might intervene militarily even without U.N. authorization, which would be illegal according to the U.N. Charter.

However, supposing the negative effects had not occurred, and U.S. actions and words had always been in strict accordance with U.N. requirements, the question still remains: are we happy with the application of the collective security system by the U.N. Security Council in the Gulf crisis? Do we want to see similar actions in other future crises? Is this how the future global military security system should operate?

Even those of us who are strong supporters of the U.N. have serious doubts. The confrontation over Iraq-Kuwait is very dangerous; it might even trigger nuclear war and spread beyond the region, giving rise to World War III. This of course is the worst possible outcome for all of us. Even if the consequences turn out not to be quite so extreme, it would be a very large war which would kill millions of people, most of them largely innocent of any wrong-doing, and might be fought with local mass-destruction weapons whose fall-out would be felt outside the region. Are we prepared to risk this for the sake of a principle of international law? (The cynics would say “for the sake of oil”, but I want to refrain from imputing improper motives to anyone.)

The risk of World War III exists in spite of the fact that the U.S. and the USSR are on the same side in this dispute, because of the presence of mass-destruction weapons in the arsenals of regional powers, as already mentioned. We are, in the 1990s, into an age when weapons of mass destruction have proliferated to ambitious regional powers who feel themselves under military threat. This includes Iraq and Israel in the Middle East, but also, further along the chain of nations called “the fuse” along which war might spread if ignited anywhere along it, such mutual adversaries as India and Pakistan, both also actual or potential proliferators.

The trouble with collective security is that you sometimes have to fight a war to stop a war. That might have worked for the times of the League of Nations (when it was unfortunately never used, even in terms of economic sanctions against proven aggressors), but it is too dangerous in the age of nuclear and chemical weapons. The only way to go now is to prevent a war before it starts, not to punish the guilty party afterwards; and eventually, gradually, to abolish war altogether — even a “just war” to defeat aggression. Otherwise we might bring to reality the old Latin saying “Fiat Iustitia, Pereat Mundus” (“Let Justice Prevail Though the World Would Perish”).

Having said that, it behooves us to specify alternative courses of action, or we would be immobilized in the face of evil-doers on the international scene. (In fact, we already are almost powerless against the real big evil-doers when they commit aggression, like the U.S. in Panama.)

In the long-range ideal situation, of course, there would be a world federation in a disarmed world, and law-breakers would be simply arrested and brought to trial, without involving the innocent people of their nation in any way. But we do not yet live in such a world, and cannot hide behind future Utopias when asked for alternative ways of acting in the present imperfect world. The other long-range ideal solution advocated by another section of the peace movement, namely a principled application of Gandhian nonviolence, may also not be fully applicable to the present problem, though it should be kept in mind as a part of some larger strategy mix.

What we are saying is that, while world federation and principled nonviolence are long-range alternatives, it may already be possible to start applying parts of them piecemeal. This might not only help in the present predicament, but also act as a building block in the transition to that long-range future. To act “as if” desired institutions already exist is often more powerful than a thousand words in making it actually happen in the real world. Some of this is, in fact, already happening, in recent successes of U.N. peace-keeping and mediation efforts in regional disputes such as Namibia, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola, and Western Sahara, and in the people-power demonstrated successfully in the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and South Africa.

Still, we must have other, more immediate, alternatives available as well. The U.N. should be transformed from the collective security model to the common security model (see my article in Peace Magazine, August 1990). Briefly, while collective security uses a model of criminal law (push back and punish the aggressor), common security is more like civil law, looking for equitable resolution of disputes between parties who are both partly guilty and partly victims; essentially, they have a problem that needs to be solved, rather than dealing with a one-sided injustice that must be righted. Collective security is more legalistic and focuses what must be done after war breaks out, while common security is more sociological and concentrates on how war should be prevented. Collective security is very definite in its prescription, common security is more vague but also more flexible. U.N. peace-keeping should continue to play a role in future U.N. common security practices, as should conflict resolution by mediation, arbitration, adjudication, votes and referenda, or various innovative methods recently suggested.

Dietrich Fischer (“Components of an Active Peace Policy”) advocates three lines of “defence in depth” against the possibility of war. First, very generally among all nations in peace-time, practise functional cooperation on global problems — which is very necessary anyway as these problems are urgent. It is a well-documented finding of peace research that cooperation on superordinate goals tends to abolish enemy images and overcome hostile feelings. (See Muzafer Sherif et al, “Robber’s Cave Experiment”). Secondly, when disputes still arise (as they will), practise conflict resolution in all the myriad forms invented and perfected by social scientists in recent years. The repertory of skills is really quite large and the literature in this fast-growing field is extensive. It is important not to give up too soon on conflict resolution, as success often requires patience and time. Thirdly and finally, if military force begins to be used, we should depend on non-offensive defence (NOD) in order to moderate the dire consequences of military violence. If the armies before the war adopt the NOD stance,

they will be perceived as less threatening to each other and will make an outbreak of war less likely. NOD consists of never initiating war, never invading foreign territory even “in hot pursuit”, but defending one’s own territory if invaded — and making that intention clear to the opponent not only as declaratory policy statements, but reflecting it in the type of military equipment and forces deployed.

