A thought-provoking look at the world of the supernatural that shows how many paranormal events can be explained by what we already know—or don't. Between nature and the supernatural are a host of happenings that I choose to describe as Supernature. It is with these go-betweens that this. Author: Lyall Watson; Type: Downloadable PDF; Size: Kb; Downloaded: times; Categories: Mystic and Occultism; The subject matter of most of this.
|Language:||English, Spanish, Dutch|
|Distribution:||Free* [*Registration needed]|
Supernature. by: Watson, Lyall. Publication date: For print-disabled users . Borrow this book to access EPUB and PDF files. Author of Dark Nature, Lightning bird, Lifetide, The Romeo error, The dreams of dragons, The dreams of dragons, Supernature, The nature of. Lyall Watson - Supernature (1) - Ebook download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt ) or read book online.
And yet, from the thousands of possible combinations, just twenty amino acids are singled out as the units of construction for all proteins. Most significant of all, these proteins are produced in the right place at the right time by an ordered sequence of events governed by a code carried in just four molecules, called nucleotide bases.
This is true whether the protein is destined to become a bacterium or a Bactrian camel. The instructions for all life are written in the same simple language. The activities of life are governed by the second law of thermodynamics. This says that the natural state of matter is chaos and that all things tend to run down and become random and disordered.
Living systems consist of highly organised matter; they create order out of disorder, but it is a constant battle against the process of disruption.
Order is maintained by bringing in energy from outside to keep the system going. So biochemical systems exchange matter with their surroundings all the time, they are open, thermodynamic processes, as opposed to the closed, thermostatic structure of ordinary chemical reactions. This is the secret of life. It means that there is a continuous communication not only between living things and their environment, but among all things living in that environment. An intricate web of interaction connects all life into one vast, self-maintaining system.
Each part is related to every other part and we are all part of the whole, part of Supernature. In this first section I want to look at some of the ways in which our life system is influenced by its environment.
It is written in the laws of thermodynamics. Left to itself, everything tends to become more and more disorderly until the final and natural state of things is a completely random distribution of matter. Any kind of order, even that as simple as the arrangement of atoms in a molecule, is unnatural and happens only by chance encounters that reverse the general trend.
These events are statistically unlikely, and the further combination of molecules into anything as highly organised as a living organism is wildly improbable. Life is a rare and unreasonable thing. The continuance of life depends on the maintenance of an unstable situation: It is like a vehicle that can be kept on the road only by continual running repairs and by access to an endless supply of spare parts.
Life draws its components from the environment. From the vast mass of chaotic probability flowing by, it extracts only the distinctive improbabilities, the little bits of order among the general confusion. Some of these it uses as a source of energy, which it obtains by the destructive process of digestion; from others, it gets the information it needs to ensure continued survival.
This is the hardest part, extracting order from disorder, distinguishing those aspects of the environment that carry useful information from those which simply contribute to the over-all process of decay.
Life manages to do this by a splendid sense of the incongruous. The cosmos is a bedlam of noisy confusion. Everything in it is subjected to a constant bombardment by millions of conflicting electromagnetic and sound waves. Life protects itself from this turmoil by using sense organs, which are like narrow slits, letting in only a very limited range of frequencies.
But sometimes even these are too much, so there is the additional barrier of a nervous system, which filters the input and sorts it out into 'useful information' and 'irrelevant noise'. For instance, if a cat is exposed to a continuous electronic click, it hears and responds to the stimulus at first but is soon habituated to it and in the end effectively ignores the sound altogether.
But as soon as it stops, the cat pricks up its ears and takes notice of this novel and therefore incongruous phenomenon. Sailors respond in the same way by waking suddenly from even the deepest sleep when the sound of their ship's engine changes pitch or ceases altogether.
We all have this ability to focus on certain stimuli and to ignore others. A good example is 'cocktail party concentration', which enables us to tune in to the sound of just one person's voice among so many all saying similar things.
