Thursday, October 16, 2014
Emergence and the Power of Life
(Editor's Note: This post is from Dr. Michael Thomas, and while a bit much for some readers, I think he does a great job explaining all the variability and constant flux that a living body goes through at all times and where and why upper cervical care is so important to that process both for the doctor and the patient.)
By Michael Thomas
Mathematics changed forever with the advent of computers. Prior to the ability to quickly analyze large amounts of data due to the advent of high speed data processors, most mathematics was calculated using linear relationships. Geometry was primarily Euclidean, using idealized shapes (squares, triangles, circles, cubes, spheres, etc.). These idealized and greatly simplified models are familiar to anyone who has taken the basic physics courses. The arc of a thrown football can be described, for instance, as an arc and the Newtonian approximations work well for such descriptions. The true quantum reality of atoms and molecules of both the football and the air itself, any breeze, quirks in the throw itself, and more are complications that rapidly increase the complexity of the problem. In this case, all of these complications add up to very little and the Newtonian equation is more than adequate to use for calculation.
A non-linear system is a system that has many, many different, interacting aspects that create a very different situation than a linear system when examining input and output. In a linear system, what is input is always proportional to the output. In simplest terms, 1+1 always equals 2. A non-linear system is a very different order of function. Ilya Prigogine developed the idea of open dissipative systems that maintain balance far from equilibrium. What this basically means is that it has been consistently found that complex systems that appear chaotic in nature are able to achieve a steady state at a level that is far from the equilibrium described by the second Law of Thermodynamics. This law tells us that the universe is slowly running down and that eventually there will be no more movement as everything grinds to a frozen halt.
Prigogine did not argue with the second Law, he found that open complex systems can use the energy and material that flows through them to maintain an organized and stable state that is far from this basal equilibrium. (He saw this as ‘order’ floating in a sea of ‘disorder’). While organizationally closed, we are open dissipative systems in reference to our environment. We take in energy and matter from our environment, hold onto it for a period of time using it for a multitude of activities and then we release gases , energy and other matter back into the environment. We call this resulting internal balance ‘homeostasis’. Our internal milieu operates within very tight constraints. Temperature and pH (among other factors) must remain within tightly defined boundaries or metabolism fails.
The organization and flow of functions remains steady even as the physical substances that compose our beings are in continuous flux with the environment. Because it is the relationships that are maintained and not the physical ‘stuff’, we are more like ideas than things! Considering many people’s dietary choices, it is a very good thing that we are not linear and that we can find ways to maintain homeostasis even when intaking deleterious substances!
Organisms maintain a balance that includes ALL of their parts. Shifting one aspect of metabolism necessarily affects and shifts all other components so as to maintain optimal balance (homeostasis) with relation to the environment they are ennested within. As the environment shifts and changes, so does the balance within ourselves. This ongoing change in overall balance that matches the ever changing environmental influences is termed ‘homeorrhesis’. There is nothing ‘static’ about this balance. It is amazingly dynamic at all times even though the form remains pretty stable over long periods of time. Think of a tornado or the vortex shape of water going down a drain (solitons) for a more simple metaphor of the maintenance of shape in an open flow environment.
An individual examination of all the ‘parts’ of an organism will not reveal the life and all that this encompasses. The self-assembly and coordinated, coherent function and ability to maintain homeorrhesis over decades of time is not apparent when examining the individual components. It is only when in proper relationship that ‘pieces’ act as ‘wholes’. This is termed ‘emergence’. Emergent properties are not available to analysis until the entire system is functional. Non-linear systems contain emergent properties.
Philosophic chiropractic has long rejected the ‘therapeutic’ model. In this model, one artificially defined aspect, say, the triceps muscle, is examined and found to be in pain, have limited in range of motion and be in some spasm. It may also be inflamed. The medical model is to ‘treat’ this ‘lesion’ directly. Manipulation, stretching, massage, ultrasound, e-stim, cold laser, hot or cold, administration of drugs to lower muscle tone, suppress pain, and or inflammation, etc., can be prescribed until the muscle can be brought back into a normal state as defined by various measurements of the triceps muscle. Treatment is then ‘successfully’ ended.
The question is asked by holistic practitioners, "Why is the muscle spasmed, inflamed and in pain with limited range of motion in the first place? Direct trauma to the triceps muscle may be the answer. In this case, a therapeutic regimen will probably expedite return of the muscle to normal function. Often however, there was no direct trauma to the area of interest (pain). Instead there is a body-wide pattern or adaptation occurring that results in the whole organism shifting its entire relationship to gravity. Various symptoms and adaptations can then occur. We see this every day in our postural measurements.
