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July 2007 - Lifestyle Integrity

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31

Jul

Correlation vs. Causation – DNA and Epigenetics


Correlation and Causation seem to me to be two of the most commonly confused terms in the modern world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the reporting and interpretation of genetic research.

I got only 50 pages into ‘The Biology of Belief’ by Bruce H. Lipton and already was in love. It is rare that a scientists views of the world truly resonate with my own interpretations. I have long argued that DNA as a causative factor in our lives is a confused and partial truth. I occasionally read of studies that point at this, but far too often the opposite conclusion is drawn. ‘My genes made me fat, caused my cancer, leave me crippled with ADD, depression, chronic fatigue, addiction, obesity, etc. and there is ultimately little that I can do.’

The fact that there is some truth in this does not mean that we are powerless, quite the opposite I think.

Lipton makes some very important points early on ‘…genes can not turn themselves on or off…genes are not “self-emergent”. Something in the environment has to trigger gene activity.’. So our genes certainly speak of (often latent) potentials, but they alone can not be studied to tell us why we are as we are. (p26)

Later Lipton gives us the analogy of the belief that keys ‘control’ cars. If one were to study all cars that are moving (much as geneticists may study all people with cancer) in an attempt to determine causes of this ‘movement’ phenomenon they may well find that all moving cars contain keys. They may even go so far as to look and find no stationary cars containing keys. Does this mean that keys control cars or cause them to be moving? Obviously not, they are correlative, not causative. (p50) There are other environmental and interior factors at work here as well (driver, gas, battery charge etc). DNA (keys) may very well be the newest and most fundamental factor to receive sciences attention, but how is it that this leads us to ignore or belittle the myriad other factors at play? And more importantly, how useful is this towards empowering us to make positive change?

Mr. Lipton goes on to point out Darwin’s late life realization: “the greatest error which I have committed has been not allowing sufficient weight to the direct action of the environments, I.e. Food, climate, etc., independently of natural selection.”

“When a gene product is needed, a signal from its environment, not an emergent property of the gene itself, activates expression of that gene.” – H. F. Nijhout (p52)

Lipton also points out that, while it holds a wealth of information and can rightly be considered a warehouse of potentials, DNA alone does not interact with the environment to determine our response to stimulus. “In the chromosome, the DNA forms the core, and the proteins cover the DNA like a sleeve. When the genes are covered, their information can not be “read”.(p67) What causes the protein ‘sleeve’ to roll back and allow the DNA to express itself? Environmental signals. So, it would seem that in many ways the regulatory proteins surrounding our DNA are deciding which potentials we will express, and when, more than the DNA that is getting so much media attention these days. Lipton even points out that more often than not, in an attempt to get at and study DNA, the proteins surrounding it are removed and discarded. Is this because DNA houses all of the necessary information for the life that is me?

Consider that our bodies are made up of over 100,000 different proteins. “Conventional thought held that the body needed one gene to provide for each of the 100,000…Add to that 20,000 regulatory genes, which orchestrate the activity of the protein-encoding genes. Scientists concluded that the human genome would contain a minimum of 120,000 genes.” (p62) But it turns out that they found closer to 25,000. The spineless, thousand-celled Caenorhabditis worm has 24,000. Obviously there is more at work here building each of us than just DNA.

Epigenetics – Control above genetics

Epigenetic research is now showing us that, not only is there a lot more to our complexity than DNA can account for, the whole process is a lot more fluid than previously believed. Epigeneticists are the scientists who keep the regulatory proteins and study them when breaking open a cells nucleus to get at its contents (DNA and regulatory proteins). These are the scientists who are teaching us that the holy grail of building life is not DNA–>RNA–>protein, but Environmental Signal<-->Regulatory Protein<-->DNA<-->RNA<-->Protein. Notice that the arrows actually go in both directions. ‘DNA blueprints passed down through genes are not concrete at birth’. They change!!! They respond!

