A Science of Wholeness Awaits Us

Just as the melody is not made up of notes nor the verse of words nor the statue of lines, but they must be tugged and dragged till their unity has been scattered into these many pieces, so with the World to whom I say Thou Martin Buber

We creatures of the 21st Century, grandchildren of the Enlightenment, like to think that our particular brand of rationality has finally established a basis for understanding the world in which we live. Of course, we don’t have all the details worked out, but the foundation is solid. 

We might be chastened by the precedent of Lao Tzu and Socrates and Hypatia fof Alexandria and Thomas Aquinas and Lord Kelvin, who thought the same thing. I wonder if the foundation of our world-view is really made of more durable stuff than theirs. In fact, founding our paradigm in the scientific method offers us something that earlier sages did not have: we can actually compare in detail the world we observe and the consequences of our physicalist postulates. The results are not reassuring. In recent decades, the science establishment has willfully ignored observations of phenomena that call into question our foundational knowledge.

Reductionism is the process of understanding the whole as emergent from the parts. The opposite of reductionism is holism: understanding the parts in terms of their contribution to a given whole. It’s fair to say that all of science in the last 200 years has been reductionist. Physical law is the only fundamental description of nature. Chemistry could, in principle, be derived from physics (if only we could solve the Schrödinger equation for hundreds of electrons); living physiology could be understood in terms of chemistry; and ecology could be modeled in terms of individual behaviors. 

Curiously, there are holistic formulations of physics that are mathematically equivalent to the reductionist equations, but in practice, physicists use the differential equations, which are the reductionist version. 

Biological function is explained by a process of evolution through natural selection that made them what they are. Holism in evolution is called “teleology”, and is disparaged as unscientific. But when features of physics appear purposeful, there is no agreement among scientists how to explain them. Most physicists would avoid invoking a creator or embedded intelligence, even at the cost of telling stories about vast numbers of unobservable universes outside our own. This is the most common explanation for the fact that the rules of physics and the very constants of nature—things like the charge on an electron and the strength of the gravitational force—these things seemed eerily to have been fine-tuned to offer us an interesting universe; most other choices for the basic rules of physics might have produced dull uniformity, without stars or galaxies, without chemistry, without life.

But I am racing ahead of the story. The question I want to ask is whether we are missing something in reasoning exclusively from the bottom up, explaining all large-scale patterns as emergent results of small-scale laws. I want to suggest that this deeply-ingrained pattern of thought may be holding science back. Are there large-scale patterns waiting to be discovered? Are there destined outcomes that help us understand the events leading to a predetermined denouement? Even formulating such questions is controversial; and yet, we see hints pointing in just this direction, both from micro-science of quantum mechanics and from studies of the Universe on its largest scale.

Science is all about observing nature and noticing patterns which might be articulated as theories or laws. When these patterns connect nearby events that can be observed at one time by one person, they are easy to spot. When the patterns involve distant events and stretch over time and space, they may go undetected for a long while. This can lead to an obvious bias. Scientists are more inclined to formulate laws of nature that connect contiguous events than laws that connect events that are separated spatially and temporally, just because these global patterns are harder to see.

The physical laws that were formulated and tested in the 19th and 20th century were all mediated by local action. The idea that all physical action is local was formalized by Einstein, and has been baked into our theories ever since. But there is a loophole, defined by quantum randomness. Roughly speaking, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that we can only ever know half the information we need to predict the future from the past at the microscopic level. Is the other half replaced by pure randomness, devoid of any patterns that science might discern? Or might it only appear random, because the patterns are spread over time and space, and difficult to correlate? In fact, the existence of such patterns is an implication of standard quantum theory. (This is one formulation of the theorem about quantum entanglement, proved by J.S. Bell in 1964.) Speculative scientists and philosophers relate this phenomenon to telepathic communication, to the “hard problem” of consciousness, and to the quantum basis of life.

I hope to explore this topic in a new ScienceBlog forum beginning in 2021. Here are four examples of the kinds of phenomena pointing to a new holistic science.

