“Imagine the cosmos as a great harp. You know the angels are supposed to play harps in heaven. Well, the actual harp they play is the total possibility of vibrations. Now you know about the spectrum of light – that is a series of vibrations.
So is the spectrum of sound. Then beyond light there are other vibrations which are not picked up by our senses, but instruments pick them up. And then there must be many vibrations as yet not picked up by any instruments that we have… What we call “nature” is a system of picked-up vibrations.”
There follows some additional commentary that I hope more explains, and inspires one to consider adding your thoughts, ideas and voice to The LivingPulse. The sections are divided into personal, philosophical, and scientific underpinnings, and they are pretty much the foundation on which LivingPulse rests. The scientific section is rather long, and can be difficult, but I did my best to bring it into one’s grasp. It is still a bit “out of reach” for me. I also decided to keep a section on my own personal journey. I felt it added some foundation to the rationale for, and the importance to me of, The LivingPulse.
I spent twelve years in Catholic school as a young person. Whether that experience imbued me with a need for spirituality, or I had that need temporarily fulfilled by the experience, I don’t know. Ultimately I was without a belief in traditional religion, but I still maintained a sense that there was something with which I could connect that had a spirit, a soul, an energy. I just did not know what. I studied and read as part of a search, and found my way to eastern ways of connection to the ‘One’ and to Native American understandings of our connection to the natural world. Meditation became a frequent, if irregular, practice. At one point, while struggling to find a purpose to continue with life, I decided to go to the mountains, starting before sunrise, and returning after sunset, to spend the day alone, walking. Something happened. I decided to live and continue the search.
I took up running, and then trail running, and then ultra marathoning in the mountains. There is a point in any trail run where one can feel one’s animal soul claw its way to the surface. I loved that feeling. Moving over the earth at a quick pace, moving in such a way that your body adjusts to all of the rocks and roots of the trail; it requires a sustained, but perhaps subconscious, focus. Your mind settles down into a meditative state, and I felt I became ‘one’ with the twenty or so feet of trail that I was going to move over in the next several seconds. As that twenty feet extended to another twenty feet, over and over throughout the day, one could in some ways stay in a permanent meditation.
Getting older, I knew that my body would not be able to sustain the endurance that it took to reach that state in trail running. So I decided to learn whitewater kayaking and playing a drum kit. I thought that both would offer what trail running did without the wear and tear on the body. They both do, but are much harder to learn than trail running. We humans were born to run ( See the book Born to Run by Cristopher McDougall ). We were not born to paddle. Perhaps we were born to drum, that is, to communicate thru rhythm, but starting later in life made it hard to learn, at least for me.
And finally, in recent years, I decided to ramp up my efforts. I have gone on three vision quests—spending four days and nights alone abstaining from all substances except for water, and sleeping in the open, without shelter. The first was in the Gila wilderness in New Mexico and the most recent two were in a remote valley at the northern end of Death Valley. They were powerful experiences, and facilitated a deeper awareness of the energy that moves thru all things.
The last thing to say from a personal standpoint is that while I was consistently maintaining a spiritual focus over the many years, I was also working in the investment management industry. I was good at it, and was paid very well. I would like to use the monies that I was paid to support spiritual seekers, and I believe that some aspect of the pulse of all life is what should be sought. Thus was born the idea of the LivingPulse.org
The thoughts of many philosophers have had an effect on the formation of LivingPulse, including Spinoza, Frank Waters, Edward O. Wilson, Alan Watts, Sam Harris and Andre Comte-Sponville. Spinoza’s writings can be thought of as possibly the first expression of pantheism. Frank Waters, who most likely did not consider himself a philosopher, wrote about the connection that native americans had with the natural world—-not just connecting to it, but being part of it. Edward O. Wilson, in his book Sociobiology, was certainly a pathfinder in expressing that we are all part of, and led by, our biology. His book, Consilience, the Unity of All Knowledge, reflects his belief that behind all disciplines as diverse as physics, anthropology and the arts, lies a small number of interlocking natural laws.
Alan Watts, a British philosopher best know as an interpreter of eastern spirituality for a western world, wrote many books. In what is likely his most famous work, The Book, he probably most clearly states what is the very essence of LivingPulse:
“We do not come into this world; we come OUT of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean waves, the universe peoples. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense it or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated egos inside bags of skin.”
