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Embodied Living: Glimpses into the Complexity of Life.

9 Feb

 Embodiment

In my book, The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, I develop a crucial discussion of how without a major focus on the ‘Self’/Ego as western psychology tends to still have, Buddhist inspired psychology naturally looks to the embodied nature of human existence and the significance of the body. The following are some general explorations highlighting the significance of our embodied life from chapters from that book. Naturally as research develops and deepens the datum will change but the discussion will remain the same.

  • Our bodies are crucial

Our body, a living organism is the matrix of one’s experience. Neuroscientists J. A. Scott Kelso and David Engstrom affirm this: ‘The body is crucial to our experience of the world because it provides the sense organs through which we access the objective world and it has the organizing capacity of the mind that processes and constructs data understanding. Organisms are not just pieces of matter; they are matter in motion – animate forms… with “embodied cognition”.’

  • Organisms as Coherent Embedded Systems

The interrelationship between organisms and their environment is an oscillating co-arising with an equilibrium between two sets of processes; the organism with its hierarchy of needs and the broader ambiance in which it is a part. Within the hierarchy, there is one dominant process, called the organizing process.  All life consists of inseparability and dynamic interactions. With meaningful information exchange in living things, dualities are bi-stable, and in general multi-stable coordination, dynamics confers many advantages, in particular, multi-functionality. If any aspect of the duality becomes out of balance and develops too far, it binds the system.

In living, organisms can never maintain perfect symmetry. Co-arising is universal. The Buddha taught that there is no universal preconceived beginning or end. Life is unity in diversity and form is the recognizable continuity of a process.

  • Life’s web and rhythm

All life on earth exists within a web of vibrations, and rhythm is fundamental to all forms of life. Natural rhythms guide all that we do (daily rhythms, internal rhythms, etc.).

One compelling answer to explain these universal phenomena is provided by thermodynamics. According to biochemist Mae Wan Ho:

‘Practically all living processes are organized in cycles. … biological rhythms ranging from periods of … electrical activities of brain cells … the heart-beat…respiration, to periods which are circadian and circannual. …why that should be. The answer is provided by thermodynamics. It turns out that symmetrically coupled cycles are the key to both the conservation of coherent energy and compensation… entropy within the system so that living organization is maintained…’

Much of our basic daily-life activities are co-arising around these rhythms. They have positive functional advantages, including spatial and temporal organization, prediction of events, energy efficiency and precision of control. The rhythms of our breath, heartbeat and brain are intimately related to our emotions, thoughts and mindset states. The quiet rhythmic breathing of meditation is well known for its calming effect. Both simple and complex rhythms do not exist in isolation. Rather, they have complex interactions. When physiologists discovered brain waves these rhythms were believed to be correlated with various mental states. For the brain, the experience is not continuous stream or flow but quantized.

According to Gregory Hickok: ‘We actually perceive the world in rhythmic pulses rather than as a continuous flow…. Rhythms in the environment, such as those in music or speech, can draw neural oscillations into their tempo, effectively synchronizing the brain’s rhythms with those of the world around us […]. We should talk of the rhythm of thought, of perception, of consciousness. Conceptualizing our mental experience this way is not only more accurate, but it also situates our mind within the broader context of the daily, monthly and yearly rhythms that dominate our lives.’

Brain waves shape our perception, movement, memory. Hickok believes that the brain interacts with the world in rhythmic pulses. These rhythms correlate with electrical rhythms of the brain and this is how our brain focuses attention (cocktail party example).

Bodily rhythms that interact with the external environment resent an essential element in whether we have healthy or unhealthy bodily functions. For instance, our circadian rhythm can be easily disturbed by jetlag or bright light etc. Health can be interpreted as harmony among these rhythms. Disruption of normal rhythms and the emergence of abnormal rhythms have been called ‘dynamical diseases.

  • Circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythms (our Body Clock) signal and affect every aspect of our life (wake up, sleep, active and energy). They influence how we socialize and how we feel. There are patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities linked by the light-dark cycle over a 24-hour period. Within the brain, and more specifically located in the hypothalamus just above the optic nerves, lies a group of about 20,000 nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which coordinates all these body ‘clocks’ so that they are in synchronization.

A protein directing our circadian rhythms is named CLOCK. Functional balance is created by a metabolic protein called SIRT1, which counterbalances CLOCK. Disequilibrium in the CLOCK-SIRT1 balance, lead to sleep disruption and increased hunger. Light has a significant role in governing our circadian rhythms. Tim Brown has discovered that it is the color of a sunset that our bodies use to regulate the internal clock (melatonin production). Work schedules conflict with the body’s natural circadian rhythm and some individuals have difficulty adjusting to the change. Light exposure and ad unusual meal times increase the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Recent studies suggest that repeated bouts of jetlag may cause harm to the temporal lobe, an area of the brain important to memory.  Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) – Changes in routine such as staying up late is a circadian rhythm disorder. Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPD). ASPD results in symptoms of evening sleepiness, going to bed earlier and waking up earlier than desired.

  • Lunar phases

There is a link between sleep patterns and lunar phases. Sleep might be delayed by 25 minutes around a full moon, and sleepers have been found to spend 30 additional minutes in REM sleep. Sleep duration is often shortened by 20 minutes around the time of the full moon. These syndromes can have significant problems for our health, but we can minimize their effect and prevent them. The choices we make about our sleep environments and sleep habits can make a significant difference. Limiting night-time exposure to artificial light and increasing exposure to sunlight can shift sleep-wake cycles.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a form of depression that is related to changes in the seasons.  It is estimated that SAD affects between 10% and 20% of the Northern latitude population. Symptoms of SAD typically manifest around the age of twenty years old. There appear to be several biologic mechanisms underlying SAD, including retinal sensitivity to light, vulnerability to stress, neurotransmitter dysfunction, genetic variations affecting circadian rhythms, and reduced serotonin levels. The primary cause appears to be the delay or advance of the circadian phase. Humans have neural circuits that detect changes in day length and use this information to control the timing of seasonal behavior. In this way, even relatively minor seasonal changes in day length is sufficient to create problems for certain individuals.

  • The human life-cycle

A broad definition of life history includes not only the traditional foci such as age-related fecundity and mortality rates, but also the entire sequence of behavioral, physiological, and morphological changes that an organism passes through during its development from conception to death.’ Shea

A life-cycle is defined as the developmental stages that occur during an organism’s lifetime. All living things have a life-cycle that includes being born, childhood, adulthood and death.  As humans we are interrelated with our socio-economic environment, therefore not only the individual but the family unit has its own stages of development, or life-cycle, as does one’s employment, housing, education etc. A person’s life is substantially determined by the challenges of each developmental phase. A person’s life is significantly shaped by the tasks and opportunities embedded within their developmental life-cycles.

  • The biological imperative of movement

Research into natural movement patterns reveals that there appears to be, ‘biological imperatives to movement,’. One such study found that people tend to move in complementary intervals. The intervals of movement and inactivity were more consistent in younger people than older ones. Another study looked at the movement pattern of mice. When running wheels were provided, the younger mice exercised a lot, developing marked peaks and valleys of activity. The older mice were less consistent in their activity patterns. Once the ability to exercise (running wheels) was removed, the patterns of the younger mice became more like that of the older ones: By prompting the release of a wide variety of biochemicals in the body and brain…exercise almost certainly affects the body’s internal clock mechanisms and therefore its circadian rhythms, especially those related to activity.

  • The body as an embedded organism
    • Creatures of the atmosphere

In Buddha’s psychology, we see the body as an embedded organism, with effects constantly co-arising with its interaction and interconnectedness with the forces of nature, including the weather. While no satisfactory agreement has been reached as to how the weather causes joint pain, there are plausible theories. One theory points to changes in air pressure. Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. Barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. This lower air pressure pushes less against the body, allowing tissues to expand.  As rheumatologist David Borenstein explains, ‘When there’s less pressure, we expand.’

  • And creatures sensitive to temperature

Hot temperatures: There are two ways in which our body copes with heat – by perspiring and by breathing. High temperatures and humidity present a crucial adaptive factor. If there is very high temperature and high humidity, the body will be sweating but the sweat won’t dry on the skin. Therefore, the body is not able to cool down as effectively. If the temperature remains elevated overnight, the body becomes overwhelmed. If a person is exposed to heat for a very long time, the first thing that shuts down is the ability to sweat. Once somebody stops perspiring, they become very hot and in short order can move from heat exhaustion to heat stroke.

Cold temperatures: Likewise, the human body is not adapted for extremely cold temperatures. But the human body does have several defenses. Our muscles shiver and our teeth chatter, our hairs rise and our flesh forms goosebumps. The hypothalamus stimulates these reactions to keep the body’s vital organs warm. The body directs its warm blood close to the core, thereby constricting blood supply to the outer regions. While fat does not transfer heat very well and, therefore keeps it inside the body, humans, with no fur and relatively little fat, can’t adapt well to very cold environments.

  • Smells can make you feel and act differently

Our sense of smell can recognize thousands of different smells and is directly connected to the limbic system. These structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, for example, fear, anger and sexual arousal. By the time we correctly recognize a particular scent as, the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering an emotional reaction. A smell can evoke a memory. Despite individual peculiarities, some significant generalizations have been made: For example, people tend to give higher pleasantness ratings to smells that they can identify correctly, including the use of an appropriate color, for example, red with the smell of cherry. There are some fragrances that appear to be universally perceived as pleasant, such as vanilla. The thought of pleasant fragrances can make us a bit calmer. It seems that positive emotions are predominantly processed by the left hemisphere of the brain, while negative emotions are more often processed by the right hemisphere. Smells can also affect our perceptions of other people. Beauty can be in the ‘nose’ of the beholder. Unpleasant smells can have the opposite effect. Therefore, we need to be mindful of how odors can affect our judgment and behavior.

