Onward to Mars: The Triumph of the Weak Forces
by Oyang Teng
Because of the limitations of our sense organs, we are conscious only of a narrow sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum, mostly in the range of visible light and infrared radiation. While other organisms are adapted to sense different regions of the spectrum, we rely on the use of our extended “technological sense organs” to gain access to the full range of radiation penetrating the terrestrial environment from the Sun and more distant cosmic sources, as well as their interaction with the atmosphere and electromagnetic fields of the earth.
With this expanded sense apparatus provided by instrumentation, we can thus “see” not merely discrete objects existing in empty space, but an active continuum extending within and between all such seemingly separate objects, composed of both the presumed particles of cosmic rays, as well as the various, intersecting electromagnetic wave-phenomena.
In this way, we continually overcome the very real limitations of our physiology, though we remain susceptible to artificial limitations in our thinking—particularly when we allow a naïve interpretation of our basic sense perceptions to dominate our picture of the physical world, whose characteristics in the very large and the very small are revealed by the general phenomena of cosmic radiation.
The Russian biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky believed that the pervasive action of the continual range of the unseen cosmic radiations permeating all of space was so significant, that not only the biosphere—including its transformation by human action into the noosphere—but even the distribution and character of the chemical elements in the crust, could only be understood as manifestations of cosmic processes. In The Biosphere, he wrote that living organisms are “the fruit of extended, complex processes, and are an essential part of a harmonious cosmic mechanism, in which it is known that fixed laws apply and chance does not exist.”
Like Poe's purloined letter, the evidence for the “harmonious cosmic mechanism” is all around us. The vast experimental data on cosmic radiation and its connection to cycles of climate, biodiversity, and mass extinctions are substantial, albeit preliminary, hints at the effects of biological regulation at an astrophysical scale. A rich material-energetic connection binds the earth with the solar system and the entire galaxy.
Just as important as this connection, is the material-energetic distinction manifested between non-living, living, and cognitive processes. As the highest expression of material-energetic transformation, both the biosphere as a whole, as well as individual organisms (the specific expression of what Vernadsky called living matter) provide natural instruments of the most exquisite sensitivity for registering the fundamental properties of material and energetic phenomena. Rather than attempting to build the universe up from its presumed smallest, inorganic parts, we must build downwards from cognitive and living processes. This approach will necessarily lead to, among other things, an expansion of the periodic table of the elements.
Unfortunately, the much-hyped historical division between the mechanistic and vitalistic outlook, has ingrained a false dichotomy in contemporary thought. For example, though the mechanist reduces all processes, including biological ones, to movements of discrete particles of matter, and the vitalist locates causality in some agency acting outside those material parts, typically in some unique form of “energy,” both accept the same fundamental assumption regarding the existence such discrete particles of matter as such. Despite the fact that few people today would claim to be either true mechanists or true vitalists, modern science is still shackled by a crude materialism, continued, for example, in the form of the compromise known as the wave-particle duality.
How does scientific thought distinguish the efficient existence of discrete, whole processes from the physical continua in which they participate? For example, the earth's biosphere as a whole represents a singularity within the constant biogenic migration of atoms throughout the galaxy, just as individual organisms represent singularities within the process of biogenic migration through the biosphere. Do these singularities represent unique manifestations of physical space-time, as Vernadsky hypothesized?
If so, it makes clear the revolutionary implications of interplanetary spaceflight at accelerations sufficient to produce an artificial gravitational field, as contained in the Moon-Mars colonization proposal of Lyndon LaRouche. The consideration of living processes within accelerated reference frames amidst the dense radiation fields of cosmic space goes to the heart of the fundamental questions at the root of a true, Unified Field Theory. While the theoretical questions involved are fascinating in themselves, human progress depends on their answer by direct experiment—which a rapid development of Helium-3-powered fusion rockets could easily make possible within this century, and perhaps even within decades.
However, there already exists a vast record of experimental evidence pointing to the unique physical space-time attributes of living organisms, including the biological significance of electromagnetic radiation.
Aside from more energetic biochemical reactions, organisms are highly sensitive to forces operating at apparently much lower orders of magnitude. Such weak forces prominently include low-intensity electromagnetic radiation, producing so-called “non-thermal” effects, that is, operating below those intensities capable of heating or noticeably disrupting living tissue. These effects have been extensively documented, despite historical opposition to the orthodox view of the organism as nothing more than a biochemical machine governed by point-to-point interactions in the small. Typical of such prejudice, is the Linear No Threshold theory, declaring any amount of ionizing radiation as biologically damaging, despite the overwhelming evidence for the benefits of low-dose radiation.
