The Evolutionary Outrider. The Impact of the Human Agent on Evolution, Essays in Honour of Ervin Laszlo (D. Loye, ed.), pp. 49-65, Praeger, 1998.
Organism and Psyche in a Participatory Universe*
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
The Jungian ideal of the whole person is one whose cell and psyche, body
and mind, inner and outer, are fully integrated, and hence completely in
tune with nature. Jung's ideas on psychical development show many
parallels to those relating to the organism. Similarly, Laszlo's theory of
the quantum holographic universe views the universe effectively as a kind
of superorganism, constantly becoming, being created through the
activities of its constituent organisms at every level. The organism is
thus the most universal archetype. I describe a theory of the organism,
based on quantum coherence, which is, in some respects, a microcosm of
Laszlo's universe. It involves key notions of the maximization of local
autonomy and global cohesion, of universal participation, of sensitivity
and responsiveness, which have profound implications for our global
*Parts of this paper was first delivered as a lecture in the Assisi
Conference,"The Confluence of Matter and Spirit: Patterning in the
Psyche and in Archetypal Fields", Assisi, Aug. 11-17, 1996.
Organism - the universal archetype
In the Summer of 1991, I saw something in Mexico City which haunted me
for months afterwards. It was a thick round slab of sculpted rock, about
3.25m in diameter. The official guide book says it depicts the Aztec moon
goddess, embodying the powers of night, who was killed and gruesomely
dismembered by her brother the sungod - an act so terrible that the world
itself is torn asunder. Yet, the beautifully executed symmetries of the
form evokes a sense of the dismembered parts drawing together again to
make a whole, counteracting the violent severence of head and limbs.
Mazatl Galindo, who teaches indigenous American cultures and is himself of
Aztec Indian descent, has since explained to me that this sculpted disc,
which has the same dimensions as the much better known, and widely
reproduced calender stone, is actually also a calender: the thirteen main
joints of her dismembered body representing the thirteen divisions of the
year. The alternating disintegration and re-integration it evokes
signifies the cycles of death and rebirth that mark the passage of time.
I came upon the sculpture while accompanying a group of university
under-graduates travelling around the world on an intensive, year-long
education programme on Global Ecology - Integrating Nature and Culture (of
which I was a founding faculty member). In the course of the year and
throughout the Third World, we had experienced the same distressing
disintegration of the environment and indigenous communities brought on by
industrial developments. And yet there remains, everywhere, an
indestructible, irrepressible spirit to make things whole again. It was
not just a survival instinct, but a genuine lust for life - the pscyhic
energy that created the calender stone is at work, initiating the healing
process even as disintegration is continuing apace. The meaning of that
year's journey and the journey of my life as symbolic of life itself came
to me like an avalanche. I have died several deaths since my encounter
with that symbol. I found myself standing at the gates of the underworld,
as Orpheus must have done, torn between the fear of impending hell and the over-riding need to recover a lost love.
Eventually, it transformed my life, in much the way that Jung (1964) has
envisaged the transforming power of symbols.
Love rules our lives on many planes. Scottish psychologist Ian Suttie
(1924), a critic of Freud, proposed that love, as distinct from sex, is
the primary drive for all social organisms. Love comes from the nurturing
ministrations of the mother or caretaker during infancy. From this arises
a feeling of tenderness that regards all people to be possible companions,
to be enjoyed and loved, and from whom approval is sought. On another
plane, the successful separation of child from mother creates a field of
attraction, a "virtual space" of love which we fill with our
social and creative activities (Winnicott, 1974).
Love is a desire for wholeness. It is a desire for resonance, for
intimacy, a longing to embrace and complete a larger whole. And it is that
which motivates our social and creative acts and our knowledge of nature
on the most universal plane (Ho, 1994a). At its most personal, love is our
affection for specific human beings, it is also one's own process of
individuation - of remaking one's "self" out of the fabric of
experiences, transcending the well-worn archetypes to become a unique
whole person. The whole person is one whose sense of uniqueness is
premissed on her relationship with all of nature. Thus, the personal and
universal are inextricably intertwined. The most intimate knowledge of
oneself is at the same time, the most profound knowledge of nature.
The true love of self is also inextricably the love of humanity and of
all nature. That is why we feel obliged to serve, to help, to alleviate
suffering and pain just as they were our own. Scientists like David Bohm,
Ervin Laszlo and others are indeed trying to recover that lost love, the
universal wholeness and entanglement that enables us to emphathize and to
The whole is never static, it is constantly dying and reborning,
decaying and renewing, breaking down to build up again. The same cycles of
disintegration and re-integration occur whether one is looking at the
energy metabolism of our body or the stream of consciousness out of which
we individuate our psyche. During the normal 'steady state' of our
existence, the multitudes of infinitesimal deaths and rebirths are
intricately balanced so that the old changes imperceptibly into the new.
