Saturday, 25 September 2010

Zeno and the Buddha

September 29, 2007, 9:05 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Philosophy

“Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

“Greater in combat
Than a person who conquers
A thousand times a thousand people
Is the person who conquers oneself.”
(Dhammapada 8:103)

“Get rid of the judgement, get rid of the ‘I am hurt,’ you are rid of the hurt itself.”
-Marcus Aurelius

“All things are not-self”
Seeing this with insight,
One becomes disenchanted with suffering.
This is the path to purity.
-Dhammapada 20: 279

“Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will. Where is neither of them? In those things which are independent of the will.”

“All the suffering of this world arises from a wrong attitude.
The world is neither good or bad.
It is only the relation to our ego that makes it seem the one or the other. “
-Lama Anagorika Govinda

While stoic has come to mean unemotional or indifferent to worldly things, it was a lively and popular philosophy to the ancient Greeks and Romans, influential to it’s many adherents. It appealed to many people of different swaths of life, from the slave Epictetus, to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. And as we’ve seen, it shares some similarities and perhaps even connections with Buddhism. So what is Stoicism and how similar is it to Buddhism? Of course, one person’s definition of Stoicism and Buddhism will differ from another’s so you will have to bear with me as I try to make the connections.

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in 301 B.C.E. He was a merchant who studied under the Cynics and carried with him some of their thoughts. He spoke from his porch (the stoa), and taught his students to ease their suffering by becoming indifferent or “apathetic” to the rising and falling of emotions and desires, our passions. Interestingly, passion is also equivalent to suffering in Christianity, although the meaning and use of the word may be different. While Christians are to live in line with God, Stoics were to live in line with the rational Universe, which to them was virtuous. Zeno taught that by becoming indifferent to the passions that arise in us, we learn wisdom and learn to live in line with the Universe. Ignorance of this leads to suffering.

By becoming less moved by our emotions, it seems, we learn to be restrained without emotion instead of restrained by emotions. This has translated to the modern definition of stoic. For the Stoics, living stoicly was not just to become a stubborn rock, unmoved by anything. Living in such a way means to live peacefully, with a sense of inner tranquility. This is similar to the Buddhist arahats who become awakened through renunciation and letting go of attachments and desires. Both claim to achieve a state of inner peace from suffering, which are the two traditions’ common goal. The Stoics as well as the Buddha and his disciples sought to free people of suffering. The difference however is that Zeno taught the suppression of the passions whereas the Buddha spoke of becoming open and free from passions.

Apparently, the Stoics also used meditation to practice. The Stoics used “contemplation of death, training attention to remain in the present moment” to gain that indifference that they are now so famous for. Contemplation of death is also a practice used by wandering forest monks in Buddhism. They would settle into cemeteries and contemplate the similarities of their own aging bodies with that of the corpses, the only difference being that of time. And the practice of training attention to remain in the present moment is common to all of Buddhism. Known as dhyana, practitioners begin by focusing on the in and out of the breath, eventually extending their attention to other sensations in their body and mind. It is said that a peaceful state of bliss arises during dhyana, and is emphasized in the tradition of Zen (chan, seon, thien, etc).

Stoics had one major difference in their beliefs with Buddhism. Stoics upheld, paradoxically, both determinism and free will. They believed that the Universe was rational and that it carried people along with it. While people had the free will to act in whatever way they saw fit, voluntarily conforming to the Universe led to the freedom of suffering.

It has been said that Marcus Aurelius was the last Stoic philosopher. Stoicism has since then kept itself in the background, but it’s ideas have re-emerged or taken a different representation. Examples include the French expression, “C’est La Vie”, or the Christian serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference….”

P.S. After a little search on the Interwebs, it seems some have already beat me to the punch. There’s even a Japanese Zen monks who wrote a blogpost noting the similarities (though I wish he had a greater command of the paragraphical indentation). There are even some class notes for a philosophy class comparing the two.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Quantum Theory of Life and Buddhism

The quantum theory of life and Buddhism

By Dr. Senaka Ranasinghe

According to Buddhism, the whole universe is a single, dynamic web of energy which can exist in three forms. These three forms of energy that exist in the universe also exist in the human body.

Energy in the universe can exist are: 1. Free Energy, 2. Forces, 3. Matter.

Free energy is pure, undifferentiated energy. Therefore, this form cannot be perceived directly or indirectly. Free, undifferentiated energy exists in the human body as consciousness. In Buddhism, consciousness is described as Vinnana.

Forces are a type of differentiated energy produced by moving matter, which in turn causes movement of matter. The forces that exist in the universe are: 1. Electricity, 2. Magnetism, 3. Gravity.

These forces do not exist in the material form. (i.e. particles or waves). Their existence is in the form of an energy field which can be detected indirectly.

By these forces, the movements that occur in all matter in the universe are inter-connected.

Though these forces are studied separately, in reality they exist in union, giving rise to a unified field which can be called the thought force. This is the force that moves the whole universe. The moving matter produces thought forces which in turn cause similar movement in matter.

The thought force exists in association with the living human body as the subconscious force of the individual. By this force, the individual is connected to all human beings and events in the universe.

The subconscious force determines the future events of the individual. In Buddhism, the subconscious force is described as Bhavanga.


Matter is a manifestation of differentiated energy. This form of energy can be perceived directly.

In an individual, matter is represented by the physical body. The fundamental unit of matter that exists in the universe and in the human body has four inseparable but interchangeable qualities. They are Solidity, Liquidity, Motion and Heat.

Depending on the predominant element, the quality of matter may differ.

Eg: Solidity is predominant in the earth, mountains, bones, liver muscles, kidney etc.