Sam Harris, both philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on this concept of an isolated ego or ‘self’ in his book Waking Up. He devotes two of the five chapters in the book to discussing the nature of consciousness and the riddle of the self, using recent experiments, and examples of individuals that have had split brain accidents as proof that there is no place in the human brain where the so-called self resides. For him, the self is an illusion.
The Little Book of Athiest Spirituality, written by Andre Comte-Sponville, also discusses the illusion of the self, describing the dissolution of the ego or self as the oceanic feeling. He refers to novelist Romain Rolland’s description of the oceanic feeling as “ a sense of indissouluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universal, very much as a wave or a drop of water belongs to the ocean”.
Doug Ammons carries onward with the idea of being a drop of water in the ocean in his book Whitewater Philosophy. He is not speaking of the ocean but of being a kayaker on a river, and suggesting that the ideal is “to adapt oneself to the river, to learn its language, follow its path, feel its pulse. Ideally one should feel that one belongs there; and when that is accomplished, the state of zanshin (connection or oneness) is reached”.
The scientific underpinnings of LivingPulse are much more difficult to verbalize and discuss. Mostly because there seems to be significant scientific discourse and literature on issues that can be considered to revolve around the subject, and many of these discussions can be very esoteric. It is hard to narrow ideas down to only those that seem relevant.
But secondly, I believe LivingPulse should focus on the life that exists here on this earth, rather than the vast universe. There are lots of ideas on the nature of the broader universe, and new theories about its astrophysical structure are presented every day. I have spent nights alone under the stars asking myself questions about the universe. I have no answers, and personally, find it very difficult to connect. So I have decided that I should try to be present in the here and now, connected to all of life on this tiny rock on which we all share an existence.
And finally, one should definitely avoid what I would call woo-woo science. Woo-woo refers to ideas that can be considered somewhat irrational, or based on extremely flimsy evidence, or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers, or some separate, stand-alone, loving entity—in essence, a little too New Agey.
The sections which follow may be a bit too, well, scientific, and difficult to grasp in one reading. They are, however, what appears to be at the leading edge of scientific thought. I decided to summarize the points here:
1. All life has a common ancestor which was formed by endosymbiosis perhaps 1.5 billion years ago whereby two or more simple, single-celled organisms came together and formed a multi-celled organism (a eukaryote), which has since become a complex multi-celled organism; 2.That organism (eukaryote) has evolved into all of the complex life we know today, both plant and animal; 3. Other single-celled organisms (microbes) connected with the eukaryotes and have evolved together in a strongly symbiotic relationship such that half or more of the cells in what you think of as yourself are not really you, but microbial; 4. Those microbes play a major role in most everything you do; 5. All cells, yours and the microbes, are basically identical in the way they generate energy to grow and reproduce; 6. That process of energy generation, which is basically life, can be described in terms using either classical physics or quantum physics, but regardless of which, there appears to be a subtle pulse that takes place over and over and over during it. There follows an elaboration of these points.
Real science has been dancing around the issue of the connection of all life for quite some time. Perhaps one of the first proponents of the idea was Alexander von Humboldt, who lived from 1769- 1859, and wrote a book titled Kosmos. He was an explorer, a naturalist and a thinker, who could be considered to have pioneered the idea that the natural world is a web of intricately entwined elements, each in constant dynamic dialogue with every other. At that time, what exactly those elements might be, and what that dialogue might be, were unknown.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, with books by Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins, and many other evolutionary biologists, one began to sense how similar the genomes of different life forms could be. And one could begin to see how the genome led to the formation of, and the life of, an organism. While a lot of new information has come out in recent years, Richard Dawkins, in his 1979 book The Selfish Gene, was probaly the first popular exposition that what lives on in life is what can be replicated in reproduction, which is the gene. The individual organism may die, but if that individual reproduces, what is reproduced is their genomic material. And much of genomic material is identical amongst species. It has been estimated that humans share more than 95%, and maybe close to 99%, depending on how measured, of their genetic material with chimpanzees. And, as hard as it is to believe, there are estimates that we humans have a genetic code that matches up at a 50% level with a banana. Please do understand that how genes express themselves in their environment (epigenetics) leads to much differentiation between us and chimpanzees and bananas.
