Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dangerous Remedy

Organic Intelligence

Since the sixties, thinkers have been suggesting it’s time to shift our model of reality from the giant machine to the image of the universe as an organism. Fritjof Capra talks about the shift in worldview that came with quantum mechanics in his wonderful book “The Turning Point”. He writes, “The universe is no longer seen as a machine made up of multiple objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible, dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process.” Seeing the whole is essential to understanding the significance in a situation and is the essence of ecological consciousness. We understand the big picture through concrete vision as well as within our spatial embodied imagination.
The heartbreaking pictures of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico can be seen as our body bleeding. The globe that supports us all is pierced and hemorrhaging. All the images taken from space that show the growing damage hurt my heart like damage to my own body. Which it is, given I am absolutely dependent on it. A caller to the Diane Rehm show was the first to express out loud the fear this oil spill could kill the whole planet. The satellite and helicopter pictures are the diagnostic scans of our global body. The compartmentalized, rapacious way of looking at the planet that grows from the machine model avoids seeing the interconnections. It may suit the corporati and greed-driven, but an attitude of seeing the planet as a giant reservoir of resources to be exploited interferes with the balance of the all-inclusive organism. Chief Seattle said, “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.“ Stabbing oneself in the hope of riches expresses reckless self-loathing.
Organic intelligence is alert to the health of the whole. Since everything is part of an intricate network of interrelated systems, we’re happiest (best brain chemistry) when we’re developing our abilities and finding challenging ways to make use of them. This adds our health to the health of the larger organism in which we participate. Moving in harmony with the flow of being around us is natural if the underlying model of the universe has ourselves as part of an organic whole. If we’re disrupting other aspects of the larger being we’re like a cancer, growing without heed of the damage we cause, sucking up vital resources without regard to the host. Much of what divides us and keeps us from acting together is imagery that places us outside of things, casting us as the one that tinkers with the machine. This is the same image as the large scale Maker, which also puts the traditional God outside us.
The Gaia Hypothesis came out decades ago. James Lovelock’s conception was of a consciousness within the earth itself. Just like the adjustments made in our own body, it responds to imbalances. This universal motion of homeostasis exists on every level and in every system, adapting to change to restore equilibrium. Persisting in the belief in man’s dominion over the earth may lead to the earth itself wiping out the source of destruction.
The materialistic world of separate things has resisted seeing our interconnectedness because it’s a threat to a competitive attitude. Accumulating and controlling more of the planet does not serve the good of the whole. But there’s evidence mounting of the grassroots shift to a more responsible way of seeing. Two website groups that have contacted me recently are dedicated to positive change. The Superforest site
( ) sees the essence of problems and solutions in the world as revolving around manners. Treating everyone and everything with respect means being aware of the consequences of our actions. As they say in their Humanifesto, dumping pollutants in a river is bad manners. The narrow sight lines of a competitive stance focus on the end result and miss much of what’s happening now and the consequences of single-mindedness. A cooperative attitude is tuned to the moment because cooperation is all about adjusting to the circumstances and harmonizing with others. The current most popular entry at The Truth Contest site
( The Truth Contest ) focuses on the Present and the nature of consciousness. Their site is committed to an ongoing attempt to articulate truth, to search out the universals that bind us. They turn the idea of a contest on its head since there’s no competition, no prizes, just an on-going dialogue that features the entries that generate the most interest. Extending themselves for the good of the whole, these sites are examples of healing forces, the action of Gaia’s immune system. They give me faith in the goodness of human nature and optimism about the future. I’m happy to now be connected to both efforts.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Warm and Fuzzy

More Love

In the June Discover Magazine is an article about epigenetics; in particular, the way genes are turned on and off by the way a rat pup was raised. When the mother licked the pup many times over the course of the day, the pup became a more confident adult, open to new experiences and to being with other rats. If the pup had a mother not given to licking, as adults they were more anxious, less open to the new. When the pup of a non-licker was given to a foster mother who was a licker, the rat had the same outcome as the pups genetically related to that mother. It was a more confident, less startle-prone rat. This study made clear how strong the effect of early upbringing is on the personalities of the adults. In Harry Harlow’s research with monkeys, young monkeys would choose a cuddly surrogate mother over a wire one that had milk. Comfort and touch were more important than food. Untouched monkeys in his research became psychotic, or violent sociopaths. This has to make you worry about cultures that are very reserved regarding physical contact, who don’t touch each other even in families.
I remember reading that baboons carry their babies around for months after they are born, easing the shock of separation from the mother’s body. It makes me sad to see a mother carrying her infant in one of those V-shaped baby-buckets, an idea born of marketing. The pediatrician that used to live upstairs always carried her baby on her hip, and it was a very confident baby.
People can go to psychiatrists for years trying to understand the reasons for their anxiety, and though they surely gain in overall self-awareness they may never know that they were seldom held as a baby, that being out there alone in the world too soon was scary. The attitude of vigilance is shaped right then by the customs of the group into which they were born. The particular way this attitude manifests may be genetic, but the disposition of fear is conditioned.
The good news is the brain is malleable, always reordering in relation to the environment to which it adapts. Every time we touch a friend we perform a little act of healing. The problems due to lack of touch in the past can be soothed by caring touch in the present. Touch is a powerful antidote to stress chemicals. Temple Grandin, uncomfortable with touching people as part of her Asperger’s Syndrome, made a hug machine, a bed that bent to push on her sides to reduce the tension in her body. I feel that comforting sensation whenever I lean back on my very soft couch. It may not produce the oxytocin that creates long term bonding but the pleasure tells me it definitely produces endorphins, like it probably did for the monkeys choosing the cuddly surrogate mother, and endorphins reduce stress.
Wilhelm Reich thought that sexual union was necessary for people to have enough independence of character to think for themselves. Without it he felt that people turned to the group and the attitudes and thinking of the herd. They found their connection to others in agreement with the cultural norms. Thinking about the rat study, it would seem that caring touch of any kind, creating connectedness, builds the confidence necessary to embrace difference, in oneself and others. A light touch on the forearm is enough to get good chemicals flowing. Every time we touch we create a physical image of connection and build a more connected self-representation in the brain. Even when we weren’t raised to touch others, it’s something that can to be developed. Our physiology needs it and more confident independent thinkers can change the world. More love, right from the start of life, in every cultural group, is the force that could turn the global trajectory from the fear-based attitudes of greed and domination that are ruining the planet to a place where cooperation and caring can begin the process of regeneration.