Complexity and Interconnection: The Dao, Sade, and Time/Quantum Biology, Part 6
Time and the Dao – “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’” Laozi.
Time is implicit in the Daodejing. The term Dao means a road, and is often translated as “the Way”. This is because sometimes dao is used as a nominative (that is, “the dao”) and other times as a verb (i.e. daoing). Dao is the process of reality itself, the way things come together, while still transforming. All this reflects the deep-seated Chinese belief that change is the most basic character of things. In the I Ching 易經 (Classic of Changes, or Book of Changes) the patterns of this change are symbolized by figures (the “Ten Wings”) standing for 64 relations of correlative forces and known as the hexagrams. Dao is the alteration of these forces, most often simply stated as yin and yang. The Xici is a commentary on the I Ching formed in about the same period as the Daodejing. It takes the Taiji 太極
(Great Ultimate) as the source of correlative change and associates it with the dao. The contrast is not between what things are or that something is or is not, but between Chaos (Hundun 混沌) and the way reality is ordering (de). Yet, reality is not ordering into one unified whole. It is the 10,000 things (Wanwu 萬物). There is the dao but not “the World” or “the cosmos” in a Western sense.
A central theme of the Daodejing is that correlatives are the expressions of the movement of dao. Correlatives in Chinese philosophy are not opposites, mutually excluding each other. They represent the ebb and flow of the forces of reality: yin/yang, male/female; excess/defect; leading/following; active/passive. As one approaches the fullness of yin, yang begins to horizon and emerge.
John Zerzan has extensively studied and commented the Daodejing; for him time can be seen as the master and measure of a social existence that has become increasingly empty and technicized. Time is expressed as history, which also limits humanity. History is eternal becoming and therefore eternal future; Nature is become and therefore eternal past. Hence the complexity of the YinYang symbol and its universal value.
Quantum Biology Takes Us Back To Laozi
The field of quantum biology applies quantum mechanics to biological objects and problems. It can be defined as the study of quantum phenomena within biological systems.
Many biological processes involve the conversion of energy into forms that are usable for chemical transformations and are quantum mechanical in nature. Such processes involve chemical reactions, light absorption, formation of excited electronic states, transfer of excitation energy, and the transfer of electrons and protons (hydrogen ions) in chemical processes such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Quantum biology uses computation to model biological interactions in light of quantum mechanical effects.
Some examples of the biological phenomena that have been studied in terms of quantum processes are the absorbance of frequency-specific radiation (i.e., photosynthesis and vision); the conversion of chemical energy into motion; magnetoreception in animals; DNA mutation and brownian motors in many cellular processes.
Recent studies have identified quantum coherence and entanglement between the excited states of different pigments in the light-harvesting stage of photosynthesis. The theory of orchestrated objective reduction argues that coherent quantum processes within microtubules are the origin of consciousness.
One of the most influential people to link quantum physics and biology was Erwin Schrödinger, whose book What is Life? inspired, among others, DNA pioneers James Watson and Francis Crick.
In fact, Schrödinger’s view was based on biophysicist Max Delbrück’s theory, put forward in the so-called Three Man Paper, written with geneticist Nikolay Timofeev-Ressovsky and biophysicist Karl Zimmer in 1935.
Schrödinger argued that if Delbrück’s view of mutation was wrong, then “we should have to give up further attempts”, meaning we would have to give up on using physics to explain genes. Delbrück’s approach was correct only at the most general level, and the discovery of the nature of mutations did not refer to his ideas at all.
Experimental studies at the interface between quantum physics and the life sciences have so far been focused on two different questions:
(1) Can genuine quantum phenomena be realised with biomolecules?
Photon antibunching in proteins, the quantum delocalization of biodyes in matter-wave interferometry and the implementation of elementary quantum algorithms in nucleotides are some recent examples.
These experiments are optimized for revealing fundamental physics, such as quantum statistics, delocalization, and entanglement. But they all also show that quantum phenomena are best observed in near-perfect isolation from the environment or at ultralow temperatures, in order to avoid the detrimental influence of decoherence and dephasing. They are thus not representative for life as such.