In the past couple of years, three books have come out that seem to have taken the interconnection of all life to a new understanding. Nick Lane in The Vital Question, copyright 2015, delves into the “Energy, Evolution and Origins of Complex Life” and proposes a theory for how all complex life began and is sustained. His answer is that there is a link between energy and cell biology which sustains life. The book is not an easy read.
The first chapter of the book, titled “What is Life”, proposes an hypothesis that all complex life began from a single ancestor which was the product of endosymbiosis. Endosymbiosis is basically symbiosis between organisms where one or more organisms live inside the other. As I understand it, previous endosymbiotic theory had suggested that the different forms of life had developed by different endosymbiotic events. Nick Lane proposes that there was one event, and later forms of life evolved from this single ancestor.
To put a little more meat on this theory, current thinking is that there are three domains of life. Two, the prokaryotes, are the bacteria and the archea, which are each composed of only one morphologically simple cell. Bacteria are much more multitudinous in scope than archea, at least at the current time in the earth’s history. While these microbes (prokaryotes) display astonishing biochemical diversity, thriving on anything from concrete to battery acid, they’ve never evolved into anything more complicated than a simple single cell.The third domain are the eukaryotes, and they can be morphologically complex single-celled organisms, or multi-cellular organisms. In essence, two or more simple-celled organisms, the bacteria and/or the archea, somehow came together thru endosymbiosis and formed a complex organism, a eukaryote. The evolution of that eukaryote over millions of years is what has developed into the many forms of multi-cellular life on the earth—plants, animals and all other forms of life. That has also resulted in all cells—those of the prokaryotes and those of the eukaryotes (animals, plants, fungi, and algae)—being basically indistiguishable from each other. This is a different creation story, and it seems as much a miracle as one could imagine.
The second chapter of this book is titled “What is Living”. In its simplest definition, living could be considered the utilization of energy to grow and evolve. But living is also about the environment; how the living organism and its environment interrelate. The chapter contains a discussion of the second law of thermodynamics and a lot of organic chemistry and bioenergetics; only a little of which can I say I could repeat in an easily understood way. The bottom line, however, is that the cells of all prokaryotes and eukaryotes, all of life that we know, generate the energy to grow and reproduce in the same way. That way is explained by discussions of chemiosmosis, redox reactions and the ATP synthase.
Remember that eukaryotes were formed thru endosymbiosis, the result of one single-celled organism somehow finding its way into another cellular organism. In an animal or plant cell, the mitochondria are one of the inhabitants. Plants cells also have chloroplasts. It is thought that both mitochondria and chloroplasts were once individual single-celled organisms. In fact, they still contain within themselves some of their own genetic material which is different from the nucleus of the cell in which they reside. Mitochondria are what generate the energy for the eukaryotic cell to function, whether it is a plant or animal. And chloroplasts are what generate the glucose in a plant cell on which plants, and ultimately animals, live. Both chloroplasts and mitochondria utilize chemiosmosis, redox reactions and the ATP synthase in this process. These functions are also used for life by the other two domains, the bacteria and the archea, but I will focus mostly on the eukaryotes in the remainder of this discussion. It is important to think about the fact that forms of growth that at first glance seem to have little in common, such as photosynthesis in plants, and respiration in animals, turn out to be basically the same because they both use the above mentioned biochemical reactions; in this case, respiratory chains to facilitate the transfer of electrons.
Organisms require an immense amount of energy to live. The energy ‘currency’ used by all living cells is a molecule called ATP, (adenosonine triphosphate). According to Lane, ATP works like a coin in a slot machine by powering one turn of what is typically a protein from one stable state to another. Lane uses the term when referencing the moves from one stable state to another as “ like flipping a switch from up to down”. To switch it back requires another ATP molecule. The first ATP, upon exercising its mission, has been rendered into two different molecules—ADP and P, and to get back to ATP, it costs energy to reform those two molecules. What furnishes this energy is either respiration in animals, generally the reaction of food with oxygen, or photosynthesis in plants. This happens using the redox reaction and what is called the ATP synthase. Thus ATP performs an energy function, and in the process is transformed into ADP and P, but then it is reformed from those two molecules back into ATP and the energy process starts all over. All of this takes place in the mitochondria or chloroplasts of a cell.