However, whenever the attracting centre of the new is radically different
from the old, a larger, and at times, complete disintegration may be
needed before the new can individuate. It is like the caterpillar which
must completely dissolve so that the beautiful butterfly can emerge. That
is our hope for the approaching millennium.
The psyche has so much in common with the organism that many of the
most perceptive biologists and psychologists have proposed a complete
continuity and identity between the two. They were impressed with the
'directiveness' of all vital processes, whether developmental,
physiological or psychical. In development, the fertilized egg goes
through a series of morphogenetic changes directed towards producing the
adult organism, and is remarkably resistant to disturbing influences.
Similarly, the organism is able to maintain its internal physiology in a
constant state despite large changes in the external environment. So it is
with the purposiveness of all living things. One has only to try to stop a
cat from doing what it wants to do. The mark of a living being is that it
always has its own way of doing things, its own directed purpose in life
that resists what is imposed on it. It is not at the mercy of its
surroundings. It is so even for the simplest unicellular organism. The
biologist Jennings (1933) took a lifetime to study the ciliate protozoa
Paramecium, and became convinced of its purposiveness, it autonomy
at the very least. For example, it will swim towards the light, or not,
according as to whether it is hungry or fully fed.
Geneticist Sinnott (1950) argues in his book, Cell and Psyche,
that biological organization, concerned with development and physiology,
and psychical activity, concerned with behaviour and leading to mind, are
fundamentally the same thing. "In some unexplained fashion, there
seems to reside in every living thing,...an inner subjective relation to
its bodily organization. This has finally evolved into what is called
consciousness...through this same inner relationship, the mechanisms which
guides and controls vital activities towards specific ends, the pattern or
tension set up in protoplasm, which so sensitively regulates its growth
and behaviour, can also be experienced, and this is the genesis of desire,
purpose, and all other mental activities." (p.48)
To me, the Jungian ideal of the whole person is also one whose cell and
psyche, body and mind, inner and outer, are fully integrated, and hence
completely in tune with nature. That may be the secret of the golden
flower (see Fordham, 1966), the immortal spirit-body created out of the
resolution of opposites, the intertwining of darkness and light (moon
goddess and sungod) that is the essence of life itself. The encounter with
the Aztec calender stone is the immediate prelude to my work towards a
theory of the organism, much of which is in The Rainbow and The Worm
written almost a year later (Ho, 1993). A recent summary of the main
thesis with additional work done since is presented elsewhere (Ho, 1997a)
Jung's ideas on psychical development show many parallels to those
relating to living organization, and have since been borrowed back into
biology. 'Individuation', for example, has been used by the embryologist/
geneticist Waddington (1956) to describe the process of forming a whole,
or a whole organ, such as a limb from the global morphogenetic field. Jung
himself was not unaware of these parallels when he presented the psyche as
a dynamic, self-regulating system, motivated by psychic energy or libido,
a general sense of desire or longing, an urge that flows between opposite
poles, so that the stronger the opposition the greater the tension
(Fordham, 1966). The allusion to the living system and energy flow is
unmistakable. Jung's theory of the psyche, drawn largely from his own
experiences and imagination, is also a theory of the organism. The
organism is the most universal archetype.
Similarly, Laszlo's (1995, 1996) theory of the quantum holographic
universe views the universe effectively as a kind of superorganism,
constantly becoming, being created through the activities of its
constituent organisms at every level. These activities leave traces
(quantum interferences) in the universal vacuum field which feed back on
the future evolution of the organisms themselves. The universal quantum
holographic field is the collective consciousness (including the
unconscious) of all organisms. My theory of the organism is in
some respects, a microcosm of Laszlo's universe.
The irrepressible tendency towards the whole
What is it to be an organism? It is, at bottom, the irrepressible
tendency towards being whole. It is that which underlies both the
directiveness of vital activities, and the love we express on many planes.
In biological development, the most characteristic feature of the embryo
is not so much its directiveness towards producing an adult organism or
any archetype, rather it is its tendency to maintain and develop into an
organized whole, however it is disturbed. Sometimes, this organized whole
is so altered that it is no longer recognizable as the same organism, but
it is nonetheless an organism in the sense of being an organized whole.
More significantly, there is a special relationship between part and
whole in the organism.The egg starts to develop by cell division. At a
sufficiently early stage, the cells in the embryo are typically totipotent,
in that they have the potential to develop into any part of the whole.