  • Organ cross-talk and interactions

Important in the cognitive processes and the enmeshing of the body and its environment, the co-arising principle is again critical in the interactions between the unified coherent body systems.

Our unified body systems operate on functional, automatic mode every moment of our life. When we wake up, get sleepy, hungry or thirsty, all is responded to by the coherent and wide system operation of our body. There isn’t an organ in the human body that operates in isolation. Everything interacts in different levels of response. The interactions between these different levels are so complex that they can’t be reduced to a single level. In a biological system, a change in one part of the body’s system will affect the dynamic behavior of the whole organism.

Unfortunately, many people do not conceive of the body as a whole, and instead still think of using a Cartesian partition between mind and brain, and brain and body. Some basic physical interactions include the nervous system and its interactions with every single organ including musculoskeletal control. Many physiological and behavioral functions depend on the merging within the nervous system. The nervous system is a dynamic platform exchanging information from between one part of the body and another. This happens in both healthy and unhealthy physical processes, processing that can be significantly influenced by hormones.

The liver is often called the most unselfish organ because almost everything that it does is done for the benefit of the body as a whole. Likewise, the kidneys share a very close role with the heart through the cardiovascular system. An example is provided by Andrew Davenport in his article, ‘The Brain and the Kidney – Organ Cross Talk and Interactions’, in which he describes how the kidney and the brain play major roles in maintaining normal homeostasis of the extracellular fluid. It is vital to look at the body as an inter-connected dependent co-arising unit, instead of individual parts.  For example: If someone with a lowered adrenal output is given supplemental thyroid hormones, they develop many side effects, such as heart arrhythmias, or nervousness. This is because the adrenal glands are further stressed by the additional thyroid.

Both neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are made through a methylation pathway. Research has shown that the pituitary gland needs serotonin and dopamine in order to release the appropriate hormone signals. There is a physiological hierarchy of needs. An important example of this is that when the body is attempting to cope with a stress situation, it will create more cortisol and sacrifice the sex hormones. With our fast-paced modern lifestyles, our bodies are using cortisol almost constantly.

An exquisite feature of the living system is its acute sensitivity to weak signals. The extreme sensitivity of the human organism applies to all systems; no part has to be pushed or pulled into action. Instead, the coordinated action of all the parts depends on rapid intercommunication between the different organs and tissues. The organism is a system of, ‘Excitable media,’.

  • Specific body systems

Circulatory System – transports nutrients and gasses to cells and tissues throughout body.

Lymphatic System – transports lymph towards the heart, plays a crucial role in immune system.

Nervous System – monitors and coordinates internal organ function and responds to changes in the external environment.

  • Homeostasis

‘The highly developed living being is an open system having many relations to its surroundings – in the respiratory and alimentary tracts and through surface receptors, neuromuscular organs and bony levers. Changes in the surroundings excite reactions in this system or affect it directly so that internal disturbances of the system are produced. Such disturbances are normally kept within narrow limits because automatic adjustments within the system are brought into action, and thereby wide oscillations are prevented and the internal conditions are held fairly constant.’ Walter B. Cannon31

Walter Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’. Homeostasis is the automatic and coherent response of our body to maintain optimal health via a relatively constant internal environment balance. For example, it maintains our body temperature, a stable flow of blood, optimal nourishment and oxygen to the cells, whilst removing toxins. ‘The brain also has a remarkable tendency to maintain its chemical constancy…’

The regulative processes in every organism tend to be restorative. Physical and psychological stress cause physical imbalance. ‘What Does Homeostatic Balance Mean?’:

‘The body uses different processes to maintain homeostasis. Receptors throughout the body sense changes in the internal and external environment and send messages to the brain; it responds by telling the appropriate organs to restore equilibrium. Hormones are often used to signal the changes that must be made to restore balance, but the body also uses other mechanisms.’…

An imbalance in the homeostatic processes can lead to disease or even death.

  • The chemical basis of behavior

Metabolism describes all chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and hence the organism. The metabolic process involves two kinds of activities:

Anabolism – The building and storing processes.

Catabolism – Comprises those processes that breakdown molecules to release the energy required.

Metabolism is a vital, complicated and constant chemical process; if it stops, then we die.

Specific proteins and several hormones of the endocrine system are involved in controlling the rate and direction of metabolism. The thyroid gland releases thyroxine. The pancreas releases the hormone insulin to increase their anabolic activities. Generally, metabolism works effectively and automatically. A metabolic disorder can cause serious medical problems: Hypothyroidism (The under-functioning) Hyperthyroidism (over-functioning).

Type 1 diabetes – The pancreas doesn’t produce and secrete enough insulin. Symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, hunger and weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes – The body can’t respond normally to insulin requirements. The symptoms of this disorder are similar.

Metabolism is closely linked to nutrition and the availability of nutrients. Food provides a variety of substances that are essential for the efficient functioning of the body.

Essential nutrients that we must acquire include: Carbohydrates,  Starches and sugars,  Fibre , Proteins, Fats, Minerals  More than 50 elements are found in the human body.  Vitamins – Vitamins play an important role in body chemistry generally, activation of important enzymes (co-enzymes).

Other important chemicals interacting with brain functions include: Oxygen-Glucose – Normal brain function is dependent upon an adequate and continuous supply of glucose etc.

  • Exercise physiology

People used to live in an environment in which physical activities like walking, running, lifting, etc. were necessary for accomplishing many everyday tasks throughout the year. But, the amount of physical activity carried out on a daily basis has been greatly reduced. The body, however, still responds to the physical stress in the same way as it always has. Robert Gerszten, explained that, ‘[…] how these effects occur is not entirely clear. Exercise physiology is surprisingly very poorly understood.’

  • Blood chemistry

Regular exercise offers important benefits for our wellbeing, partly through altering blood chemistry. Exercise alters the body’s physiology by increasing of the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. In addition, the number of mitochondria will increase to handle the higher demand for energy. Blood sugar levels fluctuate as glucose is catabolized for energy. Next, the body will trigger a chain of chemical reactions to break down stored energy in the muscles, liver and adipose tissue. The release of the stored sugar will elevate glucose levels until they are depleted through activity. This helps to normalize our glucose, insulin and leptin levels by optimizing insulin/ leptin receptor sensitivity.

  • Brain chemicals

When performing aerobic exercises, researchers found that increased stimulation of brain regions that are involved in memory function and an increase in the production of a neurotransmitter known as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which plays an important role in memory.  BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better. As BDNF levels increase, the growth rate of neurons in the hippocampus increases as well.  ‘Using more brain cells turns on genes to make more BDNF.’ There are several other chemicals that are released by exercise, which can affect your mood, outlook and physical comfort level.

  • Hormones

When you move, your muscles release hormones. Some interesting hormones relating to physical activity include Irisin, or the ‘Exercise Hormone’. The validity of irisin has generated controversy among scientists. ‘Data unequivocally demonstrate that human irisin exists,’ said Spiegelman. Testosterone –. Estrogen – Peptide YY/Ghrelin – A vigorous workout affects the release of these two key appetite hormones. Ghrelin is the hormone known to stimulate appetite. But exercise also does increase levels of peptide YY, which may make you less hungry. Endorphins – Serotonin – Dopamine. Exercising can increase the amount of dopamine in certain regions of the brain, promoting positive wellbeing and even countering negative mental states. It’s been shown that meditation can also increase dopamine levels. Hobbies of all kinds bring the brain into a meditative state and increase dopamine. Growth factors – like hepatocyte, fibroblast and insulin send signals to the satellite cells to regulate preparative growth of muscle mass growth.

  • The microbiome and its multiple roles: the gut-brain axis

All vertebrates have a symbiotic relationship with what is called gut microbiota.  Surprisingly, cell by cell, we are mostly made up of bacteria. There are up to 100 times more bacteria than human cells in the human body. Biologists now believe that much of our wellbeing depends on microbial activity. At birth, the gut is sterile, but over time our gut develops a diverse and distinct variety of bacterial species, determined by genetics as well as by which bacteria live in us and those around us. In a human adult, the gut bacteria can weigh as much as five pounds, and they make up an organ of sorts. The Human Microbiome Project estimates that a normal adult’s gut consists of 100 trillion microbes. Collectively they are known as the microbiome. It interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body. The brain can have a strong influence on the microbiome – mild cognitive stress reactions can change the microbial balance from beneficial to disease-causing bacteria. Premysl Bercik, MD says, ‘[…] data suggest that bacteria can have profound effects on behavior and brain biochemistry, probably through multiple pathways.’ There is evidence of bacterial translocation being associated with approximately 35% of people with depression.

Demonstrating the significance of the microbiome-gut-brain axis, Bercik and colleagues reported having completely changed the behavior of a species of mice by giving them a mixture of antibiotics that significantly changed the composition of their gut bacteria. The ecosystem of the microbiome is also intimately entwined with our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. It is crucially linked to the brain – our diet and gut bacteria influence our behavior, thoughts and mood: ‘Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind.’ Not only does the microbiome affect brain biochemistry, stress responses and behavior, it also produces many neurochemicals that the brain uses. Dr. Siri Carpenter estimates that gut bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and gastrointestinal (GI) activity. Similarly, Lyte, proposes a neurochemical, ‘Delivery system’ by which gut bacteria, such as probiotics, can send messages to the brain.

