Connective Tissue System? Who has heard of this strange biological network? What relevance does connective tissue have? Is it merely some arcane feature of our body? Is this tissue of most importance to the biologists that study such things, somewhat like red blood cells? Or does it have a greater significance?
In contrast, nearly everyone has heard of our Nervous System. Versus? Are these 2 biological systems competing? And if so what for? What are the details of this strange battle? And how is the winner determined? What are the advantages of winning? Could it be that they are competing for our Attention – Consciousness?
The Brain is the commander of our central nervous system. Is it possible that our Brain is not up to speed when it comes to consciously directing certain common features of our existence? If the Brain is inadequate, then what biological system serves this function? Could the connective tissue system be a candidate for conscious decision-making? What features of the connective tissue qualify it for this important role?
As we shall see, our connective tissue participates in a body-wide system that extends into each and every cell. Could it be that tapping into the potentials of this system enables the musician to play beautiful music, the athlete to execute amazing feats of coordination, and the martial artist to defend him or herself nearly instantaneously? Is it possible that our vitality, both mental and physical, is maximized when our connective system is operating at peak efficiency? Does this system that encompasses our entire body have any significance for our health and perhaps even the quest for mastery?
To pose some plausible answers to these tantalizing questions, we need some facts. Let’s begin our discussion by examining the components of our nervous system.
Our Nervous System is spread throughout our entire organism. Scientists break it into 2 parts: the Central Nervous System and the Peripheral Nervous System. The Central Nervous System consists of the Brain and the Spinal Column. The Peripheral Nervous System consists of nerves – bundles of neurons.
The Peripheral Nervous System is further broken into 2 subsystems: the Autonomic and the Somatic. The Autonomic Nervous System is involuntary and also has 2 sub-systems: the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. The Parasympathetic System is the default state, when we are calm and assimilating information. It is nicknamed rest and digest. Our nervous system is in this state when we make slow premeditated reasoned decisions.
Fear of perceived danger ignites the Sympathetic Nervous System. By flicking the proper biological switches, nerve messages ready the animal for a quick response – fight or flight. When our nervous system is in this state, we make rapid, trained/instinctual decisions without much forethought, if any. This immediate response center can save us from harm or get us in big trouble.
What process does the Nervous System employ to do its work?
Sensory Neurons collect information from the environment and send it to the Brain via the Spinal Cord. After evaluating the sensory input, the Brain sends directives via the Spine to Motor Neurons that activate the appropriate body parts. The flow of information coursing through the nervous system both maintains our body’s equilibrium and enables us to direct the behavior of our organism. As is evident, the nervous system is of huge importance to our continued existence and wellbeing.
The obvious conclusion from the above diagram is that the Brain is the ultimate decision-maker, the ‘seat of consciousness’. Sensory Neurons relay messages from the environment to the Brain. After the Brain evaluates these sensory messages, Motor Neurons relay the decision to the Body. It seems pretty clear that the Brain is the control center. However, the evidence indicates that there are many qualifications to this hypothesis.
To see why, let’s explore the decision-making process in greater detail. The Brain has 2 hemispheres that are joined by the corpus callosum. The Left hemisphere is loosely associated with logic, while the Right is associated with creativity. The Spinal Column also has two parts – the Cerebellum (the ‘little’ brain), which coordinates complex movements (for instance walking or sequences) and the Brain Stem, which controls basic functions such as breathing. We have no real control over the operation of the Spinal Column or its parts.
Both hemispheres of the Brain have the same 4 parts: the Frontal Lobe, the Parietal Lobe, the Occipital Lobe and the Temporal Lobe. While interconnected, each lobe is associated with specific functions.
Frontal Lobe: Consciousness, Problem Solving and Speech
Occipital Lobe: Vision
Temporal Lobe: Speech recognition, Smell and Hearing
Parietal Lobe: Movement and stimulus perception – Touch, Speech, Taste and Reading.
The primary function of 3 of the Brain’s 4 lobes is to digest and/or process sensory information. Only the Frontal Lobe is involved in problem solving and is associated with Consciousness. Further conscious directives from the Frontal Lobe only have an effect upon the Somatic Nervous System, as the Automatic Nervous System is involuntary.
From the Nervous System’s perspective, the only neural pathway that we employ to implement conscious decisions is from the Frontal Lobe to the voluntary Somatic System. The linkage between these 2 parts of the Nervous System presumably directs muscles and skeletal structure to perform the variety of behaviors associated with living systems, for instance those necessary to survival and fulfilling personal potentials.