When they are separated, each cell can develop into a whole organism,
albeit a much smaller one than the original. Similarly, if a part of the
early embryo is removed, that part can be regenerated from the remaining
so that the whole is again recovered. Regeneration can also occur in adult
organisms of some species such as the salamander. It is part and parcel of
the healing process that enables all organisms to recover from illnesses
and injuries. Whole and part are therefore mutually implicated in the
organism. This quality of organic wholeness has eluded mechanistic science
right from the beginning, and has been the main sticking point of the
debate between the mechanists and their opponents, the vitalists.
Organic space-time versus mechanical space and time
The mechanistic framework broke down at the turn of the present century,
giving way to quantum theory at the very small scale of elementary
particles and to general relativity at the large scales of planetary
motion. In place of the static, eternal universe of absolute space and
time, there is a multitude of contingent, observer-dependent space-time
frames. Instead of solid objects with simple locations in space and time,
one finds delocalized, mutually entangled quantum entities evolving like
organisms. The opposition between the mechanistic and the organic
worldview hinges on the fundamental nature of space and time.
Mechanical space and time are both linear, homogeneous, separate and
local. In other words, both are infinitely divisible, and every bit of
space or of time is the same as every other bit. A billiard ball here
cannot affect another one there, unless someone pushes the one
here to collide with the one there. Mechanical space-time also happens to
be the space and time of the commonest "common-sensible" world
in our mundane, everyday existence. It is the space-time of frozen
instantaneity abstracted from the fullness of real process, rather like a
still frame taken from a bad movie-film, which is itself a flat simulation
of life. The passage of time is an accident, having no connection with the
change in the configuration of solid matter located in space. Thus, space
and time are merely coordinates for locating objects. One can go forwards
or backwards in time to locate the precise objects at those particular
points. In reality, we know that we can as much retrace our space-time to
locate the person that was 30 or 50 years younger as we can undo the
wrongs we have committed then. There is no simple location in space and
time (Whitehead, 1925).
Psychoanalyst-artist Marion Milner (1957) describes her experience of "not
being able to paint" as the fear of losing control, of no longer
seeing the mechanical common-sensible separateness of things. It is really
a fear of being alive, of entanglement and process in the organic reality
that ever eludes mechanistic descripion. And yet, it is in overcoming the
imposed illusion of the separateness of things that the artist/scientist
enters into the realm of creativity and real understanding - which is the
realm of organic space-time. Mechanical physics has banished organic
space-time from our collective public consciousness, though it never
ceases to flourish in the subterranean orphic universe of our collective
unconscious and our subjective aesthetic experience. In a way, all
developments in western science since Descartes and Newton may be seen as
a struggle to reclaim our intuitive, indigenous notions of organic
space-time, which, deep within our soul, we feel to be more consonant with
Organism versus mechanism
The mechanistic worldview indeed officially ended at the beginning of
this century. But the profound implications of this decisive break with
the intellectual tradition of previous centuries were recognized by a mere
handful of visionaries, especially by the French philosopher Henri Bergson
(1916), and the English mathematician-philosopher Alfred North Whitehead
(1925). Between them, they articulated an organicist philosophy in place
of the mechanistic. Let me summarize some of what I see to be the major
contrasts between the mechanical universe and the universe of organisms.
Separate, absolute space and absolute time for all observers
Given, nonparticipatory and hence, impotent observer
Creative, participatory; entanglement of observer and observed
The contrasts are brought into sharper relief by considering the
differences between mechanism and organism, or, more accurately, the
opposition between a mechanical system and an organic system. First of
all, a mechanical system is an object in space and time, whereas
an organism is, in essence, of space-time. An organism creates its
own space-times by its activities, so it has control over its space-time,
which is not the same as external clock time. Secondly, a mechanical
system has a stability that belongs to a closed equilibrium,
depending on controllers, buffers and buttresses to return the system to
set, or fixed points. It works like a non-democratic institution, by a
hierarchy of control: a boss who sits in his office doing nothing (bosses
are still predominantly male) except giving out orders to line managers,
who in turn coerce the workers to do whatever needs to be done. An
organism, by contrast, has a dynamic stability, which is attained in open
systems far away from equilibrium. It has no bosses, no controllers and no
set points. It is radically democratic, everyone participates in making
decisions and in working by intercommunication and mutual responsiveness.
Finally, a mechanical system is built of isolatable parts, each external
and independent of all the others. An organism, however, is an irreducible
whole, where part and whole, global and local are mutually implicated.