These are responses that we learn, but all life automatically sorts out environmental chaos in the same way and concentrates only on the improbable orderly events hidden in the prevailing disorder.
Living organisms select information from their surroundings, process it according to a program in this case one that will ensure the best possible chance of survival , and supply an output of order which is in turn a source of raw materials and information for other life. This is an accurate description of how a computer operates, so it is not surprising that a greater understanding of life should have come hand in hand with the recent development of computer systems.
Computers operate on the basis of programmed information, which is supplied in accordance with a theory that describes information as a function of improbability, saying 'the more improbable an event, the more information it conveys. The sound may be identical, but heard from the driver's seat of the old car, it is part of the environment that carries very little useful information.
In a system in which everything tends toward decay, another symptom of disorder is not at all improbable and in no way distinctive. A single bright light on a moonless night in the desert is very conspicuous and obviously worth investigating, but even when surrounded by other lights, one will stand out if it flashes on and off or changes color. Hurtling through space on our planet, we are continually exposed to the forces of the cosmos.
Most of these are fairly constant and make little conscious impression on us; we are no more aware of them than we are of the force of gravity that keeps us attached to our vehicle. It is only when the cosmic forces change or fluctuate like flashing lamps that they become conspicuous and acquire information and signal value. Many of these changes are cyclic, occurring again and again at more or less regular intervals, which gives life time to develop a specific sensitivity to the changes and a response to the information they convey.
I have said that life occurs by chance and that the probability of its occurring, and continuing, is infinitesimal.
It is even more unlikely that this life could, in the comparatively short time it has existing on this planet, develop into more than a million distinct living forms - and these are only the tip of an enormous pyramid of past successes and failures.
To believe that this took place only by chance, places a great strain on the credulity of even the most mechanistic biologists. The geneticist Waddington compares it to 'throwing bricks together in heaps' in the hope that they would 'arrange themselves into an inhabitable house'. The cosmos itself is patternless, being a jumble of random and disordered events. Grey Walter, the discoverer of several basic rhythmic patterns in the brain, puts it perfectly: He says that the most significant thing about a pattern is that 'you can remember it and compare it with another pattern.
This is what distinguishes it from random events or chaos. For the notion of randomness These environmental influences are behind most of Supernature. The Earth Cosmic forces recur in cyclical patterns, to which life learns to respond.
The strongest responses are naturally linked to the shortest cycles, those which produce the greatest number of changes in a given period of time. The most fundamental and familiar of all the changes to which life is subject are those produced by the movement of our earth about its axis.
We live on a distorted sphere that is not only slightly flattened at the poles but also a little pear-shaped, with a bulge in the Southern Hemisphere.
The sphere spins from west to east at about a thousand miles an hour and travels around the sun at more than sixty times this speed, but both movements are influenced by its irregular shape. The time taken for the earth to complete one full revolution about its own axis is not only variable but also depends on which object in space is used as a reference point to decide when the turn is complete.
If we choose the sun as our fixed point, one revolution, or one solar day, lasts The lunar day is For convenience, we base our calendars on the mean solar day - the average length of all solar days throughout the year, but this is an arbitrary selection and it seems that life itself is sensitive to all three cycles.
We say that there are only twenty-four hours in 'the day', and yet we also divide the same period up into 'the day' and 'the night'. The confusion of words leads to real confusion about the roles of day and night in biology, but the fact is that all life on earth is ultimately dependent on the sun, and so the problem boils down to the presence or absence of sunlight.
One of the most traumatic changes that life can experience is the sudden and unexpected disappearance of the sun. On the rare occasions of total eclipse, living things are thrown into complete confusion. I have seen an eagle drop straight out of the sky to take refuge in the crown of a tree, and a foraging troop of baboons rush into the defensive formation they usually assume in response to a predator, neither species knowing quite which way to turn to meet this new and unexpected threat.
Only man knows when to expect the next eclipse of the sun by our moon, but all life is tuned to the daily obliteration of sunlight by the movement of our own planet.
