... the greatest thought that mankind has ever hit upon
George Santayana

... a great idea, a grand vision, to grasp the hidden order of the world.
Carlo Rovelli

It is a metaphysics fit for a two-year-old.
Graham Harman

Never were so many facts explained by so few assumptions,
you can’t have life without a rich chemistry.
Richard Dawkins

The only interesting questions left in biology are molecular.
There are only molecules. Everything else is sociology.
James Watson

The molecule also has a body. When you strike it the molecule feels hurt all over.
A. Kitaigorodskii

Molecules are like people. Either they are free and this is marvelous, or they are oriented, but then they are not without deformation.
P. Diehl

Chemistry creates its object.

What the world really needs is clean electrons and molecules.
Thomas Friedman

Matter presents an infinitely porous texture that is sponge like or cavernous but devoid of empty space, as there is always a cavern within every cavern.

Only plants had consciousness. Animals got it from them.
Dale Pendell

The first men were trees.

Psychoactive plants are bridges between the worlds of matter and spirit or, to update the vocabulary, chemistry and consciousness.
Michael Pollan

The origin of life, rather than having been vastly improbable, is instead a collective property of complex systems of catalytic polymers and the molecules on which they act. Life, in a deep sense, crystallized as a collective self-reproducing metabolism in a space of possible organic reactions. If this is true, then the routes to life are many and its origin is profound yet simple.
This view is indeed heretical.
Stuart Kauffman


Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves.
Nagarjuna (150 - 250 CE)


… it is the organization of components, and not their physical properties, that largely determines behavior…
Herbert A. Simon


Modern theories of mental dysfunction led to the elimination of witches from our serious ontology. The concepts of folk psychology — belief, desire, fear, sensation, pain, joy, and so on — await a similar fate, according to the view at issue. And when neuroscience has matured to the point where the poverty of our current conceptions is apparent to everyone, and the superiority of the new framework is established, we shall then be able to set about reconceiving our internal states and activities, within a truly adequate conceptual framework at last.
Paul M. Churchland

Only the shallow know themselves.
Oscar Wilde

I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan.
Carl Sagan

I seem to be a verb.
Buckminster Fuller

Organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds. Biochemistry is the study of carbon compounds that crawl. Neurochemistry is the study of carbon compounds that laugh.
Mike Adams

Shakespeare and Mozart and Caravaggio are not in competition with protein kinases and micro RNA.
Patricia Churchland

Neurons can be seen not so much as relays or on/off valves but as secretory cells. The electrical phenomena of electrotonic and action potentials can, on this analogy, be seen merely as triggers for the release of secretions — the neurotransmitters and modulators.
C. U. M. Smith

La fixité du milieu intérieur est la condition de la vie libre.
Claude Bernard

More is different.
Philip Anderson

Chemistry is an intermediate science between the extremes of size, more in consonance with the human scale of things. We chemists are down-to-earth people, who are not so troubled with the mysticism that sometimes creeps into physics. For example, I use quantum mechanics constantly, just as an engineer uses cement. But I don't agonize over its paradoxes the way some physicists do.
Roald Hoffmann


23 letters made the world literature; the atoms make the world and 23 letters.
Lucretius (DRM 2:688 passim)


Lucretius described bonding between atoms without needing spectrometers (DRM 2:444). 2300 years later Albert Einstein calculated the size of atoms from their brownian movement as described by Lucretius (ibid 2.62 passim).


Had the Christians not suppressed Lucretius, we would surely have discovered Darwinism centuries before we did.
Matt Ridley


Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.

Open boek


More about atomism:

Stanford Encyclopedia
Galileo Project
About atomism
Jan Garrett
Rex Warner




… atomism at a given level may not be a final or metaphysical truth, it will describe, on every level, the practical and efficacious structure of the world. We owe to Democritus this ideal of practical intelligibility; and he is accordingly an eternal spokesman of reason. His system, long buried with other glories of the world, has been partly revived; and although it cannot be verified in haste, for it represents an ultimate ideal, every advance in science reconstitutes it in some particular. Mechanism is not one principle of explanation among others. In natural philosophy, where to explain means to discover origins, transmutations, and laws, mechanism is explanation itself.