1. Michael Levin and the electric blueprint for your body

We think of the body as a biochemical machine, proteins and hormones turned on in the right places at the right times to give the body its shape. Levin is clear and articulate in making the case that the body develops and takes shape under a global plan, a blueprint, and not just a set of instructions. This is true for humans and other mammals, but it is easier to prove it for animals that regenerate. Humans can grow back part of a liver. An octopus can grow a new leg; a salamander can grow a new leg or tail tail; a zebrafish can grow back a seriously damaged heart; starfish and flatworms can grow back a whole body from a small piece.

Consider the difference between a blueprint and an instruction set. An instruction set says

1. Screw the left side of widget A onto the right side of gadget B.
2. Take the assembly of widget+gadget and mount it in front of doodad C, making sure the three tabs of C fit into the corresponding holes in B

A blueprint is a picture of the fully assembled object, showing the relationship of the parts.

Ikea always gives you both. With the instructions only, it is possible to complete the assembly, but only if you don’t make any mistakes. And if the finished object breaks, the instruction set will not be sufficient to repair it. The fact that living things can heal is a strong indication that they (we) contain blueprints as well as instruction sets. The instruction set is in the genome, together with the epigenetic information that turns genes on and off as appropriate; but where is the blueprint?

Prof Michael Levin of Tufts University has been working on this problem for almost 30 years. The answer he finds is in electrical patterns that span across bodies. One of the tools he pioneered is voltage reporter dyes that glow in different colors depending on the electric potential. Here is a map of the voltage in a frog embryo, together with a photomicrograph.

from Levin’s 2012 paper

Levin’s lab has been able to demonstrate that the voltage map determines the shape that the tadpole grows into as it develops. Working with planaria flatworms, rather than frogs, their coup de grace was to modify these voltage patterns “by hand”, creating morphologies that are not found in nature, such as the worm with two heads and no tail.

This is stunning work, documenting a language in biology that is every bit as important as the genetic code. Of course, I am not the first to discover Dr Levin’s work; but it is underappreciated because the vast majority of smart biologists are focusing on biochemistry and it is a stretch for them to step out of the reductionist paradigm.

(I wrote more about Levin’s work two years ago. Here is a video which presents a summary in his own words.)

2. Cold Fusion

Two atomic nuclei of heavy hydrogen can merge to create a single nucleus of helium, and tremendous energy is released. This process is not part of our everyday experience because the hydrogen nuclei are both positively charged and the energy required to push them close enough together that they will fuse is also enormous. So fusion can happen in the middle of the sun, where temperatures are in the millions of degrees, and fusion can happen inside a thermonuclear bomb. But it’s hard as hell to get hydrogen to fuse into helium, and, in fact, physicists have been working on this problem for more than 60 years without a viable solution.

Except that in 1989, the world’s most eminent electrochemist (not exactly a household name) announced that he had made fusion happen on his laboratory bench, using the metal palladium in an apparatus about as complicated as a car battery.

Six months later, at an MIT press conference, scientists from prestigious labs around the world lined up to announce they had tried to duplicate what Fleischmann had reported with no success. The results were un-reproducible. Cold Fusion was dead, and the very word was to become a joke about junk science. Along with the vast majority of scientists, I gave up on Cold Fusion and moved on. 22 years passed. Imagine my surprise when I read in 2011 that an Italian entrepreneur had demonstrated a Cold Fusion boiler, and was taking orders!

The politics of Cold Fusion is a story of its own. I wrote about it in 2012 (not for ScienceBlog). The Italian turned out to be a huckster, but the physics is real.

I began reading, and I became hooked when I watched this video. I visited Cold Fusion labs at MIT, Stanford Research Institute, Portland State University, University of Missouri, and a private company in Berkeley, CA. I went to two Cold Fusion conferences. I became convinced that some of the claims were dubious, and others were convincing. There is no doubt in my mind that Cold Fusion is real.

Physicists were right to be skeptical. The energy for activation is plentiful enough, even at room temperature, but the problem is to concentrate it all in one pair of atoms. Left to its own devices, energy will spontaneously spread itself out— that’s what the science of thermodynamics is all about. To concentrate an eye-blink worth of energy in just two atoms is unexpected and unusual. But things like this have been known to happen, and a few times before they’ve taken physicists by surprise. Quantum mechanics plays tricks on our expectations. A laser can concentrate energy, as billions of light particles all march together in lock step. Superconductivity is another example of what’s called a “bulk quantum effect”. Under extraordinary circumstances, quantum mechanics can leap from the tiny world of the atom and hit us in the face with deeply unexpected, human-scale effects that we can see and touch.

