Science in Society Archive

Interview with Mae-Wan Ho

From genetics and GMOs to quantum biology and cosmology

Mónica Fernández

(A longer version in Spanish is published in issue 61 of La Fertilidad de la Tierra, June 2015)

A graduate with honors in Biology and Chemistry, with specialty in Genetics, expertise in Quantum Physics and Cosmology, a pioneer in researching the health effects of GMOs and the quantum properties of water, promoter of organic agriculture and local food and energy systems, prolific writer of books and scientific papers, and last but not least, artist, Mae-Wan Ho surprises one  with the versatility of her knowledge, her unbridled and amusing spirit, and her yearning to unravel the secrets of Life and the Universe. Besides being a prestigious scientist, she is co-founder of ISIS (Institute of Science in Society) in Britain, which aims at reclaiming science for the public good, making it an integral part of general culture.

Starting at a young age, Mae-Wan (born in Hong Kong, 1941) felt drawn to solving the mysteries of the Universe, while in the grip of a rigid convent-school educational system. This did not prevent her from pursuing a brilliant professional career as a scientist, although she never betrayed her integrity. For more than twenty years Mae-Wan has been challenging scientific dogma in fields as diverse as genetic engineering, evolution theories, the physics of living organisms, medicine, and much more. Her comprehension of the consequences of genetic manipulation and the importance of developing self-sufficient food systems led her to get involved in the field of agroecology where she has so much to offer.

ISIS, the institute that she co-founded, provides accessible and reliable scientific information both for the general public and legislators, and promotes a sense of social and ecological responsibility, aiming ultimately at reclaiming truth and beauty in Science and Art. At ISIS, they believe that Science should serve public good. In the words of doctor Ho, “Once we fully embrace the implications of the quantum revolution in western science and science as reliable (indigenous) knowledge of nature that enables us to live sustainably with her, science for the public good is taken for granted, it will be like second nature to us.”

Monica: Given that science is the unbiased study of the Universe in its diverse facets, why is there such substantial disagreement among scientists when evaluating the consequences of GMOs implantation, the effectiveness of homeopathy or sustainable agricultural systems, or the crystalline properties of liquid water, to name a few examples of controversies existing at the moment?

Mae-Wan: This is a very deep question and a good place to begin. In line with indigenous cultures all over the world, I take it for granted that we are deeply embedded in nature, which is the source of our sustenance and inspiration. To us, science is reliable knowledge of nature that is true to nature, and enables us to live sustainably with her. Authentic knowledge requires a passionate total involvement with nature, a love of nature that engages body and soul,mind and spirit. To really understand nature, a scientist needs to have the sensibility of the romantic poet and the artist’s feeling for wholeness and coherence.

Modernist Western science, in contrast, is predicated on separating the knowing being from nature, which can only be known from the outside, via ‘objective knowledge’ of the rational mind divorced from feeling or passion. From this sterile modernist perspective, knowledge is easily manipulated and shaped by prejudices and self-serving interests. It is also singularly unable to deal with the science of the organism that encompasses water homeopathy, and sustainable agriculture, because it sees everything in terms of machines with decomposable parts.

Monica: What does it mean that conventional science is reductionist and mechanistic? How does this paradigm affect the way science understands the Universe, Life, and food production?

Mae-Wan: Conventional western science is premised on rejecting interconnected nature as a whole. It can therefore only attempt to understand nature piece-meal, as a gigantic machine, by reducing the whole to its parts. Paradoxically, when it reached the limits of mechanistic reductionism, quantum physics turns up to tell us in no uncertain terms that nature cannot be reduced. The knower is irreducibly entangled with the known, and we are all, from fundamental particles to people to stars and galaxies, all inseparably entangled with one another. Even more fundamentally, quantum physics is telling us that nature cannot be understood as a gigantic clockwork machine assembled from decomposable parts; instead nature is an organism par excellence, in which part and whole are mutually entangled and inseparable, and can only be understood with the sensitivity of an organism. Western science has redeemed itself in the quantum revolution, but most practitioners do not know it yet, and neither does western society at large. I wrote an article entitled “Towards an indigenous western science” many years ago (https://www.academia.edu/11844982/Towards_an_Indigenous_Western_Science_Causality_in_The_Universe_of_Coherent_Space-Time_Structures), which attempts to spell out the implications of quantum physics for science and society.

