All of us are entangled in the paradigms of our times. Even those of us who live on the edge of the current paradigms in science and medicine are still formed by them and react to them. We live within their context whether we agree with them or not. We in the West are people of the Line. We mostly see things in linear terms. We see beginnings and ends. Our lives are understood to have a purpose which we intend to achieve, at least by the end of our lives. Science works best when the questions we ask are pared down to simplistic terms and certainly the scientific process itself is seen as a linear process of inquiry, observation, hypothesis, testing and evaluation (although a recursive process of re-evaluation is integral to the process, the process itself results in a measured endpoint). “Uncontrolled variables’’necessarily skew results. All too often, the questions asked are winnowed down to abstract ‘cause and effect’ issues that may or may not reflect the actual interconnectedness around us, much as the Euclidian forms are idealizations that do not reflect the real diversity and complexity of mountains and trees and animals and the movement of the plates of the Earth itself.
Reductionism in science has almost encouraged us to leave an appreciation of the wholeness around us and rather to focus instead on specific details. In mechanism, the various components are examined individually. These pieces can then be added together to form the whole. In mechanism, the whole is equal to the sum of the parts. Mechanisms are designed and built by human beings. Their form and function is a result of the mind that conceived them. These minds are enmeshed in a culture that has made untold definitions and decisions regarding reality and radically inform the understanding of what is known. In the West, humans have made the decision that they are ‘apart’ from the world around them. Moreover, they are superior to it. We are said to have ‘dominion’ over the Earth. This has come to mean that it ‘belongs to us’ and we can harvest what we want with impunity. Our very economic systems require continuous growth just to maintain viability. The Earth, while immense, is a finite resource and we are treating it as an infinite resource. We artificially truncate the interconnectedness that occurs spatially and temporally in order to define and manipulate discrete aspects. The profit in so doing has been made obvious in the twentieth century. The detrimental effects are more insidious, but they too are now becoming more obvious.
We must begin to examine the whole as well as the parts. Ignorance cannot lead to bliss when unexamined desire and avarice rules our actions. A systems approach to biology, healthcare, and global ecology is overdue. Limiting analysis to local cause and effect can render long-term consequences invisible. That we do not see them does not make them less real in their ultimate effects. A linear approach assumes a proportional relationship between what is introduced to a system and what is expressed by it; 2 +2 will always equal 4. In a non-linear system, the introduction of an independent variable can have a wide variety of effects ranging from no change to complete transformation of the system. The complexity of processes ennested within a living organism makes it distinctly non-linear.
John Donne said, “No man is an island”. What he meant by this is that we are not all separate independent critters insulated from our surroundings. Instead we are open, dissipative, non-linear systems deeply ennested in this world that we are an integral part of. We require a constant inflow from our surroundings and we continuously release aspects of ourselves back into the environment. Our nervous systems depend on this reciprocity to define and maintain our own systems. The recurrent nature of this “give and take” create not just our physiology but also our behaviors.
For a few decades we thought that the genome in the nucleus was the ‘brain’ of the cell. We now recognize that the genome codes for protein synthesis but the further assembly of proteins into macromolecules, cells, tissues, etc. is not materially represented in the genome. Instead, epigenetic factors predominate. The push and pull on the cellular membrane is directly linked to the nucleus and the genome. Alteration in conditions at the interface between the cell and the ‘environment’ guide protein expression and cellular metabolism. In an analogous way, the recurrent sensory and motor traffic throughout the organism generates behavior. Our biology does not end at our skin. Life always exists at the edges. It is in the unfolding relationship between the inner and the outer that meaning and behavior occur.
When describing function of an organism, there is usually an attempt to ‘find’ the driver of the system in a hierarchical fashion. Most of us have seen those pictures of a little homunculus guy depicted in cartoon fashion inside our heads, somehow ‘driving’ the whole enterprise. We have come to associate organization with hierarchical control. A business has a leader or president or CEO who manages a layer of vice presidents, who manage a larger contingent of managers who supervise the mass of ‘workers’. This is a familiar model and one we have tried to overlay on organismic physiology and behavior. The trouble is that there is no ‘boss’ at the top. This has never been found. There is another way to organize systems and it is the way nature does it. Parallel systems operate in a non-hierarchical context. Order arises spontaneously out of complexity. It is a basic observation referred to as emergence, and in the context of living systems it has been termed autopoiesis by the Santiago theory of cognition. It seems conceivable that this primary force for integration and transformation can be locally seen as being paired with entropy in a push-pull, yin-yang, recurrent relationship. Current definitions do place entropy as acting within a closed system. Life is by definition an open system. The current cosmology is now positing an expanding universe and energy and matter may be increasing too. The total amount of energy and matter may not be unchanging. Our definitions remain in flux.