An even more significant change in worldview is the dissolution of the
Cartesian barrier separating the observer from the observed. In the
quantum universe, observer and observed are mutually entangled, each act
of observation determining the evolution of both. Knowledge,
therefore, involves the full participation of the knower in the known. As
the knower is an organism, she is also an actor who participates in
constructing and shaping the universe, andshe does so knowingly.
There is, thus, no escaping from the responsibility of a participatory
universe and the moral imperative of one's mutual entanglement, ultimately
with all of nature. But let us begin with the central percept of being an
A theory of the organism
There are 75 trillion cells in our body, made up of astronomical numbers
of molecules of many different kinds. How can this huge conglomerate of
disparate cells and molecules function so perfectly as a coherent whole?
How can we summon energy at will to do whatever we want? And most of all,
how is it possible for there to be a singular "I" that we all
feel ourselves to be amid this diverse multiplicity?
To give an idea of the coordination of activities involved, imagine an
immensely huge superorchestra playing with instruments spanning an
incredible spectrum of sizes from a piccolo of 10-9
metre up to a bassoon or a bass viol of a metre or more, and a musical
range of seventy-two octaves. The amazing thing about this
superorchestra is that it never ceases to play out our individual
songlines, with a certain recurring rhythm and beat, but in endless
variations that never repeat exactly. Always, there is something new,
something made up as it goes along. It can change key, change tempo,
change tune perfectly, as it feels like it, or as the situation demands,
spontaneously and without hesitation. Furthermore, each and every player,
however small, can enjoy maximum freedom of expression, improvising from
moment to moment, while maintaining in step and in tune with the whole.
I have just described a theory of the quantum coherence that
underlies the radical wholeness of the organism, which involves total
participation, maximizing both local freedom and global cohesion.
It involves the mutual implication of global and local, of part and whole,
from moment to moment. It is on that basis that we can have a sense of
ourselves as a singular being, despite the diverse multiplicity of parts.
That is also how we can perceive the unity of the here and now, in an act
of "prehensive unification"(Whitehead, 1925). Artists like
scientists, depend on the same exquisite sense of prehensive unification,
to see patterns that connect apparently disparate phenomena.
In order to add corroborative details to the theory, however, I shall
give a more scientific narrative beginning with energy relationships.
The thermodynamics of organized complexity
Textbooks tell us that living systems are open systems dependent on
energy flow. Energy flows in together with materials, and waste products
are exported as well as the spent energy that goes to make up entropy.
And that is how living systems can, in principle, escape from the second
law of thermodynamics. The second law, as you may know, encapsulates the
fact that all physical systems run down, ultimately decaying to
homogeneous disorganization when all useful energy is spent, or converted
into entropy. But how do living systems manage their antientropic
I have suggested (Ho, 1996a,b; 1997a) that the key to understanding how
the organism overcomes the immediate constraints of thermodynamics is in
its capacity to store the incoming energy, and in somehow closing the
energy loop within to give a reproducing, regenerating life cycle. The
energy, in effect, circulates among complex cascades of coupled cyclic
processes within the system before it is allowed to dissipate to the
outside. These cascades of cycles span the entire gamut of space-times
from slow to fast, from local to global, that all together, constitutes
the life-cycle. Each cycle is a domain of coherent energy storage
- coherent energy is simply energy that can do work because it is all
coming and going together, as opposed to incoherent energy which goes in
all directions at once and cancel out, and is therefore, quite unable to
Coupling between the cycles ensures that the energy is transferred
directly from where it is captured or produced, to where it is used. In
thermodynamic language, those activities going thermodynamically down-hill,
and therefore yielding energy, are coupled to those that require energy
and go thermodynamically uphill. This coupling also ensures that
positive entropy generated in some space-time elements is
compensated by negative entropy in other space-time elements.