Monica: Is “science for the public good” an achievable goal? How can we make it?

Mae-Wan: Once we fully embrace the implications of the quantum revolution in western science and science as reliable (indigenous) knowledge of nature that enables us to live sustainably with her, science for the public good is taken for granted, it will be like second nature to us. And by public good, I don’t mean just being ethical, useful, and ecological, I also mean being inspirational.

Monica: What’s ISIS’ role in bringing science closer to society? Why this mission?

Mae-Wan: ISIS’ role is to bring science into society, as part and parcel of general culture. On a practical level, we provide critical, accessible and reliable scientific information to the public and policy makers, we promote social and ecological accountability, and above all, we aim to recover truth and beauty in science as in art. We have several in-house artists including myself.

Monica: As a geneticist, can you tell us about the consequences of eating genetically modified foods for human health?

Mae-Wan: When I first warned about genetic modification (GM) twenty years ago, there were already many uncontrollable, unexpected effects found in genetically modified organisms (GMOs): deformed plants and animals, unexplained toxins and allergens. This highlights the mismatch between a mechanistic, reductionist mind-set that presupposes genes determine functions in linear causal chainsso theycan be changed one at a time without affecting anything else and the organic realityof circular causation in the ‘fluid genome’ where the functions of genes are inextricably entangled with one another and with  the environment in complex feed forward and feedback loops that can mark and change the genes themselves. I said this mismatch was the greatest danger of GM then(see Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, ISIS publication), and it remains so now 20 years later when there is abundant evidence of harm from GM.

Whenever and wherever scientists independent of the biotech industry carry out feeding trials in the laboratory, they find liver and kidney problems in their animals, stunting, birth defects, excess deaths, infertility, tumours, and cancers, confirming what farmers have been experiencing themselves and witnessing in their families and their livestock, and doctors have been documenting the illnesses in people living near GMO fields for years (see Ban GMOS Now, ISIS Report). In the United States, where there is still no labelling of GMOs, the government’s own data show a marked deterioration of public health, with dozens of diseases rising in parallel with the sharp increase in GM crops and glyphosate herbicide use (see Marked Deterioration of Public Health Parallels Increase in GM Crops and Glyphosate Use, US Government Data Show, SiS 65). The causes of harm from GM feed and food are diverse: they certainly come from glyphosate herbicides used with glyphosate tolerant GM crops; glyphosate has just been recognized as a probable carcinogen in the World Health Organization's latest evidence-based assessment (Glyphosate 'Probably Carcinogenic to Humans' Latest WHO Assessment, SiS 66), and has numerous other toxicities including endocrine disruption. Harm can come directly from the transgenes incorporated, or indirectly through new proteins and nucleic acids created as a consequence of the insertion of transgenes. Furthermore, the synthetic GM DNA inserted is unstable and can jump around the genome of the GMO to create more harmful effects. Most of all, the GM DNA can jump into the genome of all species of organisms interacting with the GMO, as for example, animals including humans eating the GMO. GM DNA jumping species is called horizontal gene transfer. It is a main route for spreading antibiotic resistance genes (contained in most GM DNA) making infections untreatable, and for creating new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases. GM DNA inserting into genomes can also wake up dormant viruses and activate cancer-causing genes.

People may find it paradoxical that practically all the processes employed by human genetic engineers in the laboratory to create GMOs are actually used by the organisms themselves in their everyday life, and this natural genetic modification is absolutely necessary for survival. The important difference is that the natural genetic modification carried out by the organism themselves is precisely orchestrated and context dependent in a very fine grain way. It is negotiated by the organism as a whole in relation to its environment. In contrast, artificial genetic modification is crude and imprecise, without regard to context and cause a lot of collateral damage. That is the main reason why artificial genetic modification can almost never be safe (see Why GMOs Can Never be Safe, SiS 59). The new breed of ‘synthetic biologists’ are promising precise genome editing as the way forward in artificial genetic modification, but off-target effects continue to dog the most sophisticated attempts so far.

Monica: Is organic agriculture one of the solutions to climate change? Can this productive system react better to climate change effects?

