In part four of our series Modern Fundamentals of Chiropractic, we learned that without electricity we would die. (You can get the full article here.) We also learned that the electrical system of the body is mostly associated with the nervous system.
Is there a bigger picture to electricity and cells?
The fastest speed of an electrical signal is up to 270 miles per hour. That is the speed of the fastest neurons, called alpha motor neurons, which are wrapped in a special sheath called myelin to help the signal travel at a higher speed.
You may be familiar with diseases like multiple sclerosis, where there is damage to the myelin sheath of these nerves.
As fast as these nerve signals travel, this is still much slower than the electricity (electron flow) in your house, which can travel near the speed of light.
Observations of human experience suggests to some scientists that information seems to travel faster than the fastest known nerve signal. Humans make ultra-fast visual perceptions around the rate of 10 milliseconds. This is still much slower than the speed of light, which around 186 miles per millisecond, but feels much faster than the fastest motor nerve fiber signal of 270 mph. In other words, it feels like we can perceive faster than we can move.
So how is it that humans seem to know or perceive events are unfolding even before we have fully perceived them to completion. Anyone who has played sports and been “in the zone” can relate to this phenomenon of experiencing before the conscious brain has fully understood what has happened.
Some would call this a trick of the human brain. Since it takes time for our sensory machinery to gather information (remember sensation –> perception –> integration –> response), we are experiencing the lag of our conscious perception catching up with our subconscious processing.
In the words of one author, the delay created by perceiving prevents us from fully experiencing the present even though we have the perception we are in a present moment :
…Given that the speed of light is fast but finite, information from any object takes time to hit us, even if the time is tiny. We never see something as it is “now.” However, the brain takes time to process information and can’t distinguish (or time-order) two events that happen sufficiently close to one another. The fact that we see many things happening now is an illusion, a blurring of time perception. …From current neurocognitive experiments, it seems reasonable to suppose that on average a human’s time perception is on the order of tens of milliseconds. The distance light travels in this time interval is the approximate radius of an individual’s sphere of now—a few thousand miles.Marcelo Gleicer in The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
Still, some say that the human experience of knowing and/or perceiving without being fully aware of how we are doing it goes beyond just a time-lag in our experience of the present.
Some would say that we are perceiving (while still on a delay) in a more instantaneous, instinctual, and even intuitive way than the route that uses the full sensation –> perception –> integration –> response of the nervous system.
Is there evidence for a more instantaneous perception system based in the science of electrical fields and our developing understanding of fascia, and its depth into the very heart of the cell cytoskeleton?
Electrical fields and fascia?
Just like electricity in nature, whenever an electrical impulse or wave travels, it creates a small electric field.
Some speculate these small electrical field changes may be instantaneously perceivable to parts of the human body, in the cell cytoskeleton, in molecules called mictrotubule associated proteins (or MAPS). MAPS are tiny tangles of paired proteins (tubulins) that have a positive and negative charges. This dipolar quality gives the proteins an electromagnetic quality to the structure.
In fact, some theorists view the function of MAPS as so significant to be the biological location or source for human consciousness. According to the Penrose-Hameroff theory of human consciousness, the MAPS in brain neurons is what brings a quantum computing aspect to human brain function and may explain the near conscious-like behavior of all kinds of members of the animal kingdom.
How do single cell animals learn without a nervous system?
Single celled organisms, for example, do not have a neuron, let alone a brain, yet seem to exhibit a kind of capacity for learning in response to stimulation in their environment. How does the single celled animal learn without the architecture of nervous system?
What all animals have, from the single cell organism and upwards, is a series of microtubules, which are responsible for cellular movement and mechanotransduction, the conversion of mechanical stimulants to biochemical responses and back again. (We learned about mechanotransduction in part three of our series: Are you a bag of water?)
Motor proteins (dynein and kinesin) are found in all MAPs, and they can move rapidly along the MPs, transporting different molecules. The same motor proteins can help MPs in contraction, to improve cell adaptation resulting from a mechanical information received; MPs can produce forces measurable in pN (piconewton). MAPs are a more stable network than the actomyosin filaments, keeping the memory of mechanometabolic events longer and encoding them faster.Bordoni and Simonelli, The Awareness of the Facial System
The microtubule theory of memory and consciousness?
