Vis Viva – Chapter 1 Organism

In a very real sense we, as a mankind live in a material world. A world that is made up of matter and most of our consciousness or awareness is directed at surviving within the context of that world. Depending upon where we are in life, the process of living can be a real struggle, just getting the basics to sustain the physical form takes up all our effort. Should we have the good fortune to have a little physical plane wealth we might find ourselves with time on our hands; the time to pursue things not directly aimed at sustenance of being. Yet there are relatively few people who actually use this time to focus on the mystery of being-ness. People choose instead to get caught up in various activities that divert away from this, feeling secure that they are leaving such things to the religious leaders, philosophers, scientists and perhaps the poets of this world. In a strange way doing the ostrich of life and taking expressed overt pleasure in being profoundly superficial. From my position how can anyone not wonder what living is all about? Even the most blasé of us must have wondered a little on this, even if that came about only because of the death of a loved one or having to explain to a child where budgerigars go when they die. Such things are quickly brushed under the carpet as if they didn’t happen as perhaps the TV schedule now beckons and we must not miss the latest episode of East Enders.

Our societies conspire to teach us that life is only as it appears or rather how we conspire with each other to view it. Social conditioning fills us with all sorts of limitations to our perception and our choices of behaviour. It is riddled with expectation and the use of conditional vocabulary. It has a purpose in that it has evolved so that a bunch of human beings can live together in a way that is relatively harmonious, sharing a nearly common contextual interpretation of events and happenings, enabling at least some sharing of resource so that life can be sustained for many. Yet how many choose to operate in this world is rapacious, taking everything from life, the planet and each other. Very few people look at the cost, in real terms, of our behaviours on each other and the world we live in. We have come to the point where we are out of rhythm with flow of life and discordant with the universe. In a sense the song of life we now sing is harsh and dissonant. Because, deep down we all know this, we seek doings to occupy our minds so that we do not have to look at the tragedy of it all. At least a part of this comes from the conurbation of humans into large cities, where to keep the population quiet forms of entertainment have been developed. Out of these do indeed spring the highest that human artistic endeavour can achieve but there is much that isn’t. One only has to look at the role models we are asked to subscribe to, where for example celebrity is perhaps the new God and people willingly submit to the knife to get new boobs or bigger fuller lips, in the bizarre hope that it will cover for their deep insecurity about where they are actually going in life.

As humanity it is now time to change. In a sense this need is more real that you can currently imagine. We must now begin that journey home. That journey is to find what we are really capable of and have, for so very many years now, forgotten.

These last few centuries have seen mankind concretising its thoughts in a way never before experienced, bringing about ever more complex material world constructs. The globalisation of commerce and electronic communications has brought together ideas from the far flung corners of the earth into a melting pot of some considerable tension and the strain has been shown quite markedly in recent months. People wave the banners of their various faiths whether they be based in the religions imposed upon them by the power hungry and the fearful or the rationalist materialistic religions of science and hedonism; they wave them as sacrosanct in a manner verging on absolutism and exclusion. This posturing renders the truths hidden in the basic religious teachings silent and neglects the better aspects of scientific enquiry, banished to perhaps a publish at all costs mentality.

Despite all this the recent world events are evidence enough of the illusion of control man uses to help it sleep at night. The universe does not really care what man plans to do. It just is and does its own thing, whether it is tidal waves, earthquakes or hurricanes. In the scope of the infinite we are pretty small fry, despite all our arrogant pretension to the contrary.

Oh that great God of intellect; the one that so demands proof. It is so badly missing the plot. The thought forms of the mind and its self deceit have tricked us all for so long. How much cure is there for all the sickness in the world? Would it not be better to take a more prophylactic approach to living and flow with, rather than against, life?

Let’s start with physical science to begin to look a little deeper.

On the one hand I perceive my physical being as a solid object that eats, drinks, sleeps, craps, urinates, makes love, gets hot, gets cold etc. I can talk about being wet in the rain. Under certain circumstances outside forces such as sunlight change the physical nature of the form, I can feel pain through sun burn for example. I look at other people and might categorise them as attractive or ugly, fat or thin. I may even notice the elaborate woven dead plant material which they choose to drape upon their bodies so as to enhance their overall appearance for whatever purpose. I engage in complex social rituals and participate in group mind activities whereby we conspire to do something.

On the other hand the twentieth and twenty first century schools of thought known as physics, chemistry and biology, point at an altogether different picture. Apparently I am made up of atoms, held together in molecules which exert attractive forces on each other to form membranes, bones, blood vessels and a small grey thing called a brain. These disciplines tell us that the forces holding together these molecules are actually quite weak. Yet nevertheless this collection of molecules seems to move around and function on the physical plane as if there is some inner thing organising them with something akin to intelligence. Though I question here whether thing is as yet the right word.