Liquidity is predominant in water, saliva, gastric secretions etc.

Motion is predominant in the wind, breathing, blood circulation etc.

Heat is predominant in fire, the sun, bile etc.

The material body contains the following six sensory organs, by which the individual perceives the universe:

1. Eye _ Visual perception

2. Nose _ Olfactory perception

3. Ear _ Sound perception

4. Tongue _ Perception of taste

5. Skin _ Perception of touch

6. Mind _ Perception of thoughts.

Mind is simply an area in the brain (known as the Limbic system) by which the individual perceives thoughts that exist outside.

A musician trains his ears to a particular note. Similarly, the mind can be trained and developed by concentration.


Consciousness is awareness. It is pure undifferentiated energy. For the consciousness (awareness) to manifest, it has to come in contact with one of the six sensory stimuli.

Eg. eye consciousness is awareness of vision. Thought consciousness is awareness of thought.

The cycle of events during a particular consciousness is analysed in great detail in Buddhism.

The process of eye consciousness can be analysed the following way:

* When a visual object comes into contact with the eye, the image is conducted to the brain.

* This image in the brain causes differentiation of free energy (consciousness) to eye consciousness. When an eye consciousness is born, this is the SELF that will perceive the image.

* Then the eye consciousness receives the visual image.

* The self inside the eye consciousness scans through the memory (which is in the brain) and identifies the object.

* According to the identification, a feeling is experienced by the SELF in the eye consciousness. It may be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

* Depending on the feeling, a volition is experienced by the SELF in the eye consciousness. During this stage the SELF will gather more energy and also it will divert body energy to act. Then at this stage VOLITION IS ACTION.

* Then the SELF in the eye consciousness will register the event in the memory.

* When the registration is done, the eye consciousness which is the SELF leaves the body. Then it exists in association with the body as a thought force. These accumulated thought forces of the individual will form its subconscious force.

This is the last event of the cycle. The moment the eye consciousness leaves the body, the concept of SELF dies off because it cannot exist without a body.

During this cycle of events, the material body also undergoes changes; i.e. Respiration, movements of blood in the circulation, movement of food in the stomach etc.

Then at the end of the cycle there is a different, new body which will replenish its free energy (consciousness) from the environment and is ready for the next cycle.

This cycle of events can be called a unit of eye consciousness or a QUANTUM of eye consciousness. (QUANTUM = a packet). The cycle of events is the same with all six types of sensory modalities. This is the fundamental unit of LIFE. After one sensory quantum wanes, another sensory quantum comes up like the waves in the seashore. Life is a pulsatile interrupted flow of these cycles (sensory quantums).

The time duration of one quantum may be about 1/20th of a second (=50 milliseconds). Then per every one second there is an interrupted flow of about 20 quantums of life, with each and every quantum there arises a NEW SELF, with new perception, new volition and a new body lasting only for about 1/20th of a second and dies off.


In the analysis of a quantum of life, it is very clear that there is no permanent, unchangeable self inside the body who can perceive, think and act. Instead there are different SELVES coming up with each consciousness and passes away with the same consciousness which lives only for about 1/20th of a second (=50 milliseconds).

When the next cycle of events are in progress, the self image of the previous cycle of events (quantum) is still present in the memory. (Because a nerve impulse lasts for about 50 milliseconds). So the Memory interprets and projects as if there is a permanent, unchangeable self, who feels and acts.

When an individual starts living with the memory projection of the illusion of a permanent, unchangeable self, they become in it. They become actors of this so-called permanent self which is actually a memory projection. When an individual becomes an actor of the SELF, he himself cannot watch the drama as an outsider; i.e. he cannot perceive the impermanence of self.

But if an individual can come out from the illusion of a permanent self and watch the drama of life as an outsider, then he could see the flow of quantums (life packets) which lasts for about 1/20th of a second and dying off.

At that stage there is no person who observes the process; Only the observation exists.

Then there will be no person to perceive; Only the perception exists.

There is no person inside the body to act; Only the action exists.

There is no person inside the body to think; Only the THINKING exists.

Action and Effect

When a thought comes in contact with the mind, the consciousness will differentiate into thought consciousness. The SELF inside this thought consciousness will identify and fell the thought. Depending on the feeling, there will be volition, which will manifest immediately as the act (Volition is Action). Then the particular SELF inside this thought consciousness will register the event and leaves the body as a thought force and exists in the individual's subconsciousness. Since the individual is connected to the whole universe by its subconscious force, the registered event will manifest as REALITY in the individual's life.

Then, by repetitive thoughts, the individual CREATES its own social environment. This social environment inturn will CONDITION all its activities, emotions, thinking and activities.

Since the social environment will only CONDITION the individual but will NOT CREATE the individual, there is no place for absolute predeterminism of future events. Though the social conditioning is present, there exists a certain element of free will.

The Buddha mentioned that by being conscious at the present and by consciously altering the thought forces, the previously accumulated undesirable thought forces can be neutralised or abolished before being manifested. It is similar to the potential energy of a seed. Only when the conditions are favourable, it will grow up as a plant. If the conditions are not favourable, the seed dies off.

In the same way, evil deeds will manifest similarly in the individual's life giving rise to unpleasant feelings as the result of the action. Virtuous deeds will manifest similarly giving rise to pleasant feelings as a result of the action. Also, the previously accumulated undesirable thought forces can be altered or neutralised by doing virtuous deeds at present.

Life after death

At the time of death, a thought comes up from the individual's subconscious field and it will be perceived by the mind.

The last thought may:

* Related to a habit the individual would have practised during life.