Gut bacteria both produce and respond to the same neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognitive processes. Such neurochemicals probably allow the brain to tune its behavior to the feedback it receives from the mass of bacteria in the gut. The microbiome is often referred to as the ‘second brain ‘, as it is the only organ to have its own independent nervous system.  Dr. Katrin Andreasen has been investigating the role of microglia and the brain’s immune cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Her work suggests that the prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s disease involves an inflammatory response; a particular receptor, EP2, may predispose individuals to develop the condition.

Another study found that compared with individuals who received a placebo intervention; participants who received a multispecies probiotics intervention demonstrated significantly reduced ruminative thoughts.

The research into understanding the role of the microbiome in reaction to human emotions and behaviors has become very compelling. Exploring functions and mechanisms of the human body as part of a whole, interdependent, dynamic system is far more accurate than trying to understand it as comprised of individual independent systems.

  • Epigenetics: a new insight to biology

Another new branch in biology is epigenetics or the study of changes in gene activity which are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. Environmental influences, including nutrition, stress, and emotions can modify genes without changing the sequence of nucleotides. The epigenome refers to the overall state of a cell, and works as an interface between the environment and the genome. Epigenetics studies the reason why a skin cell looks different from a brain cell or a muscle cell.

Epigenetics studies the factors that cause the body’s genes to turn off or turn on by exploring the effects of the physical, social and electromagnetic environment on our cells’ actions. Preetha Anand suspects that only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in environmentally-induced epigenetic alterations. What we eat, where we live, who we interact with, when we sleep, how we exercise, even aging – all of these factors can cause chemical modifications in our genome. As biochemist Mae Wan Ho stated: ‘…we already have a great deal of knowledge on how social deprivation, psychological stress, and environmental toxins can have dire effects on us and our still unborn children and grandchildren while social enrichment, caring environments and cognitive and physical exercises, and stress-reducing mind-body techniques can have beneficial effects on infants, children and adults alike. The implications of the appropriate interventions for health, education and social wellbeing are clear.

It seems we cannot control approximately 30% of our genetic makeup, but we can control about 70%. It was previously thought that an embryo’s epigenome was completely new, but this isn’t completely true. Some epigenetic changes do pass from generation to generation (epigenetic inheritance). Early in an embryo’s development, most signals come from within cells or from neighboring cells. As cells grow and divide, they faithfully copy epigenetic tags along with the DNA. This is especially important during embryonic development, as past experiences inform future choices. The epigenome enables cells to remember their past experiences long after the signals fade away (e.g. the mother’s nutrition). Other types of signals, such as stress hormones, can travel from mother to fetus. In infancy, a wider range of environmental factors begin to shape the epigenome. Environmental signals allow cells to respond dynamically to the outside world while internal signals direct body maintenance. During these processes, the cell’s experiences are transferred to the epigenome, where they shut down and/or activate specific sets of genes. Examples of inherited epigenetic changes have been shown by experiments with rat models, which were exposed to a crop fungicide that can cause susceptibility to cancer.

  • Psychoneuroimmunology

‘The mind and body are dependent on each other the way two sheaves stand up by leaning against each other.’ Samyutta Nikaya

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the complex and intimate communications, interactions and regulation among our psychological processes, behaviors, central nervous system (CNS), immune system and the endocrine system. Dr. Robert Ader states, ‘Its [PNI] central premise is that homeostasis is an integrated process involving interactions among behavior and the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.’ PNI is increasingly showing how changes in a person’s mental or emotional state can modify the molecular profile of his or her immune or hormonal system.

The pain experience is complex and involves many components, which depend on bi-directional communication with the spinal cord. One study provided evidence that explicitly presented pain-related words lead to activations within regions of the brain’s pain matrix. When tasks involved imagination, the specificity of pain-related words is reflected in the activation of regions associated with the cognitive dimension of pain, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the inferior parietal gyri (or IPG). The findings suggest that the perception of pain-related words changes the central nervous processing, that is associated with the cognitive dimension of pain.

Music-induced analgesia can reduce stress, depression and distress in people with acute and chronic pain. Christine Dobek’s research showed observable changes in neural function in the entire CNS in response to changes in pain perception related to music analgesia. Music-induced analgesia seems to work by evoking a rewarding response in the brain that activates the descending analgesia system, indicating therefore that music is processed in various areas distributed throughout the brain including limbic areas, cortical regions and reward-related mesolimbic circuits. Dopamine mediates the mesocortical and mesolimbic circuits to (potentially) trigger opioid release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) whilst listening to music.

  • The stress phenomenon

An important focus of PNI is the complexity of the stress phenomenon and its potentially harmful influence on the body. In fact, any belief that there isn’t an intimate interaction between physical and psychological stressors is a misconception. The stress response typically expresses itself in two main ways. Firstly, the endocrine pathway causes the secretion of several stress hormones, including corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol. If left unchecked, these chemicals can devastate the body’s homeostatic balance. Secondly, the autonomic pathway may be affected. Adrenaline, like cortisol, has a large number of effects on several body systems, one example being that persistent adrenal surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

  • Chronic stress

The brain and bodily systems can’t differentiate between an actual and an imaginary threat. Chronic stress not only results from long-term, repeated exposure, but can also be caused by negative emotional ruminations about the past. It has been found that in response to long-term stress responses, the branching dendrites, where much of the brain’s information and memories are stored, decrease in size and in volume. Gestalt Therapy proponents of chronic stress: If the organism’s needs or sensibilities remain “unfinished”, the organism will keep on trying to resolve the unresolved contact. Instead of giving up on its needs, the organism will take emergency measures, delaying any unfavorable resolution or consolation. If the organism’s needs continue to go unmet, the chronic emergency becomes the new normal and eventually passes out of awareness. Chronic stress, by causing a negative mind-body interaction, is considered a significant risk factor. Chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise) and numerous other problems. Therefore reducing chronic stress can boost the immune system, and enhance wellbeing.

  • The placebo effect on stress

To further appreciate the two-way process between the relationship of mind and body, the placebo phenomenon must be acknowledged. Some studies suggest, that the placebo effect triggers an increase in the body’s production of endorphins. Helen S. Mayberg and colleagues report that there is an increased metabolism, which is probably an early indicator of the brain’s compensatory capacity in response to a placebo response. As the basic concept of PNI hypothesizes that the mind and body are inseparable, it seems logical that the power of suggestion will have an effect either way.

Expectation seems to play a potent role in the placebo effect. The stronger the feeling, the more likely it is that a person will experience positive results (and vice versa).

The placebo effect appears to be part of human potential to be relieved by something for which there is no apparent medical basis just by reacting positively to a ‘healer’. Since, the brain seems to respond to an imagined scene much as it would to something it actually sees, a placebo may help the brain go back and remember a time before current physical or psychological symptoms and produce certain physical-chemical changes. This is called Remembered Wellness. When directed in a constructive path, the positive placebo is an illustration of the therapeutic potential of the mind-body relationship. With a wholesome mindset, a person can enhance the immune function and improve his or her mind-body condition. The Buddha tells us that with a wholesome, serene mindset, happiness will follow, ‘If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.’

  • The immune system: neuroimmunology

Neuroimmunology describes the study of the interrelationship between the nervous and immune systems. It’s becoming increasingly clear that our brain, our immune system and our gut microbes are intricately linked. Autism, for instance, may be associated with gastrointestinal problems and a potential over-reaction in the immune system. Jonathan Kipnis reported: ‘Moreover, neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s have long been linked to changes in immune system function, and autoimmune diseases of the gut, like Crohn’s disease, correlate with psychiatric illness.’ It hasn’t been clear how such connections arise, but now both a gut-brain axis and a link between the immune system and brain have been more clearly shown. Kipnis emphasized:  ‘We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. …In Alzheimer’s [for example], there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain. …they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.’ And, ‘Careful studies have shown that the brain does interact with the peripheral immune system, albeit in unique ways. Immune cells do, somehow, circulate through the brain, and antigens – which would normally stoke an immune response – do drain from the brain into the lymph nodes.’

  • The immune system as an ecological system

Alfred I. Tauber proposed that the immune system does operate and cooperate with so-called ‘foreign’ visitors to the body. From an ecological perspective, we, as individual organisms, actually live in a community of others that contribute to our welfare. There is a growing body of evidence that the immune system isn’t a passive system just waiting to react to outside threats, but a highly proactive system that changes in response to external cues.

Robert Ader stated: Together, behavioral, neural, endocrine, and immune processes of adaptation constitute an integrated network of defenses and, insofar as immuno-regulatory processes are concerned, the assumption of an autonomous immune system is no longer tenable. It is not possible to obtain a full understanding of immune regulatory processes without considering the organism and the internal and external environment in which immune responses take place.’

The immune system possesses ‘cognitive’ functions too, in that it ‘knows’ how to recognize healthy versus harmful visitors. There is no isolated, circumscribed, static, rigidly self-defined identity designated as ‘the self’.  ‘Self/non-self’ separation recedes as a governing principle, even with immunity, when it is appreciated as both outer-directed against the deleterious and inner-directed in an on-going communicative system of internal homeostasis. From this dual perspective, immune function falls on a continuum of reactivity, where the character of the immune object is determined by the context in which it appears, not by its character as other per se. Tauber asserts that more simplistic models have too often obscured this cardinal lesson and writes, ‘The “me” (or “I”) serves as the variable linguistic label of a function of possessive identity, which in the translation of Freud’s das Ich has been forever called (inaccurately) “the ego”.’

