My son Morgan Guyton wrote perhaps the longest of his 200 (?) blogs yesterday on the topic of “the evil entities we [are] supposed to fight against.” To explain the demonic in the world and in the Bible, Morgan turns to Michel Foucault’s description of power. Morgan writes, “Power is not a possession that belongs to any one individual in greater or lesser portions, but rather an infinitely complex matrix of subtle pressures and influences within which human community exists. The reason that some people seem to ‘have’ more power than others is because power coagulates into certain synergies and patterns, but these synergies never become the actual possession of individual people.
“It is more accurate to describe a coagulated power synergy as an actual creature in whose body individual people are incorporated to produce ‘a series of aims and objectives [that do not] result from the choice or decision of an individual subject.’-(Foucault) These synergies of power not only develop their own motives that become detached from the motives of the individual subjects who create them, but they remake into their own image all whom they have incorporated.”
I know a fair bit about the Bible, though not as much as Morgan, but I’m a real novice with European postmodernism. My training is in science and medicine. The upshot is that I just have a twinge of uncertainty about his blog, which I’m sure is wonderful if I could just understand it fully.
So I want to attempt a translation back to a once vibrant, now dead language known as Dynamo.
By speaking Dynamo, I will try to convince you that what Morgan calls “a coagulated power synergy” may be more simply termed “a system” and may be understood by analogy to systems analysis – a scientific discipline. We’ll think about systems (plural) and not merely “the system” we railed against in the 60s and 70s. Like Morgan, I’ll try to suggest that systems are powerful, complex, self-organizing, and that they derive their power in part from chaos. When we turn to serve any system with more devotion (or time?) than we serve God, then that system becomes demonic, even the Beast of Revelation.
In case you are unfamiliar with Dynamo, it’s a computer language. In 1973, I presented an M.D. thesis titled “A Mathematical Model of Immediate Glucose Homeostasis” based on using Dynamo on an IBM 370-165 mainframe at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It worked, at least well enough to get me a paper in the journal Diabetes while I was still a resident physician.
Let me illustrate the idea of computer modeling for systems analysis. A systems diagram for the “glucose sector” of my model is shown below. The boxes represent levels of glucose within various blood vessels or tissues of various organs in the body, the arrows represent movements (fluxes) of glucose between compartments, and the decanters are the rate controllers that govern glucose flux. In the Figure “GH” is glucose in the heart, “GHD” is glucose in blood vessels in the head, “GHDS” glucose in the tissue space of the head, “GK” glucose in the kidney, and so on.
The circulation of insulin can be represented in a similar manner. But in the overall model I was proudest of the simulation of beta cells in the pancreas, which incorporated “the heterogeneous fast pool theory of insulin release.” Here it is. Cool, huh?
What can you do with a computer model of glucose-insulin regulation? You set up the conditions, and then the model does the rest. You can run experiments on the computer just as if you were infusing glucose or insulin into real people in the clinical laboratory. Here is a simulation of giving a 60-minute infusion of glucose at 3 different infusion rates.
The glucose curves (top) and insulin curves (bottom) trace the levels of glucose and insulin that you could measure by drawing repeated blood samples from a real person. Notice the rapid bump of insulin near the beginning of the infusion. That comes from the “fast pool.” By modeling and then performing critical experiments in the real world to determine if the model works, and what its parameters should be, you learn a great deal about the circulation of glucose and insulin and the behavior of all the organs involved. You play God. It’s a lot of fun.
My model of glucose-insulin regulation made it into a prestigious journal, but in the end it turned out to be small stuff. Others developed models much more sophisticated than mine.
One of the most influential of all computer models simulated the human circulatory system, developed by my father, Arthur Guyton, and colleagues at the University of Mississippi Medical School in Jackson over his 40+ year career in physiology. In his early work with this model, my father realized that the kidney, and not the heart, was the organ that controlled blood pressure in animals and humans. It was controversial at first, accepted today. Here’s how the model looked in 1972, about the halfway point in its development.
Now after 40 more years of development, we have “HumMod – The best, most complete, mathematical model of human physiology ever created.” Check it out at http://hummod.org/.
