Science in Society Archive

I-SIS Lecture

Keynote lecture presented in Global Philosophy Forum, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, USA, 7 April 2007

Quantum Jazz, The Tao of Biology

What quantum coherence has to say about the organism, ethics, and ultimate reality. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

What is quantum jazz?

Quantum Jazz [1] (SiS 32) is the music of the organism dancing life into being. We are all quantum jazz players, in the very substance of our being.

Like the little fruitfly larva, the Daphnia, and any other small creature, we too, would be resplendent in all the colours of the rainbow when observed under the polarizing microscope at a special setting that lets you see right through to the tissues and cells and especially the molecules, as they are busy being alive, and keeping the organism alive.

Organisms are thick with spontaneous activities at every level, right down to the molecules, and the molecules are dancing, even when the organisms sit still. The images obtained give direct evidence of the remarkable coherence (oneness) of living organisms.

The macromolecules, associated with lots of water, are in a dynamic liquid crystalline state, where all the molecules are macroscopically aligned to form a continuum that links up the whole body, permeating throughout the connective tissues, the extracellular matrix, and into the interior of every single cell. And all the molecules, including the water, are moving coherent ly together as a whole.

The liquid crystalline continuum enables every single molecule to intercommunicate with every other. The water, constituting some 70 percent by weight of the organism, is also the most important for forming the liquid crystalline matrix, for intercommunication and for the macromolecules to function at all [2-6] (The Rainbow and the Worm - The Physics of Organisms 2nd Edition ; The Liquid Crystalline Organism and Biological Water, ISIS scientific publication; Water, Water Everywhere series, Science in Society 15 ; New Age of Water series Science in Society 23; Science in Society 32).

Quantum jazz players

The quantum jazz players you have seen in the video [7] (Quantum Jazz Parts 1& II, are small creatures from our garden ponds and soils, set to music inspired by them. Though no matter how good the composer and musician, and Julian Haffegee, who composed, played, recorded and mixed the music, and Andy Watton, who edited and married the video sequences to the music, are both very good, no one will ever reach the creative, artistic and technical heights of the real quantum jazz players. So that is a continual challenge for us all.

Quantum jazz is the music of the organism dancing life into being, with every single cell, every molecule and atom taking part, emitting light and sound with wavelengths of nanometres to metres and kilometres; spanning a musical range of 70 octaves, each improvising spontaneously and freely, yet keeping in tune and in step with the whole.

There is no conductor or choreographer. The organism is creating and recreating herself afresh with each passing moment, recoding and rewriting the genes in her cells in an intricate dance of life that enables the organism to survive and thrive. The dance is written as it is performed; every movement is new, as it is shaped by what has gone before. The organism never ceases to experience its environment and registering its experience for future reference.

That’s why genetic engineering fails. The rogue genes forced or smuggled into the organism cannot intercommunicate with the whole, they do not know the score that has evolved to perfection over billions of years, involving all the genes in the species’ genome. Furthermore, the rogue genes have a tendency to run amok. (See Living with the Fluid Genome [8] (ISIS publication).

Quantum jazz is why ordinary folks like us can talk and think at the same time while our lunch is being processed to provide energy. It is also why top athletes can run a mile in under four minutes, and kung fu masters can move with lightning speed and fly through the air, as in the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The coordination required for simultaneous multiple tasks and for performing the most extraordinary feats both depend on a special state of being whole, the ideal description for which is  “quantum coherence”. Quantum coherence is a paradoxical state that maximises both local freedom and global cohesion. The technical details and scientific underpinnings for quantum coherence of the organism are in my book the Rainbow Worm [2].

The quantum coherent organism and the conservation of coherent energy

I came to the conclusion that: The organism is, in the ideal, a quantum superposition of coherent activities over all space-times, constituting a pure coherent state towards which the system tends to return on being perturbed.

