Mind, Body, Soul|May 2, 2006 8:56 AM| by:

The Human Body: Machinistic and Consciousness View

There has been a certain tendency in many quarters to study and regard the body as a machine. Comparisons are elaborately drawn between the brain and computers, kidneys and filtration systems, heart and pump and so on. This approach owes itself to a reductionistic model which believes in understanding the whole by studying in parts and then adding up. It is maintained that just as a machine has many parts and sub-parts, the body too has many organs and tissues. And just as one need not open the whole machine to correct a part of it (since faults are necessarily local), the body too can be treated in parts, disregarding the whole. Such an approach has had two advantages. Firstly, it has made the study of the human body a little easier to grasp for the human mind. The human mind in fact knows of no other way of studying a phenomenon except by dividing it into smaller parts and handling each in isolation to the rest. Once the parts are studied, it adds them together to build a picture of the whole. Secondly, this approach has its immediate practical rewards. It is easier to see an organ in isolation and correct it. But while specialisation has evidently helped in one way, its disadvantages are beginning to become increasingly obvious. The time has now perhaps come to replace this reductionistic and mechanical view of life with a wider vision that is closer to the reality and working of the body.

The Whole and Part

The fact that the whole is greater than the sum of parts is easily demonstrated to us in everyday life. For example, we are told that every material object is composed of atoms, which in turn represents ninety-nine per cent of empty space and one per cent charges arising and vanishing into nothingness. But the table we bump into, the cot on which we sleep, and the book we read appear solid and not ninety-nine per cent empty. Nor does it function like a charged electronic device, the electrical energy of the atom being simply concealed inside. A force not caught or analysed by our instruments leads to different patterns and configurations and to that is added the cognitive faculties of our mind and senses. All this leads to the impression of solid material in front of us. Habit and conditioning then come to give meaning and value, – the table, the cot, the book.

If this is true of simple everyday objects, it is even more so of the complex human being. In fact, an element of unpredictability (in a way science is an attempt to discover and harness the predictability of events) that is present in the atom (the uncertainty principle) becomes prominent even in simple living beings. So, while we can predict the trajectory of a ball, we cannot predict the movement of a bird in flight, even by studying all possible physical forces and combinations. Even the ball’s course can only be predicted in strictly controlled circumstances. The movements of physical forces outside the lab are not entirely predictable and so not always determinable, a fact constantly borne out by meteorology departments. In living beings, something more intrinsic enters – the intention and will. Even the most avid bird-watcher cannot be certain whether a crow sitting on a tree is going to fly away or not, or, if it does, in what direction it will go and where it will next choose to land. This element of choice is even subtly present in the atom (as we know today) and it becomes a little more developed in a living cell and animal. It becomes prominent in that creature called man. Choice (or intent and will) is the crucial trigger that sets in motion the entire machinery of the body. We can study the machine but since this aspect of conscious choice escapes analysis, biology and medicine will always remain non-mathematical, unpredictable, applied sciences.

Separative Specialisation and Holistic Comprehension

This, of course, is the philosophical side to the issue. Practically too, the mechanical model is constantly contradicted by something else that is always out of reach. In fact, the simplest function of the tiniest cell is something that not even the most complex and developed machine can ever duplicate. This is ‘self-replication’. A computer can replicate and multiply programmes fed into it, but it cannot reproduce another computer out of itself. In a lighter vein, we can say that the market for material things is dependent on the limitation of physical objects to replicate, whereas the market for living things is dependent on this power and capacity for self-replication. Physical objects deplete themselves. Life renews itself. Physical objects remain static or disintegrate with time; but life can grow, change, expand and evolve in a thousand ways. This power to grow and evolve through experience is another of life’s unique gifts, absent in the machine. The machine has to be externally programmed, life can and does programme itself, even change the programming itself.