(2) Are nontrivial quantum phenomena relevant for life?
Nontrivial quantum phenomena are here defined by the presence of long-ranged, long-lived, or multiparticle quantum coherences, the explicit use of quantum entanglement, the relevance of single photons, or single spins triggering macroscopic phenomena.
Photosynthesis, the process of vision, the sense of smell, or the magnetic orientation of migrant birds are currently hot topics in this context. In many of these cases the discussion still circles around the best interpretation of recent experimental and theoretical findings.
(a) The nuclear spins of amino acids have been used as qubits in quantum computing demonstrations. (b) Electron tunneling on nanometer scales has been established as a common phenomenon in life, for instance, in reactions with cytochrome. (c) Electron spin entanglement and coherent spin transport are part of an explanation for the magnetic orientation of migratory birds. (d) Speculations about the influence of quantum physics on human consciousness are regarded as inspiring.
Fascinating combinations of physics and biology can be understood already now. We have identified a large number of interconnects between quantum physics and the life sciences and the status of present experimental skills is great. But the complexity of living systems and high-dimensional Hilbert spaces is even greater.
As Schrödinger and others have demonstrated, once we get inside the atoms of the nuclei of our cells, quantum physics apply; this means that we move into an imprecise, non-linear area where prevalence (not certainty) reigns. We rejoin the philosophy of Laozi. This affects us universally –as well as the universe.
Where do we go from here?
“The Taoists relate that at the great beginning of the No-Beginning, Spirit and Matter met in mortal combat. At last the Yellow Emperor, the Sun of Heaven, triumphed over Shuhyung, the demon of darkness and earth. The Titan, in his death agony, struck his head against the solar vault and shivered the blue dome of jade into fragments. The stars lost their nests, the moon wandered aimlessly among the wild chasms of the night. In despair the Yellow Emperor sought far and wide for the repairer of the Heavens. He had not to search in vain. Out of the Eastern sea rose a queen, the divine Niuka, horn-crowned and dragon-tailed, resplendent in her armor of fire. She welded the five-coloured rainbow in her magic cauldron and rebuilt the Chinese sky. But it is told that Niuka forgot to fill two tiny crevices in the blue firmament. Thus began the dualism of love–two souls rolling through space and never at rest until they join together to complete the universe. Everyone has to build anew his sky of hope and peace.
The heaven of modern humanity is indeed shattered in the Cyclopean struggle for wealth and power. The world is groping in the shadow of egotism and vulgarity. Knowledge is bought through a bad conscience, benevolence practiced for the sake of utility. The East and the West, like two dragons tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive to regain the jewel of life. We need a Niuka again to repair the grand devastation; we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.” — Okakura Kakuza The Book of Tea
This was a long journey, and as Laozi said: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Arrogant Western scientists who claim the heritage of the Enlightment (18th Century CE), but are a product of Abrahamic religions and oppressive powers, do not even provide a tiny speck in the firmament of Chinese wisdom and culture. They congeal observations and then –by diktat- proclaim universal, timeless, eternal truth. It is laughable and insane –but that’s the new gospel of the lemming evangelists.
Where is the humility of Socrates [ἓν οἶδα ὅτι, οὐδὲν οἶδα], of Hippocrates [Θεραπεία μερικές φορές, αντιμετωπίζουν συχνά, άνεση πάντα], of Ambroise Paré [Je le pansai, Dieu le guérit]; the wisdom and foresight of Richard Feynman [Science is the ignorance of the expert]? The Diafoiruses, the Savonaroles, the Roman Inquisition who had Giordano Bruno burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori, the Lysenkos, the Mengeles, the Japanese 731部隊 are back with a mission supported by blinds who claim they can see.
They imprisoned Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade for twenty-seven years –that was not the end. They designed in 1802 the curricula and the exams that, with a thin coat of paint, they impose today. How do you expect the world to survive and flourish – as it should?
Since my time at the Lycée Henri IV (1946-1952) I fought the “system”; my free days were spent in detention to the despair of my parents. (Eventually, in 1968, things changed, as I had fought for).
