Almost thirty years ago I wrote a note to myself: ”Meaning is the experiential correlate of resonant waveforms”. By this I meant that the experience of meaning may arise when the vibrational energies of the molecules and cells in our bodies resonate, that is, vibrate in some sort of harmony.
Or, to put it the other way round, when the wave or frequency aspects of the molecules, cells and systems of the body are somehow playing in tune, things feel right. We understand, we see things clearly, we are aligned emotionally, intellectually, socially--in other words, we experience deep meaningfulness. Our consciousness becomes orderly and coherent.
This may sound flaky if you believe the body is made of inert matter, mere lumps of stuff that bump into each other like billiard balls and cling together like clay or like keys in locks. There is, however, accumulating evidence that the frequency signatures of biomolecules, cells and other biological systems play a significant role in biocommunication (Jacques Benveniste), memory and sensory integration (Karl Pribram), visual perception (Russell L. DeValois, or here), hearing (sound waves, obviously), olfaction (Luca Turin), ontogenesis and evolution (Brain Goodwin) and biological order generally (Mae-Wan Ho). Much of this evidence is covered in my book “Forskning i sammenhænge” (“Research that Connects”) and in my doctoral dissertation “Implicate Order and the Good Life”.
I am now thinking that not only will resonant waveforms in the body and brain generate meaning, but the inverse may be true, too: The experience of meaningfulness in our lives may also contribute to the vibratory alignment of our biological systems. When we do stuff or experience things that we find meaningful, we may indeed stimulate the consonance and entrainment of the rhythms in our bodies.
Health is resonance, pathology dissonance
Oh, I forgot: In this view, health is associated with resonance and harmonic waveforms, and pathology with dissonance and cacophony in the frequency patterns of our constituent molecules and biosystems (I got this idea from Pal Greguss, a Hungarian biophysicist. See also Mae-Wan Ho).
How this resonance is to be understood is still unclear, but as a minimum, it must include the resonance established in all successful biocommunication, as when a ligand such as a hormone or a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor on the surface of a cell, this binding arising from the fact of molecular vibration.
I am assuming (boldly, maybe) that the connectivity and wholeness of the organism must likewise be built from the interacting, electromagnetic and possibly other types of wave or vibration associated with the molecules and the complexes and systems they compose. When this wave-based interaction or communication breaks down and resonance no longer obtains, molecules, cells and systems can no longer communicate and cooperate, tissues and systems go their separate ways or break down and we have pathology—cancer, degenerative diseases, allergies, the works.
(In my book, Forskning i sammenhænge, I suggested a wave basis for these phenomena and linked it up with the Maturana-inspired view on immune function advanced by the New Zealand neuropsychologist Roger Booth, whose concept of "teleogical coherence" seems closely related to the ideas I advance here.)
Meaning and health
Anyway, just as health may be understood as the product of a perfectly resonant or harmonic system of bodily waveforms, so meaning may be said to be its product, in the mind or in consciousness. And vice versa, the experience of meaning may stimulate the resonance of the body’s systems, or health. To experience meaning is to become healthier—and this happens because the body’s waveforms are brought into better alignment, is what I’m suggesting.
There is of course tons of circumstantial evidence for the link between meaning and health, from fields such as psychoneuroimmunology and occupational health, but the proposed physical basis for the link is scientifically unexplored, as far as I know. To repeat, the physical basis I propose is: When the frequencies of our molecules and cells, appropriately coordinated and complexified up through the whole organism, are somehow in tune or resonance, when they somehow play together as the instruments in a large orchestra all play the same symphony, that translates into the experience of meaning.
Or rather, our consciousness, when it is functioning optimally and generates maximum meaning for us, is this occasion of biophysical resonance and symphony, as modulated and transformed by our sensory and cognitive systems. A protein or virus may vibrate perfectly as it is, but it does not experiene meaning. Only when the resonance is happening in biological systems as complex as ours, with nervous systems and brains, does full consciousness and the capacity for meaning arise.