Mae-Wan: Organic agro-ecological small-scale agriculture is the key solution to food security under climate change, as we have documented in a comprehensive report published in 2008 (Food Futures Now -Organic -Sustainable -Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS Report). Study after study since,including the most thorought international IAASTD assessment(http://www.unep.org/dewa/assessments/ecosystems/iaastd/tabid/105853/default.aspx), has confirmed greater productivity, savings on energy and carbon emissions, more nutritious food, more earnings for farmers, and above all, improved tolerance and resilience to climate extremes such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts.

Monica: Could stop eating meat and raising livestock be part of the solution to climate changes attributed to farming? How does this relate to the pasture-herbivore symbiosis and the capacity of pastures to capture excess CO2 emissions?

Mae-Wan: No, we do not have to stop eating meat. We need to substantially reduce meat in our diet. Most of all, we need to stop intensive cattle-raising on grains in industrial feedlots. Organic, well-kept permanent pasture and extensively raised cattle with paddock grazing is highly sustainable, and also sequester carbon in the deep roots of grasses. We must not destroy natural grasslands and turn them into fields to grow soya or maize for intensively fed cattle; and we must not cut down forests for growing soya. Yes, the pasture-herbivore symbiosis practiced for thousands of years is the answer, along with sustainable agro-forestry and other agro-ecological practices that depend on maximizing local biodiversity and productivity. That is the way to health of the land, and food security and health for people.

Monica: One of the main issues with climate change is the depletion of one of our most irreplaceable resources: water. Can we prevent the “water crisis”?

Mae-Wan: Yes we can prevent the “water crisis” with a diversity of local technological solutions and innovations that reduce the use of water in agriculture, industry and homes; that prevent pollution of water resources and run-offs, rain-water harvesting, recycling and regenerating waste water (for some examples of innovations in agriculture (see Securing Water for Food, SiS 65). The key is small, diverse and local, with appropriate policies that ensure equity of access to water for all, and protecting and enhancing public water resources is in everyone’s interest.

Monica: What is liquid crystalline water and why isn’t this state of water recognized widely in conventional science?

Mae-Wan: You are now asking about the liquid crystalline state of the water my colleagues and I first discovered in living organisms, in cells and tissues, more than 20 years ago. It is water in an ordered and excited state adsorbed on the surfaces of cell membranes and macromolecules that makes life and living biochemical processes possible, as described in my books, The Rainbow and the Worm - The Physics of Organisms , and Living Rainbow H2O, ISIS publications).  It has remained my major research area and inspiration. It is important to realize that the ordered excited state of water – quantum coherent water - already exists in ordinary bulk water and is merely stabilized by the surfaces, the interfaces. Water is at the base of the organic perspective in the quantum revolution of Western science, it is radically non-mechanistic. It is spontaneous and free-flowing, sensitive and responsive, accommodating and flexible, yet effective and powerful. And of course, all indigenous sciences are organic and non-mechanistic.

Monica: Beyond being free of toxic substances and impurities, is it significant for irrigation water to be “liquid crystalline” in relation to the health and productivity of food crops? How can a farmer get this type of water?

Mae-Wan: Water has its own geo-cycle, which is different from its cycle within living organisms. Rain-water needs to percolate deep into the ground through many layers of soil and rock, changing in temperature and density, dissolving rock minerals on its way, to surface again as spring water laden with minerals, which is the best kind of water to drink for health. Rainwater feeds plants naturally; plants have their own way of managing and conditioning water that is distinct from animals. Trees create rain, that’s why we have rainforests. They are needed for regenerating oxygen and fixing carbon dioxide, and also for watering crops. It is sufficient that water for irrigation should be free of toxic substances and impurities, and it should be used very sparingly as in drip irrigation. You do not need special liquid crystalline water (as I said, liquid crystalline water already exists in ordinary water). Having said that, there is still a great deal about water we do not yet understand. There have been many claims that specially activated water, by treatment with magnetic or electromagnetic fields, can prevent pipes clogging up with precipitates, or have special growth promoting properties for crops. All that needs to be properly researched

Water comes in infinite structural forms because it is very flexible. It is also extremely responsive to its environment, to electromagnetic fields or light. It has all the hallmarks of sentience, and I have no doubt that water is the real seat of consciousness in living organisms and possibly the universe at large, as water is the most abundant compound in the universe, being created continuously since the universe was born…that’s another story.

