This paper is a sequel to the previous one in the November 2006 newsletter. It presents a new account of the life force using holistic physics discussed in the previous article. Further articles will develop this in ways compatible with Hahnemann’s understanding of life force into a new theory of homeopathy. The new theory is based on rigorous physics, filling gaps in quantum field theory and instability physics, and extending well known concepts in economical ways . Practice of forms of medicine using a concept of the life force is widespread. In general, considerable success is achieved. The life force is therefore a concept that should be considered in terms of modern science, despite failure of previous attempts that resulted in its rejection as a scientifically valid concept. New physical theories, particularly those involved in the description of complex systems, now make it possible to formulate a useful theory agreeing in its broad outline with descriptions from Naturopathic medicine. A basic form of such a theory is described herein. A later article will extend the theory to the concept of healing crisis, also fundamental to Naturopathic medicine.
The life force, or vis vitalis, has been recognized, valued and cultivated as long as man has been concerned with maintaining health and well-being. Its consideration forms an integral component of all traditional systems of medicine, both in the east and the west. In the orient it is called ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chi’) (1) and the ways its different aspects flow throughout the body form a study of almost endless refinement.
This paper develops a theory of the life force which can be used in accounts of how homeopathic remedies restore health. It constitutes a first step to developing a full theory of what is involved in the biology of homeopathy at the level of the cell. The actual theory of homeopathy will take several more articles to develop in full, and will show how homeopathic remedies both act as means to strengthen the life force, and as specific switches at a quantum level to facilitate the return of the physiology to health from a specific state of pathology.
The western system of medicine, which, in its present practice, takes most inspiration from Hippocrates is Naturopathic medicine (3). To that we should look to learn how the life force functions in the physiology. The principle, which governs naturopathic medicine is that if the life-force is strong, disease will not arise, while if the life-force is weak, a person will be susceptible to falling ill. Conversely, strengthening the life force in a sick person will help bring about cure, and may even restore a person in weak health to strong health. All the success achieved over the centuries by Naturopathic medicine was based on this principle of strengthening the life force.
THE LIFE FORCE AND REGULATION
The corresponding observation in modern biology and aetiology – the study and theory of the onset of disease – is that if regulation of an organism is effective, the physiology will adapt properly to ongoing conditions, otherwise adaptation will be poor, and maladaptation is liable to occur. In the theory of stress formulated by Hans Selye, the originator of modern theories of how stress leads to disease, maladaptative responses are recognized to be a watershed on the road to a person (or organism) beginning to fall sick – they represent the breaking point on the path to ill health (4).
These two approaches to describing health and sickness can be brought into harmony, if the life force is considered to be concerned with organism regulation (5): a strong life-force means more effective regulation, while a weak life-force means lack of adaptive energy, increasing the possibility of a maladaptive response. This therefore is the starting point of our investigation of the life-force: a strong life force means more effective regulation, while a weak life-force will leave the organism susceptible to maladaptive responses, regulatory failure, and the onset of pathology.
A model of the life force with precisely this property has been proposed as part of the elementary description of regulation and regulatory failure in chemical terms (6). The elementary property of regulation is the ability to switch processes On or Off. In chemical systems, such as the biochemical reactions and pathways in living cells, regulation may be effected by switching biochemical processes on and off by chemical means. Switching on a particular biochemical reaction is usually done by activating or producing an enzyme catalyzing the reaction. The enzyme goes from low (or zero) concentration, to a finite concentration, as do the products of the reaction.
PHASE TRANSITIONS AND CRITICAL POINTS
In chemical systems, when the concentration of some chemical changes by a finite amount, it is considered the same kind of process as when a single chemical abruptly changes concentration by a finite amount – its density changes. Such changes in density only occur with a change of phase, as when the single chemical goes from being a solid to a liquid, or from a liquid to a gas. For this reason, even in complex systems of thousands of differently structured chemical molecules such as occur in a cell, switching a biochemical process from an Off state to an On state, and vice-versa, constitutes a ‘phase transition’. Its chemical physics comes under the general area of phase transitions, and its properties will be those common to phase transitions. In the case of the living cell, however, the fact that life is maintained far-from-equilibrium creates an important difference, which turns out to play a key role in the new picture of the life force – phase transitions in non-equilibrium systems differ in significant ways from phase transitions in equilibrium systems. For example, the energy flowing through a non-equilibrium system can be used for creative processes, in the same way changing patterns of eddies and whirlpools are created in a flowing river or stream (7).