An intuitive picture of the quantum coherent organism is a perfect life cycle coupled to energy (and material) flow. The perfect life cycle represents perpetual return and renewal. It is a domain of coherent energy storage that accumulates no waste or entropy within, because it mobilises energy most efficiently and rapidly to grow and develop and reproduce. Not only does it not accumulate entropy, but the waste or entropy exported outside is also minimised.

Of course, the perfect life cycle is an ideal applying to an organism that is perfectly coherent, that will never grow old or die, whereas real organisms do, some more slowly than others. (Read my book on the secret for staying alive and young.)

Part of the secret for quantum coherence is that the life cycle itself contains many cycles of activities within. These cycles of different sizes are all coupled together so that activities yielding energy transfer the energy directly to activities requiring energy, losing little or nothing in the process. If you look inside each small cycle that make up the whole life cycle, you will see the same picture as the whole; and you can do this many times over until you come to the smallest cycle, representing an electronic vibration that has the period of femto-seconds (10-15s). This property of  “self-similarity” is characteristic of mathematical structures called fractals that typically describe living processes such as the branching patterns of trees and blood vessels.

This model of the organism also describes a sustainable ecosystem or economic system [9, 10] (Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare (final chapter); Sustainable Systems as Organisms? ISIS scientific publication).

Intuitively, you can see that the more cycles there are within the life cycle, the more energy is stored, and for longer, because the more times the energy can be used or recycled. The recycling and storage of coherent energy is against all previous thinking, even among those taking unconventional positions against the dominant model in calling for the recycling of materials. Energy, they say, cannot be reused, because it flows in one direction only. But we can see how the model works in the concept of a zero-emission, zero-waste farm that turns wastes and greenhouse gases into food and energy resources, which we have proposed for mitigating climate change and for addressing the food and energy crisis [11] (Dream Farm 2 - Story So Far, SiS 31).

Hallmarks of the quantum coherent organism

Let me highlight the hallmarks of the quantum coherent organism that contrasts with the conventional view of organisms as machines (From Molecular Machines to Coherent Organism, ISIS scientific publication) [12]. The organism is an incredible hive of activities from the very fast to the very slow, the local to global, all perfectly coupled together, so perfect that each activity appears to be operating as freely and spontaneously as the whole. To be quantum coherent above all, is to be most spontaneous and free.

The wave function that describes the system is also a superposition of all possibilities. It implies that the future is entirely open, and the potentials infinite [2, 12].

Quantum coherence is the prerequisite for conscious experience [13] ( Quantum Coherence and Conscious Experience, ISIS scientific publications). It is why each and every one of us thinks of ourselves as “I” in the singular even though we are a multiplicity of organs, tissues and cells, and astronomical numbers of molecules. We would have a wave function that evolves, constantly informing the whole of our being, never ceasing to entangle other quantum entities, transforming itself in the process like a beautiful exotic golden flower, flashing and flickering in and out of many dimensions at once.

To be quantum coherent is also to mobilize energy most rapidly and efficiently, to intercommunicate nonlocally and instantaneously, transcending the usual separations of space and time. That’s why a ‘being’ can be in two places at the same time and different beings far, far apart can exchange information instantaneously [2].

Quantum coherence also raises my doubts over the conventional interpretations of Chinese Taoist texts. Wu wei, for example, is usually understood as “no action”. That may not the case; rather, it is the ideal of “no bother”, or the possibility for effortless, coherent action, taken when the moment is ripe, or just right, when the entire universe is at one with you.

Freedom, spontaneity, effortless action and effortless creation are all Taoist ideals cultivated in traditional Chinese art and poetry, in life itself.

There’s more to the Tao of biology that quantum coherence brings to us. (I make no claims to being an expert on Taoist philosophy, and defer to our host of the Global Philosophy Forum, Ashok Gangadean, who knows much more than me.)