Indigenous societies have generally always been based in circular relationships rather than linear ones. This circle recognizes the greater system of which any one aspect is always just a piece. Instead of end goals, the purpose becomes one of sustainability. An organism operates to maintain homeostasis (or homeorrhesis if you prefer). This occurs far from equilibrium in living systems. The more vital and resilient a system is, the easier it maintains a steady internal environment for itself. Loss of resilience diminishes the vitality of the system and it begins to oscillate between extremes. In an organism we call this sickness and disease. We measure this loss of integration as misalignment patterns. The Earth itself, recognized by Lovelock and others as a ‘super-organism’ also maintains a relative steady state. As resilience is lost (rising temperatures in the deep ocean, rise on CO2 in the atmosphere, massive loss of old growth forests, etc. are creating analogous situation of climate change with swings to both extremes with very hot summers and very cold winters. Just as a top begins to wobble when it loses energy (vitality) so climate can become more extreme as homeostasis is lost.
This analogy between the Earth and the organism brings up another amazing design element in nature. Benoit Mandelbrot found a way to describe the complexity of nature that allowed us to move beyond the abstract and simplistic Euclidean shapes and begin to describe the ‘roughness’ and complexity of actual reality. This idea of ‘fractals’ (self similarity at different levels of magnitude) is actually a branching algorithm that can accurately describe, (within truncated boundaries) the architecture of living structures. Our vasculature is fractal in nature, with vessels that branch out until every cell has access to oxygen and nutrition. Our alveoli are fractal in design allowing diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide at the cellular level. Our brains are fractal in their design. In fact, the placement of stars in the universe is fractal. If you have ever seen an animation of a Mandelbrot set, you have seen the self similarity that occurs as magnification is increased. Over and over, at widely varying levels of magnitude, the same shapes reappear in recurrent fashion. Fractals can be a useful metaphor that links the physical to the metaphysical. The perennial wisdom traditions and mystics of all time and places have been telling us for millennia that all is ‘One’. This self similarity is seen everywhere and at all times. It may be that fractals are a useful tool that describes this noetic understanding of reality.
So if organization arises out of complexity and there is no material substrate that has been found to account for this autopoiesis, then how does it occur? Rupert Sheldrake, an eminent biologist and discoverer of cellular apoptosis (programmed cell death) has offered a hypothesis that appears to be able to bridge the gap between the material and the nonmaterial without adding an undefined ‘other (metaphysical) force’. Morphogenetic fields have been described in some considerable detail over the past couple of decades as a viable candidate. The problem with vitalism has been the discontinuity between the material and the nonmaterial. This dualism occurs because the physical and nonmaterial exist in different domains and are defined as having no effect on each other. So how does the nonmaterial affect the material? How does unlike act on unlike? This dualism exists in all vitalistic theories. Sheldrake has offered an organismic theory that he notes “incorporates many aspects of vitalism within a larger perspective, and effectively supersedes it.” 1
Anyone who has ever placed metal shavings on a piece of paper and then placed a magnet underneath has seen the ordering of the shavings that occurs, reveal ng the underlying electromagnetic field. A radio is a receiver of specific frequencies of EMF. At any (and every!) point in the field, a receiver can be tuned to a specific frequency and ALL of the information being broadcast throughout the field can be heard. The whole is present in every part, another example of the universal fractal concept.
The morphogenetic field does not appear to be only electromagnetic although it is clearly affected by the EMF. Sheldrake writes that instead of immutable Laws of nature, there may rather exist what could almost be termed ‘habits’. Recursive behaviors that become more ‘solid’ the more they are manifested. Forms such as hydrogen atoms have been existent for billions of years (at least !) and these forms are quite stable. New chemical compounds, especially those that will crystalize are often quite difficult to form initially but once synthesis has occurred, the form begins to be much easier to produce. Once one form has become predominant, it becomes nearly impossible to produce another configuration even if it once predominated. Examples include xylitol, ampicillin and an AIDS drug , Ritonavir. All of these agents and many others have undergone profound change in their crystallization at a certain point in time and hence forth crystallized in a different conformation. And, amazingly, this occurs in disparate labs around the world!