Yes, this does seem to imply that the outside world, and our interactions with it can actually rewrite our genetic code. Is this actually surprising? Does the idea of ‘random mutation’ followed by ‘natural selection’ really make more sense? What does the word random usually imply in a scientific context? It usually means ‘we have no fucking clue what is happening, and are not going to admit any attempts to figure it out’. Thank god someone did.

In attempting to explain what I view to be one of our current limitations when attempting to understand what DNA, RNA, proteins etc. are and how they interact with the world I have come up with a train analogy:

Picture the human mind/body as a train. Let’s say that science wants to know what’s happening inside of the train in order to determine where that train will end up, and in what condition. So science decides that people control trains. Science then finds a way to capture a static image of the entire contents of the train, who is in it, what they are saying, what their plans are, etc. Science then spends a great deal of time studying the content of that one image and comparing its findings to similar snapshots of information gathered from other trains. What science can not yet honor is that the train is full of holes and its contents change over time. Windows and doors open and close both as the train stops and when it is in motion. The train made many stops before the image was captured and has made many more stops since the image was captured. Most likely it was making stops or had windows open while the image was being captured. And what is happening at these stops and through these openings? People are getting on and off, they are smelling the air outside, breathing its contents, hearings it’s sounds. The environment around the train is permeating and changing the contents of the train and vice versa. The conversations that the passengers on a train are likely to have rest heavily on where the train is, who has entered, exited, and who is being mesmerized by the sights out the window. The train may have a schedule, and should environmental conditions be one particular way, it may even follow that schedule to the mili-second with no malfunctions or mishaps, but neither this schedule nor the people on the train at the time of the imaging are necessarily causative. They are correlates. And not one piece of this ever changing information can be looked at in a deterministic fashion if we really want to have a clue how that train is going to end up.

We currently have the capability to sequence the entire human genome (It’s still really fucking expensive) and have done it quite a few times. I am not aware of any comparative studies that attempt to look at the human genome at birth, death, and at many intervals in between. I suspect that we will see differences. I do not believe that our genetic code is static or causative. We are a product of our genes, our proteins, our community, our society, and, as Mr. Lipton states clearly in other sections of the book, of our beliefs as well.

What is beautiful about all of this is that the idea that we need to dominate (survival of the fittest) or control others so that we can survive just doesn’t make sense when it is precisely those others whom we rely on for all of the growth that we have ever made. It seems as if by nurturing our environment we are actually nurturing ourselves.

What is the impact of all this? Not that survival of the fittest is necessarily 100% wrong, but that it is certainly not the whole truth either. There may be more value in cooperation with our environment (others) than previously imagined. There’s really no reason to feel trapped and scared, as if the environment is out to get you and you are ill prepared to meet it. We are being created by it. We are creating with it. We are perfectly in sync with it. The imaginary lines that we have drawn around ourselves, separating self from other, are melting every day.

20

Jul

Vulnerability


LITTLE ME

Antoinette asked me recently why I said that one of the reasons for creating my blog was to make myself more vulnerable. My response was to tell her that I feel as if I was raised to think that I was ‘special’ and ‘different’ and that at some point I indulged these ideas too much and this was one of the beliefs that left me feeling isolated and alone in the world. I often times operated under the assumption that others could not possibly understand what it was that I was going through and how it was affecting me. My response to this was to never reach out to them at all. I denied myself the opportunity for success or failure in intimate relationships by never engaging people in ways that might feel too vulnerable.

So, I do feel as if I have made great changes in my life regarding my openness and my willingness and ability to share my internal world with others. And I have been amazed at the feeling of connectedness and community that this has brought into my life. So I have decided to test myself and see what things I still hold on to. And when I find such things, I hope to do my best to lay them bare. I am sure that there will be exceptions to this, but I wonder what good, if any, these exceptions can bring.

In the spirit of this, I offer you the following letter that I wrote to my mommy after a long car ride together full of wonderful conversation. You will be a little lost contextually, but I will offer [explanation] and you should feel free to comment or question. I’ve been getting all sorts of great feedback in email and on myspace, but few seem to want to comment in public.