It is a pity that Democritus' physics was not absorbed by Aristotle. For with the flux observed, and mechanism conceived to explain it, the theory of existence is complete; and had a complete physical theory been incorporated into the Socratic philosophy, wisdom would have lacked none of its parts. Democritus, however, appeared too late, when ideal science had overrun the whole field and initiated a verbal and dialectical physics; so that Aristotle, for all his scientific temper and studies, built his natural philosophy on a lamentable misunderstanding, and condemned thought to confusion for two thousand years.
Santayana. The Life of Reason (1906)

The atomists asked the mechanistic question, and gave a mechanistic answer. Their successors, until the Renaissance, were more interested in the teleological question, and thus led science up a blind alley.
Bertrand Russell




Diatoms, unicellular algae: organized molecules in a silica lattice. Like nature used to do before them, humans have started to develop intelligent composite materials recently.


She was puzzled as to why learned people didn't adopt chemistry as a religion.
Betty Smith (1943. A tree grows in Brooklyn)

"Welcome back, brain cells, atoms, acid, billiard balls - and feel free to reduce philosophy out of existence."
Graham Harman

We are made up of the same atoms and the same light signals as are exchanged between pine trees in the mountains and stars in the galaxies.
Carlo Rovellli


Email us at:

info AT epistylion DOT org

Replace AT by @ and DOT by .


If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed onto the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.
… The most important hypothesis in all of biology, for example, is that everything that animals do, atoms do. In other words, there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms…
Richard Feynman

A reminder first. Atomism is not a philosophical system, it is merely an ancient tentative ontology based on one simple postulate only: everything that exists consists of atoms in a void or is an effect produced by atoms. The word ontology has several meanings; here an ontology describes what exists in the universe of discourse and how those things in it (atoms, animals, or angels to name a few at random) act; ontologies are models of domains of reality. Certain professionals have used names such as cognitive ecosystem or Umwelt to cover approximately the concept. A description of what there is implies a description of its behaviour; in the case of people, their politics, their ethics, and their epistemology follow from their ontology. Atomists hold that all existing things are material and are always made up of smaller things; for practical use, atoms are supposed to be the smallest material particles, the basic entities in a materialistic ontology. All living things consist of cells, all cells are made of molecules, and all molecules are combinations of linked atoms. In modern Greek the word atomos, literally individual, analogously means person, the body as a basic indivisible entity in a human society. Usually, subontologies are set up to model subsets of what there is. Biological examples are phylum, order, genus, and species among others. An ontology, which is a model of the world, is the basic toolbox that all organisms need to exist, finding one is the first primitive urge. Plants and humans can do something only with what exists for them, so their behaviour and convictions are built on some ontology that usually remains implicit. It must be complete but need to have only those entities in it that count; a sub-world has its own ontology and methods such as those analyzed in ethnomethodology. Usually, every object in an ontology is made up of elements, the basic constituents of what exists.

Chemistry was discovered

Know thyself, advised Pittacos, Solon, Thales, Socrates, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Sun Tzu, and Lao Tze: stop meddling with others but try to understand yourself first, the others are like you. Since people are strongly bound to their environment, contain other things or are even part of many others, that advice meant "know nature". The preplatonic Greeks were fully aware that incompetence caused by ignorance of nature was the main source of human misery; that's why they started the natural sciences. Empedocles claimed that everything is made up of the four elements (fire, air, water, earth) in various proportions but that ancient Asian idea was not very useful, perhaps because it was too abstract: his elements were mere names for very broad categories of matter. He might as well have chosen the colours red, green, blue and black as elements. For Pythagoras all is number, an insight useful for music theory. Every number is expressed as a string of 0 and 1, so those two were his elements; the Chinese called them yin and yang and thereby improved the Pythagorean elements. Democritus had an even better idea and proposed atomism to understand the entire world. He saw that the world has more in it than only thoughts of people and posited that the behaviour of things results from moving atoms; in our terms, chemical and physical processes determine what occurs. Even in the beginning it became clear that atomism could explain many puzzling natural facts as Lucretius showed in his epos. That remarkable book even has a recipe for demineralizing water.