Light and dark alternate in a regular pattern that provides life with basic information. This pattern has been called the diurnal rhythm, but the length of the cycle, the relative amounts of light and dark, and an organism's response to light or the absence of light, all vary.
So a new and less confusing name was coined in by Franz Halberg, a medical physiologist at the University of Minnesota. He combined two Latin roots to produce the word 'Circadian', meaning that which lasts about one day. At the lowest level are a group of organisms to which both I botanists and zoologists lay claim. These are tiny pieces of undivided protoplasm that have chlorophyll and use it like plants to make food from the sun, but also have a long, whip-shaped flagellum, which undulates underwater and moves them like animals in pursuit of the sun.
If kept in the dark, they abandon botanical methods of food production and pick up particles of ready-made food, in the best zoological tradition.
Typical of the group is a little green teardrop called Euglena gracilis, which lives in shallow freshwater pools. At one end of its thin elastic body, near the whip-shaped propeller, is a minute 'eyespot' of dark pigment that is not itself responsive to light, but masks the real photosensitive granule lying at the base of the whip.
When the eyespot covers the 'eye', nothing happens, but when light falls on the granule, it starts the whip waving at about twelve beats each second and sends the organism spiraling out into the light. Euglena comes to rest in the sunlight by positioning itself so that the granule is covered by the rakish eye patch.
As the sun moves, so does Euglena, but gradually it begins to lose its sensitivity, and toward the end of the day it is a lot less active. If it remained mobile all day, chasing after every stray sunbeam, the organism would use energy as fast as it could produce it and have none left over for other processes or for sustaining itself during the night.
So Euglena has not only developed a vital response to change in the environment but has also acted on the information provided by the regularity of these environmental changes. It has produced a mechanism for regulating its movement so that it operates at an optimal level, working quickly when movement is most necessary and phasing out as it becomes less important.
The fact that this regulation is 'built in' has been shown by its persistence in a population of Euglena that were kept in continuous darkness. Despite the total lack of light, all individuals became active and sensitive to light at the same time each day, a time when the sun they could not see was coming up, and they became insensitive when the light outside the laboratory began to fade.
Even Euglena, with its solitary cell, follows an accurate circadian rhythm. Our knowledge of the development of multi-cellular organisms from the first single cells is very limited, because they seldom left a fossil record, but it seems likely that all plant and animal life was derived from something rather like Euglena.
In the course of evolution, cells destined to serve more specialised functions in complex organisms were modified a great deal, but most retained something of their early independence. Even man has single cells that can still leave his body altogether and live and move entirely on their own - on their way to fertilise an egg. If one cell is taken from the root of a plant such as the carrot, it can be kept alive in a nutrient solution and give rise to a whole new carrot plant. Alexander Pope recognised that 'all are but parts of one stupendous whole, whose body nature is In more complex, multi-cellular forms that do have these advantages, they occur in more intricate patterns and respond to more subtle environmental stimuli.
Of all the species drafted into service in our laboratories, few have contributed as much to our knowledge of life as a fruit fly called Drosophila. There are over a thousand species belonging to the genus, but the most popular conscript has been Drosophila melanogaster.
This little fly with its wings spread is just the size of a letter V in this print, but in Morgan discovered that it had enormous chromosomes in the cells of its salivary glands, and the fly was soon surrounded by murmurous haunts of geneticists. Today almost every university in the world supports a culture of fruit flies, so it is not surprising that when biologists turned their attention to the study of natural rhythms, Drosophila was again called in to assist the scientists with their inquiries.
The results were fascinating. Small animals have a very large surface area in proportion to their mass.
If, like the fruit fly, they live on land, they are faced with the problem of losing water from all parts of their surface, and have to find some way of conserving body fluids.
Most insects solve the problem by growing a tough, waxy cuticle that resists desiccation. Adult Drosophila are protected in this way, but when the flies first emerge from their puparia, the bodies are still soft and their wings are folded into a delicate tangle of lace that can expand and stiffen only if moisture is available.
