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Speech and language have biological significance as powerful instruments in the quest for food, love and shelter. Language communication serves adaptation as well as  defence. A large part of what is spoken or written is concerned with scouting the environment, testing various alternatives before making a choice of action. Speech is used for mutual care and support; and, rather frequently, for verbal attack and replicatory defence. The various functions of language suit the demands of the moment.

We are used to separate mental and physical aspects of speech and language reception and production. Of course we know that the two are inseparable. After a long history of evolution, adaptive communication with the environment has given birth to as many  mental states and physical forms as we encounter in humans. If we feel the need to distinguish mental and material aspects, there is a way to do it: 
Mental processes and the development of form are on opposite sides of the time-scale of adaptive growth and development: 
-  thought and action have short response times, 
-  growth and development of form both have a long response time. 
Although apparent opposites, they are close relatives in the family of adaptation processes, and they interact mutually. Function precedes form, and form is frozen function. 

How function and form (or mind and body) interact, can be visualised by distinguishing layers in a concentric body-mind system. The layers of the system interact with the environment and with each other (since they are each other's environment!). The layers are tuned to different response times. Thus they are receptive for either rapid or slow changes in the environment. 
Concentric man is a receiver-transmitter that detects and responds to changes (stimuli) in oscillations of very diverse wavelengths. Adapting physiologically to living in a cold climate takes longer than avoiding a sudden threat. Still, both are adaptive responses, belonging to widely different time-scales.

This is relevant for the healing professions who can now sort out their interventions according to the wavelength or duration of the process that is to be disentangled. Here are some of the layers that can be distinguished from deep inside (long response time) to the outer layer (rapid response time):

As a neural system developes during a lifetime it successively learns to integrate perceptions over ultra-sort, short and long periods of time. Spinoza  (1665) distinguished three levels or stages: 

The property to observe fellow human beings with true understanding and free of judgment is a valuable tool for anyone in the healing arts. A mature mental dimension is only acquired on the long term and is needed for counseling. This form of supportive consultation helps the patient to become familiar with his prejudices that stand in the way of changing his beliefs and behaviour for the better.

The mature stage of comprehensive thinking has not detached itself from the early  stage with its immediate response: life-experiences continue to correct self-knowledge and knowledge of the world. The person is trained to recognise and neutralise misleading emotions, and to draw logic conclusions from all relevant details. He/she takes into account logical levels, as indicated by Gregory Bateson (1972), sorted from the immediate, short term influences to moral and mental processes of long duration: 
-  the environment of the client, in particular the instantaneous demands and expectations thrust upon him; can he become more independent? 
-  his behaviour and its variability; does he feel free to explore unused territory? 
-  his potential skills to change customary thoughts and behaviour; can this barrier be overcome? 
-  the beliefs and convictions, the moral values that influence thoughts and behaviour; have they the potential to grow to a new level?
-  the identity, the self-concept and body-concept with which the client identifies himself; do they obstruct change and progress? 
-  the spiritual level in which the client feels he is part of the cosmos  and the society, and represents traditional family values. The spiritual orientation may exert a powerful influence on the (problematic) behaviour of the client. 

The six levels operate in different time-scales, envelopping each other, and thus form a concentric time-structure. In the footsteps of Baruch de Spinoza and Gregory Bateson we have explored this temporal organisation. Not only in man however: in every form of life that is in continuous adaptive dialogue with its environment, we see a similar time-structured layout. The oscillatory nature of information-exchange  often enables us to determine an eigen-frequency of a system, which is related to its response time. 

Success in counseling and therapy depends in part on insight in the layered time-governed structures of the human being and the abillity of handling them in the right order. It is also the essence of managerial success with an enterprise or organisation. We can all learn from how  nature is organised. 


2.1 Sounds and bio-oscillations

This is an exercise to use ears in addition to eyes, to discover the swing and beat of life. Lay aside your books and CD-ROM's of skeletons and other visual anatomy! Instead concentrate on the temporal aspects, the rhythmic changes and oscillations that characterise all phenomena of life. Not easy for those who lack discriminatory powers for sounds, durations, rhythms: easier for the musically gifted.

While listening to an orchestra playing a symphony, some people with a sensitive imagination see scenes from their youth, a familiar living room, a play-garden, a loved corner in the wood. Their phantasy may take off, pillars of sound assuming the form of trees gradually changing into a palace. You may try to envision that building. Its foundations partly underground, main walls supporting the structure, inner walls with doors that divide and connect the rooms, ornaments on the outside, decoration inside. All this is evoked by the sound of music. The music has carried you away into an architectural structure and sets you off day dreaming about things that make you curious, happy or gloomy. Even if this has never happened to you, you may be assured that there are people who have experienced this. It is amazing that music can conjure up images and can influence one's thinking. Being under the spell of music engenders a free variety of associations. It feels like a dream but at the same time one is wide awake and intensely aware.

