I recently went to a conference held by Resurgence at Worcester College Oxford. One of the speakers – a late replacement as it turned out – was Bruce Lipton. His session focused on epigenetics and its implications for our understanding of evolution. What he was saying was that we have misunderstood the key driver in evolution. We have confused the blueprint – DNA – with the architect. He pointed out that our DNA does not determine our evolution or consciousness in the way that people thought. He also suggested that evolution is not taking place over millenia in a continuous line but rather evolution is a series of jumps where the paradigm shifts. He explained that the initial thinking was that DNA was the brain of the cell and responsible for our level of evolution and that it was controlling our lives. If we have a particular faulty gene for instance then we are fated to be ill or die from cancer. As part of his research he described having stem cells in a petri dish which were multiplying from an initial cell. All these cells shared the same DNA but he realised that if he put them in different environments (different solutions), they developed into different cells – bone cells, fat cells, muscle cells etc. Hence it was not the DNA but the environment that was critical.
The research on sequencing genomes confirmed this since when they sequenced the genome of a small worm low down on the evolutionary tree it had twenty-one thousand genes and when they sequenced a mammal half-way up the evolutionary tree it had seventeen thousand genes and finally when they sequenced humans they found they had twenty-one thousand genes. So it was clearly not the amount of genes that was determining evolution. What Lipton realised was that the key was the membrane (mem-brain as he calls it). He described how environmental stimuli reach the membrane and then are converted by receptor and processor proteins to make an appropriate response via an effector protein. Since the environment was responsible for determining the development of the cell then the larger the surface area of skin the more perceptions (definition: “to become aware of something through the senses”). His point is that our bodies are just like big cells – taking in information through our sensory perceptors – touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell and then being processed through the brain to create a response.
Bruce Lipton’s insight is that the DNA does not have to express; how the DNA expresses is to do with our response to our environment. The DNA is the blueprint but it is not the architect, ie. how we choose to respond to environmental stimuli from the potential of our DNA blueprint – how and what parts of our DNA we choose to respond with – is determined by the architect. Lipton’s point is that as human being we are just like our cells. The mind is the processor so how we interpret our perceptions through our mind is the key to how we respond but also critically this in turn shapes our biology too. We are self-programming and as we do so, we are evolving. So our free-will and choice about how we perceive stimuli from the external environment determines our response and our programming for how we use our DNA. According to Lipton there are two processes that adapt our response, one which selects genes from either our mother or our father (methylation) and another process which determines how the gene selected responds (gene splitting). Since each gene has around three thousand different proteins that it can express as part of this gene splitting process it means we have huge scope for adapting our response.
Bruce Lipton’s conclusion is that we are just the same as cells and receive signals from our internal and external environments and these signals are filtered through our mind to create perceptions that are then communicated through our nervous system to create our behaviour and gene activity as well as affecting the blood which is the culture medium which feeds the fifty trillion cells in our bodies.
So what are the implications of all this? For Lipton it is that we need to exercise as much control over our environment as possible in order to promote feelings of love rather than fear and stress since fear and stress responses cause cells to go into stasis and stop evolving whilst we deal with the threat. In the past this would have been for a short duration whilst we dealt with a physical threat, ie.it would have been our animal response. His advice is that we should control both our internal and external environment.
This got me thinking about the astrology of all of this and I realised that our chart is our DNA; the blueprint for our potential to respond that is our genetic inheritance at birth. Thinking about this further I suddenly realised that the chart does nothing. It is a blueprint or potential. This blueprint is only activated by the evolving environment or in Astrological terms the on-going chart. Yet, the chart does not appear to describe our consciousness or free-will which determines the expression of this chart. As a long-term student of the I-Ching, it occurred to me that what the I-Ching is providing is a guide to our attitude or interpretation of our perceptions which allows us to modify our internal environment and express our DNA or chart in the wisest way possible. In effect to help us evolve.
This answers one of the conundrums of Astrology which is that knowledge of Astrology does not necessarily make us wise since it does not control the expression of our chart, it simply gives us information about the nature of the environmental stimuli and the blueprint which is our DNA. How wisely we express and evolve the expression of our chart is down to our attitude and this the I-Ching is concerned with training. The I-Ching takes the particular moment which the evolving chart describes and provides advice on the attitude appropriate to the environmental stimulus of the moment. Wow – amazing stuff.
Unlike Lipton, I do not think that the implications are that we can control our environmental stimuli in terms of foods etc. since, as the chart describes, we are not in control of these stimuli. Lipton noted that twins born with identical DNA will, over a relatively short period of time, deviate as they experience different environmental stimuli and their cells respond differently to these. I was wondering about this since as astrologers we know that the chart does not change, however, I saw that this is right since even twins born within minutes of each other who have very similar charts or DNA will not then exist in the same space so the influence of the environment described by the ongoing chart will differ as will their use of their free-will to determine the expression of that chart.
Chrissy Philp’s work on a model of the brain and the synthesis of the I-Ching and Astrology puts Uranus as the creative and Saturn as the receptive and the two together rule the pre-frontal lobes. Since Saturn rules the skin or membrane and Uranus rules the Creative energy of the Universe, then Saturn is the receptors of our physical body and cells and Uranus is the energies of the environment which stimulate these receptors. It is interesting to note in Lipton’s explanation that there are two processes which determine the way DNA is expressed. Methylation determines which genes will not be selected from the parental pairs and this seems very much like Saturn with its ability to block expression or inhibit and the other is epigenetic gene splicing which sounds remarkably like Uranus in operation creating change and new possibilities.
