Biophotons: 25-Coherence in Art and Consciousness

Fanchon Fröhlich

Honourary Member oft he International Institute of Biophysics,

Station Hombroich, Neuss, Germany
13 Greenheys Road,
Liverpool. L80sx, UK.


If one thinks of collective phenomena in which discrete constitutive individuals are modified in their behaviour – the whole becoming more than and different from their parts – living organisms would seem to be an ideal example: „The Universe is an animal“, as Plato said in „The Timaeus“. At this degree of apparent complexity, relevance becomes  an essential cognitive property, and some sort of overall insight into the whole situation becomes necessary in order to reveal the underlying simplicity amidst the more superficial mind-stunning complexity.

In my contribution entitled „Collective Phenomena“, to a book dedicated to Herbert Fröhlich called „Cooperative Phenomena„, edited by Hermann Haken and Max Wagner, I wrote over 30 years ago:


When one attempts to introduce into biology different forms of explanation, or even to reformulate problems in terms of collective phenomena, the approach is often dismissed as superfluous, or even felt to be mysterious and vitalistic.


There may here even be a certain distant echo of the opposition to Newton’s ‚mystical‘ forces. Thus, paradoxically, there has arisen, from the programme based on applications oft he scientific method to the explanation ofbiological phenomena by means of the laws ofphysics, the contrary result that modern physics, in its role of possible coordinating explanations of biological systems, is rendered suspect of being vitalistic. This prejudice inhibits such potentially illuminating methods of enquiry of a dynamic nature, as measurements of the rate of various processes; furthermore, it blurs the perhaps essential differences between multicellular, differentiated organisms – in which movements over long distances must take place relatively rapidly and in a highly coordinated fashion – and very much smaller monocellular organisms where diffusion could plaUSibly serve as an adequate mechanism of movement.“

Somewhat later, I extended the concept of ‚collective phenomena‘ to apply a group of painters working together on the same surface, one gesture being relevant to, and often motivated by, the gestures already made.

J. J. Chang et aI. (eds.), Biophotons, 395-404.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

About myself

After studying philosophy in Chicago with Rudolph Carnap, and then in Oxford with Sir Peter Strawson, but finding certain aspects unsatisfactory, I became a painter; only more recently I have returned to philosophy in the quest of attempting to discover the physical basis of consciousness. Whilst studying etching with the etcher and painter S.W. Hayter – who numbered among his students and colleagues in Paris: Picasso, Viera de Silver, Max Ernst, and Giocometti, and in New York: Jackson Pol\ack, Mark Rothko, and indeed most of the Abstract Expressionism movement – I became fascinated by his work in „experimental drawing“; here, although the process is known, what arises out of it is not – indeed radically different results must in general be anticipated for different participants. Subsequently, (and later in collaboration with Sylvie le’Sea’ch) I began writing a book about this, entitled

„Experimental Drawing,                                              

Systems of Oscillating Perceptual Fields,

                              Conscious and Unconscious Dialogue“


In the present paper, I mention only two relevant aspects of „Experimental Drawing“ -insofar as colour is relevant to bio-luminescence – and suggest not only experiments which can actually be performed, but also more radical ones concerning the origins of colour in the eye itself; it is the interaction of these two which determines the colour we actually see.


By intensely viewing a surface saturated with a single colour, Hayter could see clearly the after-image created around it: a blue field, for instance, would create yellow after-images [depending on the exact colour of the blue] shifting around it, sometime coinciding to make green. He then took this further, suggesting that by pressing quite hard against the eyes, one would observe a variety of colours originating from this pressure – i. e. one would enjoy both a visual and a visionary experience.

If we could see colours in the same way that we hear sounds, then a counterpoint of colour would arise, in which develops the analogue of individual melodies and their supposition as chords in transparent colour (as opposed to opaque colour), in which differently coloured areas can be superimposed yielding ambiguous, strange new colours without known names.

