The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Beyond Chemistry: Tensegrity

In 1993 the US physician Donald Ingber popularized the concept of "tensegrity". Living systems, at all hierarchical levels, stabilize through the interplay of two forces, one which is tensional and one which is compressive. Ingber reasoned that, since cells continuously die, their chemistry alone cannot be responsible for the evolution for form. What is maintained is the architecture. Therefore, Ingber focused more on Architecture than on Biology. He re-discovered two types of structures that exhibit spontaneous and resilient stability: the geodesic dome invented by the US physicist Buckminster Fuller (in which the geometry of the components constrains the Physics of the components, thereby immobilizing the whole structure) and the "pre-stressed" sculptures built by the US artist Kenneth Snelson (in which rigid components tense flexible components and flexible components compress rigid components, thereby "pre-stressing" the whole structure). These "tensegrity" structures share the property of optimizing structural stability while minimizing building material.

Ingber proved that living cells (and, in particular, their internal framework, the "cytoskeleton") behave like tensegrity structures, and that principles of tensegrity also govern (at least) tissue formation. Geodesic forms abound in nature, from the cytoskeleton to some carbon atoms.

Ingber believes that tensegrity accounts for the continuity of movement: when an organ moves, millions of cells are affected, and each one has to adapt to the movement of the others. A tensegrity structure allows for a balanced transmission of tension to the elements of the structure and guarantees the "harmony" of the whole structure. In other words, the structure does not break or fall apart, but re-distributes tension and therefore redesigns itself.

Ingber believes that life began in layers of clay, a substance whose atoms are arranged geodesically and whose porosity allows for the catalysis of chemical reactions such as the ones that led to the building blocks of life. Life developed before any genetic mechanism was present. Then DNA created a way to accelerate evolution. It is not a coincidence that pre-stressed and geodesic forms predominate in the living world.




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