There is, in effect, an internal energy conservation as well as an
internal entropy compensation. The whole system works by reciprocity, a
cooperative give and take which balances out over the system as a whole,
and within a sufficiently long time (Ho, 1997a). The result is that there
is always coherent energy available in the system, which can be readily
shared throughout the system, from local to global and vice versa,
from global to local. That is why, in principle, we can have energy at
will, whenever and wherever it is needed. The organism has succeeded in
gathering all the necessary vital processes into a unity of coupled
non-dissipative cycles spanning the entire gamut of space-times up to and
including the life-cycle itself, which effectively feeds off the
dissipative irreversible energy flow. In thermodynamic terms, the living
system can be represented as a superposition of cyclic non-dissipative
processes, for which entropy production balance out to zero, SDS
= 0, and dissipative, irreversible processes, for which net entropy
production is positive, SDS
But how can energy mobilization be so perfectly coordinated? That is a
direct consequence of the energy stored, which makes the whole system excitable,
or highly sensitive to specific weak signals. It does not have to be
pushed and dragged into action like a mechanical system. Weak signals
originating anywhere within or outside the system will propagate
throughout the system and become automatically amplified by the energy
stored, often into macroscopic action. Intercommunication can proceed very
rapidly, especially because organisms are completely liquid
The liquid crystalline organism
Several years ago, we discovered an optical technique that enables us to
see living organisms in brilliant interference colours generated by the
liquid crystallinity of their internal anatomy. We found that all live
organisms are completely liquid crystalline - in their cells as well as
the extracellular matrix, or connective tissues (see Ho et al,
1996; Ross et al, 1997). Liquid crystals are states of matter
between solid crystals and liquids. Like solid crystals, they possess
long-range orientation order, and often, also varying degrees of
translational order (or order of motion). In contrast to solid crystals,
however, they are mobile and flexible and highly responsive. They undergo
rapid changes in orientation or phase transitions when exposed to weak
electric (or magnetic) fields, to subtle changes in pressure, temperature,
hydration, acidity or pH, concentrations of inorganic molecules or other
small molecules. These properties happen to be ideal for making organisms,
as they provide for the rapid intercommunication required for the organism
to function as a coherent whole. (Images of live organisms taken from
video-recordings may be found in Ho, 1997c)
This imaging technique enables us to literally see the whole organism
at once, from its macroscopic activities down to the long-range order of
the molecules that make up its tissues. The colours generated depend on
the structure of the particular molecules - which differ for each tissue -
and their degree of coherent order (see Ross et al, 1997 for the
mathematical derivation showing how, for weakly birefringent material, the
colour intensity is approximately linearly related to both intrinsic
birefringence and the order parameter). The principle is exactly the same
as that used in detecting mineral crystals in geology; but with the
important difference that the living liquid crystals are dynamic
through and through. The molecules are all moving about busily
transforming energy and material in the meantime, and yet they still
The reason is because visible light vibrates much faster than the
molecules can move, so the tissues will appear indistinguishable from
static crystals to the light transmitted, so long as the movements of
the constituent molecules are sufficiently coherent. In fact, the most
actively moving parts of the organism are always the brightest, implying
that their molecules are moving all the more coherently. With our optical
technique, therefore, one can see that the organism is thick with coherent
activities at all levels, which are coordinated in a continuum from the
macroscopic to the molecular. That is the essence of the organic whole,
where local and global, part and whole are mutually implicated at any time
and for all times.
Those images draw attention to the wholeness of the organism in another
respect. All organisms - from protozoa to vertebrates without exception -
are polarized along the anterior-posterior axis, or the oral-adoral axis,
such that all the colours in the different tissues of the body are at a
maximum when the axis is appropriately aligned in the optical system, and
they change in concert as the axis is rotated from that position.
Knowledge as intercommunication in a participatory universe
The images demonstrate something profound about the nature of
knowledge. Are the colours really in the organisms? Yes and no. They are
dependent on the particular organism and its physiological state, but no
colours would be produced unless we set up the observation in a certain
way. Therefore, the observation, and hence the knowledge gained, is always
dependent on both the observer and the observed. It is an act of
intercommunication, which, in the ideal, is just like that between
different parts of the organism (see below). The authenticity of the
knowledge gained depends on this delicate balance of obtaining information
while respecting the object of one's interrogation. That is why one uses
minimally invasive, nondestructive techniques for investigating living
organization, which allows organisms to be organisms (Ho, 1993). Crude,
destructive methods of interrogation will invariably yield misleading
information of the most mechanistic kind, reinforcing a mechanistic view
of organisms and of the universe.
In the same way, as we participate in universal wholeness, in Laszlo's
quantum holographic field, we do so with the requisite sensitivity and
respect. Knowledge is always a gift one accepts with responsiveness and
responsibility. Let us look at how intercommunication takes place within
The quantum holographic body field of the organism
There is no doubt that if we could look inside our bodies the same way
we have done for the small creatures, we would see our living body as an
incredibly colorful, liquid crystalline continuum, with all parts rapidly
intercommunicating and colours flashing, so that it can act as a coherent
whole. (That may be why we say we are off-colour when we don't feel well.)
One has been led to believe that intercommunication in large animals like
ourselves depends on the nervous system controlled by the brain. However,
that may be only half the story, as nerves do not reach all parts of the
body, and animals without a nervous system nevertheless have no problems
in acting as a coherent whole.