Despite the straightforward common sense logic behind the Brain/Muscle (Frontal Lobe/Somatic) connection, the applicability of this neural perspective is limited to deliberate decisions. The central nervous system is simply too slow to execute essential and voluntary survival functions that are associated with conscious decision-making. Due to back and forth travel time, the Brain is too sluggish to perform many features of conscious human existence that we take for granted.
The involuntary Autonomic Nervous System certainly moves quickly enough to take care of basic functions, essentially maintaining the body’s equilibrium, i.e. homeostasis. However, this process is subconscious. Many times the voluntary Somatic Nervous System initiates action, but is unable to maintain the pace. In other words, the processes of the central nervous system are entirely too time-consuming to be able to keep up with the demands of consciousness.
Why does the central nervous system lag in speed? The central nervous system is electrical. Incoming sensory information must flow through neural wires to the brain to be processed and evaluated. Then the decision to act or not flows back to the relevant areas of the body. This relatively inefficient top-down organization substantially inhibits reaction time.
The central nervous system is just like any other top-down bureaucracy. After the incoming data is both received and digested, a laborious decision must be made, and then acted upon. Frogs would die if they employed the tediously slow central nervous system to catch a fly. While prey might rely upon the relatively quick ‘fight or flight’ Sympathetic Nervous System to escape, predators must act immediately without cognition in order to catch dinner. Thinking, the Brain’s specialty, is far too slow. There are too many neural steps involved to move instantly – i.e. information digestion, evaluation, decision, and action initiation. Survival would be impossible for predators, if they had to rely solely upon the central nervous system.
The Brain’s neural system is also not up to speed for many common features of human existence. For instance if humans had to rely solely upon the central nervous system, organists would not be able to make music, as they must utilize both hands and feet to hit 5 or even 6 notes simultaneously, while manipulating volume and tone quality by pressing levers and pushing thumb stops. Nor would a soccer player be able to accurately plot the trajectory of the airborne ball, along with the multiple changing directions of the defenders, to kick the ball in a precise direction towards the goal – just outside the reach of another moving target - the goalie who is attempting to block the shot. Nor would a martial artist be able to defend himself against an opponent’s attack if he had to make a conscious decision as to what response to make. In free form sparring, one’s opponent is most vulnerable when employing his central processor, i.e. the Brain, to think about some application of his training.
Because of these insurmountable liabilities, it seems unlikely that the Brain, the decision-maker of the voluntary nervous system, is the sole source of Consciousness. Could it be that Consciousness just resides temporarily in the Brain to initiate a process, i.e. get the ball rolling? Is there any other evidence that the Brain is not equivalent to Consciousness?
To pose some plausible answers, let us first explore why Consciousness seems to be located in the Brain?
The Brain is the center of verbal thoughts, i.e. thinking. Any time we think about something in an abstract fashion, i.e. with words, the Consciousness the decision-maker, immediately snaps back into the Brain. Could this rapid re-location be why tend to ‘think’ of the Brain as the ‘seat of consciousness’?
However, cognition is not just verbal. In fact, linguists now believe that abstraction, the province of verbal cognition, derives from sensory experience. Under this widely accepted perspective, our non-verbal experience serves as a metaphor for the construction of highly complex logical chains and mental constructs.
In contrast to Brain-based verbal thought, experiential cognition, i.e. sensory, can occur anywhere in the Body. For instance, we can direct Consciousness to simply feel our arms, rather than thinking about them. If properly integrated, our Body can respond nearly instantaneously to sensory input rather than sending information to the Brain and back.
As an example, the frog sees the fly and shoots out the tongue to capture dinner, rather than employing the sluggish central nervous system as an intermediary. The organist responds ‘immediately’ to auditory information to make music; the martial artist reacts to pressure by ‘instantaneously’ yielding and attacking; the driver ‘instantly' swerves to avoid a child who has run into the street.
In each of these cases, the central nervous system is incapable of responding rapidly enough. It seems that the Brain is not the only source to initiate action. In fact, if the Brain were the sole source of conscious behavior, our species, as hunters, would not have survived. The Body’s integrated network can and frequently does initiate action, independent of the Brain.