Vernadsky's definition of an individual organism as inseparable in principle from the entire biosphere, and, by extension, from the cosmic processes which produced it, demands a new understanding of the organism as, essentially, a uniquely organized electromagnetic process. However, this should not imply the New Age vitalism of “life energies” or similar mysticism. Similarly, some investigators in the field of bioelectromagnetism, professing to reject the limitations of a traditional mechanistic view, have relied instead on a cybernetic interpretation of self-organizing phenomena in life, despite the fact that the living processes they study are in principle irreducible to cybernetic concepts such as feedback loops and information theory, derived entirely from the operation of machines.
The Body Electric
As we shall see, confronting the challenges of a manned Mars mission today offers the most lawful means for deepening our understanding of the relationship of electromagnetism to life, a subject of investigation which goes at least as far back as the famous 18-century experiments by Luigi Galvani on the electrical stimulation of frog legs. The field of study now includes everything from the bioelectric organs used by sharks to hunt their prey, to the nature of electrical regulation of the human brain and nervous system, to the internal magnetic compasses of birds and fish. One of the most dramatic manifestations of electromagnetic regulation in organisms is the phenomenon of regeneration, the recreation of fully functional body parts which are lost due to injury, the study of which led scientists like Robert Becker to begin the systematic investigation of the relationship between electromagnetism and living systems.
Measurements made in the 1830s first to established that small electrical currents are produced around injured tissue in animals. Where does this electricity come from? The discovery of the nerve action potential not long afterwards seemed to solve the mystery, by attributing bioelectrical potentials to the differences in ion concentrations across cell membranes. However, later experiments demonstrated that, while the emergence of direct electrical currents depended on the presence of peripheral nerve tissue, they were not merely secondary effects of the action potential. These direct currents exhibit very distinct behavior during regeneration, a capacity which becomes more prevalent in organisms the lower down the evolutionary ladder one goes. For example, the Planarian, a species of flatworm with a primitive nervous system, can regenerate whole organisms from almost any piece of itself that is cut off! Experiments showed that the head-tail axis of the Planarian was determined by electric poles established by internal currents, and that artificially reversing the direction of current could produce a head where a tail would normally be found, and vice-versa.
However, it was the study of salamanders which first revealed the highly specific behavior of the currents of regeneration. In amputated Salamander limbs, the injury current was found to reverse direction a short time after injury, going from positive to highly negative. This reversal in polarity, combined with an increase in its magnitude, is accompanied by the formation of a mass of cells at the stump tip, called the blastema, from which the new limb eventually forms. As regeneration proceeds, the magnitude of the polarity slowly diminishes, eventually returning to zero. In non-regenerating animals like frogs and even rats, partial regeneration can be induced by mimicking these highly specific polarity and magnitude changes with applied electric current.
The blastema itself turns out to be adult cells that have de-differentiated into a “totipotent” state, capable of re-differentiating into the needed new types of cells required by the regenerating limb. So, in addition to the question of the origin of the electrical currents, we must ask: how is it that such currents are capable of initiating the process of blastema formation by inducing specific cells to de-differentiate, and how do they help to determine the form of the regenerated body part? “All the experiments led to one unifying conclusion: The overall structure, the shape, the pattern, of any animal is as real a part of its body as are its cells, heart, limbs, or teeth.” What role does electricity play in “remembering” the whole organism, even when the physical parts disappear?
In humans, the closest analogue to regeneration (as distinct from wound healing) is the repair of bone fractures, which is accompanied by the formation of a blastema and the characteristic polarity and magnitude reversals of the injury current in regenerating limbs, and which has been found to be accelerated through the application of pulsed electromagnetic fields. The electromagnetic control system for the body as a whole extends from the brain throughout the nervous system and, among other things, regulates the overall activity and sensitivity of the brain's neurons—though the seemingly unlimited capacity for the brain to reorganize itself, generally termed neuroplasticity, seems to defy any simply biological or bioelectric explanation.
Then again, explanations for many of the most basic processes of biology have proved elusive. For example, the formation of the blastema in regeneration is strikingly similar to embryogenesis, the intricate and highly coordinated processes governing the action by which a full organism develops from a single, undifferentiated germ cell.
It is now known that weak electrical currents play a significant role in the formation of the embryo, and just as in regeneration, exhibit highly specific forms of behavior. Experiments on chick embryos showed that artificially manipulating the current in one part of the embryo leads to significant changes in the whole, indicating that the electric field's primary function is not limited to governing local cell migrations, but rather helping to direct differentiation throughout the entire embryo. The pioneering experiments of Hans Driesch at the end of the 19th century had already established that an individual cell's fate is dependent on its relationship to every other cell in the developing embryo, a seeming total dependence of the part on some pre-existing whole. Alexander Spemann's work not long afterwards showed that the interplay between part and whole was more complex, as certain groups of embryonic cells, which he called “organizers,” could determine the fate of neighboring cells.