Phase transitions occur when some measurable quantity changes abruptly by a finite amount, a chemical concentration in chemical systems, the amount of magnetization in a magnet, or the electrical conductivity in a superconductor. Many if not most kinds of phase transition cease when the quantity that changes discontinuously at the phase transition ceases to change by a finite amount, and the two phases become the same. This is called the ‘critical point’ and occurs at a definite temperature (8). Thus magnets ceases to be ‘magnets’ above their ‘critical temperature’, different temperatures for different magnetic materials. Similarly for superconductors, they too have critical temperatures above which each superconductor ceases to be superconducting.
At their critical point, all materials enter an unstable state in which they cannot decide which behavior applies, whether or not to be liquid or gas, superconductor or magnetic. In the case of critical points of single chemical, liquid-gas phase transitions, the unstable, critical state is spectacular. Density fluctuations arise, which, being on huge scales compared to the constituent molecules, scatter light very strongly. The fluid goes from being transparent to opalescent – with a similar quality to an opal, shimmering, almost iridescent.
THE PHYSICS OF THE CRITICAL STATE
Critical opalescence occurs because the normal forces, which restore density to its equilibrium value no longer operate. Such forces give rise to sound waves – phonons – in the fluid. As the restoring forces cease to function at an instability, so do the phonons – sound does not propagate by the usual means through a fluid at its critical point. Even density is no longer an observable quantity at the microscopic level. As a quantum property it ceases to be defined. Criticality is truly a strange phenomenon – far stranger even than has yet been told in texts on the subject (8).
What takes over at a critical point are the ‘density fluctuations’, and these can be investigated not just with light (photons), but with electrons, protons and neutrons – all kinds of quanta can be scattered off them to investigate how their energy spectra depend on their wavelength. Scattering various kinds of quanta off critical fluctuations leads to the conclusion that they exist as quanta – albeit with unusual properties (9).
Our general understanding of physical systems leads to a similar conclusion. Any physical system has a certain number of degrees of freedom, which are roughly fixed as three times the number of particles making up the system. In a gas, these degrees of freedom are distributed between various kinds of degrees of freedom:
- those of the motion of the molecules – one for each of the three dimensions of space – known as ‘translational’ degrees of freedom;
- rotational degrees of freedom for poly-atomic molecules, usually three, but linear molecules like O2, CO2 or acetylene only have two rotational degrees of freedom;
- the degrees of freedom of modes of internal vibration of each molecule; and
- the degrees of freedom of the modes of collective vibration of the gas – its phonons or sound waves, which arise because collisions between gas molecules give rise to a finite mean free path and curtail the effective number of degrees of freedom of the translational modes.
In general, for a body of fluid of N molecules consisting of n atoms in each molecule, there will be a total of 3nN degrees of freedom. Of these 3N are distributed between translational and collective vibration modes. The rotational and vibrational modes make up the rest: another 3N for the rotational modes, and 3N(n-2) for the vibrational modes, except for exceptions where n = 2, or the molecule happens to be linear. These account for many of the degrees of freedom of the molecules constituting the fluid.
At a critical point, molecules have to be quite close together for their attractive forces to become effective. This means that the mean free paths are short, and translational modes are severely curtailed. The number of vibrational, collective modes is therefore very large, but have become unstable because of the special physical conditions giving rise to criticality. The only recipient for the extra degrees of freedom, and the energy they must inevitably contain, are the critical point fluctuations.
As far as is known in physics today, any energy-containing degree of freedom must be described by quanta of different possible frequencies n obeying the fundamental quantum law discovered by Max Planck, E = hn (10), otherwise the law of conservation of energy will not hold. For this fundamental reason, critical fluctuations should be associated with energy containing quanta – quantized fluctuations
REGULATION, FEEDBACK INSTABILITY AND METASTABLE STATES
The next step is to understand a further connection between phase transitions and regulation, this time associated with instabilities. For regulation of a process to take place, information about its products has to be received by the regulatory system. This creates a ‘feedback loop’, something known to create the potential for instability. It is therefore true to say that, whenever there is regulation, under some condition, the regulated system may become unstable. One side of the instability, there will be a phase transition – that between the regulatory systems ‘On’ and ‘Off’ states. On the other side of the instability, the transition will be smooth – a ‘soft’ change from On to Off. At the instability itself, there will be critical fluctuations, which, as we shall see, create the possibility for a more finely regulated, smoother transition.