The clue to the other half of the story is in the connective tissues
which make up the bulk of most animals including ourselves. These are the
skin, the bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and other tissues that fill
up the spaces between the usual organs. Most people still think that these
tissues fulfill mechanical functions of protection and support, like
packing material. However, we now know they are all liquid crystalline,
and have much more exotic properties.
The connective tissues are further connected to the intracellular
matrices of all individual cells which are also liquid crystalline. There
is thus an excitable, liquid crystalline continuum for rapid
intercommunication permeating the entire organism, enabling it to function
as a coherent whole, as we have directly demonstrated with our noninvasive optical imaging technique.
This continuum constitutes a "body consciousness" that precedes
the nervous system in evolution (c.f. Ochmann, 1984, 1993); and I suggest,
it still works in tandem with, and to some extent, independently of the
nervous system. This body consciousness is the pre-requisite for conscious
experience that involves the participation of the intercommunicating
whole. When the body is fully coherent, intercommunication is instantaneous and nonlocal. By nonlocal, I mean
that distant sites, say my left hand and my right hand, take no time at
all to reach agreement as to what to do next, so it is impossible to know
where the "signal" originated. This is the quantum
The quantum coherent state is a very special state of being whole,
which maximizes both local freedom and global cohesion (see Ho,
1993). This is due to the factorizability of the quantum coherent
state (Glauber, 1970) in which the parts are so perfectly coordinated that
the correlations between them resolves neatly into products of the
self-correlations of the parts, so the parts behave as though they are
independent of one another. Remember the huge superorchestra I mentioned
earlier? Factorizability of the quantum coherent state explains why the
body can be performing all sorts of different but coordinated functions
simultaneously. As I am writing this paper, my metabolism is working in
all the cells of my body, my trunk and leg muscles are keeping in tone so
I don't collapse into a heap, while the muscles in my arms and fingers are
working together in just the right way to make the appropriate taps on the
keyboard, and my eyes are tracking the words on the monitor screen; and
hopefully, the nerve cells in my brain are firing coherently. All that is
possible also because noiseless and instantaneous intercommunication can
occur throughout the system when the system is coherent. In practice,
quantum coherence occurs to different degrees, and factorizability is
never perfect except in the ideal. Nevertheless, our body approaches that
ideal, which also tends to be restored after decohering interactions (see
The coherence of brain and body consciousness
From the perspective of the whole organism, the brain's primary function
may be to mediate coherent coupling of all subsystems, so the more highly
differentiated or complex the system, the bigger the brain required.
Substantial parts of the brain are indeed involved in integrating inputs
from all over the body, and over long time scales. But not all the
coordination required is provided by the brain, for this coordination
seems instantaneous by all accounts.
Thus, during an olfactory experience, slow oscillations in the
olfactory bulb (in the brain) are in phase with the movement of the lungs
(Freeman and Barrie, 1994). Similarly, the coordinated movement of the
four limbs (or all the hundreds of limbs in the millipede) in locomotion
is accompanied by patterns of activity in the motor centers of the brain
which are in phase with those of the limbs (Collins and Stewart, 1992;
Kelso, 1991). That is a remarkable achievement which physiologists and
neuroscientists alike have taken too much for granted. The reason
macroscopic organs such as the four limbs can be coordinated is that each
is individually a coherent whole, so that a definite phase relationship
can be maintained among them. The hand-eye coordination required for the
accomplished pianist is extremely impressive, but depends on the same
inherent coherence of the subsystems which, I suggest, enables
instantaneous intercommunication to occur. There simply isn't time enough,
from one musical phrase to the next, for inputs to be sent to the brain,
there to be integrated, and coordinated outputs to be sent back to the
hands (see Hebb, 1958).
I raised the posssibility that a "body consciousness" works
in tandem with the "brain consciousness"of the nervous system. I
suggest that instantaneous coordination of body functions is mediated, not
so much by the nervous system, but by the body consciousness inhering in
the liquid crystalline continuum of the body. (The nervous system is also liquid crystalline, however, the known
activities of the nervous system are not based directly on their liquid
crystalline properties.) Ho and Knight (1997) following Oschman (1984,
1993), review evidence suggesting that this liquid crystalline continuum
is responsible for the direct current (DC) electric field permeating the
entire body of all animals, that Becker (1990) and others have detected.
Furthermore, this liquid crystalline continuum possess all the properties
required for a body consciousness that can register tissue memory of
Becker (1990) has demonstrated that the DC field has a mode of
semi-conduction that is much faster than nervous conduction. During a
perceptive event, local changes in the DC field can be measured half a
second before sensory signals arrive in the brain, suggesting that the
activities in the brain may be pre-conditioned by the local body field.