There are now many dozens of labs around the world that have replicated Cold Fusion, but there is still no theory that physicists can agree on. What we do agree is that it is a bulk quantum effect, like superconductivity and lasers. When the entire crystal (palladium deuteride) asks as one quantum entity, strange and unexpected things are possible.

For me, the larger lesson is about the way the science of quantum mechanics developed in the 20th Century. The equations and formalisms of QM are screaming of connectedness. Nothing can be analyzed on its own. Everything is entangled. The quantum formalism defies the reductionist paradigm on which 300 years of previous science had been built.

And yet, physicists were not prepared to think holistically. We literally don’t know how. If you write down the quantum mechanical equations for more than two particles, they are absurdly complex, and we throw up our hands, with no way to solve the equations or even to reason about the properties of the solutions. The many-body quantum problem is intractable, except that progress has been made in some highly symmetrical situations. A laser consists of a huge number of photons, but they all have a single wave function, which is as simple as a wave function can be. Many-electron atoms are conventionally studied as if the electrons were independent (but constrained by the Pauli Exclusion Principle). Solid state physics is built on bulk quantum mechanics of a great number of electrons, and ingenious approximations are used in combination with detailed measurements to reason about how the electrons coordinate their wave state.

Cold Fusion presents a huge but accessible challenge to quantum physicists. Beyond Cold Fusion lie a hierarchy of problems of greater and greater complexity involving quantum effects in macroscopic objects.

In the 21st Century, there is a nascent science of quantum biology. It is my belief that life is a quantum state.

3. Life coordinates on a grand scale

There are many examples of coordinated behaviors that are unexplained or partially explained. This touches my own specialty, evolution of aging. The thesis of my book is that aging is part of an evolved adaptation for ecosystem homeostasis, integrating the life history patterns of many, many species in an expanded version of co-evolution. My thesis is less audacious than the Gaia hypothesis.

  • Monarch butterflies hibernate on trees in California or Mexico for the winter. In the spring, they migrate and mate and reproduce, migrate and mate and reproduce, 6 or 7 times, dispersing thousands of miles to the north and east. Then, in the fall, the great great grand offspring of the spring Monarchs undertake the entire migration in reverse, and manage to find the same tree where their ancestor of 6 generations spent the previous winter. [Forest service article]
  • Zombie crabs have been observed in vast swarms, migrating hundreds of miles across the ocean floor. Red crabs of Christmas Island pursue an overland migration

  • Sea turtles from all over the world arrange for a common rendezvous once a year, congregating on beaches in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Their navigation involves geomagnetism, but a larger mystery is how they coordinate their movements.
  • Murmuration behavior in starlings has been modeled with local rules, where each bird knows only about the birds in its immediate vicinity; but I find the simulations unconvincing, and believe our intuition on witnessing this phenomenon: that large-scale communication is necessary to explain what we see.
  • Monica Gagliano has written about plants’ ability to sense their biological environment and coordinate behaviors on a large scale. This is her more popular book.

4. The Anthropic Coincidences, or the Improbability of Received Physical Laws

For me, this is the mother of all scientific doors, leading to a radically different perspective from the reductionist world-view of post-enlightenment science. Most physicists believe that the laws of physics were imprinted on the universe at the Big Bang, and life took advantage of whatever they happened to be. But since 1973, there has been an awareness, now universally accepted, that the laws of nature are very special, in that they lead to a complex and interesting universe, capable of supporting life. The vast majority of imaginable physical laws give rise to universes that are terminally boring; they quickly go to thermodynamic equilibrium. Without quantum mechanics, of course, there could be no stable atoms, and everything would collapse into black holes in short order. Without a very delicate balance between the strength of electric repulsion and the strong nuclear force, there would be no diversity of elements. If the gravitational force were just a little weaker, there would be no galaxies or stars, nothing in the universe but spread-out gas and dust. If our world had four (or more) dimensions instead of three, there would be no stable orbits, no solar systems because planets would would quickly fly off into space or fall into the star; but a two-dimensional world would not be able to support life because (among other reasons) interconnected networks on a 2D grid are very limited in complexity.