* Related to a strong volitional activity performed by the individual during life.

* Indicate the next birthplace.

This last thought is perceived by the thought consciousness. At the stage of volition, it will divert body energy to act and also gather more energy. After this stage the LAST THOUGHT CONSCIOUSNESS leaves the body with the remaining subconscious force. This last thought consciousness can exist in the environment as a force. During this period it consumes some of the subconscious forces which it had gathered during life. This is also another form of life (life in fine material world Rupa Loka). Also depending on the development of the mind, of the individual and according to the last thought consciousness, the subconscious forces can exist in the form of free energy till the energy in the subconscious forces wane. This form of life is described as Arupa Loka in Buddhism.

The disadvantage in this form of life is that it cannot collect NEW thought forces because of the lack of a physical body. (Since thought forces are produced by moving MATTER).

After some time when most of the subconscious forces are consumed by this form of life, the last consciousness will be attracted to an embryo with a similar potential energy. (Similar to a radio-signal being attracted by a radio tuned to the particular FREQUENCY).

Then the last thought consciousness of the previous life will become the first thought consciousness of the present life, and the cycle of change proceeds. (Samsara).

So it is clear that there is no transfer of matter from one life to another life but only a transfer of energy as thought force. Then again the process of change begins. In reality there is nothing to change but only the process of change exists.


Life is made up of an interrupted flow of life-packets (quantums of life). Each life packet contains a self which feels and acts and dies off within about 1/20th of a second. That is, about 20 different `selves,' feelings, acts come up within about 1 second - with a definite gap between each self.

Since the critical fusion frequency (the rate at which stimuli can be presented and still be perceived as separate stimuli) of the human memory is also about 20 per second, the memory projects and interprets as if there is a permanent self inside the body which acts and feels. Because of this ignorance of selflessness, emptiness and unsatisfactoriness, various volitional activities are done by the individuals. The root of volitional activity may be due to the illusion of a permanent self, greed or hatred.

When volitional activities are performed, it will gather more thought forces, which will again give rise to another new material body. So the life cycle goes on forever (Samsara).

Due to ignorance, there will be greed and hatred which will produce more thought forces and the cycle goes on.

If a person has completely eradicated the illusion of self, greed and hatred, such an individual will not accumulate more thought forces. The past collected thought forces will manifest in present life. Since there will be no further collection of thought forces to be manifested in a next life, there will not be a continuation of the process. Such an individual has stopped the process. The process of change has come to an end.

At this stage, the person has attained Nirvana. There all the sensory perceptions are interpreted as selflessness, impermanence, and emptiness by the memory.

Then at this stage, the person has completely eradicated the illusion of self. Then there is no person to achieve Nirvana. There exists only the greatest achievement. The ultimate truth of nothingness. The truth of impermanence.

@ WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka -

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Repulsion Force

ZetaTalk: Repulsion Force
Note: written on Sep 15, 1995.

Scientists are acutely aware of the attraction force inherent in gravity, as are folks in general. The babe learns about this early, while taking his first few steps. Oops. Ouch! It is assumed that gravity has only an attractive force, and that the planets, in orbit around the Sun, are held in place by their momentum. Does this make sense? What caused the momentum in the first place? Children play with a ball on the end of a string, swinging it around and around their head. As long as the arm is tugging, the ball maintains its orbit, else stops. Why would the planets not drift into the Sun? Are the orbits all that swift so that centrifugal force is extreme?

The reason Mankind is Unaware of a repulsive force, also inherent in gravity, is that for this to become evident there must be a semblance of equality in size and weight, i.e. the mass of the objects, and freedom of movement such as exists in space, and lack of undue influence from other nearby objects. Objects on the surface of the Earth have none of these. They are infinitesimal in proportion to the Earth itself, and thus any repulsion the Earth may have toward a tiny speck on its surface is also infinitesimal. Proportionally, its all gravity, a one way trip. The object on the surface, pushing away, is overwhelmed by the Earth's gravitational pull, the attraction. The repulsion force is generated as a result of two bodies exerting a gravitational force on each other. In the case of a tiny object on the surface of the Earth, its gravitational pull on the Earth is scarcely noticed by the Earth. A gnat or mite. A nothing. Where the repulsion force has not been invoked within the Earth by any objects placed on the surface of the Earth, this is in play between the Earth and her Moon. The repulsion force is invoked between objects on the surface of the Earth, incessantly, but this is masked by the intense force of gravity the Earth presents and other factors such as surface tension or friction or chemical bonding so that the repulsion force cannot be recognized.

The gravitational force exists first. It is the static condition. The repulsion phenomena only manifests when, as we said, the objects are of equal size, are free to move, and dominate the immediate environment. Where the repulsion force comes to equal the force of gravity by the time the objects in play would make contact, it builds at a rate that differs from gravity. Humans have calculated the force of gravity, which at first they assumed was equal for all objects but lately have come to understand is stronger for larger objects. They have formulas for the force of gravity which have proved accurate on the face of their home planet. These formulas are incomplete, and would not work as expected elsewhere, however. The repulsion force is infinitesimally smaller than the force of gravity, but has a sharper curve so that it equals the force of gravity at the point of contact. For experimental purposes, one would have to be almost at the point of contact for it to come into play at all, and this in an environment where other factors are eliminated or negated. To examine the phenomena, Earth scientists would have to set up a lab in space, far enough away from any planetary body so that free movement is possible. Place two balls in a cage. Put one in motion toward another. Microscopically examine the interchange. They do not touch. They do not bounce off one another. They do not touch.

