Science in Society Archive

ISIS Lecture - Quantum Jazz Naples

Liquid Crystalline Water Music of the Organism

Quantum jazz is my metaphor for the quantum coherence of organisms in which every single molecular player is spontaneous and free yet perfectly in step and in tune with the whole. This remarkable state of being depends on the liquid crystalline water matrix that enables each molecule to intercommunicate with every other, creating the most exquisite light and sound displays that span 70 octaves in all the colours of the rainbow

Quantum coherence and the associated circular thermodynamics of organisms profoundly revolutionises our concept of being and becoming and has important implications for heath and sustainability Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Invited lecture at 2011 Unexpected Connections Conference – The Frontier, the Unknown, the Heresy, Palazzo Serra di Cassano, Naples, Italy, 12 November 2011

The fully referenced text of this lecture is available for download here, and with accompanying power point presentation here

Thank you for inviting me here to talk about unexpected connections, in the midst of the eurozone financial crisis. I just turned 70 today, and it is a great birthday present to be in such a lovely city as Naples. I thought I would try to cheer you up with Quantum Jazz, the Liquid Crystalline Water Music of the Organism, which unexpectedly, may tell you how to exit the global financial crisis, not to mention food crisis, health crisis, and climate change, and be happy ever after.

Death of Domo

I won’t talk about the financial or any other crisis, but here is how health journalist and author Nick Regush, summed up medicine two years before he died [1]: “Medicine as we know it, is dying…The disease is caused by conflict of interest, tainted research, greed for big bucks, pretentious doctors and scientists, lying, cheating, invasion by the morally bankrupt marketing automatons of the drug industry, derelict politicians and federal and state regulators.”

Regush could have been speaking about finance, our food system, our continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels, or the regulation of mobile phone use, industrial chemicals, GMOs, anything. He and others have correctly identified the proximate causes conspiring in the death of medicine. But those are all symptoms of a deeper cause, the obsolete model that dominates not just medicine, but the whole of our lives. I call it Domo (see [2] Medicine in a New Key, SiS 43).

Domo is dying; the signs are everywhere, even though the most dramatic, headline- grabbing symptoms are in the global financial system. But I am hopeful that something beautiful is taking shape in its place.

Science of death versus science of life, mechanism versus organism

Domo is a seductively powerful view of the world as machine that can be taken apart, analysed, controlled, and re-tooled to serve our every whim. It was the product of the European Enlightenment, which brought many good things too. I single out the primacy of reason over received wisdom, and the transference of creation from god to nature, which we can now understand by scientific enquiry.

Domo’s influence in biology has been the most profound and persistent. It presents the organism as a junkyard of molecular nuts and bolts subject to mechanistic principles of lock and key, push and pull, random collision, linear causation, controller versus controlled, etc. Diseases are largely viewed as ‘defects’ in specific molecular mechanisms, and defined as such. This is the kind of thinking behind the human genome project that has run aground after decades of sequencing and dissecting genomes, and trying to identify the genetic defects that predispose individuals to different diseases (see [3] Ten years of the Human Genome, SiS 48). Together with the physical laws of equilibrium thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, Domo biology is essentially a science of death that has virtually nothing to say about life.

Scientific enquiry has its own momentum, and the mechanistic science of Domo was already becoming obsolete at the turn of the past century when the science of the organism emerged.

Three books that influenced me the most were all inspired by the new physics, especially quantum theory, which contradicts every tenet of mechanistic science. Alfred North Whitehead’s eloquent critique of the static, flat, soundless, and colourless Newtonian Universe in Science and the Modern World [4] is all of a piece with Henri Bergson’s insistence, in Time and Freewill [5], that time is multidimensional and heterogeneous, giving unique qualities to our innermost experiences. Both of them speak from the heart and mind; they invite us to experience nature much in the way a true artist and romantic poet would. Whitehead argues that we can never really understand nature except as an organism embedded within the super-organism of nature.  

Erwin Schrödinger struggled against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, which insists on having nothing to say about life, the universe, and everything [6] (see Life & the Universe After the Copenhagen Interpretation, SiS 34). Instead, he speaks unapologetically of consciousness and the meaning of life [7]. His book What is Life? is widely acclaimed for having predicted the genetic material DNA. Much less known and more significantly, it also predicted the molecular coherence of organisms, discovered in my laboratory in 1992.

Physics of the rainbow worm

I found myself peering down the polarizing microscope that geologists use to look at rock crystals, and saw a rainbow dancing in a worm. This worm was a little fruit fly embryo freshly emerged from an egg. It was not unique. All organisms look like that.

Living organisms have such a high degree of molecular coherence that they appear as dynamic liquid crystal displays. You can see the images on the cover of my book The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms [8] first published in 1993; now in its 3rd much enlarged edition. My book presented theoretical arguments and empirical evidence for two new ideas: a circular thermodynamics of organisms and, by analogy, sustainable systems; and the quantum coherence or organisms, thanks to its liquid crystalline water matrix of quantum molecular machines.  The two aspects are of course completely interlinked. A sequel to the Rainbow Worm I am writing now [9] will deal more substantially with liquid crystalline water building on the ideas in the earlier book.

The fully referenced text of this lecture is available for download here, and with accompanying power point presentation here

Article first published 21/11/11

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