Monica: Tell us about the viability of using naturally salt tolerant plants for crops irrigated with sea/ocean water. Could this solve or mitigate the water crisis?

Mae-Wan: Yes indeed, saline agriculture is going to be very important (see Saline Agriculture to Feed and Fuel the World (SiS 42), both for food security and flood defence. There are many naturally salt tolerant species already, and more are being discovered and perfected for example, salt and flood tolerate rice (Feeding China with Sea-rice 86, SiS 65). Sea water has many plant nutrients (especially micronutrients) washed away from land by runoffs, and saline agriculture is a good way to recover and recycle those nutrients.

Monica: In Nature, what’s the meaning of a circular economy? Tell us about the analogy between an organism and a sustainable farm. If organisms are sustainable through the use of a circular economy, could our human activities and technology be sustainable too?

Mae-Wan: Circular economy is nature’s own economy. Everything goes in cycles, and is recycled to minimize waste and dissipation. Technically it is called circular thermodynamics, thermodynamics being the transformation of material and energy, or economy by another name. It is how nature continually recreates and renews itself, how individual organisms transforms material and energy to regenerate and recreate themselves from moment to moment, and to reproduce the next generation in life cycles. It is the essence of sustainability. That’s what the ‘green economy ought to be like’, instead of the linear maximum waste and dissipation economy we have. Many businesses and industries are already designing for reuse and recycling along the lines of a circular economy, minimizing waste and pollution of the environment. In the same way, organic, agro-ecological agriculture integrates itself into nature’s circular economy by maximizing internal input and symbiosis, transforming wastes back into food and energy resources. All sustainable farms are run according to a circular economy. In the simplest form, the farmer grows crops and keeps cattle on grass and crop wastes, the cattle provide manure to fertilize the crops. You can make the farm bigger, add sheep, which can feed after the cows have taken the first grazing and then put in chickens that will find a rich picking of insects in the manure. You can have keep fish in fishponds, and feed them on grass and crop wastes, and fertilize and water the crops with the fish water. Farmers have invented all manner of circular economy farms.  One common example is putting ducklings and fish into rice paddies for weed control and fertilization. I have written at length about this in Food Futures Now -Organic -Sustainable -Fossil Fuel Free, including a complete version of a food and energy self-sufficient Dream Farm that incorporates renewable energies and anaerobic digestion to recycle waste into nutrients and biogas energy while preventing pollution of the environment.  In The Rainbow and the Worm - The Physics of Organisms , I develop the more technical aspects of circular thermodynamics.

Monica: Are any of the implications of the hypothesis that quantum coherence is present everywhere in the Universe applicable to practical agriculture? (i.e. regarding the relationship between celestial bodies and the growth of plants, or between insects/plagues and plants, or other)?

Mae-Wan: Yes, some quantum physicists including me regard the universe as quantum coherent, just as organisms are quantum coherent. That essentially means that the entire universe is radically interconnected through a range of space time scales from very fast to extremely slow, from sub-microscopic to intergalactic. Since the beginning of agriculture perhaps 10 000 years ago, farmers have sowed and harvested according to seasons and some have been guided by a more sophisticated calendar based on precise conjunction of celestial bodies. Experiments have been done in biodynamic farming showing that the precise time of sowing does make a difference. Again, we need a great deal more research. A lot of local knowledge has already been lost, and it is time for scientists to learn and work together with farmers to preserve and consolidate local knowledge.

Monica: Going even further into the implications of quantum coherence, could there be a connection between a farmer intention/thoughts (her state of mind, her beliefs, etc) and the health and nourishing properties of the plants and animals she cares for?

Mae-Wan: It is entirely possible for a farmer’s intention to influence the plants and animals she cares for. Animals and plants are very sensitive and responsive to good intentions. There is already a lot of evidence that our state of mind influences the expression of our genes, and it would be surprising if happy plants and animals do not also alter the expression of their genes.

Monica: What are you working on at this moment and which are your plans for future projects related to agriculture?