How would we apply these prescriptions to the Gulf crisis? It is too late to apply some of them — like functional cooperation — but not too late for conflict resolution. Negotiations should never be refused just because some pre-conditions have not been satisfied. There is a problem with applying NOD: we want to get Iraq out of Kuwait, which implies offensive action at this point. Still, perhaps it could take the form of “non-lethal offence”, on the model of Canadian army actions in last summer’s Oka stand-off — declaring not to shoot first while going in, admitting reporters to the scene of action with a full blare of publicity, avoiding surprise and secrecy, and engaging in intensive tactical negotiations with the adversary (who does what to whom tomorrow). (See my separate article on this for more)


In many patterns of development, there appears a succession of stages, alternating between spurts of rapid change and quiet plateaus of consolidation. This is observed, for example, in child development: intellectual development according to Piaget, emotional development according to Erikson, and moral development according to Kohlberg, all proceed through these stepwise changes. In young children, the emotional development is driven by the drive for autonomy and initiative, which energizes the spurts, and the need for security (trust) and achievement (industry), which motivates the plateaus. The balance between the two drives or needs itself varies throughout development, with one or the other predominating at different stages. Two contrary drives are sufficient to explain wave-like or oscillating lines of development. In Kohlberg’s scheme, too, conforming or pleasing (stage 3) and obeying laws or a social contract (stages 4 and 5) is “conservative” (plateau-like), while pursuing individual pleasure (stage 2) and obeying individual conscience (stage 6) seems “radical” (spurt-like or spontaneous).

In evolutionary theory, Stephen Jay Gould (1980) has proposed the idea of “punctuated development”. Since the transition stages ITom one species to another are usually missing from the fossil record, he postulated that the change must be very rapid in terms of geological time. This makes sense conceptually also; for what use or selective advantage would be a bird’s wing half-formed? The transitional forms or “missing links” must be very fragile and probably most don’t make it through the storm of change. Finally, if the new structure by some chance survives the transition, it stabilizes as a new species and enters a plateau of quiet existence.

In the history of civilizations, Toynbee prefaces his extensive treatment of this with the parable of the climber: a man ascending a mountain negotiating steep cliffs at times, then ambling along horizontal ledges with magnificent views in between. The general direction is up, but with pauses to recover strength and push on to the next cliff. Individual civilizations go through cycles of rise and fall like individual life- times, but the cross-civilizational trend is like that of the climber. Another parable Toynbee uses is that of a wagon-wheel: it goes through a cycle in each rotation, yet it moves forward along the road.

The general pattern in all these examples is that of a staircase: the spurt of rapid change is the yertical “rise”, the plateau of stability is the horizontal “run”. The contrast of revolution versus evolution is not a real one: revolution is part of evolution, but only one part of it. The two concepts are related as part is to the whole.

Erickson and Kohberg diagrams

Erickson Stages of Child and Youth Development
Stage Phase Type Age (in years)
1. Basic Trust Plateau
overcome fear
2. Autonomy
3. Initiative
Overcome dependency
4. Industry Plateau (run) 6-11
5. Identity Crisis (rise)
Overcome confusion
(teen years)
6. Intimacy Plateau
Overcome loneliness
18-25 (?)
7. Generativity 25-35
(child rearing)

Crisis which he does not specify
perhaps age 40
(the mid-life crisis)
8. Maturity Plateau
Overcome fear of death
40 -?
Kohlberg Stages of Moral Development (How individuals satisfy right behavior)
1. Fear of punishment young child
2. Seeking rewards older child
3. Conformity to please others still older child (and a few adults
4. Obeying law and order some adults end here
5. Observing social contract rules some develop further
6. Living universal conscience ethics some develop further

Prigogine (Jantsch) explains the mechanism of rapid transitions (rises) as due to accumulations or accentuations of fluctuations from the previous stable state, until a flip occurs to a new stable state, which may be either a collapse to a much lower state (e.g. thermodynamic equilibrium or death), or a jump (like the quantum jump of an electron in an atom excited by light) to a higher state. This choice has been called by several names: crisis (Chinese word: danger and opportunity), catastrophe or transformation (Dorothy Baker’s scheme of the development of civilizations), breakdown or breakthrough. Robert Theobald has called it “The Rapids of Change” referring to our time of future shock and uncertainty.