A much-utilised property of phase transitions is that it often takes time for a transition from one state to another to get started. Although a system may enter a physical state where a phase transition would be expected to occur, local conditions may not favor its initiation. Classic cases in liquid gas transitions are where the curvature of surface a nano-droplet of liquid effectively increases its tendency to evaporate – so even if such nano-droplets form, they have difficulty growing to a macroscopic size. Similarly a tiny bubble of gas forming in a liquid has to supply the extra surface tension energy of the liquid surrounding the bubble (an energy per unit area); this again forms a barrier preventing large bubbles of gas from forming.
In such cases, the system is said to enter a ‘metastable state’ – a metastable state of the gas in the first example, and a metastable state of the liquid in the second example. In such systems, special conditions may be needed to help the phase transition take place against the barrier keeping it in its metastable state – for example, an electric charge to act as a focus on which the new phase can form. Both these examples of metastable states have been used in famous scientific instruments – the Wilson Cloud Chamber used the first to detect the passage of particles such as cosmic rays, because cloud droplets form on electric charges left along the paths of charged cosmic ray particles as they remove electrons from nearby molecules. Similarly, Donald Glaser’s liquid hydrogen Bubble Chamber gives rise to a line of bubbles along the path of charged particles moving through it. In both cases, a change of pressure causes the fluid (gas or liquid) to enter a metastable state, which is photographed before a phase transition has had time to take place naturally. In these circumstances, the only bubbles are those along the paths of charged particles moving through the fluid, so it is these that show up on the photographs.
When a system is at or close to its critical point, such metastable states are impossible. This is because critical fluctuations, or their residue mix the two phases, and prevent them from being separate. To see a distinct phase transition, it is therefore necessary for a system not to be too close to its critical instability point. However, in biological systems, this may have its disadvantages.
The phenomenon of metastable states is extremely widespread. It is almost impossible to have a phase transition without the possibility of metastable states arising. Under these circumstances, if a normal phase transition separated a biological regulatory system’s On and Off states, metastable states would form for some periods of time. These would block switching process phase transitions, and cause maladaptation: when an organism wants to switch a required enzyme process On, it would take a long time to respond, or might not even happen at all. Metastable states could decrease reliability of regulation making it potentially problematic.
A MODEL FOR STRESS
An obvious way to avoid the difficulty is for regulatory systems to be centred on their critical points. Critical fluctuations facilitate phase transitions to double advantage. First, metastable states will be impossible, so maladaptation will not occur. Second, smoothed phase transition processes increase precision of regulation. This is because, at a critical point’s quantum level, when two phases are mixed by fluctuations, the fraction of one state or the other can be accurately controlled – there will be a far finer degree of control, than just On & Off like a light switch on a wall. Also, in non-equilibrium systems, critical point fluctuations become active quantities with a life of their own. This is due to the energy passing through the system, on which they can ‘feed’, like the eddies and whirlpools in a stream or river mentioned previously (11).
In a living cell, such far-from-equilibrium critical fluctuations can actively smooth phase transitions from an Off state to an On state (6). Any tendency for an organism’s regulatory system to be stuck in a metastable ‘Off’ state would be smoothed out by its critical fluctuations. On the other hand, if the pressure of having to adapt to external situations should cause the system to move away from the critical state, the strength of the critical point fluctuations will decrease and the possibility of the system becoming stuck in a metastable state will arise. Maladaptation will again become possible. The challenge is for system regulation to maintain itself close to its critical instability, if and when adaptive pressure from other parts of the system tends to move it away.
THE CRITICAL FLUCTUATION MODEL OF THE LIFE FORCE
For these reasons critical fluctuations at feedback instabilities of biological systems present a very attractive means of modeling the life force or vis vitalis of the ancients. The reasons are as follows:
1. Any On / Off switching process must be described by a phase transition.
2. Away from the phase transition critical point, the possibility of metastable states will always lead to a certain probability of maladaptation.
3. Centered at the critical point, regulation will always be reliable, and more precise.
Such regulation may be termed ‘critical regulation’; the precise condition for it to occur is for its feedback instability to be an ‘attractor’ in the system dynamics. This starting point allows many aspects of Naturopathic medicine to be modeled.