What means do cells possess to interpret their position within the whole, so important for differentiation? Northwestern University researcher Günter Albrecht-Bühler has shown that cells can emit and detect light pulses in the far infrared range, a kind of cellular “sight” which causes different types of cells to respond in different ways to the same signal. Other experiments established that different cell types also respond in distinctive ways to an electric field. Combined with Alexander Gurwitsch's 1920s discovery of mitogenetic radiation in the ultraviolet range, a “biophotonic” communication process governing mitosis, there appears to be a highly differentiated electromagnetic communication and control system already evident in the earliest stages of an organism's life.
In the same chick embryo experiments, different, asymmetric electric fields were produced by different parts of the developing embryo. When the internal field of one, but not the other, was artificially disrupted, a psuedoembryo developed, possessing the correct, basic external bodily form, but whose internal tissue was an undifferentiated mess. An analogous situation occurred in the formation of psuedolimbs in experiments on artificial regeneration. In these cases, the external form of the organism was not simply the end result of internal tissue differentiation, but seemed to have an independent existence, closely related to the action of the electrical fields. Again, how are these fields generated? And how do they help any given cell know how, or if, to differentiate?
The Biological Field
The fact that organisms can generate unique fields that play such a significant role in morphology, as during embryogenesis and regeneration, lend strong support to the biological field theory of Gurwitsch, who developed the idea in conjunction with studies of the even weaker mitogenetic radiation detected during cell mitosis. While recognizing the necessity for an “invariant law” to describe the coordinated action of individual cells within the whole organism, he was careful not to limit the biological field to any particular energetic manifestation, but left open the possibility that it could be expressed by any of the known physical field phenomena, or yet undiscovered physical processes.
How might the direct bioelectrical currents be a manifestation of this biological field? Becker drew on the work of Albert Szent-Gyorgyi to hypothesize that these currents operated by a process analogous to semiconduction in solid-state materials. The highly ordered internal structure within and between cells could facilitate the movement of free electrons. Gurwitsch similarly proposed that the primary work of metabolic energy involved the maintenance of highly ordered “non-equilibrium molecular constellations” within the protoplasm-protein complex of cells, and that some of the mitogenetic radiation was connected with these structures. This may indicate one possible link between the highly quantized effects of mitogenetic radiation, and the direct current system operating throughout the whole organism.
Unlike Gurwitsch, others saw in the field concept a way to reduce biological processes to strictly physical ones, that the only difference between the living and non-living “is to be found in all probability in more complex fields and more complex molecular structure,” rather than in the unbridgeable distinction of separate, but interacting, phase spaces. In this sense, the concept of field itself has been reduced to supposedly “real” particles of inorganic matter surrounded by fields, “a remnant of old materialistic conceptions...As a matter of fact, insofar as “particles” are known to be fields and field-structures they fill the volume of a macroscopic object completely, and to this extent the object is a continuum. It is only as a field-continuum that it coheres.”
Wolfgang Köhler, one of the founders of gestalt psychology, recognized that the very concept of discrete particles of matter was nothing more than an artifact of a naïve interpretation of vision. As a result, the precepts of both biology and physics were limited by their inability to deal with the ontological reality of functional, self-organizing wholes—the gestalt phenomena of human mental activity.
In biology the controversy has centered around the problem whether life processes can be explained physio-chemically or whether “vital” forces must be postulated. Indeed, the properties of life processes with which biology is concerned are not unlike the psychical phenomena responsible for the Gestalt problem in psychology. This does not mean, however, that the vitalists' doctrine in biology recommends itself as particularly fruitful, for their answer precludes the possibility of success in a search for physical Gestalten. The biologists have of course made some attempts at discovering analogies in physics, but thus far little more than vague comparisons with crystal formations have been achieved....The closest approach between general biology and psychology occurs in the theory of nervous functions, particularly in the doctrine of the physical basis of consciousness. Here we have an immediate correspondence between mental and physical processes and the demand seems inescapable that at this point organic functions be thought of as participating in and exhibiting essentially Gestalt characteristics.
Because the thought and language of physics, consequently carried over into biology, had been based on mechanistic assumptions, a new conceptual foundation for these sciences would have to be built up from the language governing cognitive processes—an approach consistent with Vernadsky's discovery of the subsuming characteristic of the noosphere over both the biotic and abiotic.