Hayter had many profound conversations with Herbert Fröhlich about the dimensions of space and about science’s relation to art, but, strangely, he never discussed colour with him; if he had, ideas about a laser-like process involving enzymes in the brain and in the human eye (which is sensitive to a single quantum of light) could well have arisen which would have been acutely relevant here!

We now proceed to consider the other aspect of Hayter’s ideas which is more connected to ‚collective phenomena‘ as a cooperation of several artists, all working together on the same surface, with gestures developing out of each others gestures, according to visual counterpoint. After the first free automatic gestures [this painting is abstract], all subsequent ones are to some degree relevant to the entire configuration; eventually, it develops so much complexity that we must discuss in what way a coherent, final composition could be realized, as if it had been done by one super-person.

Whilst we were working on the „Conscious and Unconscious Dialogue“ section of our book, Sylvie Ie Se“ach and I experimented with the games of the Surrealists [among whom Hayter himself had figured] had played. One such was the visual equivalent of the game of making a „poem“, when one word or phase is hidden from the other participants, only leaving the last letter and requiring that the next word begin with that letter — ‚Cadavre Exquis‘. In visual terms, this consisted of concealing all but the last spot and requiring the next person to go on from there. One of us made a free gesture, leaving only the last point protruding and the other proceeded from there; it was not, of course, coherent. Seeking coherence, we tried interposing our gestures on the same surface, finding that, through visual counterpoint, one of us would make a gesture and the other would counter it with a relevant response. From this we found that a project involving several people working together on the same surface can lead to a new kind of coherence. Borrowing the term ‚Collective Phenomena‘ from the paper mentioned above, we proceeded to involve a number of other painters – from America, Liverpool, London, Paris, Rome and China.

The following is the manifesto that we wrote, in the more dramatic French manner, for our exhibition and collaborative event – five people working on two surfaces, accompanied by Lawrence Ball, the musician, who improvised according to our movements, whilst we, in turn, reacted to his music; this event was held in Paris under the auspices of the publisher, John Calder.


Let us end our fear of the unconscious creativity of others and replace it with a dialogue between different unconsciousness. Let us bring to an end the arbitrary in art in favour of the rigorous and mysterious structure of the unconscious. There is a whole unconscious structure that must be explored without fearing the dialogue with irifinity of an unconsciousness that is different from one’s own. That fear underlies the differences that separate artists from each other.


The question here is how to explore those structures of the unconscious that can enable work to take place simultaneously or sequentially on the same space, developing in visual terms a form of counterpoint. Put another way, a linkage is established between what one person has just done and what another is about to do.


Communal work very quickly eliminates the personal unconsciousness and allows it to become the collective unconsciousness. In practise, in order for there to be a dialogue between the structures of different unconsciousness, each one has to be highly aware of what the other is doing, as in a chess game, where the desire to be competitive is excluded On the one hand, each one must always feel a need to observe all the possible
paths that can lead to progressive establishment of a certain kind of coherence. It no longer consists of simply asking oneself who has done what, but of concentrating instead on what has already been committed by the other on the paper.




At first, different types of coherence appear and can be metamorphosed during the course of the work. This, in practise, takes the form of a process coming into being, that, as it approaches its completion, provokes analysis, a reconsideration and a collective decision. In this way a certain kind of unconscious meaning can consciously lead to a unity. It is sometimes necessary to re-immerse oneself into the unconscious in order to find a new solution – one which will bring about a total coherence. A collective decision must determine, in the final analysis, the path that is chosen. It is also possible that the unity that is sought will appear by itself in an unexpected way, which brings about a sensation ofharmony.


To sum up, collective creation has to do with a spontaneity that comes from the unconscious, which is succeeded by a common attitude. The dialectic between the conscious and the unconscious has nothing to do with chance. This means that the dialogue between the different unconsciousness dissolves the fear of entering into the unconsciousness ofothers. The force and the mystery ofthe unconscious avoids what is arbitrary. Therefore, the dialectic between the collective unconscious and the collective consciousness overcomes the barrier between them and allows dialogue to take place, which perpetually renews itself, as is suggested by the idea of an apparition
contained in the word Phenomenon.

