Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

The basic philosophy of naturopathic medicine is that, regardless of the diagnosis or the symptom, if you 1) identify and remove the obstacle to cure, 2) give the body the building blocks it needs to heal, and 3) support the body’s natural vitality, or vital force, then within reason, healing will follow.

There is tremendous controversy over the concept of the vital force, though. The problem is that, while there appears to be subjective evidence that such a force exists (as anyone who has ever witnessed the moment of death can attest), the exact nature of such a force has not been quantified or described, except in metaphysical terms. It seems to be some nebulous power that we can neither see nor measure; we must simply believe in it, the way we do a religion. Indeed, the concept is intertwined with many Eastern religions, referring to the vital force as prana, qi, chakras, etc.

I can almost see why the materialists (the classic philosophical position of the allopathic, Western medical paradigm) tend to pooh-pooh the concept of the vital force as metaphysical nonsense. Their position is that the whole organism is nothing more than the sum of its tangible, measurable parts. The problem on their side, though, is that the subjective evidence of a vital force exists—we all know it does—but their worldview cannot account for it. Biology can describe the processes of life, once it’s begun, but it cannot say what life is. Our current scientific processes cannot take the raw biochemical machinery, and, Frankenstein-like, breathe life into them. Nor can the materialist explain what happens at the moment of death, when at one instant the body is a person, and in the next, it is clay. Nothing material has changed, not yet—so what, precisely, is gone?

Ultimately this question does take us into religious territory, but not immediately. There may be yet one more realm of agreement between vitalists and materialists—a physical explanation for the vital force, prana, or qi. All of these may be just ancient descriptions of electromagnetism: the literal, physical energy of life.

Electromagnetic Energy Generates Life

The initial spark of the energy that sustains life comes from the sun. (No wonder the Genesis creation account starts with “Let there be light,” Gen 1:3). These same photons arrive at all the planets of our solar system, but Earth just so happens to be perfectly situated to do something with them: it exists exactly in the habitable zone around the sun where liquid water can exist, and where Earth can maintain the right balance of gases in its atmosphere. It’s also exactly the right size to produce a magnetic field in its core, just strong enough to hold on to said atmosphere. Without an atmosphere, Earth couldn’t capture the sun’s rays, and we’d have a dead planet. These are only a few of the many details of the anthropic fine tuning of Earth, making it uniquely suited for life.

Once those photons enter earth’s atmosphere, the chloroplasts in plant leaves absorb the photons in the process of photosynthesis. The water inside the plant’s cells receive that energy, and the water’s electrons jump to a higher subshell, freed from their chemical bonds, releasing oxygen and protons. Those free electrons then flow through the plant’s Electron Transport Chain (we have an almost identical ETC in our own mitochondria). Ultimately the plant’s ETC produces ATP, its energy currency and ours. When it’s dark, the ATP formed by the ETC reduces carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to organic carbon compounds—sugars and carbohydrates. When animals eat the plants, they get the benefit of this stored energy, which ultimately gets converted into electrons to feed into their ETCs. When humans eat plants and animals, we too borrow this energy, stored for us and ready for our cells to use via our mitochondria.

In this way, Schrödinger (of Schrödinger’s cat fame) observed that living organisms are able to locally reverse entropy (the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which describes the tendency of all things to descend from order to disorder). A hallmark of life is the ability to capture energy, and turn it either into the work of metabolism, or else store it in an ordered structure, which can be broken down and converted into work later.

But ultimately, that energy begins its journey in the form of electromagnetism.

Beyond ATP: Current in the Body

The classical view of electrons in biochemistry begins and ends with ATP production, assuming that the energy from the original photons are stored in the phosphate bond, and from there, biochemistry as we know it takes over. But after being lost for almost a century, Dr Robert Becker reintroduced the concept that that the body actually runs on electricity. Becker’s experiments first demonstrated increased current in tissue injury, as part of the healing process. Beyond just injury, his experiments as well as those of others also showed a negative voltage between the head and the rest of the body during consciousness which increased during exercise, declined during sleep, and reversed polarity to positive under general anesthesia.