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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Don't Fight Forces, Use Them! : Don't Fight Forces, Use Them! :The Integrity of Tension in Science and Architecture

Renee Verdier

What do Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes and the human body have in common?

In 1932 R. Buckminster Fuller famously philosophized: "Don't fight forces. Use them!" (Fuller, Shelter). A man of many trades -- architect, author, designer, futurist, inventor, and the second president of Mensa -- he applied this mantra throughout many aspects of his work. In particular, it is more or less the backbone of his studies of and theories on synergetics, an interdisciplinary science that explores the formation and self-organization of patterns in systems. Fuller believed that all experience could be communicated using geometric concepts, and further claimed that the natural analytic geometry of the universe is based on tetrahedra, or triangular pyramids. He explored these ideas through studies of the close-packing of spheres and tensile and compressive stabilization models, noting that tension and compression are not opposites, but rather complements that can be found together; when the two forces are harmonious, continuous pull is balanced by equally discontinuous pushing forces. This synergy between compression and tension is what Fuller calls tensegrity, "a system that stabilizes itself mechanically because of the way in which tensional and compressive forces are distributed and balanced within the structure (Ingber 48-9). It is the underlying principle behind what is perhaps his most well-known invention, the geodesic dome -- a nearly spherical shell structure based on a network of triangular elements lying approximately on the surface of a sphere. On a grander scale, it is also a fundamental property of several self-assembled systems within the body, from the anatomical to the cellular to the molecular level.

Fuller originally coined the term tensegrity, a portmanteau of tensional integrity, while studying "energetic-synergetic geometry" during World War II. He provides a comprehensive definition of the term in his book Synergetics:

Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors. Tensegrity provides the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking or coming asunder (Fuller, Synergetics 372).

Tensegrity structures fall into two main categories -- prestressed and geodesic. Both types rely on continuous transmission of tensional forces in order to maintain their shape, and stabilize themselves through decentralized tension and local compression; an increase in tension on one part of the structure causes increased tension on other parts of the structure - even those on the opposite side -- which is then balanced out by increased compression within other parts of the structure. The former encompass structural members which are already in tension or compression before they are exposed to any external force, stabilizing themselves through a phenomenon called prestress; within these structures, "the compression-bearing rigid struts stretch, or tense, the flexible, tension-bearing members, while those tension bearing members compress the rigid struts. These counteracting forces, which equilibrate throughout the structure, are what enable it to stabilize itself" (Ingber 49).

Geodesic tensegrity structures are "frameworks made up of rigid struts, each of which can bear tension or compression" (Ingber 49). These struts are positioned to hold the joints that make up the framework into fixed places, so as to stabilize the entire structure. Perhaps the most familiar example of these structures is the geodesic dome, immortalized by Fuller's golf-ball-esque Spaceship Earth building at Disney's Epcot. Influenced by the notion that the strongest possible homogenous truss is cyclically tetrahedral, a conclusion he reached from his studies of synergy, Fuller developed geodesic domes in the late 1940s to demonstrate the ways in which these ideas can be applied to housing and architecture.1 A geodesic dome is a sphere -- or ball-shaped structure comprised of a complex network of rigid rods connected into triangles, or tetrahedral, which form a roughly spherical surface. These triangular elements have local rigidity as well as distribute tension across the entire structure; each rod can withstand both tension and compression depending on where and how much pressure is applied, and the omnitriangulated surface provides an inherently stable structure. Moreover, the spherical shape of the structure encloses the maximal volume for the least amount of surface area. The geodesic dome's durability, minimization and efficient use of building materials, and mobile flexibility -- its modular structure makes it easy to transport and build -- were the source of its appeal to Fuller, who hoped it would provide a solution to the post-war housing crisis (Bowers).

The presence of tensegrity structures is not limited to avant-garde architecture, however. Nor are the principles of tensegrity merely the product of the human mind; rather, they manifest themselves within countless patterns in nature. Both prestressed and geodesic tensegrity structures are found in a variety of natural self-assembled systems, including carbon atoms, water molecules, proteins, viruses, cells, tissues, and animals (Ingber 48). Of particular interest is their prevalence in the human body, on an anatomical, cellular, and molecular level.

On an anatomical level, the human body provides a good example of a prestressed tensegrity structure. Bones act as struts resisting the pull of tensile muscles, tendons and ligaments. Moreover, the stability of the shape of the body, or its stiffness, of the body is a function of the tone, or prestress, of its muscles (Ingber Lab). As Ingber puts it, "We are 206 compression-resistant bones that are pulled up against the force of gravity and stabilized through a connection with a continuous series of tensile tendons, muscles, and ligaments" (Ingber Lab).

The principles of prestressed tensegrity are similarly applicable on the cellular level; although, as we shall see later on, geodesic structures are also found in the cell on a smaller scale. The cell possesses a molecular framework called the cytoskeleton enclosed within the surface membrane that mechanically stabilizes the cell. The cytoskeleton is comprised of three different types of molecular protein polymers, called microfilaments, intermediate filaments and microtubules. The microfilaments, which are the thinnest proteins in the cytoskeleton, comprise a network that extends throughout the cell, exerting tension by pulling the cell's external membrane and everything in between towards the nucleus at its center (Ingber, The Bridge). To counterbalance the tensional forces, the microtubules -- the thickest protein chains of the three -- act as struts that bear compression. The adhesions of the extracellular matrix, or the "anchoring scaffolding to which cells are naturally secured in the body," create an external interconnected compression force (Ingber 51). The contractile actomyosin apparatus -- rigid actin filament bundles which bear compression by pushing the cell membrane and its internal components outwards - generates the tensional prestress that stabilizes the entire cell (Ingber, The Bridge). The intermediate filaments connect the microfilaments, microtubules, the cell membrane, and the cell nucleus to one another and "act as guy wires, stiffening the central nucleus and securing it in place" (Ingber 51). Some individual filaments have dual functions and therefore "bear either tension or compression in different structural contexts or at different size scales (e.g. contractile microfilaments generate tension, whereas actin microfilament bundles that are rigified by cross links bear compression)" (Ingber Lab).