Whether the Penrose-Hameroff theory is possibly true is beyond this article. It may not be and that is unimportant.
What the theory does is draw our attention to the existence and function of microtubules and their associated proteins in all animal cells and show how the complicated informational processing observable in the single-celled organism is available to us in our own internal cellular architecture.
As Hameroff points out: famed foundational neuroscientist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington spoke of microtubules as the nervous system of the individual cell. Or put another way: the human body has the brain, spinal cord, and autonomic nervous system as its source of local intelligence/processing, but the individual cells that compromise the body have their own processing unit in the form of the microtubule, as seen in the function of mechanotransduction.
Microtubules in the neuron’s cytoskeleton (neurotubules) are probably not responsible for the biological processes that explain human consciousness.
But if we can acknowledge the complicated nature of mechanotransduction as a signal and processing system in single celled organisms, then we can imagine how a community of our own cells, may transmit signals and information outside of the traditional nervous system matrix (neurons of the brain, spinal cord, and autonomic nervous system).
Remember that the cytoskeleton is made of microtubules and mictrotubule associated protein (MAPS) – which are made of a positive and negatively charged tubulin pairs which have electromagnetic properties, including the existence of a small electrical field.
These small electrical field changes may pass in the form of a wave that happens below the level of conscious recognition, on a cell-to-cell basis or travel along the fascial planes of the body. Every tissue of the body is linked to every other, in some way, through the fascial system, from the skin to the muscle, to the internal organs.
It is not hard to imagine how the perception that some peoples call “vibes” and others call “the creeps” could travel through an alternative system that does not interact with higher levels of consciousness, but nonetheless, provide us with a level of awareness that we experience at the level of intuition.
Familiarity with heart waves and how the heart works with and independently of the brain can give us a kind of analogy as to how stretch, compression, or manipulation of fascial planes in the skin or around a joint could stimulate the electrical signal of both the proprioceptive system and also induce a field change in the cellular cytoskeletal system that gets transmitted into neighboring tissues without necessarily getting into higher brain functions.
And as we said before, the human body has an electrical potential due to the presence of water molecules. And almost every cell will have an electrolyte gradient found across the membrane (or outer layer of the cell) making it potentially capable of carrying an electric impulse through an action potential. The charged tubulin structures of the cell skeleton are another medium for the flow of electrical information in addition to the action potential.
(For a comprehensive discussion of the cell types, including nervous system cells and unique tissue proteins that make up fascia please visit this wonderful article: The cellular components of fascia)
So, what’s the big deal about a dipolar protein infrastructure in the skeleton of our cells?
In truth we do not fully know how important it is yet. They are definitely important for maintaining the shape of the cell, for transport within the cell, and are involved in cell division.
When we look at the role tubulins play in single-celled organisms without any nervous system tissue, it is not hard to imagine that our own communities of cells use the computational power of these dipolar proteins to communicate locally, and perhaps at a distance, in away that is parallel to, but also independent of the stimulation of the peripheral and central nervous system.
In other words, it may be its own electromagnetic sensory system that works with and/or independent of the sensory organs of the nervous system, like pain receptors, proprioceptors, temperature receptors, and light receptors. As Sherrington says, it may be the nervous system of the cell itself.
We may just be beginning to understand how our bodies are electric in the smallest aspect of our cell architecture. There may be different ways of perceiving, or respond to our environment than we have yet begun to understand. And that may open doorways for a different understanding of how to bring positive change in the body through a variety of healing modalities.
Gleiser M. “There is no now” an excerpt from The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/there-is-no-now/
Bordoni, B., & Simonelli, M. (2018). The Awareness of the Fascial System. Cureus, 10(10), e3397. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.3397
Hemeroff S. Change the Music: Psychotherapy and Brain Vibrations. The Neuropsychotherapist, V4 No.4. https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/change-the-music-psychotherapy-and-brain-vibrations/