So the flies all emerge at dawn, when the air is cool and humidity is high. Under natural conditions the pupa is probably aware of light and temperature and can time its emergence properly, but it does not need all these clues. Colin Pittendrigh of Princeton University devised a set of elegant experiments that show how well Drosophila responds to even the smallest scraps of information.
The eggs hatched, and the larvae grew, and pupated. Development took place as if normal inside the puparium, and the adult flies eventually emerged, but they broke out at random, following no arcadian pattern at all. Pittendrigh then repeated the whole experiment with a second batch of eggs, but this time he allowed the larvae to see light for just one thousandth of a second, by firing an electronic flash at them once.
At no other time in their lives were they ever exposed to light, and yet all the flies emerged from their puparia simultaneously. The internal rhythms of the developing insects were synchronised by an incredibly subtle signal and continued to keep time for several days following the stimulus. Pittendrigh went on to show that the rhythm was circadian by giving the larvae a slightly longer exposure to light.
Flies from these emerged together at a time that would have been sunrise if the time when the light went out was considered as sunset on some earlier evening.
In other words, the flies started counting when darkness fell. It seems from these experiments that the rhythm is inherent in Drosophila and that the fly has only to be prodded very gently to get the cycle going and to keep it going.
I am particularly impressed by the fact that emerging from a puparium is something that a fly does but once in its life; it has no chance to learn and practice this activity, and yet it operates on a hour schedule. This natural rhythm must be instinctive, built into the memory of the insect's cells and waiting only to be tuned by the environment in order to produce a series of perfectly timed behavior patterns.
The cells themselves may house this clock, but Janet Barker at Cambridge University has shown that co-ordination between cells is achieved by chemical messengers that carry time signals. The common species Periplaneta americana becomes active soon after dark each day and scavenges continually for five or six hours, but if one has its head cut off, it no longer shows this circadian rhythm of activity. Not surprising, perhaps; but in fact if the head is removed surgically and precautions are taken to keep the insect from bleeding to death, it survives for several weeks.
A headless cockroach eventually starves to death, but while it lives, it continues to move in a random and desultory fashion. Janet Harker found that she could give a cockroach back its sense of direction by a process of transfusion. All insects have very rudimentary circulatory systems, in which blood just washes around in the body cavity bathing the internal organs.
One individual can be made to share its blood with another by simply cutting a hole in the body wall of each and connecting them together with a short glass tube. Harker solved the problem of differences of opinion by an ingenious if somewhat gruesome compromise. She strapped the blood donor upside down on the back of the headless cockroach and cut off the upper one's legs to prevent it kicking and upsetting the weird combination.
Paired like this in parabiosis which means living side by side the double-bodied cockroach with one head and one set of legs functioned almost normally. It once again showed the typical circadian rhythm with activity confined to the period immediately after dark. The substance responsible seems to be a hormone produced in the insect's head. Harker made a series of surgical transplants, each involving one of the organs in the head, and found that the subesophageal ganglion a tangle of nerves just below the mouth was the source of the message.
She discovered that if this ganglion was transferred to a headless cockroach, the insect developed a rhythm identical to that of the donor. So, in the cockroach, the center that responds to natural cycles of light and dark has been located and can even be translocated. This is vital information, but Harker went on to turn up something even more interesting. The second lot soon adapted to this situation and became active during the artificial night, so their rhythms were always out of phase with the control group.
A subesophageal ganglion could easily be transplanted from a member of one group to a headless individual in the other, and it would impose its own rhythm on the recipient; but if the second cockroach kept its own pacemaker as well, there was immediate trouble.
The extra ganglion turned out to be a lethal weapon. Having two time-keepers sending out two completely different signals, the poor insect was thrown into turmoil. Its behavior became completely disorganised, and it soon developed acute stress symptoms, such as malignant tumors in the gut, and died.