Apart from atomism, several other materialist ontologies have been proposed. Early ones were part of Lokayata and Vaisheshika-Nyaya dharsana, philosophical schools in India that started in the axial era. A millenium before Empedocles, the Indians already had the four Empedoclean elements plus space (void or vacuum). After the 12th century BCE the Chinese had mainly elements to construct things with. There was no air in their five elements but three of them were solids: earth, metal, and wood. The fifth element that Aristotle added to earth, water, fire, and air (each of them was supposed to have two properties, cold or warm, wet or dry) was the divine quintessence or ether. Napoleon discovered mud as the fifth element. Certain more recent versions of materialism such as physicalism, naturalism, and pantheism do little to specify the nature of their elements. The materialist ontology that now prevails is the original atomism of Democritus in which the elements are those in Mendeleyev's table. These elements are exclusive constituents of all matter while the four Empedoclean elements in the ancient versions of materialism were not constituents but forms, phenomenal properties that the members in a few broad categories of matter share. Those four elements are what we now would call phases. Atomism, proposed by Democritus, was truly original and would have been very useful for daily practice if it had been taken seriously in antiquity. It wasn’t. But now, atomism is not only the basis of modern technology and all natural sciences but it also suggests a philosomatic lifestyle as it did 2500 years ago but with much better arguments. Its coherence with its ontology makes it unique among all lifestyles.

No thing exists that is not made up of atoms. To a very good and useful approximation. The recent discovery that atoms themselves consist of other more elementary things (leptons and unobservable quarks) or that there are non-atoms such as photons, muons, anyons, Higgs-bosons, and other entities from epistemological games that physicists like to invent in order to make sense of the tracks in their cloud chambers, did not refute the atomism that was suggested by the early materialist philosophers: atoms, ions, and electrons (parts of atoms or themselves atoms in a wider sense) determine all terrestrial processes (including human behaviour) and all properties of daily interest which is what materialism is about. Atoms are virtually perennial once created in heavy stars but they can be ionized and nuclei can be split. With our knowledge of atoms Democritus would probably have named them Achronon (timeless) instead of atomon (indivisible). Subatomic particles such as quarks are mere items in an enchanting theoretical puzzle and are chemically immaterial. High energy processes in the interior of stars, novae, or black holes are highly interesting but irrelevant for daily praxis, they make no sense in an ontology for pedestrians. There do not seem to be any major gaps in the atomist proposal so we can leave it at that.

Apart from ionization, atoms are virtually unsplittable into more fundamental particles as the name atom says; stable nuclei can be split only by using brute force far outside the regime of terrestrial processes. Reaction with thermal neutrons in a nuclear power plant are a small exception to that rule. It might be possible to formulate a materialist ontology using as elements only strings or fields instead of atoms, but they would be as difficult to use as a practical tool as trying to predict the weather by solving the state equations of the oxygen, nitrogen, water, and carbon dioxide molecules. With atomism based on the atoms of Mendeleyev however, understanding key parts of the enigmatic world and controlling it is comparatively easy as modern technology shows. Atomism is an opportunistic model of reality; in contrast, the physical standard model using subatomic elementary particles is a mathematical game with transcendencies such as isospin, charm, and strangeness, hardly a practically convenient proposal.