This network of molecular struts and cables allows the cell to alter the balance of tension and compression throughout its structure in order to maintain its shape, even when external forces are imposed upon it. When cells are stretched or face other increases in prestress, they do not lose their original shape but rather stiffen themselves by varying the prestress within the cytoskeleton. Prodding the outside of a cell, for instance, affects the tension felt throughout the interlinked proteins of the cell (Ingber 53). Like Fuller's geodesic domes, the cell's durability is derived from its capacity to distribute tension throughout its structure as well as respond to and neutralize tensional forces with specialized compression. Though the cellular tensegrity model is a prestressed tensegirty configuration, recent work by mathematician Robert Connelly proves that there is a common structural basis for prestressed and geodesic structures; the same fundamental mathematical rules describe the closest packing of cells within the extracellular matrix as they do the different geodesic forms (Ingber, Tensegrity 2).

Several geodesic tensegrity structures naturally occur on the molecular level. Basement membrane proteins, polyhedral enzyme complexes, clatrin-coated transport vehicles, viral capsides, lipid micelles, individual proteins, and RNA and DNA molecules all employ hexagonal arrangements (Vondrejs). The cell's microfilament network itself is a geodesic tensegrity structure. Contractile microfilaments within the cytoskeleton form lattices that naturally assemble themselves locally into different forms, including geodesic networks of triangles (Ingber 53).

Geodesic forms are also found in human red blood cells. A recent study conducted by scientists at the Jacobs School of Engineering determined that the red blood cell's membrane skeleton is comprised of a network of over 30,000 protein hexagons which look similar to a microscopic geodesic dome. At the center of each hexagon, an elongated protein complex, called a proto-filament, acts as a rigid rod that moves and compresses in response to pulling forces. These proto-filaments stabilize red blood cells in the same manner as the rods of a geodesic dome; according to the UCSD researchers, "the more a red blood cell is mechanically deformed, the more likely its individual proto-filaments will rotate left and right" in order to maintain the cell's shape and stability (ScienceDaily).

It is clear that tensegrity structures, both prestressed and geodesic, are prevalent in many natural and man-made systems, from the architecture of Buckminster Fuller to the architecture of the body on an anatomical, cellular, and molecular level. What is particularly fascinating about these congruities is that their discoveries had no direct influence on one another; Buckminster Fuller did not fashion his tensegrity models after cellular structure, nor did Ingber or other scientists set out to hunt for geodesic domes within the cell. However, Fuller's geodesic dome initiated a common language and reference point for scientists to use when navigating their studies of cellular tensegrity; The Ingber Laboratory notes on the Buckminster Fuller Institute's website:

We introduced the concept that living cells stabilize their internal cytoskeleton, and control their shape and mechanics, using an architectural system first described by Buckminster Fuller, known as tensegrity (The Ingber Lab).

Indeed, the convergence of these two tensegrity theories is no coincidence. Just as Buckminster Fuller sought to design a maximally efficient and resilient structure, so too did Ingber seek to understand the efficiency and resilience of various structures and systems of the human body. Both speak to a fundamental understanding of the ingenuity of self-assembling structures and their methods of maintaining stability; when you use forces, you don't need to fight them.


Bowers. Robert T. "Geodesic Domes," The R. Buckminster Fuller FAQ 26 Nov 2002. 24
Nov 2008

Fuller, Buckminster. Shelter: A correlating medium for the forces of Architecture. 2nd.

Fuller, Richard Buckminster. Synergetics. 1982. New York, NY: Macmillan Pub Co,

Ingber , Donald E. . "The Architecture of Life ." Scientific American Jan 1998: 48-57.

Ingber, Donald E.. "Mechanochemical Basis of Cell and Tissue Regulation." The Bridge
Vol 4 No 3Fall 2004 24 Nov 2008

Ingber, Donald E.. "Tensegrity I. Cell Structure and Hierarchical Systems Biology."
Journal of Cell Science (2003): 1157-1173.

"Scientists Discover Secret Behind Human Red Blood Cell's Amazing Flexibility,"
ScienceDaily 25 Oct 2005. ScienceDaily LLC. 24 Nov 2008

"Tensegrity and Complex Systems Biology," Ingber Lab: Children's Hospital
Boston/Harvard Medical School 2004. The Ingber Lab. 24 Nov 2008

Vondrejs. Vladimir. "Tensegrity Structures in Science, Technique, and Art," 24 Nov

This article originally appeared on

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Learning Maxwell's Rope

"A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free."
~~Nikos Kazantzakis

In his 1861 paper, "On Lines of Physical Force," Maxwell elaborates on his desire to investigate "the mechanical results of certain states of tension and motion in a medium," so that they might be compared with "the observed phenomena of magnetism and electricity." A copy of the paper, and fascinating it is too, can be seen here, thanks to Wikisource:

Maxwell, just as Faraday had done before him, treated the lines of magnetic force (as revealed by iron filings spilled over paper held above a magnet,) as being real entities. Maxwell describes each filing as being "magnetized by induction," and that they unite to form "fibres," and that these fibres will then "indicate the direction of the lines of force." Maxwell considers the lines of magnetic force as "existing in the form of some kind of pressure or tension, or, more generally, of stress in the medium." He imagines the stress evoked by the lines of magnetic force as representative of tension, "like that of a rope." Rope? I wonder what exactly was Maxwell getting at?