This is a perfect demonstration of the importance of natural cycles of life; confusion of the cockroach rhythm kills the insect. Life keeps time, and it seems that the beat is an old one, determined mainly by the rotation of our own planet, which turns the sun on and off like some giant cosmic strobe light. Life arose in the primordial broth by the action of sunlight on simple molecules. It is just possible, by stretching our knowledge of biochemistry, to envisage a situation in which life could arise in the absence of light, but it is difficult to see how it could continue to survive once it had consumed all the available food.
Light waves carry both energy and information. It is no accident that the amount of energy contained in visible light is perfectly matched to the energy needed to carry out most chemical reactions. Electromagnetic radiation covers a vast range of possible frequencies, but both sunlight and life are confined to the same minute section of this spectrum, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that one is directly dependent on the other.
As various forms of life evolved on earth, the advantage went to those that were able to sense their environment and act on the information received. Because light covers considerable distances, it is probably the best source of information available, and of all cosmic forces, the best suited to sensing.
The daily alternation between light and dark provides information on the earth's movement about its axis. And the fluctuation in the relative amounts of light and dark in each day tells of the earth's progress in its movement about the sun.
The axis of the spinning earth is tilted from the vertical, so as the planet travels on its orbital circuit, it presents each day a slightly different face to the sun. Twice in every year, the sun's rays fall vertically on the equator and days and nights everywhere are exactly twelve hours long. At all other times either the North or the South Pole is angled toward our star and there is an imbalance between the amounts of light and dark that fall on places at various latitudes.
The regular shift in this relationship provides organisms with information that helps them adjust to a yearly cycle of changes in the circadian rhythm. This sensitivity is called the circannual rhythm - that which lasts about one year. It was discovered almost by accident by Kenneth Fisher in his work at the University of Toronto, on the golden-mantled ground squirrel Citellus lateralis.
He found that they were active and healthy, with a body temperature of 37 C, until October; then their temperatures fell to 1C and the squirrels went into their usual winter hibernation. And then, despite the lack of any changes in light or heat, they all woke up in April, were active all the summer, and went back into stupor the following autumn. In a second experiment, Fisher changed the temperature to a constant 35 C and found that this was warm enough to prevent the squirrels from becoming dormant, but they still gained weight in autumn and lost it slowly through the winter, just as though they were actually hibernating.
Sensitivity to an annual cycle has obvious advantages: It helps an organism to predict seasonal changes in its environment and to make the necessary allowances for them. A bird that spends its winters in the constant conditions of the tropics could use this sense to tell it when the time had come to return north for nesting.
A mammal that stays behind through the northern winter profits from a sensitivity to annual changes by knowing when to lay in a store of food. Both animals are co-ordinated by photoperiodism - a sensitivity to the relative amounts of light and dark in every day. The tiny pale-green plant lice, or aphids, that spend their summers busily plunging their mouth parts into plants and sucking out the juices, reproduce during the long days by a process of virgin birth in which no males are involved.
Many other animals change their appearance, rather than their habits, and adopt a winter plumage.
Dull-brown summer weasels turn into resplendent white winter ones that can find concealment in the snow. If a weasel is kept under extra artificial light in the autumn to extend its days, it never produces its camouflage coat, so, like the aphid, it depends entirely on the day length to tell it when winter approaches. Visible light from the sun also acts on non-living matter, by agitating its molecules and producing heat.
Temperature is nothing more than a measurement of the amount of energy a molecule develops by moving.
At high temperatures, molecules have more energy, move faster, and bump into each other more often. This is why an increase in temperature speeds up the rate of most chemical reactions hence the Bunsen burner applied to an experiment to get it going.
Biochemical reactions are affected in the same way, and as long as the heat is not high enough to do any damage, the higher the temperature the greater the rate of metabolism.
So, by their very structure, living organisms have a built-in sensitivity to temperature change, and as the changes are produced by sunlight, they follow the same hour cycle as photoperiodism.