Some 90 different types of atoms or chemical elements exist. These atoms combine to form molecules (or solids) which are clusters (or lattices) of atoms linked to each other with any of the five types of chemical bond between atoms to form all types of matter. The different types of atoms are few but the number of different types of molecules is countless. Five atoms form twenty amino acids that are biologically useful and those amino acids link to each other to make a vast number of enzymes and proteins. What atoms do together is much more interesting than what they are. The exuberant plurality of phenomena and properties in nature and their immanent freedom to do practically everything stems from the behaviour of that molecular infinity; even a few neurotransmitters in the right body tissues produce an infinite number of ideas. Molecules can be said to be atoms of a sort (polynuclear ones that are not elements) because they cannot be split without ceasing to exist and turning into something else (other molecules, radicals or atoms). Molecules may aggregate to form polymers, cells, tissues, organisms and societies. A higher level of aggregation gives the new entities novel properties and behaviour which are not simple combinations of properties of their constituents but in addition are determined by their organization, their interactions, and their dynamics. Those new entities can be classed into their own sub-ontology. An example is organic chemistry that forms the collection of organic molecules (built up of carbon, hydrogen and a few other elements as well) and their ions and radicals. Emergence is the convenient concept used to indicate that the whole is 'more' than some linear combination of the attributes of the parts, already a truism in Greek antiquity. Emergence is why molecules are so different from the atoms which form them, why atoms (seem to) change drastically on binding to form molecules, why macromolecules have surfaces if they are large and what that means, why emulsions are far from solutions, why companies are not individuals, why tissues have remarkable functions, why free will exists in a world of atoms, and why slimeware (organized sludge that combines hardware with software and hosts a vast set of heterogeneous autocatalytic reactions) is intelligent and produces life. With emergence, algorithmic derivation can be evaded in cases where it is not possible and replaced by procedure. In addition to its use in in explaining almost everything (in a sense it is true), atomism is needed to know how to make things out of the elements as modern technology shows (it is useful). There is no Aristotelian teleology in materialism, it has Democritean emergence instead. Self-organisation, an emergent effect, was mentioned by Lucretius who called it clinamen.

The nature of the elements that make up all existing substances was the new vision of the atomists. To see how materialists and idealists think about elements, ask them a simple question: is hydrogen in LiH (a reducing agent) truly the same element as in HF (a strong acid)? The materialist will point out that the answer is already in the formulation of the question: yes, obviously hydrogen is the same element in both compounds. The idealist will retort not to beg the question: reducibility and acidity are the elements that the question is about, so the answer is no, these elements are not the same ones in LiH and HF. Hydrogen is not an element but a gas for balloons that has a lot of the essence reducibility in addition to other elements. Reducibility is an element in LiH which also happens to have a high concentration in carbon which is not an element but a black solid for making ink and pencils. Reducibility is also the element that combines with earths to form metals: in blast furnaces reducibility is transferred from carbon to the earths. Acidity is an element having a higher concentration in HF than in unripe grapes. The gas hydrogen is not acid so it does not contain the element acidity. This answer shows that the idealist mindset may be suitable for politicians and philosophers but is not advisable for those aspiring a career in any discipline that has to deal with facts, such as technology.

Of particular importance for the behaviour of matter are relative orientation of the elementary particles in the void and their motion, the dance of interacting atoms, ions, and molecules that leads to conversions of types of matter. Online much can be found on this subject as well as its recent history. The choreography of atoms (chemists call it reaction kinetics) that combines motion with relative orientation is as basic to materialist ontology (also called metachemics) as the ions and molecules and their properties themselves. The many coupled heterogeneous reactions involving ions and molecules are the so-called cranes that erect life and mind according to atomism; there is no need to invoke Dennetts skyhooks (platonic ploys) to explain things. Brute facts refute dualism; rather than platonic souls humans are chemical orgies of organic molecules. Those orgies interact physically with other orgies to form societies. This realization bases ethics on the body. Atomism explains human behaviour.