This ability of life to change, adapt and evolve is seldom used in medical practice because of the strong mechanical model, where parts have fixed functions and properties. In dealing with life and its organs, we find that this fixity is only an appearance. The apparent fixity gives a certain stability and order to the form and its processes. Yet the fixity is largely due to evolutionary conditioning. It can be deconditioned and changed. In fact, the recent case of Dolly, the sheep, shows that there is no strict law that only a reproductive cell must alone fulfil the function of reproduction. Any cell can do that, potentially at least. This is so because the entire human structure ultimately grows out of the fusion of two cells that become one. The single cell divides and multiplies itself and later enters into specialisation and sub-specialisation. However, the secret ‘oneness’ and ‘totipotence’ is not lost. It is only pushed into the background for immediate practical purposes to provide stability and order to the form. This happens because the ‘mental consciousness’ presiding over the human body’s development can only create order in this way. In sub-mental forms, in vegetable and lower animal life, the form of the body is moulded under the influence of the vital consciousness or life-force, unhindered entirely by the mind. The mind is only in the background. The life-force allows a certain kind of fluidity and variability to the function of each sub-unit. It is possible then that, in future, under the influence of a still higher consciousness (higher than the mind), the body may lose its separative tendency to over-specialisation and rediscover a higher wholeness and oneness. This is a point we can return to a little later. Suffice to say, our present form and functioning has been largely developed under the consciousness and force of the mind. This simple truth has far-reaching consequences which we shall take up a little later.

Fixity and Fluidity

All the same, despite the divisive nature of mind and its tendency towards specialisation, there is this background of oneness that is still the secret support and base. We know, for instance, that the specialised functions of the cerebral lobes can change. One area of the brain can take over the functions of the other, a fact used to advantage in speech therapy for cases of dysphasia. So too, we find that all the so-called specialised higher functioning memory and intelligence are not limited to the brain alone, but spread in a general way throughout the body. The modes are different. The white cells, for instance, have their own form of memory. This function in every cellular group has the advantage of preserving and passing on the learnt experiences of the past adaptation. But this has the disadvantage that it conditions the cells, tissues, organs and systems to certain habitual and fixed functions. Thus memory becomes a contrivance used by Nature at the level of mental consciousness to facilitate the stability of form. If mechanical fixity is a habit and not the last truth of the human body, then, it should be possible to train and condition the body to break those limits.

A gymnast or athlete is simply using this intrinsic capacity of the body to change and adapt from within. Through practice and training, one can make the body do many strange things, like survive without food or even water or air for long periods. This is done simply through an intrinsic motivation and will. It has also been scientifically demonstrated that, by practice, one can even bring under voluntary control those functions traditionally regarded as autonomous. The conscious intent and will, we referred to earlier, can extend itself to alter the heart-rate, gastric juices, brain rhythm, blood pressure and who knows what else. There are recorded instances that a yogi can entirely stop his heartbeat and breath and yet continue to talk, live and act as any other normal being. This proves that the body has many hidden capacities which can be awakened and used. In fact, biofeedback, yogasanas, methodical training and all forms of physical culture are a means of awakening the latent potential of the body. And it seems there is so much potential for each organ and the body as a whole that practically no limit can be set. An Almighty Power seems to be concealed in the seemingly mechanical and limited cell.

A look at the general evolution of forms demonstrates this. The entire evolutionary history of material/embodied life shows an evolution of new capacities for adaptation, growth and expression through complex material processes. We cannot conceive how a random association of amino acids can, by freak accident, preserve and evolve to create a man out of mud and clay. Our fifty years’ attempts at creating life in this way out of sheer matter have failed, for there is something else to it. There is a greater mystery that follows all phenomena. There is a hidden marvel that reductionism cannot analyse. There is a secret that escapes the confines of the scientist’s lab, but is found in the lab of Nature. For we cannot know, understand and master the human body and its functions unless we know and grasp its secret. This secret is: ‘consciousness’.

The Consciousness Paradigm

In essence, consciousness means awareness. Our difficulty is that the only form of experiential awareness we know of is our own. Hence, the only form of consciousness we know a little about is the mental consciousness. Indirect evidence (the experiments of Sir J.C. Bose, for instance) however suggest that there is an awareness and response even in plants and, if certain findings of modern physics are to be trusted, there is rudimentary awareness even in metals and elements too. In other words, the aspect of ‘consciousness’ is common from physical matter to man, only its capacity, mode of expression, details of processes and execution etc. differ. Consciousness is the common thread that weaves the diverse forms of creation and holds them together into a matrix of oneness. The mental consciousness and organs of sense and action are only one means of its expression. There are other modes of expression, as we see in animals and plants. Equally, nothing prevents us from assuming that new, higher and better forms cannot emerge in future to express this ‘One Consciousness’ even more perfectly. This indeed seems to be the drift of evolution and logic of things. Such also is the discovery of those who can step behind the world of forms into the world of consciousness. That this consciousness is one in essence is borne by the fact that any two particles across the universe are linked; it is also borne by the fact that there is a chain of interdependence in the entire creation. And if we shift even one unit of the chain, however small, we cause a corresponding change in the whole. This is a truth we sadly confront every day in the study of ecology. This is also the truth we are beginning to face in the world of medicine and the relation of man with chemicals, bacilli and other organisms. The forced elimination of a single unit leads to a recoil of other units to maintain the strange and mysterious balance of Nature. Wisdom teaches us the lesson of humility: that nothing can be known till all is known and nothing can be done till all is done. But since the ‘all’ is not a sum of the parts, it is still possible to act upon a part without necessarily detailed knowledge of all the parts. When we are able to do that, and so relate each unit of life with the whole, then wisdom changes and grows into intuition and our action and awareness both begin to assume some form of perfection.