Even the brain can be modeled and studied by systems analysis, although Paul Nunez1 has emphasized how difficult and perhaps impossible it may be to develop a completely accurate model. But we may learn enough to understand schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as examples of systems failure.
I want to get back to the Dynamo computer language. I learned Dynamo from young assistant professor at MIT who was not studying human physiology at all. He was studying the economic system of the United States. Instead of glucose and insulin movement around the body, his models simulated the movements of goods, services, and capital around the country.
In terms of functionality it’s all the same. The economy is a system, just as the human body is a system. Government is also a system. We can model mathematically how bills get through Congress (or don’t) and how federal initiatives might meet resistance in the states, or get transformed through bureaucracy, or how constituencies may develop for various entitlements. Mob behavior in cities, the rise to power of dictators, and even the outbreak of wars around the world have been studied by systems analysis.
Now the third generation in my family, Morgan, is discussing “powers and principalities” that Paul warned us about in his letter to the Ephesians. Can you see the connection? The powers and principalities are systems.
The rise of HumMod helps us to see that an organism is a complex system. And vice versa. I want to repeat that. Vice versa. Complex systems like economies, governments, and every kind of social interaction and pathology can be modeled mathematically as organisms.
In this sense, it’s not unreasonable to think of “powers and principalities” as creatures that bear the functionality of life – that is, as organisms. Or as Morgan says, demons.
Let’s push the analogy a little further. Nobody will dispute that the weather can be modeled on computers. Weather is a system, a natural one, neither biological nor sociological, but we personify hurricanes by giving them names, and we cower in awe at their destructive power.
In modeling the weather, it’s fair game to build into the computer program one or more Random Number Generators. Understanding how this works is called chaos theory. In the classic example, a butterfly flaps its wings in the Brazilian jungle, and this sets off a series of escalating positive feedback events that 5 years later kills hundreds of people in a monsoon in Karela.
Random events. Few things in life are as exciting as gambling, or maybe having the outcome of a big game depend on the crazy bounces of an oval shaped ball, or the swishing prayer of a random heave from mid-court with a second left in the game.
Is it not likely that all kinds of systems – economic, governmental, social, climatic – could have randomness built into them? Then if they gain direction from randomness, we may also have to say that they are not totally determined. At least in some sense, they act freely. They act on their own.
It is in the character of systems that they combine randomness with self-regulation. The most profound example of this is the system of organic life itself – that is, evolution. But economies also self-regulate over time as inefficient practices and worthless processes die away and are replaced by better, or least more dominant, ones. Governments likewise bloom and die away when they lose their power to hold on.
Morgan hears Paul to say we should not bow down to these partially organized, random, self-regulating systems – these functional organisms – the principalities and powers of our world, whether they be one kind of economy or another, or government, or entertainment, or power and conflict. They present themselves as powerful and alive, and invite us to join. Their demonic character has its roots in randomness or chaos hidden within, so that each may flash across our minds as one who “was, and is not, and is to come.” They are as captivating as drugs and gambling, as well as even commendable sports and activities.
The strongest Biblical image for these systems is the Beast of Revelation. The Beast comes from the sea, the source of randomness and chaos in ancient Middle Eastern writing. It organizes and self-regulates, calling forth a hierarchy and a following. It is characterized by number and by many names rather than one.
The Beast is whatever system we choose to serve more than God. It could be the economy. It could be government, or it could be anti-government ideology. It could be science. It could even be football…God forbid.
We must live with systems in our world. There is no other way to feed or cloth ourselves, or to have houses to live in. We work and play in systems. More than that, Christ has chosen to live here with us among the principalities and powers, among the systems good and bad.
It is when we seek profit for self or for tribe by tying our hopes and efforts to one or another system that we go wrong. For personal gain, we serve the economy and have no other vision. Or we call on the government to help us, and at the same time seek to control governmental decisions.
As Morgan astutely writes, an elaborately constructed sense of self could be the system we serve. Or it could be the church. Jesus had no harsher criticism than for leaders of the church in his day. The Sabbath was part of their system, but Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
These systems are things that have the appearance, power, and even freedom to work toward their own self-organizing purposes spun out from chaos. God who made us and them wants all to serve him. In so doing, we also love and serve each other best.
1 Nunez, Paul L. Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 168.