Dissonance is easier to spot than resonance
I don’t know how to characterize waveforms as resonant or not; this may be much like characterizing symphonies as beautiful or ugly; a pretty difficult job. Still, in the natural world of healthy and not-so-healthy organisms there is a criterion called survival, so biological waveform resonance can’t be quite as culturally dependent as euphony is in music. Of course, an hour-long symphony for a hundred instruments is a pretty simple thing, compared with the complex waveform of an organism with a life span of a hundred years, which organizes the comings and goings of some 100 billion cells each consisting of maybe billions of molecules.
Resonance may not be defined, but dissonance may not be hard to discover. The biomedicine of the future may redefine the categories of disease when (if) their frequency basis can be determined.
Søren Tvorup Christensen, a Danish bioscientist, is toying with such a reorganization. It seems possible because of his discovery that the cilia (flagella, protruding arms) of mammalian cells act like antennae that communicate with the cilia of other cells, maybe sharing the kind of positional information required for cells to migrate properly during ontogenesis and tissue repair. If, due to degeneration or other malfunction, cilia cannot communicate, there arise various diseases not previously categorized together.
Now, if the medium of the cilia’s communication is electromagnetic or otherwise wave-carried, we have a case of pathology arising from the breakdown of resonance between biosystems.
The implicate order of waveforms
In my dissertation I discussed the idea that the order of waveforms, like the light filling a room, may be thought of an implicate (enfolded) order of the kind proposed by the quantum physicist David Bohm. Such an order is holistic or, more precisely, holonomic, meaning that the whole reflects every part, and every part is enfolded into the whole. Waves such as light, which is electromagnetic radiation, constitute an implicate order where every part gives access to the whole: The room I’m sitting in has an implicate order of light filling the space between the walls, floor and ceiling.
No matter in which part of this space I put my eyes, that is, no matter which part of the implicate order of light I access, I can see the whole room, all walls, etc. (although from different perspectives). Every little volume of light contains the whole; the whole enfolds all parts everywhere; information from every point of all surfaces travel as light waves to every part of the space in the room. Every information is everywhere, but in a highly ordered way: I can see exactly where everything is. No magic, this is the nature of waves.
The proper enfoldment of interacting parts
This conceptualization allows us to establish a measure of the health of a wavebased system that has many interacting parts, like an organism or a mind. Let’s say one molecule, viewed as system of vibrations, is an implicate order. So is a cell and an organ. And ideas, emotions and states have an implicate order each, or are different implicate orders. For these orders to be properly interrelated, as they must be in the healthy organism, we require that they be properly represented or enfolded into each other. That is, they must relate to each other in the proper holistic (rather: holonomic) manner, such that the right proportions or aspects of one order is included in the activity of the other.
Let me pause and say that we want to find an alternative to the idea that the parts of an organism interact like billiard balls that impact each other on the outsides or like locks-in-keys. These are a mechanistic metaphors unsuitable to implicate orders. The piano and the cello in a Beethoven sonata do not interact like levers and falling stones, and neither do the yellow and amber hues of a van Gogh painting.
They are implicate wave-based orders enfolding and superimposing themselves on each other, creating still more complex waveforms of many overtones and harmonies, whole impressions and experiences. For beauty, wholeness and health to be produced, how do implicate orders interact in the organism? (given that Newtonian mechanics don’t cut it). That is our question.
The optimal interaction between the parts of the organism/consciousness (let us not dichotomize these two) may thus be conceived as a proper enfolding that includes a bit of one implicate order in the other, maybe as a trace presence in the complex, multiply superimposed waveform that is the implicate order we’re talking about.
For one idea to cohere with another, or for one part of the self to cohere with another, they need to be suitably enfolded in each other, such that when we act on one, we bear in mind the relevant aspects of the other. I enjoy active holidays but I wish to accommodate my daughters who like to shop, so, making a holiday decision, I need to consider both preference at the same time, one needs to be suitably enfolded in the other. If I can do this in my whole life, I am a harmonious and well-integrated person, I am together. If I can’t, I am at odds with myself, I am incoherent, torn apart, split.