Atoms even build thinking souls

Consciousness as we know it is a by-product of increased complexity of organized matter. Animals have developed two novel means of control, nerves and forced liquid circulation. The human nervous and circulatory systems, which also produce consciousness if complex enough, link the internal chemistries in different parts of the body. Neurons are the cells of nerves that act as fuses and veins are tubes for conducting flow of liquids. Both are designed to increase the rates of interactions between separated parts that are too sluggish if they remain diffusion limited; diffusion limitation in chemical reactions makes control difficult in large animals. A nerve can rapidly connect and ignite local reactions in tissues far removed from each other such as sensors and actuators; vessels can rapidly transfer dissolved reactants or gases to where they are needed. Increasing reaction rates is vital for multicellular beings who have to survive in a world of rapidly moving preys and predators. Fixed and slowly moving organisms such as plants do not need neurons or a heart-driven circulatory system. Nor do animalcules. If a network of fuses and lit reactions in an agent is sufficiently complex, the agent develops awareness, an embodied consciousness. Clearly, animals got their intelligence (and much else) from plants: plants and animals have the same chemical intelligence but plants were first. Animals improved it by increasing rates of thought and action: to do that they just added nerves and hearts. By doing so, some of them made a soul, another emergent phenomenon.

Inventing causes, a double-edged sword

Souls were invented in order to think with the mind instead of using body organs. Human neuromuscular skills are adequate as matches on Wimbledon courts show but pure thought has a problem. Our thoughts are crippled because our ancestors had to develop and maintain the habit to search for causes of observed processes and facts; in many situations that helped survival. Therefore it is now generally asssumed that everything that occurs has a cause or a perpetrator. Teachers insist on it in their lectures and science explains all about causes and their effects. Inventing causes is considered so vital, even if they conflict with matereality, that evolution has made it an instinct. Superstition is a universal result. So is the appalling habit to invent enemies that have to be killed to solve problems. The culprit is the nervous system, which is set up to see objects instead of coloured patches of light and one or a few causes instead of an infinity of indirect affects. Similarly it makes up causes rather than incoherent and independent facts in order to remember and react better. Memory needs causality. One cause per occasion is usually considered sufficient. Ockham advised to stop looking for more if one satisfies. Hence the simplifications in speeches of political populists and dictators; simplicity makes their lies credible, more so if repeated often enough. Simple causes are needed by those who make up ideologies; nobody invents ideologies that have a chaotic worldview. Mystics (such as chief Seattle who said 'All things are connected like the blood that unites us') hold that Everything is One because it occurred to them that what is and happens usually has no isolated single direct cause but many vicarious ones if any; everything is then said to affect everything else in a complex world if at all. Scientists agree up to a point but tend to use more exact language. For artists causality has never been an issue. Materialists abhor the general habit to sacralize mnemonics. They have a simple empiric criterion to assess the meaning of an argument in a discussion that is designed to convince but may be based on fake facts: what does it mean, meaning what does the argument imply materially and if anything real would result, is that result true and complete enough to be acceptable? Ockhams razor is likely to help analysis.

Usually causes cannot be assigned to observed phenomena as complex processes dominate our world. Fake causes lead to metaphysical and religious twaddle. That is why the Buddha said that everything is Maya; he got the point. Rigid simple causality as we have it in computers is of limited use to simulate behaviour of complex systems such as humans. An actual computer is too simple and too slow, it cannot make up or analyze even a mildly complex system such as a breathing cell or drips from a faucet. For real intelligence, comparable to that of an organism, the high number of logical relations and high rates of logical calculations that a computer needs requires very fast and small components, of atomic dimension. Obviously we have to leave artificial intelligence worthy of its name to atoms and their chemical logic, to biology itself or to artificial biology. Molecules only are small and fast enough for the ultimate computing power required of a gadget that thinks approximately like a human; extrapolated Moore's law says so. The best model of a process is the process itself; results of laboratory experiments are more reliable than those of contemporary computer simulations. Test tubes and Petri disks are the ultimate computers. In the meantime complex adaptive matter might be developed instead. And renormalisation may also help to understand behaviour of human material as indicated below.