It is unlikely that I will ever completely understand the biochemical reactions that are taking place in our cells. And I certainly won’t try to explain them in the way Lane does. What I will do is use some of Lane’s own words to try to show the connection to the LivingPulse. I have already mentioned the use of energy to being like a switch moving from up to down as the ATP molecule powers a protein status change, and in the process is itself transformed into two separate molecules.
Then, to get back to the ATP molecule being reformulated using the energy of the sun thru photosynthesis in the chloroplasts, or of food in the mitochondria, Lane says the following: “We still don’t know exactly how it works—how each proton binds on to the C-ring within the membrane, how electrostatic interactions spin this ring in one direction only, how the spinning ring twists the crank shaft, forcing conformational changes in the catalytic head, how the clefts in the head clasp ADP and P, and force them together in a mechanical union, to press a new ATP. This is precise nanoengineering of the highest order, a magical device, and the more we learn about it the more marvelous it becomes.”
He goes on to say that the ATP synthase is found in basically all bacteria, all archea, and all eukaryotes, which are the three domains of life previously discussed. In essence, energy is the driving force of all life on this planet, and ATP starts the process by “flipping a switch up and down”, ATP is then broken apart, and then ATP is reformulated by electrostatic interactions spinning a ring to twist a crank shaft to force two molecules together. These are all pulses/vibrations taking place in the mitochondria or chloroplasts of every cell of every living being on the earth.
The man who developed much of the theory of chemiosmosis on which much of the above process depends is Peter Mitchell. Peter Mitchell is quoted as having said: “ I cannot consider the organism without its environment….From a formal point of view the two may be regarded as equivalent phases between which dynamic contact is maintained by the membranes that separate and link them”. This is more of a philosophical comment than a scientific one. I suggest you read his quote again, and maybe again, and then think deeply about it.
While we are on the subject of thinking deeply about something, I am going to mention something else that came out of the book discussed in the next paragraph. Issac Newton was given great props for discovering gravity by asking why the apple on the tree above his head fell to the ground instead of doing something else, like floating away. But perhaps the more important question is how the apple got there in the first place. We now know the answer; it happens because of photosynthesis within the chloroplasts: some air, some water and sunlight and—we have an apple. Included is a tiny bit of minerals from this rock called earth. It seems a miracle; a real miracle; a miracle that happens every day; and that to which we happen to be witness.
Moving on, and without getting into a discussion of quantum physics, Nick Lane’s description of what happens in the mitochondria or chloroplasts could be described as classical physics. He also, however, uses the term ‘quantum tunneling’ very often in his analysis. Quantum tunneling and quantum physics are the focus of another book that came out in 2014: Life On The Edge, “The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology”, by Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili. They have been collaborating on this exciting new field, which brings together quantum physics, biochemistry and biology, for almost twenty years. This too, is not an easy read. Much of it is an attempt to explain quantum physics—as best they, or anyone, can. Quantum physics is all about the behavior of subatomic particles, as opposed to the particles or objects of which we are most aware. The first chapter of the book is titled “What is Life”. But there is another section in the book that seems particularly relevant to LivingPulse., and will be discussed.
We know that the biochemical processes that generate energy and ultimately growth in all cells, whether in the mitochondria or the chroloplasts, are basically the same. They have been discussed above, but mostly in a classical physics sort of way. Within quantum physics, there are behaviors which don’t seem possible but which have mathematical foundations. One of these is wave-particle duality, where a particle or wave, can be both a wave and a particle at the same time. Another feature of the quantum world is called superpositioning whereby particles can do two, or a hundred , or a million things at once. What is important is that, for this to happen, the environment in which the particles exist, must be expressing coherence, as opposed to decoherence.
It has been thought that the environment within a cell was just too wet and warm and noisy for coherence to exist, and thus impossible for quantum behavior to be manifest. However, research on photosynthesis in a cell’s chloroplasts is taking place as you and I are reading and studying. In a section of this book titled “Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations ( bop bop )”, the authors discuss research that suggests that both white noise (thermal molecular jostling) and colored noise (vibrations of large molecules within the chloroplasts) manage to keep decoherence at bay and enable the cell to maintain coherence resulting in the necessary movement of subatomic particles within the realm of what is considered quantum physics. Some of these particles are basically the photons of sunlight, thus enabling the cell to utilize these photons and the behaviors of other subatomic particles within the cell, bringing the cell, as the authors say “into sync to deliver the music of photosynthesis”, thus generating energy.