According to the machine conceptions, order in nature can only be imposed by certain fixed constraints, a necessary corollary to the idea at the root of the 2nd law of statistical thermodynamics: that natural process inherently tend toward disorder. It is true that within any given boundary conditions for a given system, there is a definite tendency toward an equilibrium state describable by the 2nd law. However, the principle of direction in that system can also be attributed to strictly physical (what Max Planck called “dynamical”), rather than statistical, principles, such as the system's tendency to reduce its total potential. The machine conception fails even as a beginning point in reasoning. Within certain boundary conditions, which themselves cannot be defined by the 2nd law, even inorganic systems have the capacity for regulation purely through the interaction of the physical forces inherent in the system.
The array of these physical forces active in biological processes are not a subset of, but rather subsume those found in inorganic systems, and appear to include not only chemical and electrodynamic phenomena, but everything from laser-like biophoton emissions, to nuclear transmutation and superconductivity, processes whose abiotic expression may represent merely “limiting conditions” of their more universal manifestation in life. These processes act to reshape the topological boundary conditions represented by any given physical state of an organism, as in the case of the electric fields governing limb regeneration.
In a machine, the distinction between process and structure is unambiguous; for example, hot gases are conducted through the rigid chamber walls of a car engine. In an organism, the energetic flow required for metabolism literally builds, and constantly maintains, the structure of the organism. Moreover, this energetic flow is part of a continuous process extending from terrestrial, to solar, to cosmic space, begging the question: are there any strictly inorganic systems for which the 2nd law has universal significance?
Leaving the Womb
The existence of continual, periodically varying, and interpenetrating electromagnetic fields form an invisible part of the terrestrial environment that is as real as the oceans, mountains, and atmosphere, though we may forget about such radiations in the same way a deep sea fish forgets about water. Sources of this radiation include the earth's magnetic and electric fields, each of which exhibits diurnal and periodic variations in conjunction with the activity of the Sun as well as larger astronomical cycles; natural changes in the atmosphere, such as thunderstorms; cosmic background radiation such as radio and gamma rays; and man-made sources.
In many ways, the evolution of life on earth has been bound up with the evolution of the electromagnetic fields of the planet, as through the creation of the atmosphere by which the electric fields of the planet are maintained, or the more extreme case of magnetic field reversals, whose cause remains a mystery, but which have historically coincided with mass extinctions. More interesting is possibility that the magnetic field itself is either a product of, or at least conditioned in some way, by the action of living processes, possibly through the motion of conducting currents in the oceans.
A vast body of experimental work has documented widely varying influences of environmental electromagnetic fields on the behavior and internal vital activity of organisms, including all the known plant, animal and human biorhythms. Such fields act in conjunction with those produced by the organism itself. However, the very broad measurable parameters of electromagnetic radiation, including its frequency spectrum and modulation, intensity, and orientation, and the fact that organisms can be sensitive to extremely slight variations in any one of these, make the correlation of specific effects with specific forms and qualities of radiation difficult to determine. Add to that the “corpuscular” cosmic rays and their secondary atmospheric by-products, and the potential functional relationships of various radiations and life appear almost infinitely complex.
Ultimately, determining the specific forms of “resonance” between organisms and the energetic phenomena of their environment will depend on learning more about the way organisms exhibit such high degrees of selectivity, one of the clearest expressions of the unique physical space-time of living matter. At the nuclear scale, this includes not only what specific chemical elements an organism will utilize, but also which isotopes. At the molecular scale, this includes not only the elemental and isotopic composition of molecules, but also their structure, discovered by Louis Pasteur as the presence of a principle of dissymmetry, reflected in the ability of left- or right-handed molecules to rotate polarized light (electromagnetic radiation). Bioenergetic phenomena in general should be considered in light of Pasteur and Pierre Curie's work on the principle of dissymmetry, which Vernadsky believed was one of the most important avenues for scientific exploration into the physical space-time manifestation of directionality in living processes.
In general, the cyclical character of the relationship of organisms to energetic phenomena must reflect that of organisms to matter: they are utilized and transformed by the organism as part of the continual process of the biogenic migration of matter-energy through the biosphere in its evolution to higher states of development. Defining this selectivity with respect to electromagnetic radiation may help to actually redefine the electromagnetic spectrum itself, with which “living systems may be playing an unimaginably huge concert...creating a completely new category of phenomena outside classical electrodynamics.”
Perhaps we won't fully appreciate the subtle, but crucial, nature of our dependence on an appropriate electromagnetic “diet,” until we are forced to create it ourselves from scratch—beginning with the first lunar bases, and then en route to and on the surface of Mars.
One example, related to the overall bioelectromagnetic control system first revealed by regeneration, suffices to demonstrate that frontier research in space is no luxury, but rather, an absolute necessity.