The idea that evolution is to do with membrane size and capacity and that it does not gradually evolve over time but instead is about sudden changes in capacity which create paradigm shift fits with the symbolism of Uranus. At the same time, his notion that then this level of evolution is refined and worked on to create the best of the new paradigm fits with Saturn. When reading Robert Pirsig’s book Lila back in the eighties, I was struck by his idea that change was to do with a shift in consciousness and that those shifts were created by a change of paradigm. I was also struck by his description of the fact that the existing level of consciousness and evolution has to be guarded and protected against the attempts of new ideas to breakthrough because it is preventing a slipping back to a previous state. I used this as the foundation of my understanding of the role of leadership and management in organisations. I saw that the role of management was to create the maximum value from the existing paradigm and hone and perfect it but that the role of leadership was to change the paradigm. In this sense there was an inevitable tension between the two. It helped me hugely in terms of my change management role at the time within Ernst & Young because I recgonised that the Saturnian blockers of change in the organisation were the very people who, once the new idea was accepted, would be its greatest guardians and would be the most adept at making it established and grounded in the organisation. Bruce Lipton described exactly the same process with evolution. It required a new membrane for us to evolve since this allowed for more perceptions and greater interaction and co-operation of specialist cells or organisms. He explained that with each evolutionary leap you had a larger organism with greater skin area – hence the multiple folds of the brain to create maximum skin area. Once the new membrane was in place the evolution was about creating the best possible version of it till it reached its maximum capacity. At this point it required a paradigm shift to a new larger membrane with greater capactity for perception and interaction.
Pirsig in his book, described the fact that we already have larger organisms in play than human beings. A city or country has a life span far in excess of any single human being and no single human being has the capability of understanding how to run all the multiple complex processes that allow it to continue to exist. It requires co-operation between all the various cells (humans) and it requires different and specialist human cells to ensure its survival. Yet, like us, all the cells (or humans) can die and be replaced and the city continues to live and evolve. Yet, you say, a city is not alive as such. But how do we know? If you were able to ask the individual cells in your body – say your hand – whether the body they were part of, had a higher, intangible consciousness which was running the show and was called “John” and that this “John” would continue to exist even as every cell died out and was replaced they would probably tell you that you were suffering from a big delusion – that they had never encountered this mystical “John”. So, there is already evolution beyond the human and we are all part of co-operative membranes – multiple ones in many cases. However, the most interesting evolutionary leap is that with the internet, we are, as Chrissy Philp and others point out, evolving a giant brain. But the key is that it is a digital membrane (Uranus-Saturn). This digital membrane increases the capacity of evolution by a scale of magnitude and introduces a central nervous system for a global consciousness. We are in the beginnings of an enormous paradigm shift to the age of Aquarius-Leo. Interestingly what it suggests is a need for enlightened self-interest on the parts of the cells (us) to recognise that we are all feel special and individual (Leo) and that we all have a specialist unique role to play but we are all part of one humanity – in fact part of one world or one consciousness. Having just made a call where I went through to a call centre in India, I was reminded of this fact. It feels very impersonal (Aquarius) yet, when I started to ask the person where they were and established they were in Bangalore – the one Indian city I had visited – it transformed and our hearts connected to provide the Leo sense of the personal. I was also working in Belfast and we were discussing the fact that for most people these days our immediate environment where we relate to people at the heart level has changed. We relate through social media which connects us to multiple people with whom we might have little connection and most people’s jobs involve contact via e-mail and phone with people in other countries or areas that they may never directly meet. Even for those not working and part of the older generation, they cannot avoid call centres in different countries etc. as part of their lives. It all feels very impersonal and I think our challenge during this age will be to understand that it is all personal, that as the I-Ching says “we are all one in our hearts” (Leo). I wonder whether old people coming together in homes, babies in nurseries, all of us working in an expanded global world, is part of this adjustment to a global consciousness. I don’t particularly like it at a personal level but I see that the work we may be asked to do is to see that everyone (Aquarius) is personal (Leo) at the level of hearts (and consciousness) so that we are never really separate or alone. I think it is going to take a long time to get the hang of this and the tension may well be with us for many millenia.
At the conference there was also a focus on discoveries taking place in terms of communication between plants and between fungi and the fact that more and more evidence from more and more disciplines are suggesting that the whole world (the earth) is alive and communicating at a fungal, bacterial, plant and every other level. In the past our ancestors lived with an intuitive unconscious knowledge that they were part of a numinous world. With the age of enlightenment we separated ourselves from this and positioned any spiritual belief in a disembodied extra dimension which was separate from the dead inanimate matter of which our world was composed. Now that Air-Earth rational materialism function is discovering the scientific evidence that the planet is alive and consciously all one. I think with the emergence of the Neptune-Uranus generation as they come of age, the rift between the scientist and the mystic is being healed as the proof of our oneness is being discovered by science. I suspect this might be a result of the Pisces-Virgo age fully expressing itself but it creates and cements the foundation for the new Aquarian age which we are at the very beginning of. With the current Neptune-Saturn square the foundations of the old paradigm are breaking down and science and Spirituality are beginning to come together. I am also aware that for the Neptune-Uranus generation, the Neo-Liberalism that sprung up at the time of the conjunction is now breaking down and with transiting Pluto and Uranus forming a t-square to this Neptune-Uranus conjunction it is no wonder that the younger generation is suffering from depression, alienation and breakdown and is turning to drugs to solve the problem. The old paradigm is breaking down and this generation are somehow breaking down as part of that (thanks for this insight Clem).