A quick refresher on what this means: electricity generation occurs when an electron in the outer valence shell of an atom absorbs energy (via light, heat, mechanical movement, etc), and jumps to a higher subshell, no longer bound to its original atom. From there, the electron can either fall back to where it was, releasing the energy it absorbed as heat or light, or it can flow from point a to point b, as a current. Voltage is the potential to perform electrical work, while a current is the actual flow of electrons. Any current produces a corresponding electric field in the area around the current flow, and a magnetic field perpendicular to the current flow as well.

The reverse is also true: an applied magnetic field will likewise induce a current. Because of this, if organisms truly run on electricity, we should be highly sensitive to applied magnetic fields (like EMF), since the current that magnetic field induces might interfere with the current our bodies already run on. And indeed, we’re significantly more sensitive to magnetic fields than we are to electric fields—our skin insulates us from the latter, but not from the former.

Hydrated Collagen: A Semiconductor?

So why might voltage between head and body become more negative during exercise? It turns out that our muscles as well as our collagen are piezoelectric, meaning that mechanical stress applied to them can produce electricity. (Yet another reason why exercise is good for you!)

In addition to being the most abundant protein in the body, collagen is the primary protein in our fascia, the connective tissue surrounding our muscles. According to Mae-Wan Ho in “The Rainbow and the Worm,” collagen is not only sensitive to mechanical pressures, but also to pH, ions, and electromagnetic fields. Its electrical properties largely depended upon its hydration status, though. Water bound to collagen not only increases conductivity, but the structured water found inside our cells is in its liquid crystalline, fourth phase.

This matters because semiconduction requires a highly structured medium—such as a liquid crystal. Electricity flowing through a typical wire will drop off exponentially with distance without amplifiers to propagate the current, due to resistance. Semiconduction, on the other hand, will allow electrons not to travel through the medium itself per se, but rather, they can jump “above” the medium, through the cloud of electrons surrounding the atoms of the medium itself. This is only possible if the atoms are arranged in a highly structured, crystalline form, though (and one with slight impurities in the crystalline structure, too—otherwise the medium becomes an insulator, and won’t permit conduction at all).

So, our hydrated collagen may function as a semiconductor, serving as the literal electrical wiring of our bodies. Incidentally, multiple authors including this 2002 paper, Robert Becker, Mae-Wan Ho, Jerry Tennant, and Richard Gerber all noted that the highest density of fascia in the body happens to line up quite well with the acupuncture meridians.

Gerber also found that many known acupuncture points on those meridians happened to fall at points of nearly 20-fold lower resistance than elsewhere along the meridian, usually at natural junctions between otherwise overlapping sheaths of fascia. Insertion of a needle into these points would, in theory, serve as an amplifier. If you combine this concept with Einstein’s photoelectric effect, in which particular wavelengths of light trigger excitation of electrons in a particular material, it makes sense why, as Gerber notes, low level laser therapy at acupuncture points has been found to be even more effective than classical acupuncture: perhaps rather than just helping to propagate the current, LLLT acupuncture will add new electrons to it, also.

Robert Becker found that the acupuncture meridians are not the only potential “wiring” system of fascia in the body, though; the perineural cells form a secondary pathway, made up of the cells in the nervous system traditionally thought to be merely nutritive and supportive to the neurons. These include Schwann and glial cells. (In light of the concept that these cells carry current, it’s interesting that this study on cell phone usage specifically notes increased risk of Schwannomas of the heart and gliomas of the brain—could this be due to interference from EMF signals, disrupting the information these cells are meant to carry?)

The Upshot

In intracellular machinery, electromagnetic energy gets converted into ATP via photosynthesis (in plants) and mitochondria (in humans). But there appear to be at least two other sets of circuitry in the body, delivering electromagnetic energy to organs and tissues hooked up along the way. That electrical energy seems to provide the power necessary for the organism as a whole to function—in much the same way that our appliances only function when they’re plugged in. Where that “plug” is, for living organisms, might be where the question ceases to have a concrete, physical answer, and enters the realm of the spiritual.

Regardless, electromagnetism may be the literal vital force.