The fine balance and order seen in living beings provides us with clues and directions as to which behavior is most appropriate. Socially acceptable behavior may differ from one culture to another; however, there are universal principles and values which are part of a balanced behavior and attitude in any given situation.
We shall not dwell in detail on each of the great human virtues which distinguish human beings from all other creatures. However, one can gain a great deal of insight from studying deviated or unbalanced behavior, specifically in the context of living entities. A field of biology that has recently been recognized as “Systems Biology” is the detailed study of how an entire system is accommodated and “corrected” when there are deviations from “the most beneficial state.” These deviations consist of either a loss or an excess of a functional element within that system.
The universe around us is a place for exhibiting and training our skills and abilities; it is here that we are taught the lessons we need to learn during our journey through life. Looking at the mechanisms by which biological systems work we can see that events occur at exactly the time they are required to and that there is a purposeful and meaningful logic in the exact sequence of events. In how events take place one can see perfect order and a great deal of knowledge and wisdom. In fact, the human mind is awestruck by the orchestra of events that simultaneously takes place with the utmost precision and accuracy. Hence, the perspective provided by “Systems Biology” is an alternative to the reductionist viewpoint that accepts causality as the basis of understanding and explaining living systems.
One can see that when an event takes place in space and time it is not isolated, nor is it a part of a simple cause-effect mechanism. The inter-relation and connection of each event with every other event that occurs within a cell is a perfect example of such a system. This aspect of living biological systems gives us insights into the far-reaching consequences of our daily actions. On the surface, our daily actions may seem to be unconnected, irrelevant, and perhaps even meaningless; however, in reality our actions have a global effect on this universe. Just as all the parts of a tree are directed towards producing the fruit, every part of the universe is directed towards and subjugated for human kind, the fruit of the universe. It is as if the human being lies at the nexus of all other systems in the universe, as if it is connected to and is being served by every other existing system. As a result, all other systems in the universe are somehow connected to us. This means that our actions will have much greater consequences than we ever imagined, thus placing on our shoulders duties and responsibilities far greater and above all other creatures. Therefore, we are accountable for all our actions.
In systems biology, the changing of one component of the system, for example, an excess or a deficiency from the optimal (most balanced, most appropriate and the most beneficial) quantity, will lead to dramatic changes in all other components within that system. A disease can be defined as a state of affairs that has one or more components of the system that is being modified or changed in some manner. In this case, we shall take the example of cancer. The development of cancer in the human body is multi-stepped and it may take several years before the cancer is detected by modern technology. In fact, cancer begins when there is an error at the molecular level that is not put right, deep inside the cell. This error can be a single mutation in the reference manuals or “codes” called genes, or it can be another factor that is either inadequate or excessive. This mutation can happen in many ways; but why does it happen? There certainly must be an important reason for it happening. If we choose to understand the message then we will see that one of the purposes of this change could be to enable us to learn from the consequences of our actions.
How is this so? One only truly appreciates a system when it no longer functions properly. Hence, we can see that cancer may be the consequence of a single mistake that has not been corrected in one gene. This means that a single mistake can be amplified in such a way that it affects the entire being, and this is only because each event is connected to every other event. Understanding this will enable us to become more aware of our actions and to think more about their consequences before we act.
In a healthy individual, cancer cells are always being created, however, they are immediately destroyed by specialized immune cells. The formation of full-blown cancerous tissue happens when the initial cancer cell is not destroyed. This clearly indicates that the health of the individual depends on the ability to destroy the cancer cell in the first instance. The tolerance or acceptance of the cancer cell as a healthy cell only occurs when the immune cells required for the destruction of the cancer cell are not activated or sensitized. In a similar manner, the moral and spiritual integrity of an individual depends on how aware they are of their mistakes, or indeed, whether they recognize their mistakes as mistakes. This is exactly the same process that is referred to as repentance in the three monotheistic religions. The one who repents feels remorse for their sins/mistakes and turns toward The One who will forgive sins. In an ideal society, this process is manifested as actively and strategically forbidding evil (or injustice) and advocating good, as without this process, without the application of good social justice will spread.