Here, „Collective Phenomena“ was chosen as the name for this group because it emphasises its generality – referring both to the way in which we artists collaborate, whilst also having resonances with collective phenomena of a wider nature – from social to scientific: for instance a single molecule would follow the random laws of motion (action equals reaction), but once the concepts of temperature and pressure have been introduced-concepts which are inapplicable to a single particle, but only to a collection of particles – the individual molecules [md themselves subjected to the Gas Laws. At a higher level of complexity, where atomic forces of attraction and repulsion come into play, coherence is even more involved, extending through the inorganic – in superconductivity for instance – and beyond, to biological beings in long-range interaction involving long-range coherence; such coherence can involve enzymes and substrates in the brain itself. It might even extend, through a metaphysical hypothesis, or plausible picture, to the relation between brain and mind. This takes us directly to the second aspect of coherence to be investigated – namely, the coherence underlying the basis of the operation of brain cells, and, through a metaphysical hypothesis [or plausible picture], to the representation of mind itself.

Hyland has already told you how Frohlich applied the concept of long-range phase correlations – which he had learnt about and used to great effect in the low-temperature, equilibrium phenomena such as superconductivity – to dissipative living systems at ambient temperatures, which through their metabolic activity are far from thermal equilibrium, but are nevertheless structurally stable. This novel application of quantum mechanics to biological systems took place at I‘ Institutede la Vie, during a meeting of leading physicists — Bardeen, Cooper, Wigner, Haken etc., chemists: Prigogine and On sager, and biologists: Monod, Crick, Edelman, which took place every two years in Versailles over a period of twenty years until 1987. On this occasion, Frohlich [2] started the discussion by putting together two seemingly irrelevant pieces of his former research – thereby creating the brilliant new concept which appeared to offer a quite unique possibility for understanding the orderly functioning of active biosystems. He was of the opinion that he would present this exciting new concept to biologists, and that they could pursue it with enthusiasm, leaving him free to return to his pure (non-biological) physics; but it wasn’t to be, as you well know. He remained very involved with his bio-theory and with supporting experiments until two years before his death when he decided he would (and did) return to pure physics.

Now it is surprising and encouraging that many of these scientists from very different domains at the beginning of „I‘ Institutede la Vie“ meetings – for instance: Edelmann, an immunologist, Cooper, the theoretical physicist, Crick, the biologist, and now even Haken, another theoretical physicist – have concentrated their efforts more and more on the brain, as did Frohlich himself many years before, writing in 1977 in the issue of the Neuroscience Research Bulletin [3]; this was, however, strangely ignored until Hyland (who had been continuing Frohlich’s pure physics theory of Dirac particles) and I resurrected it [4]. Frohlich’s model for the generation of brain waves is based on selfsustaining collective chemical oscillations between the excited and ground states of a system of enzymes distributed throughout the greater membrane of the brain, possibly via their attachment to the microtubles. The energy required to activate these enzymes comes from interaction with surrounding substrate molecules. In their excited state, the enzymes possess an electric dipole which is absent in their ground state. The well-known correlation between the EEG and varying degrees on consciousness effectively places Frohlich’s Brain-Wave model at the interface between mind and brain — permitting clarification of the parameters which control the observed spectra and hence of the associated different states of consciousness.