  • Neurobiology

‘The mind is the basis for everything. Everything is created by my mind, and is ruled by my mind. When I speak or act with impure thoughts, suffering follows me As the wheel of the cart follows the hoof of the ox. The mind is the basis for everything. Everything is created by my mind and is ruled by my mind. When I speak or act with a clear awareness, happiness stays with me. Like my own shadow, it is unshakeable.’ Dhammapada 1-2

If we’re looking for happiness or fulfillment, the place to look for it is inside. Rick Hanson, Ph.D. wrote an insightful article called, ‘Mind Changing Brain Changing Mind’. In this, he summarizes important facts, which provide the basis for understanding the biological processes that accompany meditation; and the importance for a disciplined Bhavana or mind-culture practitioner to attain wholesome results on the journey for mental purification. Recognizing how our thoughts influence the structure of our brain, and vice versa, as well as how our cognitive construction of a ‘self’ are only a creation of our neural networks, can support us on our journey to Enlightenment. Research is beginning to clarify the circular, interdependent relationship between the brain and the mind. The Citta, or mind, also alters both the brain’s physical structure and functional organization. In his article, Hanson defines mind as being, ‘The flow of information through the nervous system, most of which is forever unconscious’.

As the synaptic connections strengthen in response to the increased activity, and new synapses form for new activities. Through meditation and other concentrated thought processes, we can use our mind to build neural structures and increase particular regions of the brain’s mass. This can be highly beneficial for building skillful mental states.  Within the vast networks of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been found to be the area that manages what is called ‘effortful attention’. When we practice the four foundations of mindfulness, we use the ACC; performing Metta, which stimulates the ACC and strengthens it (the region can increase in mass). Meditation also strengthens another region of the brain called the insula, which supports us in our ability to become more empathic with others.

Research has indicated that the deep, non-conscious structure of the brain is actually the most significantly active when thoughts surface. When you observe your thoughts, you can see the outer signs of neural activity.  Interestingly, after thought but just before new thought forms, there’s an ‘empty’ quiet moment, where a structure hasn’t yet congealed. This can be a productive meditation practice of staying with the empty moment and even trying to expand it.

Once a representation has formed and become fully established in our mind. The representation can quickly become identified as a subject and as an aspect of our ‘self’. Once we identify with the image, it becomes difficult to un-identify with. Even these images related to ‘self’ are just neural patterns, these patterns exist but they’re impermanent, dependently arisen and mere constructions of our brain’s cognitive apparatus. While the ‘self’ seems real and substantial, it helps our non-identification practice to remember that it is only evolving and impermanent patterns in the mind and brain. The ‘self’ exists in the way that memory allows it to exist, and like all physical-biological processes, memories are transient, illusionary, and it therefore is foolish to cling to them. To quote Hanson: Whatever of self-there is in the brain, it is compounded and distributed, not coherent and unified; it is variable and transient, not stable and enduring. In other words, the conventional notion of self is a mythical creature.’ As we grow to understand that the representations of ‘self’ are only fictional, we can then start taking our ‘self’, ‘with a pinch of salt’. Neuropsychology supports the idea that we have the freedom and possibility to condition and create our particular mind states, which are supported by our nurtured brain structures. After the gradual ripening to a maturation of our habits, latent tendencies, non-identification with the subjective ownership of experience etc. we no longer respond immaturely or egotistically to our desires and aversions. This doesn’t mean that we become emotionless and detached automatons. Through the transformative process, there becomes a greater awareness and respect for our body, a serenity of the emotions, increased kindness of the heart, flexible and realistic attitudes. More genuine human relationships grow out of a deeper awareness. In the end, an Arahant can be described with two words: simple and stable.

  • Body electric

Our body is capable of generating electricity, and this ability is actually a key part of our achieving health. Everything we do is controlled and enabled by electrical signals (nervous system, brain). Electrical signals in our body are responsible for controlling the rhythm of our heartbeat, the movement of blood and much more. We are electrical beings. Any breakdown in our body’s electrical system is a real problem. For example, when you get an electric shock, it interrupts the normal operation of the system. We can generate electricity since our bodies are huge masses of atoms, with protons positive charge, neutrons neutral charge and electrons negative charge, and there is a flow of electrons.

Almost all of our cells are capable of generating electricity.

This electric field is detectable (EEG). We can generate between 10 and 100 millivolts. Not only your brain, but our entire body has an electric field. Anywhere there’s a nerve cell, there’s electricity. Being an electric field, all those overlying electric vibration patterns that comprise your brain waves are governed by the same equations governing the electromagnetic spectrum, light, particles and everything else in the universe. Your thoughts are formed in this electric field.

The thoughts you are thinking of, the words your mind is processing, are all electrical impulses that can be measured if you had a few wires hooked up between your head and a machine. So, thoughts are energy, the same as everything else.  Some even hypothesize, that the higher the frequency of our thought/brain wave vibration/ rhythm, the higher our consciousness (and vice versa).

  • The electrodynamics of health

‘Most of the fields surrounding the cells and us are invisible, but their effects are not. It is time to look for them as this regards our understanding about ourselves.’ Dr. Daniel Fels ‘There is a strong evidence that EMFs and radio/ microwave frequencies are associated with accelerated aging (enhanced cell death and cancer) and moods, depression, suicide, anger, rage and violence, primarily through alteration of cellular calcium ions and the melatonin/serotonin balance.’ Dr. Neil Cherry

  • The human body as a complex energetic system

Science confirms that in addition to biochemical processes, the body is suffused by a quantum electrodynamics field, interacting on many levels of subtle energy, patterns and significance. Our bodies are networks of complex energy fields that interact with the physical and cellular systems. There is a hierarchy of subtle energy systems that coordinate electro-physiological and hormonal functions as well as a cellular structure within the body. Consciousness is an energetic form that is closely related to the cellular expression of the physical body. Disease states may arise when energy systems are out of balance. As indicated by Pokorný, fundamentally disturbed electrodynamics field characterizes cancer cells: ‘Mitochondrial dysfunction (that develops before the appearance of the cancer malignant properties) and diminished power and coherence of the electrodynamics field may be the most pronounced differences between the healthy and the cancer cells in the clinical phase.’

Pokorný asserts that high-capacity information transfer between the body organs and the brain may be mediated by the electromagnetic field. The human bio-energy field is proposed to have a magnetic structure. It ultimately determines our chemistry, metabolism and cell structure. Some suggest that electromagnetic field imbalances (or outer influences) are linked to cancers and other illnesses, such as leukemia. These hypotheses are often dismissed because of a presumed absence of possible biological mechanisms’ to account for the illnesses. Pokorný’s model represents a valuable source to understand the sensitivity of organisms to weak electromagnetic fields.

The unpredictability of electromagnetic fields is perfectly described in the ‘butterfly effect’.

The existence and functionality of electrodynamics fields is not new. In the 1930s, American biologist Harold Saxton Burr proposed that all living organisms are molded and controlled by electrodynamics. Then, in the 1950s, a researcher named Becker showed that all organisms’ bodies have a Direct Current (DC) field. These fields are in addition to the accepted knowledge of the electrical activities of the brain and heart. Becker further proposed in the 1960s that an electrical communication system exists within all living things. As the body uses electromagnetic signals of different frequencies and to different extents to intercommunicate, it would be surprising if external electromagnetic fields did not have an effect. It is becomingly increasingly evident that electrodynamics and electric currents are involved in intercommunication throughout the body.

  • Effects of electromagnetic fields on the body

Recently, there has been an increase in radiofrequency (RF) exposure from wireless devices as well as reports of hypersensitivity and diseases related to the electromagnetic field (EMF) and RF exposure. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has documented numerous studies showing this exposure has adverse effects on health. It is well known that long-range EMF or RF forces can act over large distances to set a biological system oscillating in phase with the frequency of the electromagnetic field. Even passive resonant circuits can imprint potentially long-lasting effects of a frequency imprint into water and biological systems. RF exposure causing changes associated with degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) has been reported. Epidemiological studies of RF exposure occurring non-locally, have reported neurological and cognitive disorders. Pulsed electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) have been shown to consistently provoke neurological symptoms in subjects, while exposure to continuous frequencies did not. From such a perspective, it seems increasingly clear that a quantum physics model is necessary to fully understand and appreciate how and why EMF and RF fields are harmful to living beings.

Specific frequencies of electromagnetic radiation regulate DNA, RNA and protein synthesis (assemble), alter protein shape and function and control gene regulation, cell division, cell differentiation, hormones secretion, nerve growth and function.

Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the brain controls the body: they represent an incredibly powerful form of energy that can activate or inhibit the function of a cell’s proteins via constructive or destructive interference. ‘Every cell in our body has a characteristic vibration. …When they vibrate at a different rate and pattern, the body functions less well and the person feels not so good […] every thought is a pattern of energy characterized by a certain vibratory rate and pattern […]’

Our conscious mind experiences the chemical communication signals between cells as emotions. If positive thinking and emotions are good for you, imagine what negative thinking can do.

  • Electromagnetic radiation effects on people from everyday electronics

ELF-MF and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields do seem to influence our circadian rhythms. Numerous studies have reported changes in sleep patterns, and melatonin and cortisol secretion after exposure to these fields.  There is a wealth of evidence to support the claim that the everyday technologies we use today emit electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate our body.  For years now, research has linked EM radiation to serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others. For example, after an extensive review of more than 2,000 such studies, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences concluded  that EMFs,should be regarded as possible carcinogens.’

  • Why is radiation dangerous?

Our bodies use electromagnetic fields to function properly. Robert Becker wrote that our cells actually communicate with each other via bioelectrical signals and electromagnetic fields. These natural EMFs help regulate important biochemical processes of all kinds. Maintaining balance in those cellular electromagnetic fields is crucial to our physical health. Magnetic radiation (which is part of any EMF), can easily penetrate the body. The body’s electrical signals can easily be affected by ambient radio waves, microwaves and other. Artificial EMFs can change the frequency of the body’s electrical fields, distorting the balance and alter its communications. Even when we leave that strong electromagnetic field environment, our body’s systems tend to store electromagnetic radiations within the cells as electromagnetic oscillations.  Mobile phones, for example, have powerful EMFs. Numerous studies conducted have shown that overexposure to EMFs can lead to weakened immunities, lowered resistance to bacterial and viral infections and cancer. While hotly debated the BioInitiative Report (2007), concluded that the existing standards for public safety are completely inadequate to protect your health.