If you look at a piece of string under a magnifying glass as you pull on the ends more and more strongly, you will see the fibers straightening and becoming taut. Different parts of the string are apparently exerting forces on each other. For instance, if we think of the two halves of the string as two objects, then each half is exerting a force on the other half. If we imagine the string as consisting of many small parts, then each segment is transmitting a force to the next segment, and if the string has very little mass, then all the forces are equal in magnitude. We refer to the magnitude of the forces as the tension in the string, T.

Tension usually arises in the use of ropes or cables to transmit a force. It is the opposite of compression. Tension is the force with which a rope or line pulls. If we hang a length of rope from the ceiling, and add a weight to the end of it, the pull force created by the weight is called the tension force. The tension force on the rope is equal to the weight of the object.

In general, low-mass objects can be treated approximately as if they simply transmitted forces from one object to another. This can be true for strings, ropes, and cords, and also for rigid objects such as rods and sticks.

Tension force, or tensile force, is an example of a pulling force, and is typically measured in pounds (Ibs) or newtons (N.) Tension force will act on opposite ends of the rope and pull it tight. The force is applied in the direction of the rope. Objects on both ends of the rope will experience a pulling force equal to the tension force. Tension force in the rope is of equal magnitude throughout the rope.

If you think about it, a rope without tension is remarkably useless when you need to get something moved (unless of course, you use it as a whip and order someone else to move it!) For example, a length of rope is not much use in pushing an object across a flat surface - it can't be used like a rod or stick. However, if the rope is tied round said object, and I pull on it, then I stand a chance of shifting the thing. Tension generated in the rope thus allows me to transmit force. Strings, ropes, cables and chains can only be used in instances where there is pull force. Essentially, somebody, or something has to pull the rope.

If we translate these ideas back to lines of magnetic force, and imagine them as ropes or chains that are fashioned in a series of continous loops, then something must be pulling at them. What is required is a mechanism of some description, one that resides in the material of the magnet, and acts upon these "ropes" by pulling on them. What emerges is something that is highly reminiscent of a pulley system.

A pulley is a simple machine consisting of a string (or rope) wrapped around a wheel (sometimes with a groove) with one end of the string attached to an object and the other end attached to a person or a motor. Pulleys may seem simple, but they can provide a powerful mechanical advantage so lifting tasks may be done easily.

Rope-pulley systems are used when there is a need to transmit rotary motion. The advantage of ropes and chains is that they can transmit force without their performance being affected by length. A common misconception holds that simple machines, such as levers and pulleys, increase forces - but this is not quite correct; levers and pulleys transmit forces, and if the masses of the levers or pulleys are negligible, the input and output forces are equal. In other words, simple machines make it possible to lift heavy objects because they reduce the magnitude of the required input force, but it shall be seen that regardless of whether we use a pulley system or not, the amount of over-all effort needed to move an object always remains the same. A box that weighs 100 Newtons is always going to need an upward force greater than 100 Newtons to lift it.

The effect of a pulley is analogous to the gears of a bicycle; a lower gear makes it easier to turn the pedals, but they must be turned more often for the bicycle to travel the same distance. Likewise, a pulley system makes it easier to lift a load, but the length of cable used to lift the load is greater than the distance the load is lifted. The more pulleys that are used, the easier it is to lift the load, but the longer the length of cable needed to lift the the same distance.

In practise, rope-pulley systems are generally regarded as inefficient due to the force of friction. Ropes tend to slip and stick along pulley wheels, meaning that energy is lost from the system. Another disadvantage with the system is that rope can permanently stretch under tension, robbing the rope of its elasticity and strength. This is why in some installations it is better to use a chain system, whose rigid design allows it to retain tension, and prevents stretching. Chains can also be made to fit on gears so that slipping is not a problem. For these reasons, if I were to try and imagine how lines of force might physically appear, then I would come up with a chain system. I then picture these chains as being pushed and pulled by a multitude of sprockets and gears, all whizzing frantically away inside the magnetic material.

A sprocket is a profiled wheel with teeth that meshes with a chain, track or other perforated or indented material. It is distinguished from a gear in that sprockets are never meshed together directly, and differs from a pulley in that sprockets have teeth and pulleys are smooth.

Sprockets are used in bicycles, motorcycles, cars, tanks, and other machinery either to transmit rotary motion between two shafts where gears are unsuitable or to impart linear motion to a track, tape etc.

Effectively, what a chain or rope-pulley system allows us to do is "trade" force for distance - which is the exact same principle by which a simple lever works. Pulleys lengthen the distance of the rope, thereby increasing the distance over which the force acts. By increasing distance, the system is able to increase the amount of energy that it stores. I tend to imagine it somewhat as the total force that is required to lift an object, as being broken down into smaller, more manageable units, and then spread over a greater distance.

With four wheels and four ropes, a pulley cuts the lifting force you need to one quarter. But you have to pull the end of the rope four times as far.

It is interesting that as a direct consequence of the increase in distance, we are now seeing that action takes place over a longer time. This is in compliance with the "golden rule" of mechanics, in that the mechanical advantage derived will always be accompanied by a loss in displacement, or in other words, time. This further suggests that force, regardless of the amount, always seems to be transmitted at the same speed. It means that Archimedes claim to be able to lift the world, given a lever that was long enough, is theoretically possible - just as long as we're prepared to wait a few million years!

