This blog is about both scientific, societal/political, and yoga-related issues - individually and considered as different aspects of the same problem/solution. A longer description is found in the first blog entry, and all old posts are found in a structured way here. The blog is an extension of my main home pages yoga-link.se and isbgroup.eu. Twitter: @gunnarcedersund
I have just arrived to Gothenburg, where I will spend the night. The reason is that tomorrow, I will give a presentation at AstraZeneca, one of the world's biggest drug development companies, which has one of its biggest sites here in Sweden. I will talk about possible collaborations, and more specifically present my work on how to use modelling to understand and treat insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This has been described earlier, e.g. here and in the news.
I always enter with slightly mixed feelings into discussions about collaborations with drug development companies. On the one hand, they constitute a very important player in my research field, and it is therefore important and valuable to have good connections with them. Much of today's medicine is centered around them. But on the other hand, I am quite skeptical to our current extremely high usage of drugs to treat all sorts of ailments. I think that we as a medical society would be much better off to focus more of our money and attention at other types of treatments, treatments that focuses on restoration of health and not on symptom-repression, and treatments that make use of the body's own ability to heal itself. There is - unfortunately - a fundamental problem for drug companies to consider these kind of alternatives: these alternatives would fall outside of their normal business model, and would be hard for them to make money on.
In any case, my conclusion usually ends up in that one of these efforts does not exclude the other, and that these collaborations still can be an important stepping stone towards my more long-term goal: to help heal the medical community as such.
Are you wondering what I am doing during the days, when I am at work? The basic principle behind my work is described in a very simple cartoon-like fashion on this link. It describes the principle of hypothesis testing, which I am doing not by looking and thinking (as most biologists still are doing) but by simulating mathematical models on a computer. In my case, the different theories are different ideas of how a specific biological system works (in the cartoon this corresponds to what is the best geometrical shape), and in my case the data are experimental data from this system, usually time-series of concentrations in response to different stimulations (in the cartoon this corresponds to the dots).
towards an integral worldviewPosted by yoga-link.se Apr 28, 2013 20:59 On Christmas Eve, all Swedes have one sacred ritual: to watch Donald Duck at 15.00. One of the clips from this one hour show is the one above, and around 5 min into that clip Goofy asks the question "who's driving?", whereafter he realizes that it is actually he who is driving. In our society, we are not that far away from that situation: the institutions we have to govern us aren't really aware of the fact that they are driving. For instance, science is all the time looked to as a source for truth. But there is no sense of responsibility for that truth, or for delivering a balanced view of what all the scientists as a whole believe - which means that one can find any opinion one wants. This must change, and news media journalists must become much more avid searchers for science's attempts at producing such balanced views. If we get that science-media interaction working, at least our various drivers will have an optimal view of the road ahead of them - and regarding which instruments they can trust to what extent.
I just listened to a really important clip in the only media-critical programme in Sweden: SR's Medierna. They dealt with a topic that is one of my favourite subjects: how to use science, scientists, and scientific results in news media reporting.
In the clip, they do a critique of a news segment done in the Swedish programme called Kalla Fakta, which was devoted to the potential dangers and benefits of the vaccin Gardasil. Gardasil may be beneficial to treat cervical cancer, but may also give severe neurological disorders. The ranges of claims basically goes from one extreme (not at all dangerous, very beneficial) to the other (evidently dangerous, not at all beneficial), and there seems to exist scientists across this spectrum. However, even though there exists scientists across the entire spectrum of opinions, this does not mean that there is not an overwhelming consensus to one or the other side. And, if such an overwhelming consensus is the case, it is not objective to report on the matter in a person-against-person fashion, i.e. where both opionions are presented as equally credible. In other words, the commonly used "objectivity principle" within media does not mean that both sides always should have a say, or at least not an equal say. This was also the point made in the critique against Kalla Fakta's news segment, and I wholeheartedly agree with it, as a general principle.