Recursive behaviors of neurons in the brain set up the rhythm of brain function. Consciousness has been associated with variance in the frequency as evidenced by the studies of alpha, beta, delta and theta predominance in EEG recordings in various states of consciousness. The Eigen value for these states is basically identical with the Schumann frequencies of the troposphere which appears to be driven by the thousands of lightning strikes occurring every second. There is some evidence to support the idea that during thalamic free run periods, a synchrony with the Schumann frequencies takes place. “Earthing” is a related idea that places humans back into the electrical circuit of the Earth and appears to restore overall negative charge and balance autonomic function while having significant effect on overall health.
The distribution of neural activity is now being acknowledged to extend far beyond the brain and spinal cord. The heart is comprised of 60% neural material identical to the brain. The gut appears to act as a major neural center with as many neurons as the spinal cord. The coordinated movement of information as well as electrons and protons is occurring in an integrated way from the cellular to the level of the whole organism. Mechanically, cells (with sophisticated cytoskeletons) have mechanical connections (integrins) that are capable of transmitting mechanical force resulting in a myofascial envelope that dampens potentially deleterious forces and is able to moderate tensions and transmit coordinated activities throughout the whole body.
As biological creatures who live on the surface of the Earth, we humans must contend with gravity. As bipeds with high centers of gravity, coordination of mass and movement is critical to function. The emergence of behaviors that occurs in such complex non-linear systems optimally results in a calibration of mass with the gravity line that results in optimal ease with minimal effort of the entire organism. Emergence is always a function of the whole. Misalignment after trauma, toxicity or autosuggestion, is also a whole body reorganization of the myriad components into the best configuration possible given the circumstances. The push and pull, so to speak, on each and every cell always informs the protein synthesis of genomic expression. The coordinated function of all seven trillions cells within these constraints results in the health of the individual. Recalibration of the organism with the gravity line reduces torque forces and diminishes the efforts that must be made to remain upright and to function.
Upper cervical chiropractic appears to have the potential to neuromodulate the autonomic nuclei in the brainstem. Autonomic balance is, essentially, health. Optimal integration and coordination of the organism with its environment is certainly an important and critical precursor to the health of the individual. Analysis of optimal balance necessarily involves examination of the kinetic chain comprised by the skull, spine and pelvis. Pelvic analysis has been rudimentary in upper cervical techniques in the past. Considering its mass and central importance in alignment with gravity, QSM³ has made significant inroads by including information regarding pelvic orientation in the adjustive listing. Gracovetsky’s Spinal Engine has also revealed the central importance of the pelvis in building, storing and using energy for locomotion, adding to the critical nature of whole body alignment.
We have always understood in chiropractic that we are doing something different. We are not treating or managing symptoms. We do not cure diseases. We do something much more wonderful. We uncover the interference to the expression of life itself, do our best to remove it and then trust that Life will unfold as it has since it arose on this planet. The nonlinear nature of our complexity has with the aid of computers opened up a new way to understand our behavior. The paradigm crashing insights of quantum mechanics and relativity more than a hundred years ago shattered the objective billiard ball atom, Cartesian grid universe we thought we were living in. Structure and function turn out to be more intimately related than we ever guessed. Relationships between structures, and mapping out the change in relationships over time is all that is left once mass is seen for what it is and isn’t. Cognition, consciousness, is primary in all of this. Intent, and focus, -how we perceive, limitations of our perceptions, what we perceive ourselves to be, how we understand our beings, our health and our illness, all of this radically informs how we choose to intervene.
We are not separate, selfish little clots. We are ennested and deeply integrated into the whole of life. We are a part of Life. Loss of this knowledge has resulted in counterproductive efforts to suppress and avoid dealing with all of these interconnections. The importance of these insights extends far past any one individual organism and has critical implications in ecology, commerce and social integration. Humanity sits on a precipice of its own creation. Chiropractic can help to heal and reintegrate us all with the biosphere. Its power and insights extend far beyond one person adjusting one other person. It is time to see ourselves as the Warriors of Life that we are.
- Morphic Resonance –the nature of formative causation. Rupert Sheldrake, Park Street Press p. 38.