Archimedes knew that by applying a lever, one could lift the heaviest of weights by applying even the weakest of forces. One had only to apply this force to the levers longer arm and cause the shorter one to act on the load. He therefore thought that by pressing with his hand on the extremely long arm of a lever he would be able to lift a weight, the mass of which would be equivalent to that of the earth.

Let us imagine for a moment that Archimedes had at his disposal "another earth" and also the point of support he sought. Further imagine that he was even able to manufacture a lever of the required length. I wonder if you can guess the amount of time he would need to lift a load equivalent in mass to that of the earth, by at least a centimeter? Thirty million million years- and no less!!

When you push down on a lever, the force you push with is multiplied by the length of the lever to produce a torque. The torque of a force is the turning effect of the force about a point. Torque is, by definition, the product of a force applied in a rotational motion or twisting force. It is a turning force. It is the force that produces rotation. Because pulley systems use rotational forces, they too use the principle of torque.

Torque, also called moment or moment of force, is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot. Just as a force is a push or a pull, a torque can be thought of as a twist.

Whenever I think of torque, I'm always reminded of the cordless screwdriver I would wield at work. You may have noticed that most cordless screwdrivers have a torque setting. To remove a screw from the wall, one that was wedged in especially tight, it is necessary for the torque to be switched over to a high setting. If the torque is not high enough, the screw will not budge, because the drill is simply not strong enough. It is torque which is defining the drill's strength. If the screw is especially tight, and the torque setting is strong enough, you might find that the screw will still not move, but now it is you that the drill wants to spin round!

Both levers and the inclined plane lower the force required for a task at the price of having to apply that force over a longer distance. With wheels and axles the same is true: a poweful force and movement of the axle is converted to a greater movement, but less force, at the circumference of the wheel. In a circular geometry, torque is a more useful concept than force and distance. The wheel and axle can be thought of as simply a circular lever, as shown in Figure 5 [below]. Many common items rely on the wheel and axle such as the screwdriver, the steering wheel, the wrench, and the faucet.

If you want to increase the load that a pulley system may carry, then it is necessary to increase torque. The greater the torque, the more energy stored. Torque units contain a distance and a force. Torque is, in effect, the product of the force and the length of the lever arm. Understood in this way, it is clear that there are two ways of increasing torque; either increase the force or increase the length of the lever arm. As torque is a product of force and distance, one may be "traded" for the other.

Torque, like work is measured in pound-feet (lb-ft) However, torque, unlike work, may exist even though no movement occurs. A good example of this is the torque exerted when you try and loosen a very tight nut. As you are pulling on the wrench you are exerting a force, but not until the the nut moves has this torque resulted in work.

Work is done when we use a force (a push or pull) to move something over a distance. Energy is needed to move a force through distance. In calculating work done, two things need to be measured: the amount of force and the distance that it moves. Thus, it is important to make the distinction that work is a measure of what is done, not the effort applied in trying to move it. Where energy is the capacity for doing work, it means that both these quantities are measured by the same unit - in a sense the two are equivalent. Work and energy are merely different ways of looking at the same thing.

Because of the way it is defined, there will be plenty of times in my life (some might say the story of my life!) where I will spend energy, but no work is done. That's because it's possible to for me to exert a force where we see nothing move. If I remain still, holding a dumbell above my head, a physics textbook will tell me that I have done no work because my actions do not involve motion - no distance, no work. A physicist might be cheeky enough to tell me that I'm not doing any work - but given a few minutes, it won't stop my arms from feeling like they want to fall off! The fact is, I am still spending energy even though there is no evidence of "work done."

People often confuse energy, power, and force. Force is a push or a pull on an object or body. The strength of the force used and the distance through which it moves determine the amount of work done. Two factors determine the amount of work done. One factor is the amount of force applied. The other is the distance the object moves. In physics, work occurs only when the force is sufficient to move the object. In other words, work is a measure of what is done, not the effort applied in attempting to move the object. People do work when lifting, pushing, or sliding an object from one place to another. They do no work when holding an object without moving it, even though they may become tired.

If work and energy are both a measure of force times distance, what does this mean if we extract distance from the equation? Of course we don't even have to go as far as removing it, but simply reduce its quantity to zero. Thus, energy now becomes equal to force times zero distance, surely meaning that force is only describing energy in some way? Looking at this equation again, it is also interesting that distance too emerges as being another means of describing energy.

Returning to the idea that a lever, or pulley system are able to reduce the magnitude of the necessary force by applying force over a longer distance, it seems that this "trade" of force for distance would suggest that the system is storing force in some way. Indeed, if we were to expand on this a little further, it might be said that distance itself is responsible for storing this force.

Now, I must tread carefully in how I explain the idea of how a system might "store force." As any physics textbook will tell you, it is not possible to "store force" as such - rather, it is energy which is stored, and not force. This is because force, at least in terms of how some physicists describe it, is not energy. Energy and force are treated as being something of different concepts, but this does not mean they are incompatible. I think it's possible to argue that energy and forces are merely different guises of the same entity.

Now there may well be some who are more familiar with physics, whose sensibilities are more delicate than others, and whom after reading that last sentence, might just have sprayed the wall with coffee. To these persons I apologise profusely for any mess caused, but I believe that there are good grounds for such a theory, and I'm going to discuss them in my next post (those that are consuming drinks have been warned!)