When the ability to recognize or sense a mistake is lost in an individual, then the person concerned will fail to regret any mistakes they make and begin to think all their actions are correct. Such a negative process is a delusion which leads the individual to think that they never commit any mistakes. The consequence of this process is a downward spiral in moral values and accountability of the individual and can be directly likened to a biological system that has allowed the growth of cancer. The individual who has committed many mistakes and who is oblivious or neglectful in repairing or making up for these mistakes is like a cancer cell that disrupts the entire tissue in which they are found. Unaccounted for (or unrepaired or mis-repaired) mistakes that have not been regretted will have great repercussions not only on the individual but on the entire community in which they live. These mistakes become part of a vicious cycle of events that lead the individual to even more excessive or deficient behavior, such as ingratitude, disrespect or prejudice. The individual becomes unaware of other systems around them, and becomes oblivious of the rights and needs of others, eventually acquiring arrogance, avarice, insolence, and finally turning into a vicious but weak monster that not only hurts itself but also others.
In a similar vein, the cancer cell can be likened to an individual who feels no remorse and no sense of urgency when a mistake or a sin is committed. The genetic mutations or unrepaired error(s) in cancer cells lead to loss of sensitivity of the environment. Cancer cells have many defects in the specific DNA repair mechanisms, therefore there is a high degree of chromosome instability in these cells.1 Furthermore, they are not affected by the signals that affect healthy cells, because all the check points in these cells have become desensitized. They are extremely aggressive cells that invade the tissues in the surrounding areas around them and rob the tissues of their primary resources. The cancer cells also do not die in the same way that healthy cells are discharged from duty. Cancer cells explode and die, thereby disrupting the entire system even more, while death in healthy cells is very organized and does not disturb the system.2
The degree of sensitivity of an individual to the validity of their actions depends on their conscientious understanding of what is right or appropriate and what is not. This is directly dependent on their reference point. If the reference point is from an all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-hearing source (i.e. a source that has the ability to see all the systems at once), then they can be sure that their action will be appropriate. Any other reference point that does not have a connection to this source is bound to mislead or lead to inadequate action under given conditions.
Similarly, the behavior of healthy cells is such that it is appropriate (or, as biologists would say, optimal) for the rest of the systems it is connected with. Hence, the events that place in a given cell are complementary and productive for the specific condition or configuration in space and time. When there is an error in any of the events or processes, it can be repaired, but when there is no error, growth continues. This indicates that the cell must have unity and a complementary nature with every other system in space and time in order to sustain health.
On the other hand, in a spiritually and biologically healthy individual, mistakes are repaired and are not long-lived, just like in the healthy cells that work unceasingly for the benefit of the being in which they are found. They respond to all their own needs as well as to those around them, they are not oblivious of others and they respect the individual rights of the people in their lives, especially the ones who have given the most to them, for example, parents, family, and friends. The balanced individual learns from the mistakes they commit, and they take care not to commit them again. In this way, as each action is connected to all the other actions of other entities, this individual becomes a means of an amplifying, productive cycle that has far-reaching consequences for the entire community.
The human being is brought into this world pure and with a perfect constitution. However, each individual's unrefined ego must be trained so it can acquire the ability to recognize the mistakes that will interrupt its connection with the rest of the universe. These mistakes can only be recognized through great virtues like faith and knowledge of the Creator, knowledge of the self, gratitude, honesty, trustworthiness, sincerity, and humility, as well as perseverance in the face of adversity. It as if one who has been given these values can take the correct precautions to prevent any possible spiritual contamination, just as in a healthy biological system. Hence, faith enables a believer to behave in conjunction and in harmony with the myriad of systems in the visible and invisible universe with which it is connected. On the other hand, having unconscious faith or a lack of belief means all these connections have now been destroyed or are not strong enough. This isolates the individual from the multi-dimensional system of which it is part, finally leading to the self-destruction of the individual.
Sebnem Unlu, PhD, is a Research Faculty at University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, USA.