A third book has been published recently, titled I Contain Multitudes. It has a copyright of 2016 and its first chapter is titled “Living Islands”. It, too, discusses the origins of complex life as beginning with endosymbiosis between a bacteria and/or an archea to form a eukaryote. In addition, the author, Ed Yong, has done a great deal of research on the microbiome that lives on, and in, eukaryotes, including us. That microbiome, meaning bacteria, archea and viruses, inhabit our skin, gut, mouth, genitals; in essence, any part of us that comes into contact with the world outside of what we consider to be us. They help to digest our food; they produce vitamins and minerals that are missing from our diets; they break down toxins and hazardous chemicals in our environment; they protect us from more dangerous microbes and disease; they guide the construction of our bodies; they produce substances that affect the way we smell; they affect the development of our nervous system and perhaps even influence our behavior.
But then Yong asks the question: WHAT IS US? He points out that when we travel, they travel; when we eat, they eat; when we die, they consume us. Every one of us is in reality a zoo, formed by the symbiotic relationship between the organism we call us and the entirety of the microbiome, brought into existence over millions of years of evolution. We evolved from them, and we evolved with them; as did every other living organism on this planet. And the evolution of all organisms and the microbes followed the same natural laws. They all grow and reproduce from energy which produces pulses/vibrations in the process.
The microbes connect us to each other, and to the world. I cannot help but think back to the quote by Peter Mitchell above. It was “ I cannot consider the organism without its environment….From a formal point of view the two may be regarded as equivalent phases between which dynamic contact is maintained by the membranes that separate and link them”.
So an obvious question is: If there is significant scientific evidence as to the Oneness of all life, then why is it so hard to feel it. Recent neuroscientific research suggests that a network in the mind called the ‘default mode network’ (DMN) may play a significant role. The DMN is a large network of interacting brain regions whose activity is correlated. It is thought to be MOST active when a person is NOT focused on a task (I will come back to this), and is thinking about relationships with others, remembering the past or planning for the future, and in general creating a narrative about themselves that appears as a stable and separate self. Some researchers have suggested it is the seat of the ego.
There is evidence that a ‘default mode network’ (DMN) also exists, at least to some degree, in other animals. So one would think that it is an evolutionary adaptation that began many thousands, or even millions, of years ago. What the DMN appears to do—maintaining our mental state as a separate ‘self’, and maintaining a somewhat constant social dialogue as to the past and the future within our social group or tribe—would have had significant survival and reproductive advantages for our ancestors in the past. And it would be a powerful mental construct.
But today, existence is very different for modern humans, at least for those in the western world. Many of us no longer struggle with sustaining life, but with finding meaning to life. In many cases, this is by attempting to connect with the Oneness. However, the DMN appears to hinder that effort. So a reduction or deactivation of its effect could possibly offer positive benefits. In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal by Michael Pollan, he described clinical trial research on the effect of psychedelics on the minds of volunteers suffering from addiction and depression.
Their DMN became significantly less active and their experience was “described as the dissolution of one’s ego followed by a merging of the self with nature or the universe”. The DMN has also been noticed to be deactivated in certain goal-oriented tasks, and what I would call practices. It is thought that when one focuses intently on a particular task or practice, the DMN ceases its dominating role. It is no longer what one neuroscientist in Pollan’s article called–”the orchestra conductor”. Perhaps this is what takes place in experiences that most all of us have had that are called being in the flow state, or in the zone, or in the pocket. Or what I would call forming a coherent connection to the pulse and vibrations of life and the universe.
So that brings us back to the question posed at the start of this section. Why is it so hard to feel connected to the Oneness? The answer seems to be that our brains/minds and the DMN (default mode network) have evolved to feel disconnected, to feel a separate self, to focus not so much on the present, but on the past and the future. One way to go offline from that part of the mind and to feel connected in the present is to fully engage in a task or practice.
LivingPulse exists to facilitate those practices.