I hope my mommy doesn’t mind.

Hi mom,

I was thinking about what you said about your having a tendency to gravitate towards black and white thinking. I think that this is what has bothered me in the past about your views on my experiences with my chest surgery [ corrective for pectus excavatum] and how it related to my unhappiness. It has often seemed as if you could not understand my general disillusionment with what I saw as my options in life. You, understandably, probably saw this most clearly in my views of much of western medicine [complete distrust of doctors]. So you needed a reason. A reason is quite different than a comprehensive understanding.


My chest is, has been, and will be a factor in my life. I am good with this. I have learned much from it. It has been hard at times, but I love where I am now, and everything has been part of that. By no means should you read this as a glossing over of facts, think of it as contextualizing them.


For me the difficulties that I have had in the past have been much more complicated than one part of my body. My life lacked meaning, and, with the tools that you had given me [atheist family], I had no idea how to find this meaning. This is not something I blame you for. This is a defining characteristic of the modern world. I could ramble on about Realism, or Objectivism, or Reductionism, but the simple truth for me is that science is not enough, and I was raised to believe that the world is completely explainable through science. Interestingly enough, the true leaders at the cutting edges of science have always seemed to know its limitations. Most of our education only focuses on part of their work. Quantum Physics has now made it clear to everyone else just how confused we were to think that there is a simple black and white world out there that we can objectify. It all but directly calls us co-creators of reality.

I know that you have a strong faith in yourself. It seems that you do not have a hard time finding beauty in the world [my mother is an amazingly sweet, gentle and caring person]. I trust that your morals are so much higher than most. I know that there is meaning in life, whether we can understand it or not. I think that we all intuit such things. But being the curious monkey that I am has led me to seek a deeper appreciation of how these things evolve. Using science to trace the roots of beauty, morals, and meaning leads to giant metaphysical cliffs that most in the scientific community just back away from slowly as if nothing has happened. Science is far too black and white for this stuff. It has made it very clear to me that the explanations that I was given for such processes were drastically incomplete and in many ways in serious denial. I needed more than that.

The trust in subjective truths that spiritual traditions offer is such a complement. I inherited from you the idea that one view [science] was necessarily in contrast with the other [religion]. You did not create it, you merely passed it on. It was as if to believe in god meant a denial of science and/or personal responsibility for the world. Sure this is true for some, but the assumption that this is then true for all is a gross denial of fact and a serious over simplification. The world is not that black and white.

I believe that much of the depression that we now see in the world is a result of such an unnatural split that people feel forced to make in themselves.

There is a beauty in grey that is so much greater than the idea of self that is commonly accepted in our society; an idea which relies entirely on the black and white understandings that science provides. Spirituality and science are not in opposition. I think that the ideas of Self that I have stumbled upon are a bit more inclusive than those that modernity offers and it provides me with a few more tools with which to relate to reality.

I must say that I am grateful that I have been given the tools to undertake this journey. The pain I have felt has been a million opportunities. I regret none of it. We are all stumbling forward together.

Devin

11

Jul

ILP – Specifics

So what, specifically, am I talking about with this ILP thing? And why did I start rambling about some bald headed guy the last time I mentioned it?

INTEGRAL – A comprehensive approach
LIFE – to an ever expanding, truly enjoyable experience
PRACTICE – that recognizes that there is work involved in growth

Basically, I want more. I have recognized that the more I engage life, the more enjoyable it becomes. So I have decided to pursue a path paved with as much consciousness as possible.
Integral theory, as explained by Mr. Ken Wilber (no hair), appears to be the best, most inclusive framework currently available to seekers such as myself.

The idea is that once we have come to some sort of understanding of the integral model it is completely useless.

Unless we do something with it.

But, if we take this prism and hold it up to the light that is our life, we can see many a splendid colors projected upon the wall. We can then look at these colors and realize quite easily which ones we have been focusing all of our attention on, and which ones we have been neglecting to various degrees.