Nevertheless, in this particular case, I have no way of knowing whether there is such a scientific consensus on the matter or not - and that is almost impossible to find out without working actively within the field. In other words, to get a balanced overview of the general views of a sub-society within science, and to know which opionions would be judged as extreme and non-representative, is something that is very difficult for a journalist to obtain. Therefore, such a balanced view regarding what the scientific community as a whole believes must be produced from within science. And that is a function and a responsibiltiy that we as a scientific community fail to take. And that is an important thing to change, if science is ever to claim its rightful role as the spearhead of truth in our society - and if we as a society are to be able to use our most state-of-the-art understandings to guide our personal and political decisions.
you heard of the concept "Law of Attraction"? Perhaps you are one who
thinks that it is very useful in your life? Or perhaps you are one who
thinks that it some fluffy New Age concept that has no way of being
true, and cannot possibly have any sort of sound relation to what
Science is saying? I personally think that it is a very useful concept,
since it basically teaches me how I am choosing things in my life, and
consequently how I can improve my situation. I also have a way of making
this principle fit together with my own scientific understanding, in a
complete worldview - where this fitting together even is the, in my
view, most logical conclusion. The best theory around. Having
established some initial concepts in 3 videos, I am now at last ready to
start outlining how this can be so. And unlike the first 3 videos,
which content has basically been said elsewhere by me and others, this
fitting together is much more new - I haven't seen this description
anywhere else. The description will take 24 videos, and in the current
presentation video, video #5, I just outline how these 24 videos will be
structured. The short version is that we will need to a) understand the
boundaries of today's science, b) learn more about quantum mechanics,
and c) learn to meditate - before we can rather easily put all of these
things together :)
towards an integral worldviewPosted by yoga-link.se Apr 05, 2013 11:22 “Isn't
it the responsibility of scientists, if you believe
that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn't it
your responsibility to do something about it,
enough so that action actually takes place?…If not us, who? If not now,
Those are the words of the recently deseased F. Sherwood Rowland (in the picture above), who was one foreground figures in research on chlorofluorocarbons and their effects on the stratospheric
ozone. This is one of the most shining examples of human development. 1) Science saw a problem, that the ozone layers are disappearing due to something we produce; 2) the scientists explained to the public and the politicians that we need to do things about this; 3) the pressure from the public led to political changes despite the industry saying things like "there will never be any more refridgerators if you bann these substances"; 4) once the law is passed, the technology quickly evolves, so that refridgerators are constructed more cheaply than before; and, finally, 5) nature heals, and balance is restored. That is the 5-step formula we need to go back to again and again, in relation to problem after problem that we are facing in the next few decades.
However, I think that there is another even more general point to this formula. It is not only the natural scientists who discover things in nature that need to communicate with politicians. The natural scientists also need to knock on the door on economists, who need to develop new economic theories that makes it easier to put the cost where it is at, and that makes more natural incentives for companies and politicians to do the right thing. And they also need to knock on the door of social scientists, who gets into the minds of ordinary people, and political leaders, regarding how to best communicate key scientific insights.
And completely zoomed out, we, the Science collective, need to become responsible for the worldview that we are producing - because it is ultimately this worldview that decides what we do, both as individuals and as a society. In the old days, the church had both the power of creating our worldviews and the power over the politicians that created laws and decisions that reflected this worldview. It was a whole. Perhaps not a benevolent whole, but still a whole. The triangle in the figure below was intact. Somebody was behind the wheels. Perhaps driving to a place that was best for the drivers, and not for the general population. But they were driving somewhere. Now, Science is just a blind machine that produces papers. There is no collective worldview that is being produced, and that everybody feels responsible for, in terms of updating the little part that they are responsible for, in terms of thinking how their little part will effect the whole. This responsibility needs to return.This is one of the reasons why I am doing this worldview series.
youtube video and blog post in my little worldview project. I have now
come to the last video of the initial three, which has a look at a
definition for the word God, which by its nature abolishes the question
of belief *in* God, and replaces it with detailed beliefs *about*. This
about-question also turns out to be basically the same question as
science is posing (or should pose). I also show how this definition
still is not incompatible with many of the traditional usages of the
word, and therefore hope to provide a link into a - for some - slightly
new way of reading spiritual and religious texts and statements.