Subluxation, in all its guises and definitions refers to a sub-optimal state of whole body balance. This state maintains itself too although it is less stable than the optimal configuration. Suppression of pain and inflammation, forcing the muscle to elongate through stretching, changing blood flow patterns through heat or cold and many other therapeutic interventions will also cause the entire body to re-adapt. Innate intelligence posits that the body is doing the best it can with what it has to work with at all times. Suppression or ‘therapeutic’ interventions of the body-wide adaptations at any one place will usually cause the entire system to reset into the best configuration now available to it which will necessarily have somewhat less resilience and vitality because it is a further fall-back position from the optimal configuration.
In upper cervical work we see that the body works to maintain itself with respect to gravity. This is necessary if we want to move about and live life. When there is an optimal state, the body (when measured in a neutral standing position) is aligned with the vertical axis; the center of gravity of the individual is aligned with the gravity line. Bipedal weight balance is equal. Pelvis is centered, level and untwisted with reference to the gravity line. The rest of the body is then perched directly over the pelvis in a vertical orientation creating a minimal energy, minimal stress position that minimizes torque forces and maximizes potential for movement.
In non-linear terms, our ‘system’ oscillates around a strange attractor -which in this case is gravity- and the line of gravity as it relates to our structure. The complexity of this oscillation directly relates to the vitality and resilience of the system. Diminished potential for range of motion also diminishes the complexity of the system, reducing its potential to respond to the environment. When trauma, toxicity or autosuggestion occur and create what we know as a subluxated state, the body re-evaluates how tension is maintained and shifts to minimize aberrant forces creating the misalignment pattern which might be termed one of the ‘stability basins’ that surround the optimal configuration on the vertical axis.
The QSM3 adjustment is not designed to move a bone, or even a few bones, back into place. A true adjustment provides the organism with a compelling force calculated to restore the system to optimal configuration and function (considering the critical relationship between structure and function). The entire system resets (as a whole) and all of the components must now find the optimal relationships between them that are now possible. The entire skeleton reconfigures its orientation as the myofascial envelope redistributes energy and force and information throughout the entire organism. The bones are passive placeholders that are obviously critical to shape but certainly not the active players themselves. Load is carried in the myofascial envelope as a whole. Bones are not the primary recipients of load. When they do become significant load carriers, they degenerate rapidly as obviously evidenced in the lower back with facet and vertebral body and disc deterioration.
Examination of any one component, no matter how precise or extensive, cannot give a real picture of how the entire system is responding. Each ‘piece’ must be seen in relation to all the other ‘pieces’. The system integrates as a whole organism. Non-linear analysis is concerned with mapping relationships. It is these relationships that give real information about the state of the entire system.
The non-linear nature of living organisms and the emergent behavior (self-assembly, autopoiesis, and cognition) that arises out of this holistic complexity is not present in a reductive examination of the individual parts. This is why chiropractic long ago rejected the reductive allopathic medical model. Suppression of parts through medications that interfere with metabolic pathways, drugs that stifle sensory integration, treatments that are geared to management of symptoms of dis-ease, all diminish the expression of life within us. Diminishing possibilities for the expression of life is not ‘health’ care.
Life remains mysterious and probably will always contain mysteries beyond our ability to solve. We have long, in chiropractic, respected the power of life within us. There have been many names for this ‘force’: Innate Intelligence, Holy Spirit, Chi, Ki, Prana, Seiki, Nom, Kundalini, etc. This ‘vital force’ has been seen as something beyond what we know or perhaps, even CAN know.
This paper has attempted to identify some of the principles that underlie non-linear systems in organisms. Many of the qualities we assign to the vital force are now being seen as emergent properties associated with non-linear dynamics. The history of science reveals the incremental advances that have turned metaphysics into physics. What was once seen as magic is now sometimes understood as physical processes operating within the physical forces we already objectively understand. It may be that there is an ultimate nonmaterial aspect to life that will always remain hidden from objective analysis. For the time being, however, non-linear dynamics provides fertile ground for increasing our understanding of what makes us alive and begins to make the results of upper cervical care more understandable too. QSM3 is on the forefront of revisioning our understanding of life and health. Dealing with the consequences of non-linearity in complex systems offers us new ways to remove interference to the power of life as well as helping us to understand the workings of this power!
Kondepudi, Dilip; Prigogine, Ilya. Modern Thermodynamics: from heat engines to dissipative structures. John Wiley and Sons. Chichester, West Sussex, England.1998.
Capra, Fritjof; Luisi, Pier Luigi. The Systems View of Life: a unifying vision. Cambridge University Press 2014.
Maturana, Humberto R.; Varela, Francisco J. The Tree of Knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding. New Science Library, Shambala Boston and London 1987.