Further research is being conducted into the possibility of a connection existing between different types of health risks. Accordingly, a recent study reported the results from a series of experimental studies aimed at discovering the effects of low-intensity radiofrequency radiation in the metabolism of living cells. In particular, oxidative stress was observed, which represents, ‘An imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidant defense.’  Oxidative stress mechanisms are known as a key factor in the onset of cancer.

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Life Cherishes Itself

30 Dec

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INTERDENDENCE of Humans and Nature: We Are One

21 Jul

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As I have written in my newest book- The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, there are direct implications for ecological ethics throughout the Buddha’s teachings. There is a holism. The Buddha emphasized the interdependence of human and non-human life, the importance of the ecosystem and of natural processes. By rejecting the concept of a substantial ‘self’, and comprehension of the interdependency of all phenomena, the importance of the distinction we usually make between ourselves and other living beings lessens. Such an attitude views the world as a vast interdependent field, in which no life form, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is an outsider. There is a state of connectedness and interdependence of all phenomena. The significant realization that there is no independent ‘self’– that the perception of ‘self’, of ‘me’, of ‘mine’ is only an egotistical representation, therefore leads every person to inter-dependently co-exist. Undercutting the usual ignorant anthropomorphic view of the validity of the successful domination and control of the environment by humans, naturalist Aldo Leopold claimed that, ‘The biotic (life factor) mechanism is so complex that its working may never be fully understood.’ There is a deeper ecology that recognizes the inherent worth of other beings aside from their utility.

Another writer who expressed a similar deep view of ecology was R.G.H. Siu:

‘The term Ecology, as used locally, does not have the connotation of the “environment” as used in America. There is no separation of man and his environment; rather there is a fusion of man and his environment. Ecology represents the study of the ecological entity as a whole. When a given ecological complex appears unfavourable from the standpoint of man, for example, he does not have a prior claim to adjustment on the part of the other elements of the complex. The others have just as much “right” to demand modification of his behaviour as he has on theirs. All are one in Nature. There is an appreciation of this Oneness and the delicate interrelationships of its diffusions.’

So humans are not an isolated island in a sea of existence, but rather their being is shared ultimately with all. This becomes a clear and apparent relationship with all existence through the Buddha’s teaching of anatta.

What Is your Newest Book About?

9 Jun

Since I first posted about the publication of my newest Book- The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, I have had numerous inquirers asking about the content of the book. I thought the quickest look at the book contents would be to list the Table of Contents. Good reading!

The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations

Contents

Preface…xi

Chapter 1 Introduction 1

Chapter 2 Self/No-Self 7

Chapter 3 Self as Construction 23

Chapter 4 The Human Being as a Collective, Unified Unit 35

Chapter 5 Awakening and Enlightenment: Psychological Transformation and Transcendence 61

Chapter 6 Enlightenment: Reality, Actuality and Transcendence 73

Chapter 7 Knowing and Not Knowing – What is Possible? 81

Chapter 8 The General Doctrine of the Law of Dependent Co-arising 99

Chapter 9 Kamma 109

Chapter 10 Sense of Agency 119

Chapter 11 Agency Labelled as Self 129

Chapter 12 Dividing Existence – Duality 143

Chapter 13 Language Construction of Duality 163

Chapter 14 Identification 181

Chapter 15 The Buddha’s Compassion 197

Chapter 16 Memory 207

Chapter 17 The Unconscious 227

Chapter 18 Habits 243

Chapter 19 Cognitive Biases 253

Chapter 20 Meta-cognition and Mindfulness 267

Chapter 21 Automatic Influences on our Actions and Perceptions 277

Chapter 22 Organisms as Coherent Embedded Systems 299

Chapter 23 Happiness 379

Chapter 24 The World without a ‘Self’ 391

Chapter 25 Closing Thoughts 405

Appendix A Explanation of the effects of stress on the different systems of the human body 411

Appendix B Special experiences 415

About the Author

Rodger R. Ricketts, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher. He has been studying Buddhism for over thirty years, both as part of his own personal quest and also in the application its principles as a therapeutic tool in psychotherapy. He has written three books exploring the foundation of the Buddha’s Teaching in psychology. Rodger has given numerous presentations at wellness and professional psychological conferences on the topics of cognitive psychology, mindfulness and wellbeing. Rodger continues his study of both science and Buddhism, and maintains a regular meditation practice.

What else other than the Big Bang Singularity?

16 May

What else other than the Big Bang Singularity?

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Since my childhood I have been affascinato with astronomy and cosmology. I lived in the relative darkness at night in suburban Illinois and the night sky was a display of planets, stars and even satellites. Early on, seeing my enthusiasm, my parents bought me a small telescope with which I could see even clearer and, also, more distant celestial objects, and we went to the nearby observatory and planetariums to learn more about the universe. Of course, as with all science, over the years with the advancement of more sophisticated technology, the hypothesis of the origin of the universe has changed and will continue to do so. This short blog is written as a personal reflection on the latest, more reasonable hypotheses on the topic of the beginning of our universe.

Those familiar with cosmology or the scientific study of the origin and structure of the universe are aware of the competition of two primary hypotheses about the nature of the universe in which we live. These two are the Steady State and Big Bang. In brief, the steady-state theory, claims that the density of matter in the expanding universe remains unchanged due to a continuous creation of matter, thus adhering to the perfect cosmological principle, a principle that asserts that the observable universe is basically the same at any time as well as at any place. While the steady state model enjoyed some popularity in the mid-20th century, the Steady State Theory is now no longer accepted by most cosmologists. Today the majority of astronomers consider the Big Bang theory to be the best description of the origin of the universe as the observational evidence points to a hot Big Bang cosmology with a finite age of the universe, which the Steady State model does not predict.

It seems that the field of cosmology, therefore, yields good evidence that there was an initial beginning to our universe. According to the Big Bang theory, our universe began as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, and infinitely dense something – a singularity. The universe began to exist as a hot, dense phase, which can be considered the “birth” of our universe in which was contained all of the mass and spacetime of the Universe before it rapidly expanded with subsequent inflation, creating the present-day Universe. Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time using general relativity yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past. The initial singularity is part of what is called the Plank  Epoch , or the earliest period of time in the history of the universe. So according to the standard theory, based on measurements of the expansion using Type IA supernova and measurements of temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, our universe came into existence as a singularity of an estimated age of 13.799 ± 0.021 billion years ago.

Well, as an ‘affascinato’ of cosmology, this has always been pretty convincing through the science that supports the Big Bang until one arrives at the logical question of “How did all that mass come into existence from nothing?”. One thinks that perhaps not being a professional in the subject, one has missed a subtle and important link in the argument for the Big Bang model. This self-doubt ends rather quickly when the usual cosmologist at the end of the Big Bang lecture admits, “Where did the initial singularity come from? We don’t know. Why did it appear? Well, to be honest, we don’t know. This is a question that stretches physics to its limit simply because before the initial singularity there was no space and no time. Therefore, the word ‘before’ becomes meaningless.” In fact, the Big Bang singularity can explain only what happened immediately after—not at or before—the singularity. Also, this implies that the universe was born with a tendency to expand, which overcame the tendency of matter to collapse. Why it initially chose to do so is also still a mystery… the Big Bang model has numerous theoretical difficulties to it.

So while the Big Bang is the most accepted model, there are many holes (not black ones) in this proposition. But now there is a new perspective which gives a more parsimonious answer to the questionable issues associated with that singularity. The perspective is quantum physics. In quantum physics, particularly the transactional interpretation (TI) of quantum mechanics, as discussed by Ruth Kastner, explains that the macroscopic world of mass, space and time is based on the foundation or scaffold of the quantum interactions found in ‘quantumland’. This interpretation purports that there is more to known reality than ‘spacetime’, and that quantum theory describes that subtler, unseen reality. In this hypothesis, quantum processes take place in a realm scaffolding the ‘spacetime’ realm. Quanta are not contained in our spacetime world but in the realm of possibilities outside spacetime. Kastner explains that according to the transaction interpretation of quantum systems, e.g. electrons, travel by a physical entity called an offer wave, which is offered from a source called an emitter, to a destination called an absorber. The microscopic emitters and absorbers are quantum objects and not in spacetime. When there is absorption of the offer, this process gives rise to a confirmation wave that travels back to the emitter. This process of an offer responded to by a confirmation is the basic ‘handshake’. The confirmation is also like a mirror image of the offer representing an incipient transaction whose essence is merely possible energy rather than real energy. The process of the creation of new particles can only be treated by relativistic quantum mechanics.

Once there is a matching confirmation, then the property is defined as actualized, brought into spacetime, and is a classical property. The incipient transaction is actualized and becomes an observable event in the macroworld or ‘our’ world of mass in space and time. A macroscopic object begins at the point at which a confirmation has been generated. Real energy is only conveyed in the actualized transaction, in fact; only through an actualized transaction can real energy be radiated or transferred from one object to another. So indeed, a reliable macroscopic object is a consistent absorber and can be defined as a system of many actualized transactions. Kastner uses the example of a geiger counter to illustrate the difference of the two ‘worlds’. A geiger counter exists as an object in the macroscopic world being a conglomerate of actualized transactions. But it also maintains its roots in the quantumland domain of possibilities because it is comprised of atoms, which can act as emitters or absorbers. Measurement occurs both whenever an absorber is accessible to an emitter and when confirmations are generated.