Then the inanity of the medical studies in France took over; these also were re-designed on February 2nd, 1802 and continue to this day.
I have traveled to and worked in 143 countries – and counting. Everywhere I found original cultures that sculpted the psyche of the peoples. Everywhere also I faced the ugly heads of the colonialism-imperialism-universalism hydra. The Inquisition is wearing new clothes, but the spirit remains intact. Doubt is not on the agenda; humility is weakness; the Crusaders, the Jihadists may at times wear lab coats, scrubs, or display Ivy League diplomas, their Western world is still ruled by excommunicating the actual heretic, or skeptic.
With a group of diverse mind/culture explorers I have tried to make sense of my juvenile –some will say “infantile”- revolt against these establishments. I owe them more sanity, some purpose, certainly an increased curiosity. They also invited me – firmly – to look into this caldron and try to assemble an edible menu. You will decide if it makes any sense.
Maybe – jut maybe – our inextinguishable thirst for knowledge should be bathed in more wisdom. This could be the ideal blend that Laozi or Richard Feynman, or even the Marquis de Sade, would have appreciated. The tools are being created, constructed, available in greater numbers and faster everyday. It is our task to use them wisely; to teach the generations to come; to free ourselves from dogmas.
And make the world a better place for all.
Georges M. Halpern, MD, PhD
It took me much more than nine months to deliver this essay. I nursed it for >40 years, since –thanks to my wife Emiko – I discovered East Asia, and made it my alternative living place two decades ago. My prejudices were monstrous; my ignorance abyssal; my brain aging fast. And as I often quip nothing improves with age – except Great wines.
Those who remove the scales from my eyes, improved my damaged hearing, stimulated my production of Nerve Growth Factor are many, too many to be mentioned. If I do not list them, it is not because I forgot, or lack of gratitude, but limited space. They will forgive me.
Albert B. Wong, Albert S.C. Chan, Maggie M.W. Wai, Ailsa C.Y. Yuen have mentored me with patience, experience, wisdom and more. Our daughter Emmanuelle Halpern-Mazères, Jean-Claude Guez and Yves P. Huin took time to review, edit and suggest. Brian Arthur and Douglass Carmichael reconnected me to Complexity. Andrew L.T. Sheng, Robin R. Wang, Jonathan Y.H. Sim, Jan W. Vasbinder and the team at and around the Para Limes Complexity Institute of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have been the catalysts who incited me to formulate my thoughts and feelings.
But none of this could have been possible, even thinkable, without my wife Emiko Oguiss; behind her façade of calm and often reprobation, the millennia of wisdom with the perception of the future, there is deep love; she has been the permanent guide and educator that I wish everyone. She was the architect.
This is more a collage, a cut-and-paste piece, most verbatim. Quoting in the text all the plunder will destroy the reading and the purpose. The references listed are the most obvious, but some remain hidden despite my efforts. Blame my senility, fatigue, or plain laziness.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zp92AapPfUk http://web.mit.edu/~ebruneau/www/Emile_Bruneau_Professional_Site/Publications.html http://web.mit.edu/~ebruneau/www/Emile_Bruneau_Professional_Site/About_Me.html
Siddharta Mukherjee. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Scribner. NY, NY. 2010.
Wang RR. Yinyang. The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 250p.
Herfel WE, Gao Y, Rodrigues D.J., Chinese Medicine and Complex Systems Dynamics. In: Dov M. Gabbay, Paul Thagard and John Woods, editors, Handbook of The Philosophy of Science: Philosophy of Complex Systems. San Diego: North Holland, 2011, pp. 675-719.
Lambert N, Chen YN, Cheng YC, Li CM, Chen GY, Nori F. Quantum Biology. Nature Physics 2013;9:10-18.
Arndt M, Juffmann T, Vedral V. Quantum physics meet biology. HFSP Journal 2009;3:386-400.
Merali Z. Solving Biology’s Mysteries Using Quantum Mechanics. Discover Magazine. December 2014.
Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili. Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology. Bantam Press. 2015. 356pp.
Georges M. Halpern, MD, PhD