Run and rise is tied in with the nature of the feedbacks operating in a system. On the plateaus, most cycles have negative feedback, which maintains homeostasis. In the animal organism, negative feedback preserves constant levels of temperature, sugar levels in the blood, levels of sodium and potassium ions in nerve cells. In the Earth’s ecology, negative feedbacks maintain the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle. On the rises, positive feedbacks (escalations, accelerations, explosions) appear, which disturb homeostasis and tend to flip the system to a different state, which they may succeed in doing if enough of them point in the same direction.

While homeostasis is basic to life, rapid change is basic to evolution, and therefore negative and positive feedbacks are both necessary. Negative feedbacks necessarily predominate, even in the stormy rises, otherwise the system would be torn to pieces; a certain degree of stability is essential.

Translating this into socio-political terms, we have largely conservatism (maintaining traditions inherited from our ancestors through the mechanisms of cultural evolution), but a small element of radicalism, which is also necessary to provide the flexibility for adapting to environmental changes; the radicals provide a reserve of diversity which may become relevant in a changed environment, even if irrelevant now. A totally adapted stable conservative system could not survive environmental change. A totally radical system would blow itself to bits !hrough explosions, called “revolutions”.

Life always thrives in a mid-region between freezing and boiling, between inactivity and hyper-activity, between apathy and enthusiasm, between solid and gas. (See essay “The Goldilocks Effect” in Section VIII.) But it runs along a jagged line in this zone, with the rises pointing toward hyper-activity and the runs toward placidity. Life is precariously balanced between these extremes. It may weave along the road, but must not land in the ditches on each side. episodes of Pangea occurred in Pre-Cambrian times when only unicells existed, in fact mainly Prokaryotes, and these are not well preserved in fossils.

Some rises in the history of life have been highly destructive. The eight great extinctions, of which the Permian was the most severe (90% of species gone) and the Cretaceous the best known (the end of dinosaurs), have been great crises. The movement of continents — the periodic formation and dissolution of Pangea — may be linked to some of the extinctions, by bringing large continents sometimes into cold polar regions or raising sea levels. This “supercontinent cycle” (see essay “Cycles” in this section) may also be linked to diversification and radiation of new species, as land bridges could be crossed and new niches filled. It seems that the rapid “explosion” of multicellular animal species in the early Cambrian was linked to a time of Pangea break-up and the drifting apart of continents. Possibly Pangea unity and a wide dispersion of continents (as in our own era) are times of evolutionary plateaus, and times of rifting and drifting apart, as well as times of reassembling, are urnes of change. But there are not enough data; most episodes of Pangea occurred in Pre-Cambrian times when only unicells existed, in fact mainly Prokaryotes, and these are not well-preserved in fossils.

There is no doubt that we are in the rapids of change now, at several levels. Another great wave of extinctions is occurring currently, mainly man-made. Society is moving to a post-industrial stage, whatever that may mean. (Two suggestions speak of a high-tech alternative or “the new Dark Ages”; but a “Green alternative” is also possible.) (See essay “Ages and Transformations” in Section VIII.) Ideology is in turmoil; even if (and this is hypothetical) democracy “won” over communism, Moslem ideologies and nationalism are in a super-heated state in many parts of the world. There are changes in family structure, education, health care, everywhere we look.

Since we are in a crisis, response is needed. Ervin Laszlo said recently (in a conference speech) that we must not panic, but must find rational means of steering from the white-water rapids into calmer waters. Most people neither panic nor steer, because they are either not aware of the crisis or practice denial. But there have been panicky statements (some so sorrowful as to be almost inarticulate; e.g. Joan Gussow’s dream about walking with her children into the thick fog of the future and losing contact). And Theobald’s book is a good example of an attempt at steering.

It is impossible to tell as yet whether our response is adequate. This is why my own mood and judgment changes almost from day to day. My friend Gertrude Mills from Halifax once told a story about herself and her girl-cousin finding themselves drifting into the open sea in a small boat when they were little girls. Her cousin was terrified and prayed, while determined little Gertrude was paddling as hard as she could toward shore. They were rescued. Years later, the cousin was living in quiet retirement, though fervently hoping for peace; while Gertrude was working hard for the World Federalists. “Well,” said the cousin to Gertrude, “I am still praying and you are still paddling”.

Tossed around by white water, we clench our teeth, pray and paddle.