Hans Kalmus at London University found that grasshopper eggs hatched at dawn every day if kept at 22 C, but that they hatched only at sunrise on every third day if kept at 11 C. Mice reach a temperature peak when their activity is greatest, around midnight, and are coolest in the heat of midday because that is the middle of their rest period. Some parasites take advantage of this phenomenon and set their clocks by the cycles of their hosts.
Malarial parasites invade red blood corpuscles, where they multiply until the cell can no longer withstand the pressure and bursts, releasing the offspring to seek out other corpuscles, where the same thing takes place again.
If the parasites did this one at a time, they would have little effect on their host, but what happens is that all the malaria cells present in the body multiply at exactly the same time, and this simultaneous onslaught produces the classic symptoms of fever. Soon after noon the host begins to feel cold and starts shivering despite the fact that his skin feels hot to the touch; headache, backache, and vomiting follow and intensify throughout the afternoon until, at sunset, the body temperature shoots up as high as 42 C and he sweats profusely.
It is biologically inefficient for a parasite to kill its host, but the Plasmodium that produces malaria fever takes this risk, because it is vital for its own survival that it should also come into contact with another kind of host. Man is home for the non-sexual stage of the parasite, but the sexual stages require the unique environment of the stomach of a female of a certain species of mosquito. To get there, they have to be sucked up by the insect as it bites the man, which is a complex situation requiring perfect timing, but it all works out splendidly via the fever.
The parasites become active and reach sexual maturity in man's blood stream, producing a fever, which raises the host's temperature, produces sweating, and attracts the mosquito just after dark, when these nocturnal insects are most active.
Little or no light penetrates to the blood vessels, where the parasites live. Their environment has no marked photoperiod, but they are able to bring their cycle to a peak at dusk by following the pattern of their host's temperature rhythm.
Man is active during the daylight hours; his temperature follows the pattern of activity, and the parasites follow the temperature. Night workers reverse their activity patterns and therefore have their fevers in the morning, confusing the parasites hopelessly and putting them completely out of step with their alternative hosts, the mosquitoes. Extensions of the photoperiodic research on fruit flies and cockroaches show quite clearly that both these species also respond to what could be called thermoperiodism.
In constant darkness flies emerge from their puparia shortly after the temperature cycle reaches its lowest point, which in nature would be just before the dawn.
Temperature can act as a time signal, in fact it may do even more than that: It may be absolutely essential for survival. An American botanist has found that the leaves of tomato plants are damaged and die if kept under conditions of constant light and heat, but remain perfectly healthy if given a hour cycle of temperature change.
Watson joined BBC TV as producer and reporter on Tomorrow's World, and also founded and directed zoos in South Africa, operated a safari company in Kenya and began a marine national park in the Seychelles. He became director of Johannesburg Zoo at Whatever other activities he was engaged in, he tried to make it his rule to get up at six in the morning and write for three hours.
Spending a lot of time watching animals laid the foundations for his literary career. He had a flair for vivid phrases, and, in particular, a sharp eye for the paradoxes of life. He once remarked that "if the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn't. The concept was based on a story in Lifetide that a number of macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea, uncopied by the others; when another monkey - the hundredth - also started washing sweet potatoes, all the rest took to doing just that.
He thought this could be because once the potato-washers assumed a "critical mass", the washers changed the behaviour of the whole group. Some colder spirits questioned as credulous some of his flights of fancy, such as the much-quoted example from Supernature which claimed that plants hear the cries of distress when a live shrimp is put into boiling water.
His appearances on television introducing Uri Geller, the supernatural spoonbender, to British audiences in , and celebrating Sumo wrestling on Channel 4, did not do him any favours with other scientists. But even the most tenacious cynics had difficulty in denying the thrust of his last book, The Whole Hog : that pigs were a little-understood species who, in fact, had a lot in common with human beings.
His niece Katherine Lyall-Watson recalled a quote that summed up his attitude to work and life: "I live and work alone and travel light, relying largely on my memory and making a point of letting intuition guide my way.