Many thanks to:
Physicists look back: studies in the history of physics By John Roche
What is electricity? By John Trowbridge, I. Bernard Cohen

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Forces, Energies, and Consciouness

Forces, Energies, and Consciouness

By G. de Purucker

The universe and all in it, great and small, is built in and upon consciousness, which includes in its qualities those other phases of cosmic being which we call life, mind, substance. Yet that consciousness, when applied to the universe, is an abstraction, and it is equally proper, and to many minds more accurate, to speak of the kosmic universe as being infilled with consciousnesses, infinite in number. These consciousnesses are in virtually innumerable stages of evolutionary development and are structurally arranged according to hierarchical families. Thus everything in the universe, considered as an individual expression of an indwelling and self-expressing monad, is not only an individualized atom of the Boundless, but in its inmost essence is philosophically to be considered as identic with the universe itself.

All space, infinitesimal and cosmic, is filled full of forces and substances in all-various grades of substantiality, ethereality, and spirituality. Such relatively physical force-substances as electricity and light may be cited as instances. For what are electricity and light, and indeed any other force-substance? They are, without exception, emanations from entities of cosmic magnitude. In other words, the Boundless is full of cosmic entities, each of which has its own universe acting as its own individual "bearer" or "carrier"; and the vital forces or energies in any such entity are the identical forces, energies, substances, which infill that universe, and therefore, because substantially of the nature of consciousness, direct it, guide it, control it, and are in fact that inner and eternal urge behind all the outer phenomenal appearances.

In the atom as in the cosmos, the same principles, the same energies, substances, and structural operations prevail, because both atom and cosmos are forever inseparable parts of the boundless All, and therefore reflect, each according to its power and capacity, the spiritual primordials which the Boundless contains. Hence cosmos and atoms -- inner and invisible, outer and visible, worlds and planes and spheres, considered as a cosmic composite -- are what we call not only the veils and garments of the cosmic life, but the expressions of that cosmic life itself.

Is consciousness then different from force or energy? No, consciousness or mind is both the root and focus of force or energy, their very soul, and being such, it is substantial, although not matter as we understand it. Our grossest physical matter is but the concretion of dormant monads, a vast aggregate of psychomagnetic consciousness centers. When they awake to kinetic movement or individual activity, these "sleeping" monads forming the matter around us begin their respective individual evolutionary journeys upwards again towards that freedom of spirit, of pure consciousness-force, from which in the beginnings of things they originally "fell" into matter, which is thus their own collective concretion.

This last thought gives the key to a clear understanding of what the forces of nature really are in themselves. They are essentially cosmic entities manifesting themselves in an energic fluidic form; and this fluidic form or activity is what we sense as nature's forces. They are the emanations or outpourings of the aggregative cosmic consciousness.

We may take gravitation, electricity, magnetism, heat, chemical affinity, light, as instances, because these are the cosmic forces that most usually come under the observation of human beings. They are all forces, i.e., outpourings from an individual source, this source being one of the cosmic entities with which space is filled; and these entities in their turn are ultimately to be traced back to their origins as emanations from the universal cosmic consciousness. Being forces they are likewise substantial, because matter and force are essentially one. Likewise, spirit (or consciousness) and essential substance are intrinsically one. So whenever there is force or energy, or its manifestations --gravitation, magnetism, heat, whatever it may be -- it is likewise as substantial as it is energic; therefore it is likewise essentially consciousness expressing itself as consciousnesses.

In the esoteric philosophy heat and light are substantial just because they are forces. Being forces manifesting as energies, they have in them the same essential qualities that the human entity has, although not expressing themselves as these do in us. These aggregative factors are to be grouped as consciousness. Nevertheless these various forces of nature -- gravitation, as an illustration -- are not in themselves each one a consciousness, but each such force is rather the manifestation or self-expression of a cosmic consciousness: the emanation or vital fluid, expressing itself as gravitation, of some living, conscious, cosmic entity behind.

The forces of nature, then, are the vital fluids, working in the cosmos, of spiritual beings from whom this nervous energy flows, in whom this vital electricity inheres, and working and operating in their circuits around the vehicular being of the spiritual entity which thus emanationally gives them birth; or to put it in another way, each such cosmic force is the outflowing from some cosmic entity of its characteristic vital fluid of the particular grade belonging to this entity's lowest cosmic body.

This vital force or cosmic electric energy is inherently and throughout guided, automatically to us humans, by the mind and will of the cosmic entities from which it flows in emanational series -- each unit in such series being what we call this, that, or some other force of nature. These cosmic entities in themselves form an interlocking and interwoven hierarchy of lofty spiritual intelligences; and because their individual characters are nearly akin, they cooperate in producing the entirety of the cosmic phenomena or operations which commonly are grouped under the term nature.

Human magnetism will perhaps illustrate this point in the small, as working in even such derivative phenomena as the circulation of the blood or the digestive functions. None of these functions of the human body, considered alone, is physical man. In their aggregate, combined with the framework of the body, they form physical man, but in themselves they are functions brought about by the interplay of the emanations of man's vital essence, and thus form the operative economy of his body, and are ultimately derived from the real man of consciousness and thought. These operations, which eventuate in producing and running the physical body, emanate from the man himself by and through the medium of his permeant consciousness and through the instrumentality of his will, acting in him partly consciously and partly unconsciously, precisely as the forces of nature act on the macrocosmic scale in the universe surrounding us. -- Condensed from The Esoteric Tradition, ch. 14

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)

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We have today to learn to get back into accord with the wisdom of nature and realize again our brotherhood with the animals and with the water and the sea. To say that the divinity informs all things is condemned as pantheism. But pantheism is a misleading word. It suggests that a personal god is supposed to inhabit the world, but that is not the idea at all. The idea is . . . of an undefinable, inconceivable mystery, thought of as a power, that is the source and end and supporting ground of all life and being. -- Joseph Campbell