Sciencing with love

In the early days after the first excitement of having discovered the liquid crystalline organism, we asked a physicist colleague to help explain where the colours come from [14] (To Science With Love, SiS 17). But like many other physicists, he was uncomfortable with the phenomenon, and probably quite unmoved by it. One of his first questions was whether the colours are still there when the organism is dead. (The answer turned out to be no, as we discovered later, for the colours depend on coherent motions of all the molecules, which can only occur in the living organism. As the organism dies, random thermal motion takes over and the colours fade.)

Puzzled, I asked why he wanted to know.

“Then I’d know the colours are real,” he said, “and not artefacts.”

That comment neatly encapsulates the mechanistic perspective of western science: life and its hallmarks - freedom, spontaneity, love and consciousness - are all artefacts because nothing can be said about them.

Organisms are deemed no different from machines, devoid of feelings and consciousness, and to be exploited like machines; thus sanctioning the most horrendous abuses of animals in scientific experiments, the latest being transgenic animals and cloning [15] Is FDA Promoting or Regulating Cloned Meat and Milk?, SiS 33).

The problem lies with how we choose to see organisms, not what they really are.

We now know how the colours come about [16, 17] (Organisms as Polyphasic Liquid Crystals; Quantitative Image Analysis of Birefringent Biological Materials; ISIS scientific publications). But where do the colours really come from? Do they belong to the organism or are they artefacts arising from the way we look at them?

The colours surely belong to the organism, and accurately reflect the state of the organism from moment to moment as it goes about its business of living.  But we can’t see the colours unless we set up the polarised light microscope in a particular way. The colours arise in the act of knowing, in the union of the knower and the known.

This clearly demonstrates that science isn’t about discovering the ‘facts of nature’ ‘objectively’, or independently of us. Knowing depends irreducibly on both the knower and the known. Artists and poets have always taken that for granted. But modern western science is founded on severing our connection with nature, and so the major strand of western philosophy is to puzzle over how it is possible to know at all.

It took centuries of separating and reducing nature to the limit of the quantum of action before western science was to rediscover that nothing in nature is separate. Everything is at once both localised as particle and spread out as wave.

And seemingly separate objects, from fundamental particles to atoms and molecules and increasingly larger objects, could be mutually ‘entangled’, perhaps right up to the entire universe, rather like the ‘holographic universe’ of Ervin Lazlo [18], in which, as in the quantum coherent organism, every part of the universe is implicit in every other.

Quantum physics also recovered the simple truth that other cultures have never doubted, and call it aptly, “the entanglement of the observer and the observed”.

In other words, how we know determines what we know. Scientific knowledge is no different from art and poetry. In order to be a really good scientist, I believe, one has to have the soul of a romantic poet. It was only when I learned to know with the greatest sensitivity and compassion that I was rewarded with the most resplendent vision of the organism. And who will want to hurt a fly after that?

As a biologist and then a biochemist, I was schooled to the routine of killing, fixing, pinning, pulping, homogenising, separating and purifying until no trace is left of the living organisation we were looking for. It violated everything life stands for, and reinforced the illusion that the organism is nothing but a machine, albeit, a very, very complicated machine.

The organic whole works by mutual intercommunication. The healthy body has perfect knowledge of itself because it is most coherent: every part of it is as sensitive as it is responsive. There is literally a ‘wisdom of the body’, a term that physiologists use to express the perfection with which all parts of the body work together to maintain the whole.

There is now evidence that molecules do intercommunicate by singing the same notes to one another (and flashing the same signal) [19] (The Real Bioinformatics Revolution, SiS 33). The conventional wisdom is that molecules in solution ‘bump’ into each other by chance, and if they fit together, like lock and key, they can latch onto each other and do whatever is necessary. But the cell is extremely crowded in a liquid crystalline state, where practically nothing is free to diffuse, not even the water. So how can molecules find one another in the first instance? It is like trying to find a friend in a very large and crowded ballroom in the dark. But by intercommunicating or resonating at particular electromagnetic frequencies, molecules can hear and see one another, as well as become ineluctably attracted to one another. And that can happen only in a coherent, noiseless system.