Music generates free floating ideas and liquefied thoughts which subsequently coagulate into memories of places and feelings similar to those that have been stored in one's brain long ago. In the life sciences there are many instances of spatial structures and temporal patterns being converted into one another. The time domain of phylogenetic history has left traces in the form of DNA sequences: that is time solidified into form and substance. Just as one's lymphoid system conserves all relevant antigen-encounters in its immune-network, thus memories of places and feelings have a material representation in the brain's cortex. According to N.L.Wallin (1991) music creates structures which develop and grow in a manner not unlike the growth of embryo's and other organisms. There is a synergy of the biological microsystems in the brain and the macrosystems of the social environment. A.L.Blumenthal (1977) has expressed a similar idea: '...the multilevel temporal patterning of music apparently throw the temporal pulses of central cognition into resonance with external stimuli. By inducing this entrainment of the central processes, music manipulates their very temporal existence. This leads to affective experiences of uncertainty, tension, arousal, expectation, surprise, resolution, delight and so on. In other words, music arouses the emotional reactivity of the central cognitive processes. Perhaps nothing shows the wonder and the subtlety of affective reactions more than these responses to music.' After having read Blumenthal's book on temporal integration and cognition, I felt that it provided a key to answer questions about the parallel between evolution and learning.

Music, that consists entirely of periodic events in time, can stimulate the mind to create pictures of material objects. After the music performance is over, it leaves no other trace but shared memories in some listeners. It illustrates that spatial structures and temporal patterns are converted into one another: think of a printed music score, a midi file or the perforated book of a barrel organ. These and other analogies can help us to realise that manifestations of life can be perceived in different modes: a temporal, functional or mental mode, and a static, spatial, material one. There are the well-known paradoxes "mind and matter" and "function and form" (3.1).The paradox separates two halves, each of which is an aspect of one undivided whole. One half cannot exist without the other. With the paradox solved, we can dismiss the idea that there is an immaterial part of life in the world, separate from matter upon which it can exert influence. Mind apart from matter was a traditional Platonic and Christian notion. In our philosophy a split is meaningless. In the processes of thinking and communicating there is always matter involved: in music, in voice, speech, language, even in thought (3.4).

2.2 Selecting a single voice in a heavily loaded track

Here is something to wonder about: the complex sound-sensation in which all the instruments of the orchestra can be heard separately is contained in one single oscillating track in a gramophone record. The inner ear and the human brain analyse the vibrations that contribute to the complex sound, and recognise familiar 'Gestalts': a horn, a hobo, a singer's voice. These, with many others, heard simultaneously and mixed with the acoustic effects of the recording hall, result in that single sound-trace.

The symphony orchestra is a suitable analogue to the performance of the internal communication systems of living organisms. The symphony of life is being played by an orchestra of chemical oscillators, geared to regulate vital life-functions, in a vivid dialogue with external influences (Chapter 3). Doctors and others in the healing professions can develop a listening attitude and can learn to pick up dominant and weak voices in the systems of their patients. A healthy person is in tune with his natural and cultural environment. Harmony can be disrupted at various levels of human existence: at the level of cell-metabolism, at the level of organs or systems, that of motives and that of personal relations. These levels relate to each other, and harmony is restored when internal and external communication are in tune again.

2.3 An orchestral score of bio-oscillations.

Internal communication in living organisms is operated by oscillations of biochemical systems. These oscillations differ in several aspects from the electromagnetic waves that are so familiar to us as radio-waves for the transmission of voice, images and data. I'm thinking of the longer waves of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum: the carrier waves of Radio, TV and Telecom. A network of transmitters spans the world and, wherever you are, the space around you is packed with electromagnetic vibrations, hundreds in every frequency-band. Radio waves, from very low to very high frequencies, microwaves, radar and infrared waves, they are natural phenomena, domesticated for use in telecommunication, industry and household appliances. There are the waves of visible and ultraviolet light, some of these waves are frequency-modulated for special purposes. Perhaps we'll know sometime whether gravitational waves are modulated and if so, with what effect on life on Earth. From the cacophony of electromagnetic messages you can select a single one at any time. Given the appropriate equipment, one particular message can be singled out from the multitude and heard without being disturbed by the other messages. It is a matter of selecting and amplifying the right frequency of oscillation.