This Body response is not always involuntary, but is frequently guided by Consciousness. Indeed, Consciousness enables living systems to respond to environmental context, rather than react mindlessly, read mechanically or even instinctually, to external stimuli. Because the central nervous system is so slow, it is at least plausible that Consciousness connects with the Body in some way to initiate decisions in a type of bottom-up organization. Instead of residing permanently in the Brain, could there be some type of Body Consciousness that we can tap into to perform these seemingly miraculous feats?
Could decisions be made at the source rather than traveling up through the spinal column to the Brain and then back again? Could the frog’s tongue-eye connection be making the choice to catch a fly without engaging the Brain’s Frontal Lobe as an intermediary? Is it possible that some kind of integrated synesthesia between touch, eye, ear, hand and feet allows the organist to make music, a World Cup soccer player to score a goal, and a martial artist to defend himself?
Which bodily system qualifies as a candidate for the position of Body Consciousness?
There are some strict mandatory requirements for the job. The biological network must be able to transfer both information and energy more quickly than the tardy central nervous system. Further, the bodily system must be integrated and widespread enough to perform these nearly ‘instantaneous’ movements over the entire organism. The nervous system, while slow, extends nearly everywhere in organism. Is there some other system that is even more widespread? Which system can fulfill these onerous, even rigid, job descriptions?
We recommend that the connective tissue system be considered for the position of Body Consciousness.
What are connective tissues? And what qualifies the connective tissue system as a candidate for Body Consciousness?
Essentially the connective tissues of the body extend virtually everywhere. Connective tissues come in many forms. They can be fibrous, liquid, and even crystallized. Connective tissues provide the substance of: 1) plasma, the liquid that carries red and white blood cells in our veins and capillaries; 2) lymph, the liquid that contains the cells in our immune system that protect us from pathogens; 3) ligaments, tendons and cartilage; 4) bones are even mineralized connective tissue.
A protective covering of three different types of connective tissue encloses the Brain and the spinal column. A single layer of this unique living material encloses the nerves. More importantly, they provide the microscopic structure of living systems, in that they generate sheaths that surround every cell in our body. Finally they even provide the cytoskeleton of the cell’s cytoplasm (the area between nucleus and outer membrane). Some scientists claim that the connective tissues form a framework or matrix for the entire body.
“Connective tissue is ubiquitous throughout the body. [Although} it is most often identified in its forms as ligaments, tendons, cartilage, fascia, and membranes, it is continuous throughout the body and provides definition for each tissue, each group of cells, extending into the cytoplasm of each cell. It serves as a vast energy and information network, conducting both much faster than the nervous system.” (Rick Barrett, Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate, p. 170)
If everything else could somehow be magically removed with only the connective tissue remaining, the body would still be recognizable. In addition to providing definition for our cells, and by extension our membranes and organs, connective tissue also serves as the pathway for the flow of energy and information. Further, the pathway provided by our connective tissue conducts energy and information much more quickly than our central nervous system.
This mysterious substance generates a system that integrates the entire body in a vast web that is far more extensive than the nervous system, or any other bodily system.
‘Research by the Harvard professor of pathology Donald Ingber, Oschman, and others has shown that the connective tissue system is the unifying system for the whole body. Oschman says that this system: “gives the body its overall shape and features, defines the form of each organ, tissue, and cell, and extends into every nook and cranny of the organism. All movements are generated and conducted within this substance. The expanded view of the connective tissue provides a physical, physiological, energetic, and conceptual substrate for a communication network that extends throughout the organism. The nervous system is the most widely studied communication system in the living matrix, but it is by no means the only one.” (James Oschman, Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis (London: Churchill Livingstone, 2000)
Due its unique properties, the connective tissue system is an ideal transmitter of information of any kind. Instead of being loosely arranged or in separate groups like other localized bodily tissues, connective tissue is highly organized. In contrast to other types of tissues, connective tissues typically participate in what is called an ‘extracellular matrix’ that is attached to a basement membrane. For instance, plasma, the liquid of blood, consists of an integrated structure that is attached to a thin membrane that extends wherever there is blood flow, i.e. the capillaries and veins. The same holds true for: our immune system’s lymph fluid, our nervous system (nerves/neurons), our bones, and even every cell – outside and inside.
Due to the integrated structure of connective tissue, i.e. the ‘extracellular matrix’, it behaves like a crystal. Some scientists suggest that it does not just behave like, but actually is a liquid crystal.