Stanford Philosophy article
1995 book by Frank Tipler and John Barrow
Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees

Most scientists don’t take account of this extraordinary fact; they go on as if life were an inevitability, an accident waiting to happen. But those who have thought about the Anthropic Principle fall in two camps:

The majority opinion:  There are millions and trillions and gazillions of alternative universes. They all exist. They are all equally “real”. But, of course, there’s no one looking at most of them.  It’s no coincidence that our universe is one of the tiny proportion that can support life; the very fact that we are who we are, that we are able to ask this question, implies that we are in one of the extremely lucky universes.

The minority opinion:  Life is fundamental, more fundamental than matter.  Consciousness is perhaps a physical entity, as Schrödinger thought; or perhaps it exists in a world apart from space-time, as Descartes implied 300 years before Schrödinger; or perhaps there is a Platonic world of “forms” or “ideals” [various translations of Plato’s είδος] that is primary, and that our physical world is a shadow or a concretization of that world.  One way or another, it is consciousness that has given rise to physics, and not the other way around.

If you like the multi-universe idea, you will want to listen to the recent Nobel Lecture of Roger Penrose. He races to summarize his life’s work on General Relativity to end the lecture with evidence from maps of the Cosmic Microwave Background of fossils that came from black holes in a previous universe, before our own beloved Big Bang.

I prefer the minority view, not just because it provides greater scope for the imagination [Anne of Green Gables]; there are scientific reasons that go beyond hubristic disregard of Occam’s razor in postulating all these unobservable universes.

  • Quantum mechanics requires an observer.  Nothing is reified until it is observed, and the observer’s probes help determine what it is that is reified.  Physicists debate what the “observer” means, but if we assume that it is a physical entity, paradoxes arise regarding the observer’s quantum state; hence the “observer” must be something outside the laws that determine the evolution of quantum probability waves.  Cartesian dualism provides a natural home for the “observer”.
  • Parapsychology experiments provide a great many indications that awareness (and memory) have an existence apart from the physical brain.  These include near-death experiences, telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance.
  • Moreover, mental intentions have been observed to affect reality.  This is psychokinesis, from spoon-bending to shading the probabilities dictated by quantum mechanics.

Finally, the idea that consciousness is primary connects to mystical texts that go back thousands of years. 

Dao existed before heaven and earth, before the ten thousand things.  It is the unbounded mother of all living things.

                     — from the Dao De Jing of Lao Tzu

Please look for my new page at ExperimentalFrontiers.ScienceBlog.com, coming soon.

15 thoughts on “A Science of Wholeness Awaits Us

  1. Great food for thought, Josh! Considering that so many highly intelligent and educated people either disagree with one another or are agnostic about these issues should humble us into realizing that none of us should feel overly confident in our opinions.

  2. Thanks Josh. I find many of these ideas and questions fascinating as well. I still find the double slit experiment mind boggling. One thought that I will add is that reductionist method works well with human physical constraints, such as one brain only able to grasp so much and not being able to directly access other brains. Does Wholism lack abstractions that enable reductionism?

  3. Wow! Gotta say Josh, this New Year article of yours as in previous years was worth waiting a whole year to comment. I look forward to contributing downstream to your new ScienceBlog.com.
    For me it is fascinating that you have directed us to note that, “It’s fair to say that all of science in the last 200 years has been reductionist.” The title of your article, (namely) “A Science of Wholeness Awaits Us”. excitingly says the opposite, with which I fully agree and in my opinion needs urgent investigation to expand what seems to me to be currently a rather moribund science and physics held hostage by false and orchestrated constraints – such as the disparagement you mention in your following sentence “Holism” in evolution is called “teleology”, and is disparaged as unscientific. You might be interested Josh to know that Rupert Sheldrake covers the hierarchical structure of Holons as self-evident in nature. One would surely think that if this is a fundamental principle used in nature, that this a top down approach to researching life, would be more likely to be fruitful than bottom up. Rupert Sheldrake also produced a paper lamenting false assumptions and artificial constraints in science some time ago, which may be of interests to yourself and readers. See:


  4. What about the Electric Theory of the Universe, makes much more sense than the gravitational one. The sun is not a fusion ball but a receptor nod of plasma Birkland currents. Maybe explains why the sun is hotter on the outside than inside. Why the sun looks like it’s surface swirls like a toy plasma ball.