It is just the same with knowing another organism, or whole ecosystems of organisms. Perfect, authentic knowledge is gained when we are most coherent with what we want to know, i.e., when we have become one with it; when we are intercommunicating most sensitively, and both knower and the known are most authentically and autonomously themselves. Isn’t this like a perfect love affair? To really know something, you have to love it. That’s why I’ve written on ‘sciencing with love’ [14].

Quantum coherent organisms invariably become entangled with one another. A quantum world is a world of universal mutual entanglement, the prerequisite for universal love and ethics. Because we are all entangled, and each being is implicit in every other, the best way to benefit oneself is to benefit the other. That’s why we can really love our neighbour as ourselves. It is heartfelt and sincere. We are ethical and care about our neighbours and all of creation because they are literally as dear to us as our own self.

Universal mutual entanglement is also the basis of a cosmic consciousness and cosmic purpose [20] ( Is There A Purpose in Nature? ISIS paper)

But let me backtrack a little.

The quest for the ultimate reality of nature

Western science is founded on atomism. Thousands of years have been dedicated to the quest for the most fundamental particles of matter and to explaining nature in those terms.

The quest ended in a way when Max Planck identified the smallest quantum of action in the constant named after him [21], and founded quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics soon came to be dominated by the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’, which ends up denying that the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics has anything to say on what nature is really like, especially with regard to the ‘measurement problem’ [22] ( Life & the Universe after the Copenhagen Interpretation , SiS 34).

The wave function of a physical system evolves as a linear superposition (combination) of different quantum states encompassing all possibilities. But actual measurement always finds the physical system in a definite state; and this is referred to as “the collapse of the wave function.” The paradox is usually presented as the parable of Schrödinger’s cat [23] (see Quantum World Coming series, Science in Society 22), an unfortunate creature imprisoned in a box with a capsule of deadly cyanide gas that would be released the moment a radioactive nuclide decays. The cat is therefore in a superposition of being alive, being dead, and being both alive and dead at the same time until the box is opened, i.e., a measurement is performed; at which instant, the cat is either definitely dead, or definitely alive.

 What happens in the measurement that converts the probabilities to an actual, sharply defined outcome? We must not even ask that question, says the Copenhagen interpretation, as it is meaningless. Physics is what we can say about nature, not how nature really is.

The central problem of measurement has provoked many alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics, some taking us to the realm of ultimate reality, well beyond what ordinary physics can say [24] ( Beyond the Central Dogma of Physics, SiS 34).

The ultimate reality of a participatory creative universe

I have gone beyond conventional quantum mechanics in proposing that the organism tends towards a “superposition of coherent space-time modes (i.e., activities)” in a wave function that evolves and transforms but never collapses. The same applies to the universe, which may also be quantum coherent, filled, as it were, with mutually entangled organisms each participating in every other [2, 13].

I follow in the footsteps of British mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who had argued persuasively that quantum mechanics requires a thoroughly organic interpretation [25]. He said the entire universe must be seen to consist of ‘vibratory organisms’ ranging from elementary particles to galaxies. But he had not considered quantum coherence, which I believe necessary to complete his picture. The concept of quantum coherence was not really developed until much later, in association with superconductivity and lasers [2].

Today, the theory of quantum coherence is quite well developed in quantum optics, although it has not quite caught up with some rather amazing empirical evidence. For example, there is experimental evidence indicating that the wave function does not collapse, and entangled states may survive ‘measurements’ or interactions with macroscopic devices [26] (How Not to Collapse the Wave Function (SiS 22), and this has important implications for quantum information and quantum computing [27] (The Quantum Information Revolution, SiS 22). There is also the suggestion that the universe itself may be quantum coherent [28] (Quantum Phases and Quantum Coherence, SiS 22). So the Copenhagen interpretation may be wrong, or at best incomplete; and one can reject it and still be agnostic about the nature of ultimate reality.