In addition to that, explanations of simple systems are sometimes crippled by our instinctive manner of using narrative causalities, not only in the just so stories in psychology and philosophy but also in scientific explanations in cases that actually have identifiable causes. An obvious mistake is to assume that something (an agent or suspected cause) that acts on something else is disjunct from that something else and from other causes. Problems are solved by first splitting them into independent modules each one having a cause apart from its consequence; those modules are easier to deal with separately, their coherence and internal feedback is ignored in a first approximation. That method may work when used for solving very simple problems (hunting, celestial mechanics, elementary particle physics, or hacking) but it may be useless and misleading for understanding multicausal cases such as those that are dealt with in civil engineering and criminal law.

Are we our brain?

This question, which is not about physiological control of the body but about consciousness, is discussed by folk-psychologists who are inspired by cartesian dualism that separates body and soul. That separation is kept alive as long as scientists link conscious thoughts to the body by measurements on local vasodilation in the brain only using functional MRI (fMRI shows activity of capillaries, not nerve cells) without considering simultaneously vasodilation and concentration variations in other parts of the body. We like to be our brain because the brain has a language center that we esteem so much and because brain is felt to be another name for spirit or mind. However we also know that consciousness is only the top bit of the Freudian iceberg, above the subconscious (a concept as ill-defined as consciousness). Consciousness, like everything else an effect of atomic behaviour, raises the issue of free will. LaMettrie considered man a machine and, like a machine, man has no free will; that seemed to have been confirmed recently by experimenting psychologists. But that interpretation disallows at least the subconscious or adaptive unconscious (that includes the autonomous nervous system, the heart, and the intestine), since free will is first defined as a product of the prefrontal cortex only. Then it is shown that it is not really free by using images from functional MRI.

Obviously atomists disagree. A machine is a simple mechanical, strictly causal, non-chemical device, having a delimited number of access possibilities and action states. By definition a machine is an automaton that is not designed to be creative, ambiguous, and original. It is not expected to modify its environment to suit its purpose, even if it has intelligence. As far as we know such a non-chaotic device (a machine is never chaotic) cannot be free and versatile enough to form the sort of life that was constructed by the first organisms. Those organisms were dynamic, complex systems that used chemical reactions to build a life; another way to carry out so much fool-proof technology in such a small volume using vulnerable and abundantly available materials only, is unimaginable. A vast set of parallel coupled chemical processes in the body produces enough freedom to enable interaction with an uncertain environment and to maintain life. This model also has no ego-structure or homunculus hidden in the body or the skull to guide conscious behaviour (a cartesian idea that is still popular in some circles that like to quarrel over qualia). By now in the West they are finally discovering what people in India and China knew all the time: in the body there is no hierarchy between controller and controlled organs. It is a complex system without a controlling center. If a cartesian homunculus exists for our body at all, it is the complete set of interlinked organs itself, not only one of them. A living organism does not need brains to function and is too complex to be controlled by any single thing such as a brain or gene (genes cannot predict reliably what will happen either). Intelligence is in the chemistry of the body tissues. The body organs do their own specialized chemistry, neurons in the brain just link them to allow the organs to cooperate. If we must be only one of our organs, the one having a high neuron density as is sometimes claimed in books that popularize neuroscience, then perhaps we are our cerebellum, genitals, retina, lips, or fingertips; fingerprints and retinal patterns are as uniquely individual as the synapse structure in the central nervous system. Some biologists call the enteric nerves of the intestine our second brain and ganglions minibrains. The heart would be an excellent candidate too on which to project the ego. Partly we are all of them anyway because our organs determine our moods and the way we think. Or bearing in mind that we like to believe and follow others, we might be the brains of others. Partly we are all of those anyway, not only what is in our skull. We are our body but that is an inane answer to an inane question.