Consciousness and the Human Body

In other words, the consciousness view of life and body is a reversal of logic. Ordinary logic claims that consciousness is a mere by-product, a secondary phenomenon of some neuronal activity in the brain. The brain and body in turn are like machines, – similar to a computer and generator, mechanical and not conscious in themselves. This unconscious or inconscient body is surrounded by other inconscient forms of energy, – chemicals and living forms- and a mechanical adjustment and interchange is what leads to adaptation and survival. This mechanical adjustment is necessarily precarious and prone to failures and flaws. “Accidents” occur, “chance” intervenes, genes err, – the result is disease, disintegration and death.

The consciousness view however regards it as the fundamental primary matrix, the force that builds forms out of itself, the body and brain are but one form of its creation. The sense organs of speech and action all develop under the pressure of consciousness that chooses to limit itself to a certain degree at each evolutionary level. In essence, it is consciousness that experiences seeing, hearing, speech and action. The body is used as an instrument to regulate and limit experience. Technology, machine, computer and the rest are, in turn, an extension and expression of the mental consciousness that has expressed itself in man. At each level of consciousness, there is a technology appropriate to that level. The anthill, honeycomb, rabbit’s burrow and sparrow’s nest are all examples of technology extending itself from consciousness active in the form. Put another way, it is not man that is like a machine, it is machines that mimic man, as all technology is just an extension of human consciousness. So all are still linked and supported by the One Consciousness that becomes all things.

Medical research has so far been largely directed towards studying man’s survival in isolation from the rest. It is only recently that we have begun to talk of survival by developing inner immunity (thanks to diseases like AIDS that have brought this out so sharply, rather than blindly killing all that threatens with the violent vehemence of a predator). Such violent approach to life leads to isolation and self – extinction as happened with the dinosaur, and is now happening to the tiger. Harmony with life around through growth, assimilation and sharing is a higher law of life than elimination. The success of elimination is short-lived even if it may appear spectacular today.

And Then…

It is necessary then to conquer health more than disease. Disease is a diminution of health status, a breach of equilibrium and harmonious functioning. Aging is a progressive deterioration of this equilibrium of health. When the disequilibrium is slow, gradual and imperceptible, it manifests itself as old age. When it is relatively abrupt, it manifests as disease. When this disruption in equilibrium (whether sudden, abrupt or slow) reaches a critical point of ‘no return’ then the phenomenon of death intervenes. The study of health and its governing principles, a balanced lifestyle, sound health attitudes and approaches are poorly stressed in medical studies. It is only now we are discovering that health and illness are largely nurtured in the individual himself. These may be his genetic make-up, physiological constitution, immunity, or even his lifestyle, habits, mental attitudes and personality. The outside agent is just a trigger that can only act by taking hold of some deficiency or imbalance inside. The ‘germ theory’ is being replaced by ‘immune theory’ and this is a good trend. But still there is a long way ahead. For even the inner defects and imbalances of the body functioning arise through a deeper disequilibrium in consciousness. We need to see that the body is not just a mechanical machine driven by certain inconscient laws. In fact, there are no ineluctable laws, only habitual movements of consciousness. The repetition of movement only gives the impression of fixed law and stability. But movement implies that there is a dynamis and so the possibility for growth and change. It is in the possibility for conscious growth or, to put it in another way, the growth of body consciousness, that lies the future hope. The emergence of body consciousness, its growth and development, even a certain kind of perfection, is the prime task of the health educator and the corner-stone of the doctor’s medical practice. A doctor who can assist in awakening the consciousness in his patient gives the ultimate remedy and boon of lasting health. In contrast, a doctor who simply prescribes certain drugs to alter the physiochemistry of the body eventually becomes a hastener of decay and disintegration. Drugs have a role but that is only temporary. The last word of cure lies in the power of health and healing, still concealed as a possibility in the consciousness of man.