Enough theory, here is how I filled out the I-I provided form that we were handed in our previous meeting. I will assume that context will explain much and that curiosity will be stirred by the rest in those who take interest.

Current Integral Life Practice – New York City ILP Group

Name: Devin Martin

Practice

Description

Body Module

Gross

30 Minutes Strength Training

0-9x/week

Subtle

30 Minutes Yoga and Stretching

0-9x/week

Causal

30 Minutes Breathing Exercises and Meditation

0-9x/week

All

Posture Work

0-24hrs/day

Shadow Module

3-2-1

Throughout the Day as charges are recognized

3-20 min Daily

Mind Module

Reading Integral

Currently Consciousness and Healing

20-60 min daily

Reading Fiction

Zorba the Greek/Excession

In between

Studying Nutrition

Lifefood Recipe Book, Audio, Internet (Best Day Ever), Forums

30-60 min daily

Listening Integral Naked, Robbins, Jubb, Wolfe, Rollins, Deida

When in car, airplane or on subway

30-120 min 5 days/week

Current Events

Online News, Magazines (Ode, WIE, Atlantic Monthly)

10-60min

daily

Spirit Module

See body work

Additional Key Practices

Nutrition

Experimenting with new foods and removing others from everyday use

Raw, Lifefood, Probiotics, Alkalizing, candida taming, juicing, making kombucha

Service

Big Brother

Nature

Give SUV drivers dirty looks

Music

-Practice thinking about potential practice approaches

Community

Integral – Meetup/Discussion/ILP seminar, meetings, partner – BLOG, travel

Heart

Investigate/purchase HeartMath – Tonglen w/biofeedback!!

Luckily, most of what I had already stumbled upon stays in place, I have just been inspired to supplement my practice with a few other things.

I actually chart my day to day progress using a spreadsheet that I have been honing for a few years. (Yes, I am that much of a geek) Perhaps I will share that at some point if I can figure out a way to transfer a dense excel grid into a html friendly format.

09

Jul

The Fountain


I finally watched ‘The Fountain’, a film by Darren Aronofsky. This is the guy who made Pi and Requiem for a Dream. And I have to admit, I was really blown away. Tony has been telling me for months to see this movie. He was right.

First of all yes, the movie is beautiful to look at. The acting is great. The special effects are exciting, yet somehow quieting. The editing is refined. It is a technically awesome movie. Having said that:

My initial reactions were purely emotional. I watched the movie, and was engrossed, but really didn’t know what exactly was going on. I could follow each scene, but an understanding of the story, the connections between the scenes, just wasn’t gelling. Normally, when offered an experience such as this, I feel frustrated or bored or detached from the characters and their plight. Yet, somehow, the exact opposite was happening as I watched this film. My heart was breaking, over and over. My investment in some sort of positive outcome only seemed to increase as my ideas about what that might mean dropped away one after the other.

I was left stunned, in awe and wonderment as the credits rolled.

Then, in the hours after the movie ended it was as if a dust storm had calmed and all of the pieces began to settle on the ground beneath me where I could look more closely at them and see patterns emerge in their arrangement on the ground. Suddenly a wave of ideas washed over me. Life and death merged. Chasing immortality became a fear of life. Love became a denial of that which he already have. Death creates life. One life is many lives. Dis-ease is the path to ease. And in these and so many more paradoxes a much greater, more inclusive truth was illuminated. In the recognition of the ultimate interdependence of relative reality the need to define by opposites became a beautiful tapestry which allowed all of our pain, suffering, joy and triumph to have meaning within the context of one another.

I gotta watch that shit again.

02

Jul

Integral Art

The idea of developing Integral Arts was suggested to me recently by Joanne Rubin. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I am always interested in developing artistic expression and I feel strongly that Sangha (community-LL) is a hugely important aspect of this.