Are we what we have?

The strong bond between individuals is the reason why it is so difficult to see their boundaries: there are none, individuals overlap. Materially they are equal, they are very similar bodies and genomes and they live in the same world. Paradoxically they inflict on each other a vast inequality in wealth, in access to resources, in power over others, and in personal well-being, which are not inspired by the inequality of their individual (physiological) capacities or skills. Such inequalities are a consequence, not a material source of the difference. For some mysterious reason, by consent, similar people are supposed to differ a lot. Why?

Because we like to think that persons are more than just bags of skin stuffed with organs. Socially they are determined to a large extent by what they have (don't miss Oscar Wilde on property), what their job is, what others taught them, what others think of them, who they married, and what they are capable of. Not to mention the state of mind of the observer at the time of meeting them. All those external things determine what they are (their existence in a social sense) in addition to their current inner somatic constitution. The personalities of an individual are known to be strongly affected by his or her clothes, prostheses, tools, amount of money possessed, and environment. An individual handling a guitar while performing on stage has other somatic and psychological properties than the same body on patrol in a jungle brandishing a kalashnikov. All these exosomatic contributions (guitar, machine gun, environment, relations to others present) to the individual, are therefore part of that person. When his Harley Davidson is taken from a Hell’s Angel, he turns into a much lesser individual.

The environment (stage, public, jungle, enemies) also affects the individual. Someone on holiday is not the same as when at home. A person is not only partially his gadgets (including part of the infrastructure necessary to maintain them), she or he also consists of many other persons. We casually say for example, that H created the autobahn net in Germany and that M finally succeeded in making the trains run on time in Italy, ignoring the fact that the social networks assigned to those names did that, not the bodies called H or M. Contrary to what the newspapers say, Chavez never gave anything to his subjects. Contrary to what every Russian likes to think, Stalin did not beat the Germans in the second world war. Not Saddam Hussein, the absolute monarch, was hanged but someone else, a bearded smelly vagrant from a sewer pipe. Presidents "do" what their subjects do and inventors never designed any inventions without the overwhelming contributions of a vast number of others. The conductor is the only body in the orchestra that does not make music yet contrary to facts, the concert is supposed to be his work. A custom similar to giving a gold medal to the cox of the winning olympic eight instead of to the rowers. Great things are done by a multitude, not by the alleged perpetrators who are at best communication nodes or symbols. Leaders achieve nothing, which is why they never merit the respect they demand and always get; owing to the old custom to invent a perpetrator.

So every person can be said to have two parts, an endosomatic part (a bare biological body that is made up of polymer tissues and is bounded by the skin), and a variable exosomatic part (the dress which is considered to be part of the person as discussed below). Both parts originate from others: the body has the genes of the parents and their material and cognitive contributions; what someone can do and knows comes from others who made and taught her. Originality or creativity is merely the product of bisociation which is a connection of two existing disjunct systems of associations. The exosomatic part of a person also contains whatever others made and did. The others did not make or invent those contributions themselves but got them from others as well and just passed them on (or are mere links to what others collected). Although we are all nonentities in a collective of other nonentities, together we manage to do great things, using the immense know-how that masses of others have collected; an infinity of zeros need not add up to zero. Creations, from smartphones to moon landers, are the canalized result of an infinity of negligible personal contributions. Those achievements are mere combinations of countless personal observations (triggered or inspired by others), with innumerous selected items constructed by others. When inventors, artists, poets, scientists, and engineers create, they patch samples that originated from others. Creators work like generalized disc jockeys. All cultural artefacts, contrivances, and novel procedures are made by those generalized DJ's in the collective. The individuality of a DJ consists of her or his synapse patterns (association manyfold) coupled with an exosomatic part; both parts are individual combinations of selections of contributions from others. More generally, all technological know-how and all of science in human culture has been formed by bootstrapping, which began with the first ape that accidentally sharpened a stone to form a hand ax. Another name for this is historical emergence or self-organization, it is an autocatalytic process of combining first-hand observations with vicarious experiences of communicating members. The ultimate consituents of the result are the contributions of billions of individuals in the past. Awareness of this point leads to materialist ethics.