To me, science, as knowledge of nature is inseparable from life and the meaning of life. I see all nature developing and evolving, with every organism participating, constantly creating and recreating itself anew. The universe is truly creative in that the future is not preordained, but spontaneously and freely shaped by every single being, from elementary particles to galaxies, from microbes to the giant redwood trees, all mutually entangled in a universal wave function that never collapses, but like a constantly changing cosmic consciousness, maintains and informs the universal whole.

Do humans have a special role in the universal consciousness? Yes we do, especially if we see ourselves as the pinnacle of creative evolution. We have the power to destroy the earth and bring about our own demise, as is clear from our role in climate change. So certainly we have both the power and the responsibility to put things right.

Article first published 01/05/07


  1. Ho MW. Quantum jazz, “the meaning of life the universe and everything”, Science in Society 32,
  2. Ho MW. The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms, 1st ed, 1993; 2nd ed., World Scientific, Singapore, 1998, reprinted 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006.
  3. Ho MW, Zhou Y-M, Haffegee J, Watton A, Musumeci F, Privitera G, Scordino A and Triglia A. The liquid crystalline organism and biological water. In Water in Cell Biology (G. Pollack ed.), Springer, Dordrecht 2006.
  4. Ho MW. Water, water everywhere series. Science in Society 15, 20-25, 2002.
  5. Ho MW. New age of water series. Science in Society 23, 47-51, 2004.
  6. Ho MW. New age of water series. Science in Society 32, 15-23, 2006.
  7. Watton A, Haffegee H and Ho MW. Quantum Jazz Parts I and II. ISIS Audio-visual. 2006-2007,
  8. Ho MW. Living with the Fluid Genome, ISIS & TWN, London and Penang, 2003.
  9. Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? TWN, Gateways Books, Macmillan, Continuum, Penang (Malaysia), Bath (UK), Dublin (Ireland), New York (USA), 1998, 2nd edition, 1999, translated into many languages.
  10. Ho MW and Ulanowicz R. Sustainable systems as organisms? BioSystems 2005, 82, 39-51.
  11. Ho MW. Dream farm 2 – story so far. Science in Society 31, 40-43, 2006.
  12. Ho MW. From molecular machines to coherent organism. In Energy and Information Transfer in Biological Systems, F Musumeci, L Brizik, and MW Ho eds, World Scientific, Singapore, 2003.
  13. Ho MW. Quantum coherence and conscious experience. Kybernetes 1997, 26, 265-76.
  14. Ho MW. Sciencing with love. Science in Society 17, 38-40, 2003.
  15. Ho MW and Cummins J. Is FDA regulating or promoting cloned meat and milk? Science in Society 33, 24-27, 2007.
  16. Ho MW, Haffegee J, Newton RH, Ross S, Zhou YM and Bolton JP. Organisms as Polyphasic Liquid Crystals. Bioelectrochemistry and Bioenergetics 1996, 41, 81-91.
  17. Ross S. Newton RH, Zhou YM, Haffegee J, Ho MW, Bolton J and Knight D. Quantitative image analysis of birefringent biological materials. J. Microscopy 1997, 187, 62-67.
  18. Lazlo E. The Whispering Pond, Element Books, 1996.
  19. Ho MW. The real bioinformatics revolution. Science in Society 33, 42-45, 2007.
  20. Ho MW. Is there a purpose in nature? Round Table Discussion, Charles University, Prague, 1998.
  21. Planck M. Nobel Lecture, 2 June 1920,,
  22. Ho MW. Life & the universe after the Copenhagen interpretation. Science in Society 34 (in press).
  23. Ho MW. Quantum world coming. Science in Society 22, 4, 2004.
  24. Mohrhoff U. Beyond the Central Dogma of physics. Science in Society 34 (in press).
  25. Whitehead AN. Science and the Modern World, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1925.
  26. Ho MW. How not to collapse the wave function, Science in Society 22, 8-9, 2004.
  27. Ho MW. The quantum information revolution. Science in Society 22, 10-12, 2004.
  28. Ho MW. Quantum phases and quantum coherence. Science in Society 22, 6-7, 2004.

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