In actuality, it is the interaction of subatomic material that brings forth the material world as we know it and as it exists. So, in terms of the beginning of our universe, using the TI model, the speculation that would make sense is that at a point about 13 billion years ago there was a quantum fluctuation that created the macroscopic elements which ‘broke through’ and created our realm of existence. While, of course, the why, how and what are still a mystery for this as is still much of our comprehension of ‘quantumland’, we are no longer faced with the impossibility of explaining the ‘before’ the singularity event of the Big Band using the infinite macroscopic mass/space/time model of the Big Bang but instead the more heuristic, efficient quantum model which bypasses the impossible.

Li and Chi representing hidden and manifest Actuality

5 Apr

Li and Chi representing hidden and manifest Actuality

After reading Ruth E. Kastner’s book, Understanding our Unseen Reality, (2015) and re-reading sections of R.G.H. Siu’s book, Chi, (1974), out of an interest, I decided to speculate about an apparent commonality between two perspectives. While throughout the history of Chinese philosophical thought the expressions Li and Chi have had significantly diverse meanings, this short paper compares Li and Chi to the new noumenon and phenomenon aspects described in the Transactional Interpretation of quantum physics.

Chuang Tsu, Chinese philosopher of the 4th Century BC, had described characteristics of Chi as “When the Chi condenses, its visibility becomes apparent so that there are then the shapes (of individual things). When it disperses, its visibility is no longer apparent and there are no shapes. At the time of its condensation, can one say otherwise than that this is but temporary? But at the time of its dispersing, can one hastily say that it is then nonexistent?” For Tsu, Chi/Qi described vital force functions as the dynamic force out of which all objects or events emerge and into which they all return when their manifestation is completed.

Chu Hsi, an important neo-Confucian Chinese philosopher, (1130-1200) expanded on this concept by stating that there is ‘Li’ which is the underlying yet hidden base essence of the universe, and Chi is the expressed Li in concrete form. He wrote: “In the universe, there are Li and Chi. Li is that which pertains to what is before shapes, and is the source from which all things are produced. The Chi is the material (literally, instrument) that pertains to ‘what is within shapes,’ and is the means whereby things are produced. Hence men or things, at the moment of their production, must receive this Li in order that they may have a nature of their own. They must receive Chi in order that they may have their bodily form.” (Reply to Huang Tao-fu, Collected Literary Writings)

Therefore, Chi is described as the condensed material that creates and is expressed in the uniqueness of the many myriad forms of the macroscopic, spacetime world giving rise to everything manifested. On the other hand, Li, of the microscopic or, I suggest, quantum world, is the essence for the macroscopic world. That is, it is in the realm of ‘no things’ or virtual, that is Li. Hence, a ‘thing’ is a concrete manifestation of Li and it therefore, possesses Li from the first moment of its existence. It is Li that makes things what they are. Thus, according to neo-Confucianism, all categories of objects, sentient or not, possess Li. Since manifested Chi depends upon the Li for its operation, when there is an agglomeration of Chi, Li is also present within it. Chi is the Li as the capacity to condense and thus form things. Yet, the Li constitutes only a pure and ‘empty’ world, without shapes or traces. “But the Chi is the capacity to undergo fermentation and condensation, and thus bring things into existence. And yet, whenever the Chi exists, the Li is present within it.” (Recorded Sayings, chtian 1.) The Chi that moves is called the Yang; the Chi that rests is called the Yin. Thus, according to Chu Hsi, the dualistic elements that are the fundamentals of the universe in Chinese cosmology are produced. He says: “Whereas the Yang is in movement and the Yin in quiescence, the Supreme Ultimate is neither in movement nor in quiescence. But there are the Li of movement and of quiescence. These Li are invisible, and become manifest to us only when there are the movement of the Yang and the quiescence of the Yin. The Li rests upon the Yin and Yang just as a man rides on a horse.” (Complete Works, chiian 49.)

We recognize a similarity of Hsi’s Li and Chi to Kastner’s description of the transaction process that creates spacetime and the manifest objects that are found there. This consists in the idea that there is more to reality than spacetime, and that quantum theory is what describes that subtler, unseen reality. In this hypothesis, quantum processes take place in a realm scaffolding the spacetime realm. Quanta are not contained in our spacetime world but in the realm of possibilities outside spacetime. Kastner explains that according to the transaction interpretation of quantum systems, such as electrons, travel by what is a physical entity called an offer wave , which is offered from a source called an emitter, to a destination called an absorber. The microscopic emitters and absorbers are quantum objects and not in spacetime. When there is absorption of the offer, this process gives rise to a confirmation wave that travels back to the emitter. This process of an offer responded to by a confirmation is the basic ‘handshake’. The confirmation is also like a mirror image of the offer representing an incipient transaction whose essence is merely possible energy rather than real energy. The process of the creation of new particles can only be treated by relativitsic quantum mechanics.

Once there is a matching confirmation, then the property is defined as actualized, brought into spacetime and is a classical property. The incipient transaction is actualized and becomes an observable event in the macroworld.A spacetime object begins at the point at which a confirmation has been generated. Real energy is only conveyed in the actualized transaction, in fact, only through an actualized transaction can real energy be radiated or transferred from one object to another. So indeed, a reliable macroscopic object is a consistent absorber and can be defined as a system of many actualized transactions. Kastner uses the example of a geiger counter to illustrate the difference of the two ‘worlds’. A geiger counter exists as an object in the macroscopic world being a conglomerate of actualized transactions. But it also maintains its roots in the quantumland domain of possibilities because it is comprised of atoms, which can act as emitters or absorbers. Measurement occurs both whenever an absorber is accessible to an emitter and when confirmations are generated.

So we can consider that the emitted offer wave from ‘quantumland’ or ‘Li’ is actualized in the transaction or ‘Chi’ created from the process at the inherently unpredictable quantum level to the macroscopic level of transformed spacetime events. In fact, there is no spacetime or things and substance apart from those transforming events. In the subtler level of uncertainty or quantum, emission or absorption of transaction are not automatically assured, they are only tendencies: the swapping of virtual quanta which do not participate in energy transferring transactions unless they are elevated to offer waves or real photons.

The distinction between macroscopic world and microscopic or quantum world is made when classical physics describes the macro of atoms and other fundamental components of matter while the underlying hidden actuality corresponds to the quantum level. For humans then, the essence of existence is fundamentally ‘quantumland’ or Li while our experienced Actual as expressed through Chi is the manifested in spacetime.

So everything around us is the result of an actualized event established through actualized transactions. This is the world of appearance or spacetime. But all those events are brought into spacetime from the vast unseen hidden reality of quantumland which exists as the essential scaffolding that supports our spacetime world of experience. In this light, it becomes possible to clearly draw the similarities between the Chu Hsi’s Neo-Confucian concepts of Li and Chi with Kastner’s proposed operation of quantumland and spacetime. This matching of perspective helps to illuminate the position of both on the operation of forces in the universe.

BioTensegrity – body mechanics

14 Dec
  • This is really interesting as a model of biologic structures. Here is an article (edited for space reasons) by Stephen M Levin MD and others that hit on some key points.

 

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The Mechanics of Martial Arts

Eastern philosophy has not had a physical model for martial arts that a western trained mind could wrap a thought around. That is, not until biotensegrity.

The symbol of strength for western culture is the Greek god, Atlas. After a mythical war between the Olympians and Titans, Atlas, one of the losers, was condemned to stand as a pillar and support the universe on his shoulders for all eternity.

Following this model, strength, in western thought, is characterized as a rigid, unyielding and unmovable column. Western thought has the rigid column, the lever, and brute force, all concepts familiar to us since childhood when we built our first stack of blocks, rode a seesaw and smashed our first toy. In eastern thought, strength comes from deep within and is flexible, yielding and mobile; it flows. This difference in philosophy of strength is expressed in a difference in approach to combat sports. But eastern philosophy has not had a physical model for martial arts that a western trained mind could wrap a thought around. That is, not until biotensegrity. Biotensegrity is a mechanical model of biologic structure and function based on construction concepts introduced by Kenneth Snelson and Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s. In these models, the compression struts or rods are enmeshed and float in a structured network of continuously connected tension tendons. The shafts constructed by tensegrity networks are as different from a conventional column as a wagon wheel differs from a wire spoked bicycle wheel. Let me explain.

A conventional column is vertically oriented, compression load resisting and immobile. It depends on gravity to hold it together. It can only function on land, in a gravity field. The heavy load above fixes it in place. It must have ground beneath it for support. The weight above crushes down on the support below and the bottom blocks must be thicker and stronger than what is above it. If the spine is a conventional column, the arms and legs will cantilever off the body like flagpoles off a building. Moving an up-right, multiple hinged, flexible column, such as the spine as envisioned in conventional biomechanics, is more challenging than moving an upright Titan missile to its launch pad. Walking and running have been described as a controlled fall, a rather inelegant way to conceptualize movement. It certainly doesn’t describe the movement of a basketball player, a ballet dancer or a martial arts master. In the standard spine column model, the model for mobilizing the spine and putting the body in motion would be a wagon wheel.