The youtube-video is <10 min, and should be possible to be
understood easily by everybody. A more detailed version is found here which also links on to papers, books, etc
In this worldview series we have already introduced the idea of definitions, and the importance of going back to them. We had a look at some of the postulates that define physics, and mentioned the above possible postulate for biology. We contrasted postulates within empirical sciences with the axioms and postulates within mathematics, and above is a definition used in the development of Euclidian geometry. We will now have a look at a new definition, that of the word God. When talking about religious things, including beliefs in and about God, one very often forgets this step. And without a prior agreement of what one means with words, it is very hard to agree on the conclusions that one can and cannot draw regarding properties that these words might imply. Therefore, we will now spend almost an entire blog post to this topic. And the first thing to realize is that God is - without definitions - just a collection of three letters, i.e. an inherently meaningless word. We could therefore just as well set out to define the word ABHUG.
Before we start, let me just shortly explain why I think that this is a meaningful thing to bring up, in a worldview description that I claim to be compatible with science. As you will see below, my definition of the word God does not require me to use it, and I will - in fact - only seldom use it in the rest of these worldview texts. However, the word has been used extensively throughout history, and its existance and "loadedness", is blocking communication between big fractions within our society. I therefore want to show that it is possible to introduce the word in a way which does not require any "faith" of any sort, but that still can be compatible with the way the word has been used in most religious traditions. This particular blog is therefore along the same lines as the general goals of this series, since one of these general goals is to provide keys of translation between communities; both for religious people to embrace science as a friend and not as an enemy, and for atheists and materialists to be able to better understand the point of and knowledge contained in religious and spiritual texts, including those within yoga and meditation, diving into your own mind. In short, I hope that such an increased communication will allow more people to have access to more types of insights, available in more types of forums.
The definition I will use is quite short and simple:
God := everything that exists
Before I do anything else, I will just start by clarifying a little bit what this short definition actually means. Everything that exists surely includes all physical objects, i.e. the Universe and all its content. It does not, however, make any sort of requirements of how this Universe works, or what it consists of. Furthermore, "everything that exists" may also include other things than the physical Universe, if such things exists. For instance, there may be such a thing as a Heaven with angels in it - if they do exist, they are included as a part of God, and otherwise not. Similarly, there may have been a Supreme Being that started it all: if there was, that being is a part of this definition of God. And likewise, there may exist such a thing as psychic energy, pure consciousness, thoughts, etc - if these exist, they are included in this definition of God, and otherwise not. Here it is important to say that this definition also means that God also includes all perspectives of this everything. In other words, all the subjective experiences that e.g. we as humans have, the left-hand side of Wilber's quadrants, are, just like the right-hand side's physical objects, a part of what God entails, according to this definition. In summary, if a thing exists, it is included in what God is. According to this definition.
Immediate consequences of this definition
One of the main benefits of defining the word God in this fashion is that it is fully non-problematic at its onset. You may say that it is meaningless or useless to introduce such a word, but it is despite that not problematic or automatically illogical to do so. In other words, this definition does not imply any sort of belief, or the existance or truth of any other conditions, for the definition to be possible. Furthermore, the very charged question "Do you believe in God?" becomes, with this definition, completely harmless. With this definition, God is not something one believes or does not believe in, it is something one believes different things about. An important consequence of this is that religion and spirituality, which seeks to understand God more deeply, suddenly has the same objective as Science, which seeks to understand Reality better. This is important, because it illustrates that any true endeavor for truth cannot be in an unresolvable conflict with another such endeavor, and that they must all be looking for the same thing. They may be using different tools, and get temporarily different - perhaps even temporarily conflicting - results, but ultimately their end-results cannot be in conflict with each other. Finally, regarding the question of whether this is a meaningless definition, I would say that there are no real good alternative words, which already covers this definition. I above used the word "Reality" to describe what Science is trying to describe. But "Reality" would also need the same definition before it would be taken to mean the same thing as "God". In other words, some people would probably use the word "Reality" to only mean the study-object that physics deals with at the moment, and therefore pre-supposes that all things that exists are reproducible, measurable, indepenent of who observes it, etc. Such pre-suppositions may always be wrong, and such pre-suppositions are not a necessary part of the above definition of God.
