Friday, February 07, 2020


Some people report an interval that they feel is intense, blissful, and unlike anything else.  Some think that is supernatural, touching another form of being.  I will not discredit nor endorse the supernatural, because how could I?  But I want to know whether something physiological in the being of humans happens in that moment.  We seem to be getting close to detecting such a signal, now that we can see the tiny structures inside cells.  

We do know a bit about how to call such a moment to happen and we know that sometimes it happens without anyone intending such a thing.  We say it is "deep," or "meaningful".  The saints, who seem to have special access, describe it in oxymorons, poetic contradictions, all separations disappearing.

Let's look at the basics.  The first one-celled animals were made possible by two things: a skin to separate them from the world around them and a second skin that contained a DNA program for the design of the animal.  As time went on, cells formed communities and assumed specialization until they became colonies inside an enveloping skin strong enough for the animal to move around on land, to grow organs, and to take in nourishment through a hole in their top and throw out the unwanted substances through a hole at their bottom.  Likewise and parallel, a hole at the top took in oxygen by use of bellows, swapped it with unwanted gases, and threw them back out.  These basics for cell life circulated through pipes and hoses or permeated the general liquid inside the skin.  Everything was monitored and guided by tentacles of nerve cells, run by a dashboard in the skull.

This level of description is about where I am in terms of understanding how the Holy is felt in the human body -- half joking and childish, based on serious research that I barely understand.  The internet gives me access to this research and, luckily, is also generous about defining the terms, since many of them are so new that they are not in my medical dictionary.  I keep an on-going glossary of these newly discovered and not quite understood bits and pieces.

For instance:  "In molecular genetics, an open reading frame is the part of a reading frame that has the ability to be translated. An ORF is a continuous stretch of codons that begins with a start codon and ends at a stop codon. An ATG codon within the ORF may indicate where translation starts."

So then you need to know what a codon is:  "CODON:  a sequence of three nucleotides which together form a unit of genetic code in a DNA or RNA molecule.  a sequence of three DNA or RNA nucleotides that corresponds with a specific amino acid or stop signal during protein synthesis. DNA and RNA molecules are written in a language of four nucleotides; meanwhile, the language of proteins includes 20 amino acids."

As you can see, the people who use this category of language define in both phrases and single words, but -- worse -- they are very fond of acronyms, shortening their definitions to the first letter of every word or phrase.  This quote is about "small open reading frames."  That is, codons in fruit flies and mice that are presumed the same as in humans for purposes of research.  The evolution of the DNA code is cumulative, and duplicates what existed earlier, which is why a book can be written about "Your Inner Fish."

"The characteristics of different smORF classes are evolutionarily conserved across animal species, encouraging the use of Drosophila melanogaster [fruit flies] and Mus musculus [mice] as model organisms for studies of peptide biology in the context of development, physiology and disease.

"Different smORF classes may represent steps in the origin and evolution of new genes and proteins. This is a vital thing to understand.  What we see in the world as creatures are only manifestations of code.  The creatures only change (mutate) in response to changes in the codes in their cells.  Sometimes we can see what changed.  We now have a limited capacity to change individual genes, adding or subtracting.

Most intriguing is studying the calls called neurons, which spin long threads of telegraphic filaments that can carry electrochemical code from one cell to another and even instruct organs to release general information in hormones.

"A hormone is any member of a class of signaling molecules, produced by glands in multicellular organisms, that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behavior." 

Now we're getting closer to understanding the link between cells and the behavior of the whole creature.  We know that subjective feelings are affected by hormones. (Lists of them on Google -- there are MANY.)  Mood-altering drugs are based on the composition of hormones.  Is there a natural hormone for perceiving the Holy?  Certainly there are drugs that will do that.  Some are integrated into ceremonies. (Ayahuasca, peyote) 

And there are behaviors that will cause the body to release hormones for sacred feelings.  Prayer, dance, memory, sex.  We may think of these behaviors as "emotions" which are syndromes of hormones and reactions like changing breath or heartbeat.  Actors know it works both ways to some degree: if one consciously breathes quickly, makes angry faces, tightens muscles, one begins to feel that emotion.  People who do combat sports know this.

But the great majority of code, behavior, and hormone release are not conscious, not controllable on purpose and by demand.  One can create the setting, the liminal space/time, and this is where sensations become part of the dynamic.  Sensations hold memories and accept new ones.  Some scientists think the "code" for this is in the synapses of the neurons and others believe it is kept in interactions among several cells or as code in specific cells specialized for the function. 

Most of what we know is due to "knock-out" events, like lesions or missing genes.  We look at the results and deduce where it is connected in the brain.  But people who are never aware of the sacred dimension of human life are quite common.  The consequences are subtle in some ways, but can deeply affect culture.  It seems vital to know more.

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