This organisation of the organism which is a physical plane construct of molecules seems to go on without a great deal of conscious thought. The vehicle which is the human form is kind of, self organising. At certain times it brings notions into conscious thought; better have some food, water etc. I am pretty sure that most people are not conscious of the extent of hydration at a cellular level, yet something is, and as an organism the learned response is to reach for the Evian or whatever. You have to admit that at this level already, it is quite miraculous.

Hang on a minute. If this form is made of atoms and that tree out there is too, then aren’t we made of the same stuff albeit slightly differently organised? So, I am the same as a tree yet different from it. The form side of my life is shared with the rest of the physical world. Somehow this collection of molecules called Eric, is made of the same stuff yet is animated in a way that it is different to a tree. I have a vehicle that can do stuff and move around consuming other stuff in a way that keeps this counter entropic being functioning…

I, rather my physical form, have boundaries. There are edges to my collection of molecules. I can hit things and move them. I am a collection of molecules that act as a factory taking in supplies and producing waste, actually rather a lot of it. I have a carbon footprint. The existence of this, my form, impacts on the local, global and universal ecosystem. I produce carbon dioxide. I am connected to the universe in so very many ways. I recycle molecules used by other beings. You and I may even have shared the same water molecule. I pissed several this morning, someone or something else may soon incorporate these.

When I touch something, although the details of the molecule / molecule interactions escape my consciousness I perceive a sensation or perception of touch.

Digging a little deeper what then is going on? This collection of molecules, places something it calls a hand on the table and touches it. This table is fairly old, it feels slightly rough to the finger and the individual rings that make up the wood have a rather pleasant texture.

How can a molecule feel?

In touching the table and running my fingers over it I have changed both the table and my fingers for ever. Some of my skin and the molecules which make up this thing I call skin will have rubbed off perhaps never to return. The wood is now slightly moistened by the moisture I exude. Yet did I actually touch the wood? That is penetrate the space of the molecular assembly called a table?

This question, if we choose, might lead us deeper into the thought process of trying to think about molecules, then atoms and then maybe, if we are so bold, sub atomic particles. There is apparent consensus as to what, at least on one level, a molecule is. A collection of atoms held together with reasonably strong forces. Exactly how people envisage molecules will vary. These forces come about because of something called charge and this charge has two polarities; positive and negative. Apparently it is a property of matter. If we cut to the chase the concept of charge is still a hypothesis that is widely held to be true, therefore, if consensus of opinion matters it must be and it must exist. It was, if I understand it correctly, first thought of to explain the properties of a collection of molecules when rubbed, and named specifically for a collection of molecules which make amber. Hence we have an electron which is derived from the ancient Greek word for amber. Chemists love electrons; they are the very basis of their trade. I have to come clean and say that I have never seen one so I can’t really be sure that they exist. Though I have to admit that as postulates go, it is pretty good. It has served the test of time.

So these charges interact to produce forces on each other that can be attractive or repulsive. These electrons (and protons) when collected into a molecule then have a collective charge which maps onto a semi-rigid fluctuating shape, giving rise to something that has electrostatic potential. These things (charges) move around and produce a field. Put another charged thing in this field and it experiences a force. These forces hold stuff together and stop my finger pushing through the table. As my finger gets very close the forces get pretty large and unless I am able to exert truly massive force, my finger will never go through the table. It may make the atoms in the table vibrate. But the nuclei in my finger will never touch the nuclei in the table.

At this level I am a bunch of particles, some charged some not, that whiz around producing fluctuating fields that are bound together in molecules, which in turn are held together through weaker forces into cells tissues and bones; the collection of matter which this thing called Eric lives in. I am pretty sure this thing, this vehicle exists. I seem to remember having it around for more that forty of these other things called years. It has changed shape during this time and as a bunch of molecules it not quite as physically able as it once was.

Going deeper into the realms of maths and quantum mechanics one can explain, pretty well how these charges move and behave within in the context and the constructed thought process of physics and chemistry. Some people have got quite famous doing this. Yet all this doesn’t really answer what is this thing called Eric? The one that thinks he is sure that there is a physical form he inhabits. Is that it then, this physical form?

Well no not really. If through meditation I become silent and stop all the thought processes, the form appears to keep working, without me consciously interfering. I can control my thoughts to an extent and because of my training perhaps more so that many others.

I can only assume that there is something animating this collection of molecules, the vis viva of the title. This vis viva whilst contained, at least in the first instance, within the form is not the entirety of the matter, it is also something else. It organises, that is it turns the collection of molecules, into an organism that can express collective action so as to gather sufficient resource to continue its existence. It has a will to survive. Well at least I think it does.

Do I think? Well I guess so. What the hell is thinking anyway?

