Holding the Tension

If we can say that we are the fruits of the universe, the we could say that we were born out of tension. Not any degree of tension but a very particular degree of tension. For tension can be described as a continuum of oppositional forces. At one end of the continuum, gravitational, crushing forces are so dominant that there is no expansion of material at all, just a singularity of no dimensions, no substance at all, perhaps not even any forces. At the other end of the continuum, expansive forces are so dominant that the substances of the universe rush away until the universe appears dark and cold and void.

Yet, somehow, a universe has expanded from that singular nothingness with just the right proportions of a pressurised rushing away that the atomic building blocks of the suns, planets and life-forms, were formed. Every distinct phase of the development of the universe organised itself on new nodes of tension formed by the culmination of the previous phase of development. The new substances forming in the incredible expansive forces, provide deeper gravity wells, stronger binding and crushing forces, while the expansive forces stretch out the very matrix of the time-space into which the gravity wells are formed. As accretion rolls into the gravity wells, spin occurs. Or was spin part of the very nature of the earliest expansion? Spin could explain both the rushing away, a centripetal fling of time and space as well as the rushing inwards and down in the gravity well.

Life seems to have fostered as the development of massive forms of the universe, galaxies and solar systems, cooling and resting in massive gravity wells, slowed down the very expansion of time and space. Here in the cool, slowing universe, spinning slowed and accretions became even more complex.

Eventually, under certain very exacting conditions, a world transformed into an enterprise of life. And that life  continued to break out and build up until a conscious intelligence came about. This intelligence is named for its ability for seeing how it is designed to work. No longer were the physical and chemical spin and tensions responsible for the transformative moments of the universe. Now there was a world of orchestrated slow spinning complexities, of loops and feedback, that created a review of the past and the future.

Here, on the planet we Reviewers came to call the Earth, we recognised that we were both spinning in and of, a web of tensions. As our substances quickened by rapid feedback, time appeared as slowly. In slow time, we grasp tendrils of tensions with our hands and in our mind and wondered about our choices in interfering with those tensions while, in an act of tension itself, playing enthusiastically with whatever responses we could elicit.

We have played particularly in the tension between expansions of tribes across the world and the building of empires, and the accretions of communities in ties of cultural identity. At the nodes of tension lie the tensions between war and peace, empathy and otherness, amity and hatred, generosity and hoarding, and hospitality and isolation. The responses we have elicited have been building great empires, buildings, technologies and democracies; and reeked great destruction on each other. The loops of feedback on tensions, spin through our own minds, our cultural enterprises, the planet, and resonate with the Galaxy.

As we reach for some mastery over our tensions, we see that holding the tensions rather than energising one over the other, especially around those vital nodes, allows a guided transformation in new expansions and accretions. We feel for it within our minds and bodies. We watch for it through our conversations in the politic. We hold the tension, just enough. We breath. We move towards a possibility. We feel for maintaining some tension as a new form. It seems slow. Rather it is a delicate adjustment in which successful transformations amass quickly and even more quickly.

Eat Dirt!

Dust for breathing in.

Reported by CSIRO Australia ScienceMail, the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae makes mice smarter and more relaxed, say researchers presenting at this week’s General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

Researchers Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks from the Sage Colleges in New York have found that M. vaccae increased the ability of mice to find their way through a maze.

Mycobacterium vaccae was first discovered on a cow udder in Austria in the 1970’s. It is widely distributed around the world and lives in soil.

In 2007 researchers from the University of Bristol found that M. vaccae stimulated certain neurons (nerve cells in the brain) and increased the levels of serotonin in the brain of mice who were treated with the bacteria. High levels of serotonin, which is a chemical that affects the signals in the brain, is linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Dorothy Matthews decided to build on this research. ‘I wondered if [M. vaccae] had an effect upon learning because serotonin has multiple effects on the brain’, she said.

Unlike the 2007 study, which injected mice with M. vaccae that had been killed by a heat treatment, Dorothy and Susan fed mice live bacteria. They spread M. vaccae on small pieces of white bread along with lashings of peanut butter before feeding them to the mice.

Dorothy found that mice who were fed M. vaccae successfully navigated a complicated maze about twice as fast as mice who hadn’t eaten M. vaccae, and with less anxiety.

She then stopped feeding the mice M. vaccae but kept placing them in the maze a few times a week. She found that the mice who had eaten M. vaccae still performed better than the mice who did not, suggesting that the bacteria has a lasting affect on learning and memory.

Does this research mean that we should eat M. vaccae for breakfast to improve our memory? Perhaps not, says Dorothy, who thinks that the best way to get a dose of this bacteria is to breathe it in during a walk in the forest or by getting your hands dirty in the garden.