In a wagon wheel, each spoke, compressed between the heavy rim and the axle, acts as a column. The wheel vaults from one spoke/column to the next, loading and unloading each spoke in turn. The weight of the wagon compresses the single spoke that then squeezes the rim between the spoke and the ground. At any one time, only one spoke is loaded and the other spokes just stand there and wait their turn. The spoke must be rigid and strong enough to withstand the heavy compression load and short, thick spokes do better than long, thin ones. The rim must be thick and strong, as it would crush under heavy load as it, too, is locally loaded. The forces are generated from the outside to the center. Using the column, post and lintel model, in a standing body, the heel bone would have to be the strongest bone in the body instead of, as it is in life, one of the weakest and softest. Biotensegrity bodies would be like a wire-spoke bicycle wheel. In a wire wheel, the hub hangs from the rim by a thin, flexible spoke. The rim would then belly out if it were not for the other spokes that pull in toward the hub. In this way, the load is carried by the tension of the many spokes, not the compression strength of one. The load gets distributed through the system and the hub is floating in a tension network like a fly caught in a spider web. All spokes are under tension all the time, doing their share to carry the load. They can be long and thin. Even loads at the rim become distributed through the system so the rim does not have to be thick and strong as in a wagon wheel. The structure is omnidirectional and functions independently of gravity. Unlike a conventional column, it is structurally stable and functional right side up, upside down or sideways. A tensegrity structure can function equally well on land, at sea, in air or space. Now think of each cell in the body behaving structurally as if it were a three-dimensional bicycle wheel. Each wheel would connect to each adjacent wheel the cell level, up the scale to tissue, organ and organism, a wheel within a wheel within a wheel.  In this system, all connective tissues in the body work together, all the time. It known, by recent experimental work that all the connective tissue, muscles, tendons ligaments right down to the cells are interconnected in just this way.

The body model would be more like Snelson’s Needle Tower where the bones of the tower are enmeshed in the wire tendons, never touching or compressing one another. Unlike flagpoles attached to the side of a building, the limbs are integrated into the system. The energy flows from deep within the structure, chi, out to the tips of the fingers and toes. The basic building block of the biotensegrity structures, the finite element, is the tensegrity icosahedron.

We need not go into all the details of the evolution of the biologic body here, but there are some very special properties of the icosahedron that explain the particular characteristics of the biologic structure. It is, mathematically, the most symmetrical structure and, in its resting state, is extremely energy efficient. Distorting the shape requires energy and when that energy is released, it returns to its least energy state, a, normally, self-regulating and self-generating mechanism. It is like a spring that, when distorted, will bounce back to its original shape. But it is a very special spring. When a steel spring is in its resting state, there is no energy storage. Adding a weight, say a kilo, will stretch the spring a defined amount, say 10cm. Each additional kilo will stretch the spring an additional 10cm. When the spring is released, all the stored energy is immediately released and the spring will snap back. If it is not restrained, it will bounce because of the accelerated motion. And, depending on how springy elastic it is, it will bounce and bounce and bounce, jerking up and down. This is the type of spring associated with the standard column, post and lintel construction of the body in western mechanics and is characterized as linear behavior.

The icosahedron, tensegrity spring is different and characterized as nonlinear. In the resting state, there is always some residual tension or tone in the system so it is never completely relaxed. If you add a kilo weight it may distort 15cms. But add another kilo and the distortion may only be 7cms, then 4cms, then 1cm. The icosahedron spring gets stiffer and stronger as you load it.

You can see that as you add more weight a great amount of energy can be stored with very little change of shape of the icosahedron spring. When released, there is not the sudden, total release of stored energy as there is in a linear spring, but a great amount of energy can be released early and the last part can be released slowly and gently; a splashdown rather than a hard landing. This softens the blow and removes the bounce and jerkiness. As noted, not all the energy is released, some remains in storage. Grab onto your earlobe and pull. At first, it distorts easily, but then it stiffens and pulling on it doesn’t change the shape very much. Let go. It regains most of its original shape quickly, but the last bit is very slow. It does not bounce back like a rubber band and slap you on the side of the head. This is often termed in biomechanical circles as visco-elastic as it has properties that in some ways are like fluid and in other ways, like a stiff elastic spring. In biologic bodies with bones, the stiffest icosahedrons are the bones and the most energy can be stored there. When compressed or expanded the movement of the icosahedron is helical, like the threads of a wood screw, and this is consistent with what we know of normal body movement. When it behaves as a stiffening fluid, it becomes a shock absorber, soaking up the energy rather than focusing it.

Those of you who are martial art practitioners already know you don’t stand stiff and upright but move in all directions like a break-dancer. You know that the energy flows in and out from deep within the system and that you can bring energy up from the squishiness of your cells out to harden on the tips of your fingers. Your body is never completely flaccid; some tone always remains in the system. To get the maximum energy you screw yourself down and then explode with tremendous force from within, but never overshoot your mark. Pulling the force from deep within your structure is recruiting the entire body mass. Newton’s second law of motion is force equals mass times acceleration F = ma. Imagine the difference if a small car moving at 5MPH strikes your automobile or a bus moving at 5MPH strikes your auto; quite a difference. Consistent with that law, striking a blow with your whole body creates a greater force than just striking with your fist, as you are increasing mass. In the standard post and lintel model, the arm and fist are just hanging off the body mass and operate independently of it. In a conventional boxers blow, speed a is all-important as the mass m is mostly the fist, in the biotensegrity model, the entire body mass is involved. When absorbing a blow, it reverses the process by soaking up the initial force, distributing it, and then gradually stiffing at the cellular level where the cells, rather than all the resistance landing on a local area. The bone breaking impact, rather than focused where the blow landed, will be he resisted by all your cells in a wave that spreads from the impact site to a wall of billions of cells throughout the body, acting as perfect hydraulic shock absorbers, take up the blow. You go with the flow. Much of what seems unexplainable about the forces generated in martial arts are readily explained when the body is understood as a biotensegrity structure rather than as the common western post and lintel model.

The concept that the body is a tensegrity structure is not just a convenient model for martial arts practitioners. A turf toe injury in a quarterback will keep him from throwing a long pass.  The quarterback throws from his foot, not just his arm. We know that biologic tissues characteristically behave as nonlinear and visco-elastic material. In fact, this nonlinear behavior has been felt to be an essential quality of living tissue. Different researchers in different parts of the world have demonstrated evidence that the entire fascial network is interconnected so that a continuous tension network is known to exist within the body. We also know that at least some of the joints, like the shoulder girdle, transmit their loads through the tension of the soft tissue and not the compression of the bones. There is mounting evidence that this is the way all joints work. It is difficult to let go of concepts that have been part of us since childhood. The post and lintel lever system have intuitively been our model of how the body mechanically functions. On the other hand, we really know better. Just watch any child first learning to throw a ball. Our first throws are done as if the arm is a separate structure, detached from the body. We soon learn that to throw a ball, you must put your whole body into it as the football quarterback does. We just never had a model to understand what we were doing. Biotensegrity gives us that model. 2010 Stephen M Levin

———————————————————–Dr. Stephen Levin’s research in Biotensegrity holds the view that the body is a tensegrity truss system with tension members provided by a matrix of connective tissues, ligaments, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and fascia.

In this model, the bones are considered as spacers, not weight bearers along with incompressible fluids giving shape and form to a soft tissue entity.

Water in its structured form is enclosed in the body in fascial compartments. It helps to provide shock absorption and holds the shape of a tissue. The different densities of liquids contribute to their form as either a sol or gel.

Therefore, as we move from liquid state to a denser tissue determines how the tissue reacts. This effect carries on through all tissues from fascia to bone.

Polymers are clusters of molecules that again have tensegrous properties. When polymers are in fluid solution, they can withstand great pressures.

As a polymer, the fluid in the synovial sacs prevents the approximation of bones during weight bearing and their shock absorbency. This concept was researched by Dr. Levin in the mid-1970s.

During an orthoscopy of a knee under local anesthesia, he kept the patient standing in a weight-bearing posture through the support of a tilt table. His findings demonstrated that as long as the ligaments were held intact then the joint surfaces of the knee crura could not be approximated.

Under Newtonian principles of weight-bearing structures, this would never be possible. These same principles apply to all structures and tissues in the body. In the visceral system, the organs must position themselves in a closed fluid system. Some organs are held in place by the aid of negative air pressure suction and others by fascial and ligamentous attachment.

They are subjected to the forces of compression and tension as we move around and as the organs function as air or fluid movers or digesting foods. The weight bearing and movement behaviour of organs are known as turgor. In this model, the organs can expand and have mobility and motility qualities and interact with all their peripheral attachments.

The serous fluids that lubricate the space between organs allow an omnidirectional fluid shape sharing ability. When this fluid has the quality of a gel it acts as a buffer or spacer and a shocked observer. Stresses are absorbed through the tension members of the fascia supporting and surrounding the organs.

The fascia is a connective tissue forming a continuously interconnected system throughout the living body. It’s formed of liquid crystalline material and has the property of acting as a semiconductor. When fascia is moved, it produces tension under pressure, which generates a piezo electric field. Piezo-electricity comes from the Greek meaning pressure electricity. Oschman, J

 Stress to tissues can result in a crystallizing of the tissue turning a gel state to a sol. This affects the viscosity of the fluid to a restriction of the normal mobility of two adjacent structures. This can restrict the movement of an organ resulting in its immune response and function being impaired.

This impoverishment can result in many symptoms on its downward spiral towards pathology.

Standard methods of evaluating the body were based on Newtonian physics but this model does not fit our upright bipedal movement against gravity.

Newtonian physics can measure and calculate the strength of structures and the stresses they become subject to.

Unfortunately, the body is still reviewed and described in outmoded mechanical anatomical terms. Until the concept of Biotensegrity, the laws describing anatomical movement were according to Newtonian principles.

The cells that make up the soft tissues in the body arrange themselves into geometric shapes that just keep repeating themselves.

When cells gravitate together, they are subjected to natural laws governing their grouping and shape. The law of closest packing is the most economical way of stacking organisms.

If you stack a number of balls in a box there will be space between the balls. In the law of closest packing, the balls could be arranged to fit as tightly as possible into the case. In the closest arrangement, you end up with forms of icosahedron shapes.