Mae-Wan: Ah, my life project is really the meaning of life, the universe, everything! I have just published a paper with two theoretical physicists on cosmology, which was my first love. It took me a while to get there. The paper is very mathematical (at least half of the mathematics I don’t really understand). The paper “Is spacetime fractal and quantum coherent in the golden mean?” can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/10953909/Is_spacetime_fractal_and_quantum_coherent_in_the_golden_mean

I am not an agriculturist and only grow vegetables and herbs in my little garden when I have time. I am only a scientist inspired by science and interested in making science serve people and planet in every way; so I have made it my business to learn about sustainable agriculture in practically every country I have visited.

Monica: Finally, could you share any good news regarding science and society with our readers?

Mae-Wan: Well, the good news is that science is winning, and in every field. Many more scientists are standing up for science now than when I first began in 1994. There were only a handful of us warning against the dangers of GMOs. I soon discovered that GMOs are not unique. In every single field, vested interests are bending and manipulating science to suit their purposes, to sell their products, from mobile phones to pharmaceuticals to fossil fuels. That was why Peter Saunders and I cofounded the Institute of Science in Society to recover science in general for public good. Regarding GMOs, farmers in the USA, the biggest producer by far in the world, are turning back to non-GM crops in record numbers in 2015, basically because consumers everywhere are aware of the health hazards, and non-GM produce are more profitable, because there is a premium on them, and there is no technology fee to pay. Furthermore, GM traits have failed against rising tides of herbicide resistant superweeds and Bt resistant insects (see http://naturalsociety.com/record-us-farmers-switching-non-gmo-crops-2015/). The rest of the world should now stand firm in their rejection of GMOs.

The best of the good news is the beginning of the end for fossil fuels, the successes of renewables are unstoppable, and 100 % renewables is now on the climate change agenda (see Age of Oil Ending? SiS 66). This goes hand in hand with sustainable agriculture. Science is with the people and we are marching toward a sustainable, equitable future for all. Politicians and governments need to wake up and follow the people.

Article first published 08/07/15



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There are 10 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

susan Comment left 8th July 2015 14:02:35
Your last sentence says it all. Those who foolishly think that control of nature through destructive intent have lost all sensibilities. Avarice has no thought process and is incapable of offering the world any solutions.

Arya Comment left 8th July 2015 14:02:04
"Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better." Albert Einstein Great interview and Great work Dr. Mae-Wan! Best wishes, Arya yajnacentre.blogspot.ca

Tim Morgan Comment left 8th July 2015 14:02:56
Thank you, so much.

Charley Barry Comment left 8th July 2015 14:02:51
Thank you, Mae-Wan, for stating so very clearly what I have been trying to say. Your words are a great service to humanity. I cannot thank you enough.

Jan Rice Comment left 9th July 2015 14:02:42
Wow! I am in awe of your intelligence and your ideas. Thank you so much.

R.Santhanam Comment left 9th July 2015 15:03:15
Toxics are unutilised wastes of nature's cycles and this also created by anthropocentric factors, including industrial manufacturing, use of NPK fertilizers,use of fossil fuels for energy needs etc..Swami Valmiki Sreenivasa Ayyangarya in India has delved into ancient Sanskrit texts and discovered new approaches to such problems.These are broadly called as Vedic Sciences. He uses toxic to help plants grow healthy, shake off diseases and help produce food, fuel or fibre without pollution effects, not needing pesticides at all.The food is also organic certifiable.

Rory Short Comment left 8th July 2015 16:04:18
Discovering ISIS and the thinkings and writings of Mae-Wan has proved to be one of the re-enforcers of the meaning of life for me. A profound thank you Mae-Wan.

Warren Taylor Comment left 9th July 2015 06:06:52
Mae-Wan, I am so appreciative of your level of prescience concerning the unity of all things and your beautiful disclosures of the role water plays in the transformation of life. Heartfelt thanks for all you are........

Scott Comment left 17th July 2015 06:06:57
This article presents Dr. Mae-Wan Ho as a progressive and enlightened woman, who has insight into the nature of reality. However, as such, one perplexing tenet she holds that is seemingly paradoxical to the aire of her philosophy, is she condones the eating of meat. How in the universe can one promote a behavior that is built upon extreme suffering of sentient beings, considering it is totally unnecessary, in this age?

Veronica Comment left 17th July 2015 16:04:11
Thank you so much for a great read Mae-Wan, It gives me hope knowing there are people like you in this field. It always seems scientists are against all things good and pure and only want to do things in a way that is not natural.

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