This definition does not exclude the possibility of a personal conscious God
Many people and many traditions talk about a personal God, a God who is conscious, perhaps doing things, and perhaps even of a God who is incarnated in a physical body here in Earth. I therefore want to say that the above definition of God does not exclude the possibility of such occurances. However, before going into that, I want to say that we are now leaving the clear definitions ensuring the non-problematic existence of God, and are moving into an ever-evolving understandings about God (or "all-that-is" if you rather use that word). From now on, we are moving into various beliefs about God, or about Reality.
To understand how God defined in this way still could be a conscious being, we will have a look at the theories developed within Systems Theology, and at the upper and lower sides of Wilber's four quadrants.
This is Wilber's four quadrants revisited. In the previous blog, we learned about the right- and left-hand sides. Now we instead contrast the relationship between the lower half, which describes the components in a system, and the upper half, which describes the system level.
Systems theology is one of the recent attempts that has been made to create a worldview that combines religion, in this case Christianity, with modern science, in a conflict-free manner. It is a big theory, and I will now only touch upon a specific aspect of it: its multi-level aspect. This aspect comes from the observation that life, and the Universe, seems to be structured in a multi-level fashion. As I described in the previous blog, one such multi-level aspect concerns the electron and the proton which make up a hydrogen atom. The hydrogen atom is not only a proton and an electron close together, but rather a new "entity". In other words, new things (a coupling term) have appeared in the merging of the electron and the proton. Similarly, we do not experience ourselves as 1 billion cells, even though we in some objective sense seem to be precisely that. Both of those system-part couplings are examples of what Wilber talks about in the upper and lower halves of his four quadrants. The lower half corresponds to the parts (the electrons/protons in the hydrogen atom, or the cell in the body), and the upper half corresponds to the system level (the hydrogen atom and the body, respectively).
Let us now consider how such system-part couplings are connected. The system-level of the first example above, atoms, themselves form together into molecules, which forms together into cells, which were the parts in the cell-body example in the second example. However, this chain does not seem to end there. Physical bodies also form together into larger systems, social systems like the internet, and eco-systems; and these ultimately make up the Earth, which is a part of the solar system, which is a part of the galaxy, etc. In other words, if one considers the extension of this chain upwards, one will all the time encounter new types of existencies, new types of entities, which may potentially be consciously aware of their existance, in a sense that is more or less like our own awareness (one e.g. sometimes speak of the internet as an emerging global mind). If we now return to God in the definition above, we therefore see that this definition of God does not exclude the possibility of God as a conscious being: God is then simply the highest organism "up there" (which may be a never-ending process, but this is not a problem by itself). And just like I have various types of relationships and interactions with my organs and cells, such a God could therefore similarly be in various types of communication with its "cells", i.e. with us.
There are many traditions that claim that their founders are an incarnation of God, the Son of God, one with God, or something like that. In the culture, there are also many depictions of God in a particular form. In this video we see one them: from "Monty Python's and the Holy Grail".
What about the possibility of God appearing as personal incarnations?
We have now seen that the definition I have given does not exclude the possibility of a consciously aware God, which is doing things, interacting with us, etc. For sure, I do not claim that the above reasoning proves this conscious awarenessness - but it at least does not exclude the possibility. In fact, considering the seemingly multi-level aspect of Reality, it does not even seem like that far-fetched an idea. Let us now similarly see how the definition I have given also is not incompatible with the potential existance of "divine incarnations", i.e. with the existance of persons who can claim to be God - and be right in doing so...!