4. At a critical point, the critical fluctuations will be strong – corresponding to a strong life force.
5. Equally, strong critical fluctuations will prevent metastable states from arising, and accompanying regulatory problems.
If we equate regulatory critical fluctuations with the life force:
A strong life-force will enhance regulation and keep it functioning optimally.
6. If the system tires and moves away from the critical point, critical fluctuations become less and the system may become stuck in a metastable state.
A weak life force gives rise to the possibility of less effective, or poor regulation.
7. If a critically regulated system is allowed to rest, the system will naturally gravitate to its critically regulated state.
Rest will naturally allow the life-force to become stronger again.
This corresponds to ‘rest cure’, a well known naturopathic therapy. Everything is done in Naturopathic medicine to try to allow the life force to regain its natural strength through natural processes – as far as that may be possible.
8. If other processes drive the system away from its critically regulated state, then weakened critical fluctuations again allow the possibility of metastable states and maladaptation to arise.
The effect of adaptive pressure will be to weaken the life-force.
In this way, critical regulation of biological systems permits scientific modeling of many aspects of the life force and its dynamics, as they are known to occur from the millennia of experience of naturopathic medical practice.
PROBLEMS WITH PREVIOUS MODELS
It is of interest to compare this model to previous attempts at scientific models of the life force. Here, the main concern was with life energy, which was equated with physical energy without taking into account any influence it might have had on regulation. In such models, since there was no regulation, there was no way for a ‘weakening’ of the life force to directly lead to maladaptation or other recognized precursors of pathology. It might be said that, under the circumstances there was no concept of the life force constituting the ‘inner intelligence’ of an organism. How this becomes possible by including a quantum description of critical fluctuations will be the topic of another paper.
Previous models limited their life energy concept to metabolic rate and availability of ATP and energy rich molecules. Any chance of it corresponding to known, ‘postulated’ properties of the ancient vis vitalis were found impossible. This led to even the concept being considered unscientific nonsense.
Since those dark, dark days of early to mid-twentieth century biology and biophysics many new theories have arisen. Firstly, feedback and regulation formed the basis of Norbert Weiner’s famous development of control theory (12). Secondly, the general theory of systems (13) leads to a new, far more realistic way of thinking about living organisms. Thirdly, the study of instabilities in chemical systems (14), and in particular of instabilities and symmetry breakdown in cyclic systems of chemical reactions far from chemical equilibrium (15), led to new understandings of what may be involved in morphogenesis and structural development in biological systems. Fourthly, the elucidation of phase transitions in many different kinds of system, and the properties of their critical points led to deeper understanding of their highly unusual behavior (8). In particular, mathematics from elementary particle physics – the renormalization group – was used to elucidate details of anomalous ways various quantities approach the critical point (11). Finally, critical behavior has come to be seen as far more general and far less specific to particular systems. Many if not most systems evolve under the influence of self-interacting chaotic forces, and the inevitable result of such influences turns out to have a measure of critical behaviour. This is the basis of the concept of ‘self-organized criticality’ (16) that has overtaken studies in the physics of complexity in recent years.
Critical regulation is an outgrowth of all these inputs. In the absence of any one of them it would not possible. Since each represents a major, if not revolutionary, advance in its own field, it is easy to understand why a model for the life-force agreeing in so many levels of detail was not foreseen.
When quantum theory is applied to critical point fluctuations, further extraordinary results appear. Quantum theory often produces anomalous unexpected behavior, particularly in complex systems, but also in simple matters like forces between particles. It has been developed and applied in many different ways – to lasers, to super-conductors, to unify and superunify forces between elementary particles, and to explain how some forces such as the strong force can go on getting stronger as the particles being influenced are moved further apart – the idea that a force gets weaker with distance, as do electric, magnetic and gravitational forces, turns out to be the exception rather than the rule. Similarly unusual, anomalous behavior comes to light when quantum theory is applied to critical instabilities – but that is another story.
In summary, critical instabilities, which must occur in biological regulatory systems, have fluctuations that can influence metastable states blocking regulation in ways parallel to properties of the life force in Naturopathic medicine. They can therefore be used to create a physical picture of it from the perspective of physical chemistry. The resulting scientific model of the life-force has many advantages over previous attempts to model it (17).
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