    • Yes! And the universe also makes much more sense when you realise that the big bang, dark matter and dark energy are all fairy tales!

  5. There is abundant evidence that the anomalous heat seen in LENR experiments is in fact from the formation of a lower energy state of hydrogen dubbed “hydrino” by the discoverer, Dr. Randell L. Mills of Brilliant Light Power. They are on the cusp of coming to market with a hydrino based power generation device they call the SunCell, and it will make all other forms of power generation obsolete. They just posted new business and analytical presentations, linked below.

    They are going to be publishing what will be a bombshell of a paper in Nature on the EPR spectroscopy signature of molecular hydrino. It was done in conjunction with a world class EPR expert, Professor Hagen at TU Delft.

    The BLP story looks unbelievable at first glance, but dig deeper and you’ll discover that their technology is about to disrupt everything.


    • Alex –
      I’m skeptical about hydrinos. Brilliant Light (formerly Black Light) said they were close to a breakthrough announcement when I first heard of them 8 years ago. The experiment that convinced me cold fusion is real (by Michael McCubre) measured the heat output using a calorimeter and the evolved helium using mass spectroscopy. The ratio of the heat:helium was exactly right for deuterium fusion (23 MeV per He atom). Based on this, I think that palladium-based LENR really is fusion.

      While both hydrinos and LENR require new physics, the new physics for LENR is less radical. It’s a bulk quantum effect, and we know that other bulk quantum effects exist, and we also know that we don’t know how to calculate bulk quantum effects. Meanwhile, hydrinos would involve a revision of QM at a fundamental level, and would beg the question: Why has no one ever seen a hydrino atom previously, either on earth or via spectroscopy in astronomical objects?

      I’ll keep an open mind, but these are the reasons I’m skeptical.
      – Josh

    • I’m always looking for a good investment but this doesn’t ring true. I’m not a physicist but as an electrical engineer the articles by Mills sound to me like a high school student writing science fiction.

  6. The article is interesting, but it will be useful to add that information that cannot be obtained in the usual way, I mean through the information field of the Universe. Everything around in our cosmic world was created by three Creators. All moments of life are thought out and regulated by the Creators to a certain extent. For example, the population size is regulated by the Creator, now there is a period of decrease in the population of the Earth in this century through diseases, cataclysms, living conditions … A person has a Soul in the form of an information field structure, animals have a Soul in the form of a magnetic field structure, plants have a Soul in the form of the structure of the electric field. The soul determines our life, the structure of the biological body from organs to genes. Man is controlled by the Creator, Earthly God, Earth and the alien civilization Shambhala, which has its base on Earth. An ordinary person does not see Shambhala. A person has the freedom to make and implement his decisions by 34%. There was no initial explosion in space, this is the invention of scientists who have invented many other useless things. The temperature of cosmic stars and planets is regulated by the Creator. The main history of the Earth is written down, but the Creator can periodically change it. A person is temporarily on Earth for 5-12 cycles, and then he is sent to his alien civilization. People of the Earth and aliens are aging, like all living things. However, the aliens have a machine of rapid rejuvenation, and in order for us to rejuvenate, it is necessary to ask the Creator and implement the doctrine of rejuvenation for 4 years and 2 months. For a man of Earth, rejuvenation is an exception for some. The Creator places the Human Soul to the embryo on the 66th day after conception, and from that moment it will be a person, he has already formed his destiny, abilities, character traits.
    The Universe is a cylindrical shape with separate rotating galaxies.

  7. These statements are inconsistent:
    “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that we can only ever know half the information we need to predict the future from the past at the microscopic level. Is the other half replaced by pure randomness, devoid of any patterns that science might discern? Or might it only appear random…”
    …then later…
    “there are scientific reasons that go beyond hubristic disregard of Occam’s razor in postulating all these unobservable universes”
    In the first case you’re willing to insert additional meaning without evidence to suit your inclinations, but in the second case you object to such insertion/speculation. Also, it’s human nature to want to believe that you live in a special place designed to facilitate your existence, but that desire is not evidence for the belief. Such a belief is thinking “inside the box”, not “outside the box”. Besides, the world we live in is hardly friendly to your existence. Rather, life is a tenuous affair, not yet found elsewhere, difficult to maintain outside certain limits. It’s easy to imagine a universe that would be more life-friendly.