“Liquid crystals, it is to be noted, are not important for biology and embryology because they manifest certain properties which can be regarded as analogous to those which living systems manifest (models), but because living systems are liquid crystals.” Joseph Needham quoted in James Oschman, “Somatic Recall, Part 1: Somatic Tissue Memory Massage Therapy Journal 34 (Fall 1994)
As a liquid crystal, this connective system is able to transmit information through vibrations and pulses. Further, the transmission speed is up to 20X faster than the central nervous system. Both the speed and interconnectivity of the liquid crystal system are orders of magnitude greater than the central nervous. As such, it seems fair to claim that the connective tissue system integrates the organism in a more comprehensive fashion than any other biological system.
“There is thus an excitable, liquid crystalline continuum for rapid intercommunication permeating the entire organism enabling it to function as a coherent whole.” Mae-Wan Ho, The Rainbow and the Worm, Singapore: World Scientific 1998)
Let’s summarize our findings. The connective tissue system integrates our organism more completely than any other system. The system acts as both an energy and information transmitter. Further, its transmission speed is orders of magnitude greater than the nervous system. For these reasons, we suggest that the connective tissue system must be at least considered as a candidate for a biological network for Body Consciousness.
This hypothesis implies that our Consciousness can be located anywhere in the Body, not just in the Brain. For instance, we, whoever that is, can locate Consciousness in our little toe, if need be. If Consciousness can be located Body-wide, then the Brain is not equivalent to Consciousness.
Could it be that the Brain is merely one of the Servants of Consciousness, rather than its Master and/or Source? Rather than located solely in our Brain, could Consciousness be an emergent feature of the synergy between our connective tissue system and our central nervous system? Neither one, nor the other, but both. Could the central nervous system supply the biological network for Brain consciousness and the connective tissue system supply the network for Body consciousness?
Recent discoveries in cognitive science provide associative support for the theory that humans have 2 locations for consciousness. Via brain scans, scientists have discovered that there are 2 separate regions in our brain that are associated with self-awareness – one associated with our corporal identity and the other with our ideational identity.
“When people see and recognize a picture of themselves, in contrast to pictures of friends, celebrities, or strangers, regions in the right prefrontal and parietal cortex on the lateral surface of the brain are more active. In addition, the parietal region that responds to seeing one’s own face also responds to keeping track of one’s own body movements.” Matthew D. Lieberman, Social, Broadway Books, 2103, p. 183
This brain system enables us to recognize our face as our own when we look at a mirror. We share this ability with chimps, dolphins, and elephants. Although belonging to different species, we each have this sense of corporal identity. Like these animals, we are self-aware of our own body. Could our corporal identity be self-awareness of our connective tissue system?
Humans are special however. We have another cognitive system that is associated with our ideational identity. Scientists hooked up humans to a brain scanner and then asked them two types of questions: some associated with the beliefs of others and some related to beliefs of the subject. When the experimental subjects were considering their own beliefs, a different section of the brain lit up than when they were considering the ideas of others.
“Just as in the mirror self-recognition studies, there was activity in the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex. But unlike the mirror self-recognition studies, these activations were present in the medial prefrontal cortex and the precuneus – on the mid-line of the brain where the two hemispheres meet, rather than on the lateral surface of the brain near the skull. In other words, recognizing your self in the mirror and thinking about yourself conceptually rely on very different neural circuits.” Matthew D. Lieberman, Social, Broadway Books, 2103, p. 185
It seems that the neural circuitry associated with conceptual self-awareness is located on the inside surface of our brain, close to where the right and left hemispheres connect. In contrast, the neural circuitry associated with self-recognition and body awareness is on the outside surface of our brain.
Why did evolutionary forces lead to this split sense of self-identity? Was it merely a fluke, an accident of fate? Or could it be that our brain has evolved 2 distinct neural networks associated with self-identity because we indeed have 2 distinct centers of consciousness? Could it be that we like chimps, elephants, and dolphins have a sense of Body Consciousness, while only humans experience Brain Consciousness? Is it possible that the central nervous system is the source of Brain Consciousness, while the connective tissue system is the source of Body Consciousness?
Our connective tissue is more integrated and quicker than our central nervous system. But is it possible to tap into these miraculous powers? Are the connections involuntary? If this system that integrates our entire organism is really connected with Body Consciousness, how do we tap into these potentials? Does the system operate relatively automatic or are there methods to maximize its operation?
To discover how we might tap into the highly integrated crystalline connective tissue system, read the next article in the series - Chi Flow & the Connective Tissue.
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