Because there are actually no joined structures the icosahedron is quite unstable. This

results in the icosahedron oscillating and generating an energy field. Levin. S

In the study of Biotensegrity, the smallest components of bone or tissue arrange themselves as icosahedrons. Icosahedrons form structures that can withstand compression or tension in any direction. They can stack to make large structures like a beehive construction.

 In a tensegrity structure, compression elements float in the interspace of the tension wires. In the body, this would relate to the vertebrae in the spine. Each subsystem (vertebrae, disc and soft tissue) would be a subsystem of the spines metasystem, like the beehive analogy.

When viewed in this way you can understand their role in balancing tension and compression when stress is applied to the human frame. Extracts from Spine state of the Art Reviews Vol , No 2, May 1995, Hanley and Belfast, Philadelphia, Ed Thomas Deman M.D

Loads applied to the body distribute their pressure through the network of tension elements to create a balance. Even a pressure load to a small bone will distribute the load through the whole system.

A natural movement strategy in tensegrity truss architectural form is the closest explanation of nature’s laws at work in the human frame.

Bones floating in compression, tension network can form into trusses and extend out from the body like a bridge. This makes the body a weight mover, not a weight bearer. So in walking and especially when you are on one leg, the balanced tension maintains the integrity. Hatsumi says that you must learn to float in your walk. Hatsumi (2003).

The ligaments and soft tissues are constructed with soft viscoelastic materials that behave non linearly Journal of Mechanics in Medicine and Biology Vol 2,3 and 4, 375-388 World Scientific Publishing Co.

The difference between a mechanical structure and a human in motion is this non- linear flexibility of choice in movement.

In Newtonian physics, a four-dimensional universe is often described as a giant clockwork in three-dimensional space manifesting linear processes in time Power Vs Force D, Hawkins.

In other words, movement of a structure is determined by a concept of causality.

One-step sequentially leading to the next in mechanical formation.

The human frame is not ruled by this concept and is capable of nondeterministic, omnidirectional change inside of movements. This is like changing the formation of a step when you realize you are going to trip.

Pressure does not act locally on the tissue or follow a specific anatomical route along muscles or fascia. It follows to the depth of the tissue change and can act in a non-linear dynamic way that matches the tension/compression changes to the damaged tissue. This is brought about by the ability to palpate deeply into tissue without force feedback being a resistant force.

 

In the art of Shinden, he told us that our energy or intent must come from the heart to our thumb to instigate the change. My initial understanding of this concept was to be sincere and benevolent or your intent to initiate healing in the client.

Although this is important, more recent research has demonstrated that the heart is the main generator of electricity in the body in the form of energy. Science also tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted.

In the visceral approach, you are focusing on the tension of fascia around the organs. We need to integrate the concept of one point approach to a tensegrous structure changing sol to gel in the tissue matrix.

Dennis Bartram November 2004

Updated April 2005 ——————————————————————————

The mechanical anatomy of a cell  In trying to reestablish a physical view of biology, Ingber has shown that cells, far from being formless blobs, use tension to stabilize their structure. And he has demonstrated, through two decades of experiments, that tensegrity not only gives cells their shape, but helps regulate their biochemistry.

Every cell, Ingber notes, has an internal scaffolding, or cytoskeleton, a lattice formed from molecular “struts and wires” not unlike the rigid tubes and tensed cables of Snelson’s sculptures. The “wires” are a crisscrossing network of fine cables, known as microfilaments, that stretch from the cell membrane to the nucleus, exerting an inward pull. Opposing the pull are microtubules, the thicker compression-bearing “struts” of the cytoskeleton, and specialized receptor molecules on the cell’s outer membrane that anchor the cell to the extracellular matrix, the fibrous substance that holds groups of cells together. This balance of forces is the hallmark of tensegrity.

Tissues are built from groups of cells, which Ingber likens to eggs sitting on the “egg carton” of the extracellular matrix. The receptor molecules anchoring cells to the matrix, known as integrins, connect the cells to the wider world. Ingber’s group in Children’s Vascular Biology Program has shown that a mechanical force on tissue is felt first by integrins at these anchoring points, and then is carried by the cytoskeleton to regions deep inside each cell. Inside the cell, the force might vibrate or change the shape of a protein molecule, triggering a biochemical reaction, or tug on a chromosome in the nucleus, activating a gene.

Ingber says that cells also have “tone,” just like muscles, because of the constant pull of the cytoskeletal filaments. Much like a stretched violin string produces different sounds when force is applied at different points along its length, the cell processes chemical signals differently depending on how much it is distorted.

“A growth factor will have different effects depending on how much the cell is stretched,” says Ingber. Cells that are stretched and flattened, like those in the surfaces of wounds, tend to grow and multiply, whereas rounded cells, cramped by overly crowded conditions, switch on a “suicide” program and die. In contrast, cells that are neither stretched nor retracted carry on with their intended functions.

Location, location, location Another tenet of cellular tensegrity is that physical location matters. When regulatory molecules float around loose inside the cell, their activities are little affected by mechanical forces that act on the cell as a whole. But when they’re attached to the cytoskeleton, they become part of the larger network, and are in a position to influence cellular “decision-making.” Many regulatory and signaling molecules are anchored on the cytoskeleton at the cell’s surface membrane, in spots known as adhesion sites, where integrins cluster. These prime locations are key signal-processing centers, like nodes on a computer network, where neighboring molecules can receive mechanical information from the outside world and exchange signals. “Adhesion sites are what’s important for major control of the cell,” Ingber says. “If you’re in one of these sites, you’re hooked up to a bunch of players, both mechanical and chemical. You can affect these players, which in turn affect a bunch of other players.”

Ingber offers the example of the oncogene src, one of the first genes known to cause tumors. This mutated gene doesn’t shut off – it sends unrelenting chemical signals telling the cell to grow. “But what’s interesting is that src is normally found on the cytoskeleton in the adhesion sites, near its signaling partners,” he says. “To produce a cancerous transformation, it must be at these sites because it needs to be integrated within the structure of the cell.”

Disease mechanics Based on these observations, Ingber believes that genes and molecules only partially explain disease origins. In fact, he asserts that many medical conditions are caused by a mechanical failure at the cell and tissue level. Examples include congestive heart failure, where the heart muscle loses its elasticity and becomes “floppy,” thus losing its pumping efficiency; and asthma, where changes in tissue mechanics cause the airway to stiffen, tighten and contract, increasing mechanical resistance and constricting breathing.

But often the mechanical basis of a disease is not so obvious. On an airplane not long ago, Ingber found himself sitting next to Jing Zhou, a researcher from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who told him about her work on polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. In children with PKD, huge cysts form in the kidney tubules, eventually replacing much of the mass of the organ itself, and causing the kidneys to fail. Zhou’s lab had found a gene linked to PKD and localized it to a thin antenna-like structure sticking out of the kidney cell, known as the primary cilium. But she had no explanation for the finding.

Ingber pointed out that the cilium is designed to sense mechanical forces ¨ in the case of the kidney, the shear stress caused by urine flow. Normally, the force of the flow bends the cilium, triggering calcium to rush into the cell. He suggested to Zhou that perhaps cells affected by PKD have a faulty calcium signal and constantly “think” that shear stresses are high. This in turn might cause the tubules to enlarge more and more to accommodate the flow, eventually forming cysts. From this serendipitous meeting, a collaboration was born, and together, Ingber and Zhou showed that when the PKD-causing genes are disabled in mice, the “lever” of the primary cilium malfunctions and fails to trigger a normal calcium response.

Scientific heresy? Ingber has worked hard to defend the notions of cellular tensegrity and mechanical forces regulating cellular biochemistry. He recalls being publicly attacked while presenting at scientific meetings. But he also remembers an eminent scientist telling him, “If you’ve got them that upset, you must be on to something important.” And so Ingber returned to the lab bench. “I responded to my critics by devising experiments,” he says.

In 1993, his team reported in Science that when they used magnetic forces to literally twist the integrin receptors at the cell surface, the cytoskeleton stiffened in response to the stress and behaved like a tensegrity structure. In 1997, the team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that tugging on the same integrin receptors causes changes in the cell nucleus. In 2000, a study in Nature Cell Biology demonstrated that mechanical stress at the cell surface causes the release of chemical signals inside the cell that kick genes into action. Tweaking receptors not linked to the cytoskeleton had no such effect. Other experiments have altered the extracellular matrix – making it alternately rigid or flexible – and documented effects on cell signaling and gene expression.

Nanotechnology and beyond Ingber’s study of tensegrity’s role in disease has helped him forge some unexpected connections. In 2003, he worked with Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur on a nanotechnology project, using a laser to obliterate a minuscule portion of a cell, a few billionths of a meter in size, without affecting surrounding structures. Ingber got involved because he sees the laser as a tool for cutting out a single structure in a living cell to explore its mechanical role. He has also delved into systems biology, a new field that uses computational approaches to explore how molecular parts organize themselves into a system whose properties cannot be predicted by the parts alone. Informed by tensegrity, Ingber hopes to understand how structural, mechanical, chemical and genetic factors combine to govern cell behavior.

He has also helped devise new approaches to tissue engineering, and even posits that tensegrity helps explain the origins of life. Observing that viruses, enzymes, cells, and even small organisms take geodesic forms like hexagons and helices, Ingber suggests that tensegrity is nature’s way of creating strong, stable life forms with minimal expenditure of energy and materials.

“Tensegrity has given me a path that goes deep and broad,” Ingber says. “I believe the greatest value comes when you cross barriers and boundaries and get a new perspective and vantage point. I’m not afraid of following my own path.” Nancy Fliesler