In the meantime, Michael Lockwood, an Oxford philosopher, cited [5] at great length in his book „Mind, Brain and the Quantum“, Frohlich’s theory of bio-coherence at room temperature. Penrose, on the other hand, said that there should be vibrational effects within the active cells which would resonate with certain microwave electromagnetic
radiation as a result of quantum coherence, asserting this [6] in his book „Shadows of the Mind‘. Thereupon, Penrose linked this quantum mechanical coherence to consciousness itself through the work of Hammeroff, an anaesthetist, who had asserted that it was in the microtubules that the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness could be controlled by the administration of anaesthetics [7]. However, the conscious experience is surely much more complex than a simply not being unconscious – despite the fact that it can admittedly be turned off using anaesthetics. Consciousness, for instance, can move about, as in the process of breathing consciously, rather than doing it automatically; or playing the piano unconsciously, by rote or in learning a new piece of music, or in the automatic function of the liver contrasted with an acute pain in the liver. Consciousness skips around the body, now here, now elsewhere. One would need to expand this definition of the conscious – unconscious dichotomy so as not to identify the unconscious with simply the anaesthetized, but to broaden the range of unconscious activities to the automatic – such as playing the piano by rote, or even to the automatic drawing by which we start out in our realization of collective phenomena. But it is good that the conscious — unconscious distinction has, in this way, been brought together with the physical basis of consciousness, even though one might object to its limitations. Thus the possibility of linking the physical basis of consciousness through a scientific experiment [the application an anaesthetic] with conscious/unconsciousness is an almost metaphysical step.

Indeed, consciousness has a different discipline relating to it, namely intentional logic, which asks radically different questions – questions about the contents of the mind and its intentions. These are coinciding, but very different, enquiries made by the scientist and by the philosopher. Both forms of enquiry are intimately involved in the same process but appear to be irrelevant, belonging to completely different disciplines, such as cause and effect, and reasons for a particular action. They might, however, be linked by a metaphysical or meta-intentional step.

In the past, these two – the physical and the mental – were integrated by philosophers; Spinoza for instance, asserted that they were two aspects – namely Extension and Thought -of the same substance, whilst Leibnitz individualised this substance into the monads, each containing the world of thought and matter from its own point of view; they both shared a dualistic approach.

In more recent times, Alfred North Whitehead – who, with Bertrand Russell, wrote „Principia Mathematicia“, and who himself developed a theory of relativity having the same experimental consequences as Einstein’s, but which is more logically complex [for which reason it has been largely ignored], wrote (in 1929) his metaphysical work,
„Process and Reality“ [8], in which he developed the idea of the „actual entity in concrescence“ – his fundamental unit consisting of both a ‚physical‘ and a ‚mental‘ pole, describing how they were integrated at each phase of the process into an organic unity. To show how this view is appealing even now, we quote from David Chalmers‘ „The
Conscious Mind: in Search ofa Fundamental Theory“ [9]. „If this view is correct, consciousness does not come in suddenjagged spikes with isolated complex systems producing rich complex experience. Rather it is a more uniform property of the universe, with very simple systems having very simple phenomenology and complex systems having complex. This make consciousness ‚less special‘ in the same wcry and so more reasonable“.

What I propose to do here is to use Whitehead’s own somewhat inscrutable terminology, but „translate“ it into terms which are more familiar to scientists and to non-whiteheadian philosophers; whilst some of the more radical insights might in the process be lost, the results are more apt here. „The actual entity in the process of concrescening“ is here identified with elementary bio-physical events and elementary experience becoming
coherent within an organic unity. This combines the physical pole with the mental pole in a way which is perpetually illuminating. I talked about these ideas with David Bohm, who was at the time highly influenced by Whitehead, long before he had written „Wholeness and the Implicit Order“.

The following is a hypothesis, or as Plato would say, ‚a likely story‘, which might provide a philosophical means of combining the physical with the mental in some sort of organic, symbiotic way, in which they would both constantly influence each other. Although Whitehead did not himself illustrate his concepts with diagrams, I propose the following very rudimentary diagram (Fig. 1) which, while misleading in some instances,
might be illuminating in others – such as in illustrating the relationship between physical and mental poles. Thus the physical pole – the physical basis – is represented by a straight (continuous) line, (A), which converges into a triangle as it meets and interacts with the mental pole, which is here represented by a dotted line (B) – its concavity indicating choice. The labile mental pole converges (downwards) towards the physical pole, maintaining interaction with it at all times. This diagram represents something akin to Leibnitz’s ‚monads‘. The mental pole and the physical pole are integrated in various ways. B indicates the choice available to the mental pole either to conform – which leads to a solid object – or to initiate change – which leads to novelty. Such interactions between the mental and physical pole are not yet sufficient (except in certain cases, such as when a single electron can initiate the change). Generally they must consist of a „society“ – which can be either temporal or spatial – to create a resonance whereby they make themselves perceived.