We will not discuss here the beauty of biological forms, but two kinds of “catastrophes”. These are not necessarily disasters; in the Catastrophe Theory of mathematician Thom, the term “catastrophe” indicates merely sudden discontinuous transitions. From the point of view of our ethical valuations, these could be either good or bad.

According to Thom, there are only seven “elementary catastrophes”: fold, cusp, swallowtail. butterfly, elliptical umbillic, hyperbolic umbillic, and parabolic (Zeeman).

Not all change in nature (as in mathematics) is smooth or continuous; the sudden jumps may be due to accumulated stresses finally breaking through (as in hysteresis or in revolutions), or be as capricious and spontaneous as quantum jumps or bursts of radioactive decay. Yet the capriciousness and spontaneity may be only apparent, due to our ignorance of the underlying mechanism. Possibly all is hysteresis.

In mathematics, sudden breaks in curves occur outside catastrophe theory. A hyperbola is a discontinuous curve, and so is the graph of the tangent of an angle. Some would say that these curves jump through infinity, whatever that may mean. If plus and minus infinity meet somewhere in the nether world on the back side of the universe, then these are not really discontinuities. But let us stay with the discontinuities that belong to catastrophe theory.

Catastrophes may be good or bad. The event could be a sudden conversion by a beatific vision of God (as a delayed reaction to a previous accumulation of smaller insights that stayed just below the threshold of consciousness), or a sudden total breakdown of a highly technological communications system, because of an accumulation of overload and smaller errors. It can be a “peace crisis” as well as a war crisis” — an unexpected sudden change in the “normal relations range” between two nations. For example, on November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. The uncertainty was overwhelming; if West Gennany had come to the aid of the East-Gennan revolt, we could have jumped from a peace crisis to a war crisis in an instant. Uncertainty is chaos, and what new order emerges from the chaos is up for grabs.

Among the mathematical models of catastrophe, only the fold and the cusp can be pictured in the three dimensions of ordinary space. The swallowtail, the butterfly, and the others can be conceptualized only as projections. It is rumoured that some highly talented mathematicians can think directly in 5 or 7 dimensions, but I would not know anything about that. The 7 catastrophes are listed in Table 1 arid illustrated in Table 1 (both taken from Zeeman’s article).

A fold is a simple hysteresis curve, like the graph of a cubic equation with a minimum and a maximum. It can be pictured in two dimensions on a sheet of paper. A cusp (the type of catastrophe usually discussed) is a folded curved surface (rather than a folded curve in a plane) and can be pictured in three dimensions.

Hysteresis means that, as a point moves along one branch of the curve or surface, it persists on that branch even though there are two possible admissible values when the folded part is reached; the jump to the other curve or surface occurs only when the edge is reached. In nature or society, hysteresis (delayed change) is due to inertia: staying with the existing system or the status quo beyond its range of unique applicability. Such a delay means that change, when it necessarily comes because the status quo is now totally untenable, will be sudden and not gradual.

A consequence of hysteresis in natural systems is that the state of the system depends on the direction of approach, i.e. on past history. This means a lack of reversibility, or at least a lag in reversibility. On a fold or a cusp, approach from one end differs from approach from the other end. Physical examples are the magnetization/demagnetization of iron and the stretching/relaxation of rubber. A social example might be the nationalization/privatization of enterprises.

Path-determined system states are quite common. Partly filled glass capillaries present a different picture when the liquid is being introduced (a steadily advancing meniscus) and when it is being withdrawn (walls remain wetted while the centre becomes empty). A growing organism differs from an aging one. For the universe (if it is closed), the Big Crunch will be qualitatively different from the Big Bang.

In a fold there is one independent variable that varies smoothly, and one dependent variable that exhibits jumps. In a cusp, there are two smoothly varying independent variables and one discontinuous dependent variable. A cusp has been used to model such phenomena as the following:

  1. Sudden flip- flops in political regime in situations of intense ideological polarization (bimodal distribution of left and right opinion with hardly any middle or political centre) and high intensity of political involvement and passion. At lower values of polarization and involvement, regime change can be slow and gradual; but with increasing intensity of both independent variables, the system enters a region of “bifurcation” where the catastrophic cusp model becomes operative.
  2. Phase change in physical systems, e.g. ice to water or water to steam, where the two independent variables are temperature and pressure.
  3. High technology and interconnectedness producing sudden breakdowns, e.g. the New York black-out. These are often unpredictable, because they are quasi-chaotic. According to Bereanu, the closely linked US-Soviet nuclear system could “self-activate” to an accidental nuclear war in this manner.

If a third independent variable is added to the cusp catastrophe, we get a swallowtail, so called because its three-dimensional projection has the shape of a swallowtail. There is still only one independent variable. The third dependent variable is called “the s