Mae-Wan Ho on the autonomy of organisms

Mae-Wan Ho, is best known for her pioneering work on the physics of organisms and sustainable systems. Here’s what she writes on the autonomy of organisms in her book The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms (in italics, my emphasis in bold):

Organisms are never simply at the mercy of their environments on account of the coherent energy stored. More to the point, we don’t have to eat constantly, leaving plenty of time for other useful, pleasurable activities. The other consequences are that, the organism is exquisitely sensitive and free from mechanical constraints; and satisfies, at least, some of the basic conditions for quantum coherence. 1

Do take note of the radically anti-mechanistic nature of organisms. Mechanical systems work by a hierarchy of controllers and the controlled that returns the systems to set points. One can recognize such mechanistic systems in the predominant institutions of our society. They are undemocratic and non-participatory. Bosses make decisions and workers work, and in between the top and the bottom are “line-managers’’ relaying the unidirectional “chain of command”. Organic systems, by contrast, are truly democratic, they work by intercommunication and total participation. Everyone works and pays attention to everyone else. Everyone is simultaneously boss and worker, choreography and dancer. Each is ultimately in control to the extent that she is sensitive and responsive. There are no predetermined set points to which the systems have to return. Instead, organisms live and develop from moment to moment, freely and spontaneously. 2

It must be stressed that the ‘single degree of freedom’ of organisms is a very special one due to quantum coherence which maximizes both local autonomy and global correlation 3

1 Mae-Wan Ho, The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms, 2nd Edition, p. 91.
2 Ibid., p. 92.
3 Ibid., p. 152.


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