Again, we will do this by comparing with our own experience of life, and with the relation to our physical bodies. As I noted already above, our bodies are a collection of some billions of cells, which form together into organs, and then the whole body. Now, this body has the potential to somehow harbour awareness; we experience ourselves as consciously existing somehow within our bodies. However, many people would probably say that this conscious awareness is not situated in the whole body, but somewhere in the brain. Therefore, a part of our body is consciously aware of itself - but that self is actually also the whole body. To generalize: a part of a body can therefore be consciously aware of its existance (which it defines as the whole body), whereas other parts of the same body (e.g. the fingers) does not have that awareness. Or, a part of the whole can actually speak for the whole, because it somehow has reached a level of awareness that other parts have not reached. This does not mean that other parts aren't a part of that whole, it just means that those other parts are not aware of their global identity (the whole body), but only of their local identity (their existance e.g. as a cell, as a finger, or as an organ).
Now if one has already accepted the idea of "all-that-is" to be a conscious being, the above reasoning around our own bodies directly translates to the potential existence of divine incarnations. Those divine incarnations would then simply correspond to the brain in the above example: a part of "all-that-is" which has reached awareness of its global identity, and therefore can speak for the whole. Therefore, the above definition of God is not incompatible with a God a walks among us.
What about all the other definitions, God as Ultimate Love, etc?
With the above little examples given, I want to say that the dealings that we are doing now about things like consciousness, the relationship between consciousness and matter, and all such things will be defined and dealt with in much more detail in future texts. Here, I just want to give a first whirl of how just some simple reasonings can make one realize that concepts and definitions that seem completely incompatible with each other, may actually be compatible, and that there actually may be some logic to how things actually could be like various religions and spiritual traditions claim. At least to some extent. However, again: none of the above things regarding a consciously aware God, or the existance of divine incarnations, etc, are in any way proven by the above reasoning.
In the same spirit it is quite possible to play around with these concepts to also realize that the above definition of God is quite compatible with other views of God that also has been proposed throughout history. I will therefore here just end with one of these, which can be explained rather quickly: that the above definition of God actually could be argued to imply that God is Love.
To give any meaning to such a statement we first need to define the word Love (which I here capitalize, to make it separate from the everyday usage of the word). In this blog series, I will use the following definition:
Love := the feeling of being one
In other words, if you feel (increasing) Love for somebody, according to the this defition you then feel (increasingly) at one with that person. And similarly, if there is somebody you feel lack of Love for, you often say that you are estranged from them, i.e. as feeling quite separate from him/her. I therefore think that most people would say that this definition is sort of consistent with their own subjective experience of love (the normal usage of the word), so the definition is not taken out of the blue.
Let us now turn to the relationship between Love and God. God is, as defined above, the sum-total of everything. And, we realized above that it is not unconceivable that this sum-total is an aware being. Then this aware being feels, by definition, at one with everything. And, again by definition, this feeling is Love. Evenmore, this Love that God then feels must be of the most complete form, which one could call Ultimate Love, because the feeling is felt with respect to all things, with no things left outside. To sum up, we have therefore in three different cases seen how the seemingly useless definition of God as the sum-total does not exclude the usage of the word God in other perhaps more traditional senses of the word: God as a conscious active communication being, God as incarnating in physical bodies, and God as Ultimate Love. However, I have all the time tried to emphasize that even though this definition of the word God makes the question of whether one can believe in God a non-issue - the answer is obviously yes - it still leaves the more important issue of what you believe *about* God as an open question. But this, in fact, in itself means that broad religion (as opposed to narrow religion, introduced in the previous blog) and science are doing the same thing: they may use different tools, but they are working towards the same goal, and their ultimate results can therefore not be in conflict.