There is then an entity which experiences a sense of awareness, separate from the day to day running of the collection of molecules, which thinks it thinks. It, the entity is consciously guiding the collection of molecules into pressing the keys on this laptop and trying to communicate with you through an arcane series of glyphs called letters, brought together in a collection to make words and sentences. These in turn represent a series of noises that other collections of molecules and their indwelling thing have evolved over a number of years as a means of communication. The meaning of these words has some commonality, though I cannot be in anyway sure that you will interpret them in the same way that I do. As I write these keystrokes are being stored on a thing called a computer which, if the hypothesis is correct, is breaking them down into a string of zeros and ones written as different charge states in yet another collection of molecules. They are appearing on a screen which is made up of liquid crystals and my eyes (and maybe my brain) are interpreting them back. This is truly fantastic really.

A lot of people have gotten quite famous talking about this thing that is indwelling. Many theories abound and no one can, if they are honest, say that the have the answer to life the universe and everything let alone all the questions. We have psychology, religion, poetry and neuroscience; we have education and training, yoga and meditation. There are religious ecstasy and scientific and rational reasoning. All of these in a sense attempt to extend understanding a little beyond the identification with the collection of molecules. They attempt to take comprehension beyond the day to day factory approach to life and extend beyond instinctual living. Perhaps then this extension from instinct is the difference in how the vis viva, animates the human being, providing an awareness that allows abstraction from the basic functions of life. To believe that we are only our forms and that our being-ness is confined to a chemical-physical process alone detracts from the wonder of being.

This vis viva then is what animates the form. It produces a variety of different types of humans, with differing capacities and capabilities, yet demonstrating some over arching similarities. These enable us to talk of a humanity rather than several.

If you are strongly identified with your form side you may already have been slightly offended by my calling you a bunch of molecules. This in itself speaks volumes. Yet viewed from the angle of a hungry predator, you are simply a source of meat, of food and not the glamorous social being that you sometimes think you are. Quite simply your form is meat, it is carnate and something is in this meat, it is incarnate.

The vis viva incarnates, it animates and organises the collection of molecules and causes them to function in a manner which tends to sustain the physical plane organism. Or rather isn’t it that the vis viva causes a part of the greater whole to incarnate and eke out an existence in the form. In our species there are two genders, male and female. The functions of these two types of forms are similar yet different and hopefully complementary. The nature of the collection of molecules is also different and the instinctual house keeping of them has differing boundaries and rhythms. The physical forms evolve at their own paces.

What it is that is actually incarnate is subject to discussion, each religious community and their spokespeople can go on about this. Quickly we get into questions of faith whether your faith is atheism or theism. I prefer now to use don’t know mind. I don’t know what it is that has incarnated into the form called Eric. I am kind of interested to find out.

This brings me back to that fate full conversation on a beach in Negril and “The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.” Entropy can be thought of as a measure of chaos or disorder. The physical form is ordered and maintaining this order requires energy. The animating indwelling thing marshals the factory and for a while holds the second law at bay, sooner or later it “gives up the ghost” and the entropic process of the decay of form and return to the carbon cycle takes place. I remember quite clearly spouting off to a man on the beach about how life can be explained solely in terms of physics and chemistry, with all the passion of an evangelist. He listened to me as I have done to doorstep preachers with all the patience of someone talking with the insane. As I described that using Occam’s razor there was no need to invoke anything other that physics as nothing else was required to prove the function.

He looked at me and through me.

“You don’t really believe that do you?”

And so began the first phase of a journey part of which I am sharing now.

By this stage Eric was a post doctoral researcher, with some twenty-five published papers to his name. He was going places and an academic career beckoned. Yet all it took was a simple direct comment to demonstrate the sandy nature of the foundations of his evangelism. In a very real sense the outer expression of a world view that was incomplete. Chance would have it that a few days later Eric would climb the Blue Mountain in darkness to see the glory of a dawn, such as he had never seen before; playing witness through majesty and in contrast to the hollowness of his own words. He tried to forget. After that he kind of knew he was going through the motions, though it would be a good many years before he would start to find some answers, but more of that later.

The animating thing within the form had somehow arranged things for him to be there at exactly that point in time, to have that experience and to begin to shatter a mental construct of the world built up over many years in the church of reason and refined through the fixing of attention upon some of the most complex and sometimes mathematical descriptions of the world. My, wasn’t he clever? Study of any doctrine over a period of tens of years invests. Those investments are difficult to let go of and Eric tried ever harder to force them on the world, somehow they would no longer fit.

Without knowing how and in what way Eric had begun to change, he had felt the knock of the spirit. The animating thing, incarnate through the auspices of vis viva had begun to rebel against the construct it was being force fed through constant internalisation and verbalisation shared with his fellow scientists. Something long buried in him was beginning to awaken.