Complexity and Interconnection: The Dao, Sade, and Time/Quantum Biology, Part 1
This essay is an attempt to make sense of disparate philosophies, texts, concepts and human conquests. It is a patchwork of very diverse sources, and I am not sure that it is worth much.
It is above all personal, the current milestone towards an endless exploration of our complex identity and connection to the social structures.
Those who know me will recognize the provocateur –at times brutal, biased, intolerant and partial. These are words –not admonestations, wise admonitions, or guidelines. They are perishable, within seconds.
As most kin, I am not rational; emotions, feelings are often overwhelming. My sense of justice, the respect of each one, ethics may be swept aside by anger, whim or vagary.
Just quit when you are annoyed, weary, or simply bored.
By Way of Introduction –
After escaping “by the skin of my teeth” the gas chambers and crematorium of the Final Solution in December 1942, I spent two very long years in a series of refugee camps built hastily by the Swiss in abandoned sanatoriums, dilapidated hotels; or working summers in farms for food and shelter. In the camps I was always hungry. But we survived, watching others die from malnutrition, chronic severe stress, flaring tuberculosis, typhus or suicide on the electrified barbed wired fence.
I was told, at the blooming age of eight, that it was due to religion: my grandparents [who did not escape the above-mentioned “Final” one] were born is the “wrong” one. But then why us? Why children? Why treat us worse than pigs? Why submit us to the might and absolute power of anonymous Swiss military or bureaucrats? “They saved our lives”; barely. After their dogs, fowl, cattle, pigs; these were fed better.
Then we came back to France, which, magically on August 25th 1944, was changed from a racist, foremost accomplice of the Nazis, country into a self-liberating democratic, Allied one. Charles de Gaulle, better that changing water into wine, accomplished this miracle. Smoke and mirrors as expected.
I encountered the sad, true, vicious reality plus the educational system codified by Jules Ferry to manufacture cannon fodder for his (and followers’) colonial wars of the 19th & 20th century. Rigid programs directly inspired by the centuries of catechism and Catholic integrism; soon after this appetizer, the Lycée Henri IV offered the full menu, concocted in 1802, unchanged. But I was a glutton reader, surrounded by sons of partisans, communists, or anarchists. We shared our thoughts, our books, our dreams, our hopes. We discovered What is Property? by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who defined anarchy as “the absence of a master, of a sovereign”; he was a pacifist –for us after the millions massacred a few months earlier. Mikhail Bakunin said that Proudhon was the first person to claim to be an anarchist. But, for me, his motto was a revelation: “Ni Dieu, Ni Maître” [No gods, No masters]. I was 13. It was mine; it still is.
What the experience of WWII taught me is that the “Brain Empathy Gap”, as described by Emile Bruneau of MIT, is still universal and courted by political pimps and priests of all denominations. Faith has to reign supreme. Hence belief in perpetuity; what was “true” a generation ago remains true… forever.
As a correlate this means the negation of time; hence the negation of life, its rhythms, its evolution, and eventual end – or revival.
It also means the negation of freedom, of hazard, of chance, of Einstein’s “dice”. The perpetuation of authority [“the elders always know better”], most of it self-proclaimed or “democracy”. Keep in mind that the “rule of the people” (δημοκρατία: etymology of democracy) belonged in 500 BCE Athens’ to ~30,000-60,000 citizens only, out of a population of ~200,000-400,000 residents. The people were few and imposed their views and laws to most. This is truer today than then.
We need to re-read Jonathan Swift, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.
As a rabid survivor, I have for seven decades swallowed my pride and too many bitter pills; almost no one would be interested, even listen. The intricacy and intertwining of the mind and the body had always been obvious to the layman, but the scholars could not/cannot endorse or teach it: it would ruin their edifice and blow up their reputation. Fortunately the progress of science proved it. Genes and epigenes control, and are controlled by both body and mind.
But that’s not all. It gets more diverse, richer; in a word more complex. Complexity it is:
Science as we live it, explore and develop it, admire it and depend upon is a Western creation. It started long ago and developed its philosophy and basic rules around the Mediterranean basin, with increased Eastern influences from China and India via the Arab invasions.
Then the curtain fell on science with Christianity: it contradicted the Scriptures. The thirst for knowledge was (almost) eradicated for over a millennium.
During these dark ages, China progressed steadily – until the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 CE.
This catastrophe in China coincided with the influence of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who founded the principles of modern science. For his biographer William Hepworth Dixon, Bacon’s influence in modern world is so great that “every man who rides in a train, sends a telegram, follows a steam plough, sits in an easy chair, crosses the channel or the Atlantic, eats a good dinner, enjoys a beautiful garden, or undergoes a painless surgical operation, owes him something”.
He inspired the positive transition from the Rinascimento to the Enlightment.
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” —Francis Bacon (1605) The Advancement of Learning, Book 1, v, 8
However science is not faith; it is doubt, questioning more. It has no dogma, just tools and methods. No theory is ever considered strictly certain as science accepts the concept of fallibilism. Karl Popper sharply distinguishes truth from certainty. He writes that scientific knowledge “consists in the search for truth”, but it “is not the search for certainty … All human knowledge is fallible and therefore uncertain.”
Despite or because of this methodology the progresses and conquests of science have been immense. Our planetary world (the Earth) has been changed in too many ways to be cited. Our exploration of the universe –now multiverse- is beyond belief. The internal structures of the atom, and their interactions [see Quantum Biology] offer new and changing paradigms. In Biology and Medicine, we live in what authors of science-fiction did not even imagine.
To cite just one example: in 2010, Dr. Siddharta Mukherjee published The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. On March 30, 2015, a series based on this book –and coproduced by S. Mukherjee- is aired on PBS; the changes in our understanding of cancer, in the treatment approaches, in the mechanisms of (inter)action and consequences, the social impacts, etc. –all these are already different by many orders of magnitude when compared to 2010. And the gap will grow.
We owe this and almost everything to science.
But if science offers the method and the tools, it still does not answer all the questions that humans ask; about their identity, their complex nature, the social structures they have built and which they inhabit. The guts and brainy questions.
But is there a method? Is there a solution? Is there just hope?
Let us start circa 2,700 years ago… – to be continued.
Georges M. Halpern, MD, PhD