Charles Dicken's in his study, as depicted by Samuel Hollyer, in 1875, taken from here
FURTHER READING & SCIENTIFIC CONTROVERSES OF THIS BLOG POST
As always I want to end by taking things beyond this blog: to further reading, and to the relationship between what I say here and with what science is saying on the same topics.
Regarding further reading, much of the same literature already given holds for all of these three blog posts. For instance, my old essay is a slightly longer version of these blog posts, which includes more references, and the book by Barbour is a much longer version, which also contains quite some details regarding Systems Theology. If you are not uncomfortable with a religious language, and are not that picky about always relating things to science, I could also recommend for instance the Conversations with God series, by Neale Donald Walsh (which should be read in English, the translations I have seen are horrible). Even though these books are, as is clear from the title, about a conversation with God, and written much within a Christian language, I know of also quite a few atheists and "non-believers" who appreciate those books quite a lot as well.
Regarding the relationship to what Science is saying, I have herein introduced two new definitions: about God and about Love. These are not connected to Science, i.e. not pre-existing within Science, but should nevertheless be scientifically non-controversial (you can always define words to mean whatever you want, as long as you are clear about what you do). Regarding the details I mentioned from Systems Theology, regarding the multi-level world we seem to live in, the picture is a little bit more mixed. The understanding of the hydrogen atom should be non-controversial, and is within the topic that I took my M.Sc. in, Theoretical Physics. Regarding the higher levels of organisations, in particular the relationship between cells within a body, and the whole body, this is in some sense exactly what I am doing research on right now, within the field of Systems Biology. However, even though this field is supposed to be about a multi-level understanding of life, today's research is still stuck with much more basic questions (e.g. regarding how to soundly use mathematical models to interpret data). Therefore, research within Systems Biology does not have that much to contribute with yet, which nevertheless also means that it does not strongly either oppose or support the existance of independent new biological levels, which are something different than the sum of the parts. I think that for that question, our own experience as humans living with a single consciousness despite our billions of cells is a much stronger evidence, when deciding how to make up ones mind. There are, on the other hand, some interesting and related research going on regarding quasi-formations, i.e. regarding systems that has not formed themselves fully into a new level, but which has a high organisational structure. Here E.O. Wilson and his research on ants could be mentioned; but his work on ants is outside of my own research field. There is also a a sub-society within Science that deals with the question whether it is scientifically meaningful to speak of the Earth as a single living organism (Gaia hypothesis). However, even though their work is being published in a scientific journal, there is far from any scientific consensus on the matter.
Research on ants is highly interesting, for several reasons. For one, it seems like the ant colony as a whole has a much higher intelligence than each individual ant; this touches upon the existance and potential for shared and global intelligence. Furthermore, such complex societal structures within nature can also teach us important things regarding how we can best structure our human societies. This illustrates how Science can change our understanding of the world, and how this understanding can have direct consequences for how we lead our lives. These links are the main reason I am doing this worldview series. Illustration by Milo Winter, taken from Wikipedia.
And it is just a short statement saying that the abstract I submitted to the conference on the relationship between free will and quantum mechanical interpretations now has been accepted. So in some 6 weeks I will have to produce a 20 min presentation on this topic! Super-exciting!
Also: I will soon get back to the worldview series here as well! Next blog post in that series will be on a sound definition of the word God...! ^^
I am a yoga-teacher in the tantric tradition, but also a scientist, and an engaged citizen. Politically, I am engaged in e.g. democracy, internet freedom, human rights, alternative economic theories, and environmental issues. Scientifically, I am working with systems biology, and the study of complex systems on all levels (isbgroup.eu). Yoga-wise, I am teaching and interested in classical yoga, where you take a holistic view, and merge not only physical exercises with breathing exercises and meditation, but also those things with karma yoga (harmonious working), dancing, music, sex, and all the rest of it. See http://yoga-link.se Twitter: @gunnarcedersund