Figure l. Relationship between physical and mental poles.


For instance, in the case of a human being, one must remember the beginning of word in order to complete it meaningfully. In a temporal society one must be aware of what ones has remembered in the mental pole. A vastly simplified illustration of temporal order is shown in Fig.2, in which for clarity full and dashed lines are used, respectively, to depict the physical and mental poles.

In order to illustrate spatial order (Fig.3), the system is repeated horizontally, thereby creating a space for resonance. Of course, in any real organism these two – the spatial and the mental – must combine.


Figure 2. Temporal order.


Figure 3. Spatial order.


As an absurd example, consider a machine or a table, for which there is a minimum mental pole representing conformity – each successor of the mental pole resembling its predecessors – except when the machine refuses to go on working or the table disintegrates – the „society“ of components then breaking down or going beyond the verge of collapse. Thus the distinction applies to objects – the mental pole conforming until the machine does not function or the table is in the process of disintegration. Intention arises in the mental pole within a „personal order“ embedded in a „society“ – i.e. within an organic whole – for instance, such as a human individual. However, the more primitive embodiment is in the actual entity which involves cause and effect interacting intimately with intentions at every stage.


These two, the social order and the personal order, can this be superimposed to give a diagrammatic idea of how the mental pole enters (at least minimally) at each stage into a conversation with the physical pole, thus making the mental pole [consciousness] more general and less mysterious.


A reference was made to a new kind of ‚collective phenomena‘ as exemplified not in groups of non-living beings – such as in the case of superconductivity, for instance – but specifically in living entities.


Two examples of collective phenomena were given:

  1. The unusual acting together of several artists on the same surface, in which one gesture having been made, ll others must have some relevance to it until the time comes when the complexity is too great, and the painters have to discuss what path might lead to coherence; for this, ‚Collective Phenomena‘, with ll its ramifications, was borrowed as a title.
  2. Coherence in brain processes, including the step to consciousness itself. Two examples were presented – Hyland’s analysis of Fröhlich’s model for the generation of brainwaves, which takes into account certain empirical aspects (chaos) of neurological EEG, data, and R. Penrose’s use of biological quantum coherence plus Harnerows ’switch-off‘ of consciousness through anaesthetics in his book „Shadows of the Mind‘. There would seem, however, to be a meta-physical and meta-logical gap between these two – which are even represented by different logics: the cause and effect logic [modified by quantum mechanics] for scientists, and the intentional logic – the contents of the mind – for a philosophers.

A suggestion was made fllowing A.N. Whitehead’s treatise, „Process and Reality“, as to how this gap might be overcome by the mental and physical poles of an actual entity working together intimately at every stage and integrating cause – and – effect logic with intentional logic.


  • Fröhlich, F.: Collective Phenomena, in H. Haken and M. Wagner (eds.), Cooperative Phenomena, Springer
    Verlag, Berlin, 1971.
  • Fröhlich, H.:, in M. Marois (ed.),Theoretical Physics and Biology, Proceedings of the First International Conference on Theoretical Physics and Biology, Versailles, 1967, I’Institutede la Vie, North Holland, Amsterdam.
  • Fröhlich, H.:, Neuroscience Res. Prog. Bull. 15(1977),67-72.
  • Fröhlich, F., and Hyland, GJ.: in , 1. King and K.H. Pribram (eds.), Scale in Consciousness Experience,
    Lawrence Erlbaum, New Jersey, 1995, pp.407 – 438.
  • Lockwood, M.: Mind, Brain and Quantum, The Compound ul“, Blackwell, 1989.
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