We often times have this idea of the lone artist. The suffering, isolated genius who feels misunderstood by the all of her peers. I don’t doubt that there is much pain and introspection (UL) in art. It may very well be that it is necessary to embrace these dark sides of life to create truly great art. But the question must still be asked, why create art?

For me art has always been about communication. I could claim, as many have, that true art is a purely personal expression of ones soul that no one, save the artist, need understand. The fact that this is sometimes, and at one level necessarily, the result does not mean that explanation is not being attempted and usually achieved to varying degrees. I believe that did one not have the desire to reach out, the desire to connect, they would never manifest anything at all, never mind something as intimate as art.

There is a reason why art exists as an objective artifact (UR). Art is a form of speech. Whether it is the sound waves of a song, the dried strokes from a paint brush, the carved wood from an oak, or anything else that someone has allowed a piece of their identity to be crystallized within; the art that we create is intended to be information shared in a way that simple words do not afford.

This is where the idea of developing Integral Art becomes a bit hairy for me. If you ask me whose art I would like to see or whom I would like to present my art to, I may very well choose an integrally informed community to be a part of this sangha. If we are just talking about gathering like minds in a pot and stirring, then the idea sounds like a potent one indeed.

My resistance comes up when the need to talk about art arises. There is a big difference to me between music and musicology. More importantly, no where do I feel the difference between talking and doing more than in art. For me, art is most easily expressed through music.

I have given much thought to the origins and uses of music. One of the primary issues that I have wrestled with has actually been shown in new light by the bald headed one’s illumination of the pre/trans fallacy. The idea that both pre and trans rational thought will be dismissed by rational logic as simply non-rational, despite the fact that trans-rational transcends and includes rational has interesting implications in my mind. This is mostly because music, as many things, is capable of being all three. But, it is when it is primarily rational that, to me, it seems dead. Perhaps this would make more sense if we explore arts relationship to words.

I have become increasingly aware throughout my life just how much my thoughts are constrained by verbage. I know that there are many levels of consciousness both above and below what I am able to recognize verbally, but far too often it seems as if the only expressions that merit recognition, or are capable of being recognized, are the ones that we can put words to.

What happens to the rest of those thoughts, feelings, emotions, inclinations, intuitions, etc?

Fortunately we have art. As I have said before, I think that art is a way to get in touch with these levels of consciousness.

Great.

So why not talk about it?

Because, in my opinion, we are far too good at talking, and thinking, verbally. Our powers to intellectualize are astounding. The integral community, in particular, can talk even spirituality into mathematical formula’s and complex post-metaphysical addresses. This is why I love to be with these people. But how often is great art a product of formula’s alone? I think that inspiration must come from a degree of quieting the thinking mind. In retreat this weekend Daido Roshi spoke of Hara, the physical and spiritual center of one’s body located in the lower belly ‘3 finger below your belly button’ as being the source of artistic inspiration. The subtle body of sleep is a powerful source of artistic inspiration. There is a reason that while drugs can destroy our brains, they can also facilitate the production of great art.

So, I would love to be artistic with the Integral Community. If Integral ideas are ever going to be disseminated than certainly the vessel will have to be beautiful. The question then is twofold:

1. How do we discuss the packaging without defining constraints?

My desire is to find a way beyond simple words. Surely words will have their place. But, we have amazing powers of multi-media communication in this digital age that can walk all over simple words. And we have always had amazingly subtle abilities that are trampled by words. I am eager to find the most inclusive way.

2. How do we create a womb (physical or cyber room?) with an integral embrace from which anyone can be supported during creation?

I am drowning you in words about art this very moment. I recognize that this is something, though it is not enough. So I also offer song.

This is Pantry. Pantry began with a day spent banging on things in the kitchen pantry. Later violin, vocals, harmonica, guitar, bass, synths and congas were recorded and layered accordingly in an intimate, non-verbal communication between myself and 4 other people. Please listen, and allow yourself to let go of everything that I have just said. I’d love to know where you end up.

Candice and David. Two of the musicians on Pantry. Now married and parents of Talia, the wise sage quoted below.