The network of biologic oscillations cannot be taken apart so easily. It employs an equally large range of frequencies for the purpose of communication. However the oscillations are of an entirely different nature than that of electromagnetic waves. In the first place: they are not generated as a succession of photons by vibrating electrons, but as periodic changes in the concentration of ions, molecules and cells in living systems. In the second place electromagnetic vibrations, being of linear nature, do not couple, and therefore do not form networks. The non-linear oscillators in biological systems on the contrary are coupled, strongly or loosely, to each other. By this linking they form networks, and changes in the network, local, regional or long distance, are the essence of bio-communication. The concept of "field" applies to both electromagnetic (EM) and bio-oscillations. The changes in magnetic force etc. extend in an EM field, the changes connected with bio-oscillations are propagated as waves in a material substance at a slower speed. EM vibrations can be recorded in linear form or as a string of digits. This is not possible with bio-oscillations, since they are not of electromagnetic origin, although occasionally an electrical derivative may appear, as in an encephalogram or cardiogram. Apart from monitoring such functions as blood-pressure or cardiac activity, we have not yet the means to accurately observe the periodic changes in density of the myriads of enzymes, neurotransmitters and related populations of significant molecules that are connected in networks. We have to be content with observing the overall effects over long periods of time. Bio-oscillations find their spatial expression in form, function and behaviour of living beings. They represent cognition and can be stored in a memory as in sperm, eggs and spores, from which they are regenerated later.

Just as electromagnetic energy waves are everywhere in space, bio-oscillations are found in all stages and forms of evolving life. The transmission of chemical information in a slime mould slug can be seen as the precursor of cycles of cortical excitation in vertebrates. Some of the main agents or players on the physiological stage have remained the same from the beginning of evolution to its present phase. A cyclical compound called c-AMP is one of them, and will be presented as an example of a metabolite with many functions.

Bio-oscillatory activity is the motor not only of evolution, but also of progressive differentiation in development and of the learning processes in the vertebrate's brain. The fundamental similarity of slowly evolving processes such as embryogenesis and rapidly developing ones such as thought processes can be understood when looked at through the appropriate time windows. In Chapter 3 we will discuss slow developmental processes.

2.4. Communication is as old as life itself

A search for the first learning and the first memory processes has to start at the source of life. Even in nonliving nature we find examples of self-organisation that resemble life. Eddies in streaming water, regular ripples caused by wind over water, they are transitory stable states and adapt to changes in the water-volume or the direction of the wind. The chaotic movement of the current has for a moment escaped from chaos. Since the ordered state of the eddies and the dynamic equilibrium of the ripples are not far removed from chaos, the patterns closely follow the changes of water and wind. They are thus a simplified model of life that varies by adaptation to varying influences. Self-organisation is inevitable in a wide range of systems.


is a transitional phase between stability and chaos
  • stability is rigid, has no variation, no adaptation
  • chaotic behaviour has no order, no selection, no memory
the transitional phase maintains a dynamic equilibrium

Wind ripples on a lake's surface, sand ripples and grooves on the beach at low tide, melodious sounds made by the wind whistling and a window squeaking, they are examples of nature creating order out of chaos. We'll have to wait for results of complexity theory to understand the beginnings of life. Complexity makes order out of chaos and gives rise to unforeseeable behaviour in all kinds of systems. Complexity results from interaction of component parts within a system. Interaction cannot occur in a state of total chaos nor in a state of absolute rigidity. Life and growth can therefore only occur in the narrow margin between chaos and rigidity.


its origin is on the frontier between chaos and rigidity
  • complexity creates patterns and memory in chaotic systems
  • chaos generates variation in patterns that tend to become rigid

Discussions are going on about the first signs of life. Can one recognise life by a certain regularity of form, a degree of chemical complexity or a time-pattern of growth and development? There are speculative theories about the first synthesis of self-replicating systems: protein and lipoid-membrane casts on sulfurous compounds (G.Waechtershauser) or coincidental events in a soup of amino acids. Complexity has been in action in both instances. Complexity however is not identical with the property of life. The regularities of sand dunes and weather systems are due to complexity. The existence of life is one of the consequences of complexity: a fortuitous accident (W.Kayzer 1993).

By a fortunate coincidence molecular structures did find each other in such a way that they supplemented each other and created the functions of growth and replication. This will remain the leading motive of evolution and learning. From a variety of possible combinations one is selected that yields a profitable increase in complexity. Combinations of small and large organisms can result in an intense symbiosis that is a step forward on the path of evolution. As long as a large organism depends on the function of a small one, the latter is sure of its future well-being, because that is in the best interest of the large one.

Evolution and learning are both a result of interaction with the environment. When a species or an organism is forced or challenged to adapt to a change in the environment it responds with variations of behaviour. The best fitting response is selectively reinforced and stored as memory. Out of such transactions a new process-layer is generated around the core of the system. By using the new intermediate layer the core can now respond in a more differentiated way to its environment. Every transaction in a process of learning ends in reconciling the divergence between the system and its environment. This is called synergy. As a result of synergy, complexity has increased: the organisation has been raised to a higher level.

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