Dissociative disorder is often seen as arising from the unsuccessful integration of images or selves established during childhood: I am a child, yet my father’s mistress. If a self(-image) may be conceived as an implicate order or complex waves, a split personality is like distinct and jarring tunes played by different sections of the same orchestra, implicate orders rigidified and fragmented, dissonant.
Meaning obtains when parts are enfolded properly
To experience meaning is to see how everything fits in. Something appear meaningful to you if you know what it relates to and what its larger significance is. Meaning is the experience of proper enfoldment, like when the implicate order of the bit in front of you suddenly enfolds perfectly into the rest of your life. Ah, now I see it!
So, meaning may be the experience accompanying proper enfoldment of one thing into another, or of one body system communicating perfectly with another. Optimal experience (as Chickszentmihalyi’s flow) or the optimal functioning of a skier or dancer in perfect movement—or simply the well-tuned, biochemical and biophysical interactions in the healthy organism. Meaning may be what flows through us when things are just right, physically as well as mentally (and these two things may just be different sides of the same coin).
The NZ PNI researcher Roger Booth proposes that the immune system is not so much a set of defenses against non-self as it is simply part of the organism’s overall and ongoing, identity-maintaining order. Meaningfulness and a coherent self-image are all in a day’s work for the immune system. He tells how his mother always remained afloat when the rest of the family were down with the flu and needed her loving care. Giving such care was extremely meaningful for her and may have attuned her body systems in such a way that she was able repel the vira.
Meaning coursed through her veins, one might say, dispelling the Cartesian divide between mind and body. Waveforms properly enfolded may be what underlies both mind and body. No one really wants the mind-body dichotomy anymore, but what do we put instead. The implicate orders associated with (or, more radically: classically called) molecules, cells and organs manifest themselves in the higher animals in such a was that a construct called the “I” appears which appropriates and unfolds waveforms in such a way that we “experience” things. some things we experience as meaningful, and those are the things that are suitably enfolded in each other.
Okay, enough already. Did I wrap that one up okay? Well, on the whole, yes. But not quite good enough on the meaning-body-health link. Still unresolved business. What is experience, really? Meaning I dig, but how it translates into body and health is still unknown to me, apart from the programmatic stuff about orders enfolding into each other. That’s fine, but until I see how to operationalize that and propose a mechanism for testing that, I’m just being speculative. I’m pretty sure the above must be right, but how?
Hey, maybe Fourier analysis is a way, like Erik Maaløe’s entropy-based appraoch to beauty could be a Fourier thing? A girl pushed on a swing, in tune, is that a simple and pretty Fourier thing, as opposed to a jerk pushing her off-key? Run a Fourier on complex molecular interaction and show it’s one focused point of light, like recognition according to Dreyfus, who speculates that a Fourier-like process allows the letter F to be recognized on the written page when you look for it.
Meaning could be such a "light" shining so powerfully through the organism that the person is energized by it. Energy transmission is max when there is resonance, says Bentov, and indeed there is. That’s why you have the "cascading effects" of biocommunication. Resonance is energy transfer; energy is what the body needs to do its stuff. And energy needs to be suitably focused in the body to do work, and focused means right there in the interactions of the body, so reactions can be made and nerves fires and shit.
So, resonance in the spectral domain is simple, if it is recognition or similarity, because it is just a simple focused dot of light, right? Things may be different in the spatial domain, but comparisons may be made by the brain in some spectral domain, or by the body also, indeed. This may account for some of Luca Turin’s problems that smells are not predictable from molecular structure at all. What if he transformed the lot? What domain with what dimensions would he find himself in?
Anyway, who has ever done spectral analyses of drugs etc., or ligand-receptor connections? Like the beauty of a façade? Well, hell, who cares about objective beauty, when it is the fit of two arbitrary molecules we want to establish? Then just do a Fourier and see how they fit, right, this has got to be more complicated, in how many dimensions might we have to do this, etc. And a Fourier analysis of what, of which of the many wave patterns a molecule features? Which one is it? Jeez..