    • In support of the idea that the nominally “random” part of QM is not really random, I offer the experiments of Jahn and Dunne at the Princeton Anomalies (PEAR) lab, replicated in the 20th century at two other labs. In the 21st Century, there is the work of Roger Nelson and Dean Radin, corroborating and extending the finding that pure mental activity can bring patterns to these “random” numbers (at a distance).

  8. Some great observations Josh.

    The West generally requires as a premise that all things are reducible to even smaller, but ultimately materialistic parts. The intricate symphony of life forms, and constituents- from molecular and internal cellular processes, working to make an organ, which serve the other parts, which in turn, serve it, for example, is due just to time, mutations and chance permutations. Or so insist the West (or you don’t get published, or tenure).

    A real eye opener for me is the book “Purpose and Desire” by J. Scott Turner, He observes that since the West embraced the only materialistic explanations allowed position, biology has avoided and cannot address, much less try to answer, fundamental questions such as, What makes something alive and why and how do living thing seem to have purpose and desire, even cognition? With all things being explained only by ever smaller material processes, biology is left with no real job that physics can’t do better. it has become just a subsection of physics.
    This from the cover page, “What makes something alive, and why modern Darwinism has failed to explain it?”

  9. From the article:
    (“Science is all about observing nature and noticing patterns which might be articulated as theories or laws. When these patterns connect nearby events that can be observed at one time by one person, they are easy to spot. When the patterns involve distant events and stretch over time and space, they may go undetected for a long while.” )

    Excellent point.

  10. Hopefully, Josh, the following might give yourself and readers some understanding of your query re the “Murmuration behavior in starlings”.

    A group of individuals can be said to have “group consciousness”. Group consciousness strengthens when the group’s attention is focused on a common object or event, and this creates coherence among the group. If the group’s attention is scattered, then the group’s mental coherence is also scattered. (The Conscious Universe, Dean Radin, Page 174)

    This can also help explain the group behavior of migratory birds and shoals of fish. In both cases, not only are participants in a relaxed unfocussed and trance like state, but the mental intention to participate in a common behavior presumably creates coherence/entanglement and widens the frequency response of all together such that they share the same consciousness intention. Their close formation and ability to instantly change direction as a group, overwhelmingly suggests they are operating momentarily in a group consciousness coherent quantum state, linked via the subconscious.

    Characteristically, it seems almost self-evident that during bird migrations and for situations concerning fish in shoals, that such a group action over long periods and with attendant boredom, favours slipping into a semi-conscious trance-like state. This is the ideal situation (as stated by the Russian quantum physicist Michael B. Mensky in his 2013 paper “Logic of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness) where the subconscious dominates and where brains are likely to have a greater quantum coherence with the zero point field. He stated, “That if consciousness equals a separation of the alternatives from each other then the absence of consciousness [i.e. trance states] equals the absence of separation.” There also seems a parallel with ourselves where after learning actions such as driving a car and repeated many times, our subconscious invariably takes over such functions which then become automatic.

    Robert Jahn and his colleagues at Princeton University has also mentioned that consciousness has complementary states where in ordinary states , the mind is more particle like and in quantum states when the focus of intention is via the unconscious mind, it exhibits the probabilistic wave nature.

    It is of interest that such a linkage/communication also occurs occasionally between human twins – presumably as their natural resonant quantum signature frequencies are so close together. But in some species such as termites, ants and with most bees, their minds seem almost permanently linked. Occasional group consciousness occurs with locust and many other insects. In the case of locusts, it has been found that swarming is caused by a trigger chemical “serotonin”, being released when a threshold number gather together.
    (Extracts taken from my science book, “The Paranormal is Normal”, see my website:


    • Thanks, Bruce. I agree with your framing, and we both acknowledge that it involves mental abilities in the realm of what is usually called “the paranormal”, and we agree that this is really “normal” in the sense that it is an unacknowledged part of everyday life.

      This kind of science does not offer the predictive power of standard Western science, and, to my mind, extending the paranormal paradigms — or to explain why they cannot be used this way — my be the most interesting project in current science.

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