Bone loss in astronauts in space has long been recognized as a major problem, and it is one that appears closely related to osteoporosis on earth. However, it cannot be fully accounted for by the mechanical “unloading” of bone stress due to microgravity, and undoubtedly involves an electromagnetic component. Becker proposed one possible means by which bone might respond to external electromagnetic fields in space.
Bones are able to reshape themselves according to mechanical stress, creating more growth in areas that bear greater compression loads, and compensating by eliminating bone material in other areas. This self-regulating system of growth and loss is governed by electrical signals, and the piezoelectric property of bone may allow it to generate the necessary electrical currents by mechanical stress. Human bone is an intricate structure composed of a matrix that includes tiny apatite minerals of calcium phosphate bound to interwoven collagen fibers, as well as trace elements like copper. Becker found that the trace atoms of copper might act as a kind of electromagnetic “peg” holding the collagen and apatite together, which could be loosened through a disruption of the body's internal electric fields.
Space osteoporosis may result from unnatural currents induced in bone by a spacecraft's rapid motion through the earth's magnetic field, with a polarity reversal every half orbit, or it may be a direct effect of the field reversal. This abnormality, which may change the activity of bone cells directly, would be superimposed on abnormal responses of bone's natural electrical system, which is almost certainly affected by weightlessness. The unfamiliar external field reversals could also weaken the copper pegs, at the same time that the bones are in a constant state of "rebound" from their earthly weight-induced potentials, producing a signal that says, "No weight, no bones needed." We know that the more even distribution of blood caused by weightlessness registers in the heart as an excess; as a result, fluid and ions, including calcium, are withdrawn from the blood. However, the effect probably isn't due to weightlessness alone, for the Skylab astronauts did rigorous exercise, which would have supplied plentiful stresses to their bones. They worked out so hard that their muscles grew, but decalcification still reached 6.8 percent on the twelve-week mission.
Such possible effects, which point to the more general electromagnetic properties of biological regulation, can only be tested by experimenting with artificial electromagnetic fields on astronauts in orbit. In addition, current space biomedical research indicates that bone fracture healing is impeded in reduced gravity conditions. The relationship of ionizing radiation, which is more abundant outside the protection of earth's magnetic field, to the rate of both fracture healing and bone loss in reduced gravity environments is being studied as well, though primarily in earth-bound laboratory conditions. Again, these relationships can only properly be investigated outside of the pervasive electromagnetic and gravitational fields of the earth. Far beyond the specific effects on bone and other organic tissue, such studies could lead to a new understanding of the broader relationship between ionizing radiation, electromagnetism, and gravitation.
Indeed, radioactive decay itself, a property of the inner structure of atoms once thought immutable, and which is a source of ionizing radiation, has been shown in some cases to correlate with astrophysical cycles. This further underscores that the fundamental properties of even inorganic matter cannot be studied as the isolated phenomena of “particle physics,” and calls to mind Vernadsky's emphasis on the role of cosmic processes in shaping the inherent character of all matter. Here lies the true value of a real science-driver program for space exploration, in forcing the combination of fusion and nuclear research, with astrophysics, biology, and physical chemistry, to allow seemingly paradoxical observations to be compared and analyzed across a wide range of experimental domains. This becomes crucial as we confront the prospect of supporting human life outside the “womb” of the earth.
A New Causality
In a sense, we are faced today with same complex of paradoxes that arose with the simultaneous emergence of atomic science, relativity, and quantum physics in the first decades of the 20th century. Seemingly continuous processes, such as energetic phenomena, appeared to organized in the very small as discrete processes. Likewise, discrete phenomena, such as matter, could be represented by continuous processes.
Max Planck and Albert Einstein called for the development of a new concept of causality, rather than the statistical indeterminacy imposed by the quantum mechanists. In this respect, it is worth recalling the words of Planck's student, Köhler: “Max Planck once told me that he expected our approach [in gestalt psychology] to clarify a difficult issue which had just arisen in quantum physics, if not the concept of the quantum itself.”
Vernadsky at the same time recognized that for the truths of science to be universal, the standpoint of the “naturalist” had to be adopted in order to study the full scope of physical phenomena and their expression in all three universal experimental domains of the abiotic, biotic and noetic.
The basis for this new science of dynamics, as LaRouche has called it, will rest on a mobilization of the scientific and economic means necessary to secure an interplanetary future for mankind, including a full mastery of the entire electromagnetic spectrum and its use to sustain human life throughout the solar system. This approach will define the meaning of science for the next century, if we have the wisdom to let that knowledge guide our actions in the present.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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