Becker located the DC body field to "perineural" tissues such as
the glial cells. But we believe it is located in the liquid crystalline
continuum of the connective tissues (Ho and Knight, 1997).
Up to 70% of the proteins in the connective tissues consist of
collagens that exhibit constant patterns of alignment, as characteristic
of liquid crystals (Knight and Feng, 1992). Collagens have distinctive
mechanical and dielectric properties that make them very sensitive to
mechanical pressures, changes in pH, inorganic ions and electromagnetic
fields. In particular, a cylinder of water surrounds the collagen
molecule, giving rise to an ordered array of bound water on the surface
of the collagen network that supports rapid "jump conduction" of
protons, or positive electric charges. Proteins in liquid crystals have
coherent motions, and will readily transmit weak signals by proton
conduction, or as coherent electric waves. Thus, extremely weak
electromagnetic signals or mechanical disturbances will be sufficient to
set off a flow of protons that will propagate throughout the body, making
it ideal for intercommunication.
The liquid crystalline nature of the continuum also enables it to
function as a distributed memory store. The water bound on the surfaces of
proteins are known to be altered when the proteins change their shape.
Proteins undergo a hierarchy of shape changes over a range of time scales
and of different energies. The shapes
are clustered in groups that have nearly the same energies, with very
low energetic barriers between them. Thus, global shape changes in a
liquid crystalline network can easily be triggered, that will, in turn,
alter the structure of bound water. As the bound water forms a global
network in association with the collagen, it will have a certain degree of stability, or resistance to
change. By the same token, it will also retain tissue memory of previous
experiences. Additional chemical modifications of the collagen network may
also contribute to this memory. The memory may consist partly of dynamic
circuits, the sum total of which constituting the DC body field.
A yet more interesting possibility is that the liquid crystalline
continuum may function as a quantum holographic medium, recording the
interference patterns arising from interactions between local activities
and a globally coherent field. This is exactly analogous to Laszlo's
(1995) suggestion that the "zero-point field" of the universe
functions as a universal holographic medium, recording the experiences of
all the particles, each of which is subject to influences from the rest of
the universe as well as feedback from the particle's own activities on the
universal medium. If the organism is coherent as I have suggested, then
the conditions are there for a quantum holographic memory store in the
liquid crystalline continuum of the body itself. Holographic memory is
unique in that it is distributed globally, and yet, can be accessed and
recovered locally. It captures an aspect of the organic whole in
developmental biology that has completely eluded mechanistic
understanding. It is that which can give rise to the subjective self, or
psyche, that guides and regulates all vital activities towards a specific
end. It is possible that biological development is based on the same
holographic memory so that the entire organism can be engendered locally
in a germ cell, from which the organism is, in turn, recoverable.
Thus, consciousness is distributed throughout the entire body; "brain
consciousness", associated with the nervous system, being embedded in
"body consciousness". Brain and body consciousness mutually
inform and condition each other. The singularity of purpose of the
individual is based on a complete coherence of brain and body. The implications for holistic and
psychic health are clear. A stressful situation will affect body
consciousness through subtle ways in which mechanical pressures build up
in the body to block intercommunication. That acts on the nervous system
to give a diminished self-image of the body, which feeds back on the body
in a vicious cycle that further undermines the individual's physical
well-being. By contrast, a supple body is a responsive body that moves and
responds with the greatest of ease. It leads to a buoyant self-image that
again feeds back to further enhance all bodily functions.
Quantum coherence and brain consciousness
Many recent studies of brain activities are revealing impressive
largescale spatiotemporal coherence that suggest the brain also functions
with a high degree of quantum coherence (see Ho 1997b and references
therein). These come from measurements carried out with the
ultrasensitive, noninvasive SQUID magnetometer, also referred to as
magnetoencephalography (MEG) (see Iaonnides, 1994) as well as conventional
electroencehalography (EEG) (Gray et al, 1989; Singer, 1995;
Freeman and Barrie, 1994). Multichannel MEG, in particular, provides high
speed, high resolution information of spatiotemporal coherence in brain
activities. Studies conducted over the past 5 years have revealed 40 Hz
activities that are coherent at both deep and superficial layers of the
brain. Similarly, Freeman (1995) and his coworkers, recording
simultaneously with an array of 64 electrodes from the rabbit cortex,
found oscillations that are coherent over the entire array, for which no
obvious "sources" could be identified.
Computer scientist, Marcer (1992; 1995), proposes a quantum holographic
model of consciousness in which perception involves the conversion of an
interference pattern (presumably between a coherent wave-field generated
by the perceiver and the wave-field reflected off the perceived) to an
object image that is coincident with the object itself. This is
accomplished by a process known as phase conjugation, whereby the wave reflected from the object is returned (by
the perceiver) along its path to form an image where the object is
situated. In the act of perceiving, the organism also perceives itself
situated in the environment, and through active phase conjugation directed
throughout its body, forms an image of the self coincident with the
organism itself, so "self" and "other" are
simul-taneously defined (Ho, 1997b). What is the source of the coherent
wave-field generated by the perceiver? Could it be the body field itself?
Or the body field as modulated by the nervous system? This could be
subject to empirical investigation.
In the same way that body consciousness associated with the liquid
crystalline continuum registers memory of its experience, brain
consciousness registers memory of sensory images. The idea that brain
memory is distributed and holographic has been suggested by a number of
neurobiologists over the past 40 years (see Ho, 1997b for more details and
references). Holographic memory storage is orders of magnitude more
efficient than any model that makes use of "representations"
because holographic memory employs actual physical simulations of
processes (Marcer, 1992, 1995) and do not require lengthy sequences of
arbitrary coding and decoding of isolated bits. Marcer suggests that the
brain stores experienced holographic spatio-temporal patterns and compares
stored with new patterns directly, recognition and learning being
reinforced in "adaptive resonance", thus also making for much
As mentioned before, the liquid crystalline continuum supporting the
body field may also take part in memory storage, although this possibility
has never been seriously considered. Laszlo (1995) goes even further to
suggest that much of memory may be stored in an ambient, collective
holographic memory field delocalized from the individual; and that
memories are only accessed by the brain from the ambient field. This
ambient field may well be our collective unconscious. One can begin to see
the organism with its own local quantum holographic field as a microcosm
of the universal field in which it participates.
The organism's macroscopic wave function and universal entanglement
If quantum coherence is characteristic of organism and psyche, as I
have argued here, then the organism will possesss something like a
macroscopic wave-function. This wave function is ever evolving, entangling
its environment, transforming and creating itself anew. There is no "collapse
of the wave function" as required by conventional quantum theory (cf
Bohm and Hiley,1993; see also Ho, 1993, 1997b). When quantum systems
interact, they become mutually entangled, and there may be no resolution
of their respective wave functions afterwards. So one may remain entangled
and indeed, delocalized over past experiences (i.e., in Laszlo's ambient
field). Some interactions may have time scales that are extremely long, so
that the wave function of interacting parties may take a correspondingly
long time to become resolved, and largescale nonlocal connectivity may be
maintained, possibly accounting for synchronicities, as Laszlo (1995)
The "whole" organism is thus a domain of coherent activities,
constituting an autonomous, free entity (see Ho, 1996a), not
because it is separate and isolated from its environment, but precisely
by virtue of its unique entanglement of other organisms in its
environment. In this way, one can see that organic wholes are nested as
well as entangled individualities. Each can be part of a larger whole,
depending on the extent over which coherence can be established. So, when
many individuals in a society have a certain rapport with one another,
they may constitute a coherent whole, and ideas and feelings can indeed
spread like wildfire within that community. In the same way, an ecological
community, and by extension, the global ecology may also be envisaged as a
super-organism within which coherence can be established in ecological
relationships over global, geological space-times (see Ho, 1993, 1997d).
What of the global community of human beings who can potentially
intercommunicate in a matter of seconds, given the marvels of
informational technology? Could they also be envisaged as a
There is an important debate going on in the global arena concerning "globalization"
- the idea that the greater part of our life is determined by global
processes in which national or local cultures, economies and borders are
dissolving. While some are questioning the reality of globalization (eg,
Hirst and Thompson, 1996), others see the globalized economy as the
greatest threat to the survival of the global community (Korten, 1995).
The problem with the globalized economy under the current terms is that it
does not respect the autonomy of individual persons, local communities or
nation states, nor does it enable universal participation of all the
parties concerned. Local autonomy and universal participation are some of
the pre-requisites for a coherent, sustainable global society (see Ho,
1996c, 1997c), in which the players must also be sensitive and responsive,
or responsible and accountable. Instead, "unaccountable corporate
powers" (Korten, 1997) effectively rule the world, depleting the
earth's natural resources with impunity, degrading the environment and
creating poverty on a massive scale. The challenge of globalization is,
indeed, to create a fully participatory global society, served by an
appropriate global economy, that maximizes both local autonomy and
global cohesion, as consistent with the quantum coherence of a truly
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