To avoid confusing bare bodies with social individuals in discussions about persons, ethics, and politics, the concept of renormalization is useful. Renormalization is a materialistic recipe proposed to redefine individuals in some way to include their exosomatic parts that affect them. The procedure, taken from the physics of many-body systems, makes many paradoxical properties of humans in society understandable. A universe of discourse that has certain entities (e.g. atoms, cells, humans, or stars) also needs something like the void or the commons in which the entities are embedded. Chessmen need a chessboard to play on, galaxies need the void that carries gravity and allows motion. In more interesting cases, such as a group of persons, the persons interact strongly through the commons and that strong coupling complicates analysis of their behaviour. In order to consider entities as individuals, notwithstanding the strong interactions between them (which prevent defining sharp boundaries around them), new individuals are defined in which a large part of the interactions is seen as part of the original individual in such a way that the new interactions between the new, transformed ("renormalized") individuals are so weak that it is possible to regard them as separate individuals. A transformed unit consists of the original body of the individual dressed in a cloud of interactions with others that are now said to be part of the individual. A renormalized individual is a bare body dressed in a cloud. Kings are very different from tramps, not under their skin, where they smell the same and are otherwise indistinguishable, but because of their dress that includes their interactions with things and individuals in their environment. Others make them different. And things possessed as allowed by others. This makes the paradoxical inequality understandable: a person with strong relations to a large club of people (e.g. a president, pope, or party secretary), or someone who owns a lot of land or money, is larger than a menial worker without such relations or possessions. Not physiologically but as a renormalized person.

Renormalization of persons is similar to renormalization used in physics and chemistry to discuss individual electrons in a sea of other electrons in a solid, or individual ions in a solution of other ions; their mass and charge are changed after renormalization. In our case, the bare body is that part of the renormalized human where its chemistry runs and where memory and emotions are located. The body constructs its exosomatic cloud, it builds the renormalized individual from external objects and relations. Ideots tend to confuse the exosomatic cloud with the soul, essence, or identity of the person. That cloud may in some cases be so large that the body in its center is negligible; the Roman Catholic church and the Egyptian army continue to exist if Franciscus and el Sisi are removed. The cloud around a general or a pope has turned into fog, a thundercloud or a hurricane in which the central carnal core is reduced to a mere logo. But in those cases, the exosomatic parts of contributing individuals have become autonomous organizations. Organizations are not persons but agglomerates of individuals with their clouds having special relations to each other; in organizations the combined clouds count more than individual bodies. An ant hill is not an ant or a superant. Nor is a herd of baboons a baboon or a superbaboon, a fact that in the case of humans is ignored by our legislators who are victims of what in logic is called the fallacy of composition.

The cloud around an individual determines the bare body in it psychologically as it affects routine firing patterns in the nervous system of that body when it acts. A (renormalized) person is a unit without sharp boundaries, it changes when put in another environment, as an electron becomes less heavy when it enters a metal or semiconductor from vacuum. Similarly, a person has many personalities, or what passes for those, perhaps more that can be consciously managed. This renormalization model was first suggested in other terms by Ortega y Gasset ("Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia"). Also by Merleau-Ponty with his embodiment and implicitly by Deleuze in his Spinoza: Philosophie pratique (Ch. 6). The model shows clearly that a personality can sometimes be quite easily converted by replacing parts of its cloud only. However, in other cases, changing a person is more difficult and time-consuming, it involves altering the synapse circuits in her or his set of linked neurons e.g. when learning a new skill by regularly repeating the same action (yes, skull trauma may rapidly change personality by breaking up brain structures). Personal capacities are synapse patterns, in other words a body function. One can turn instantaneously into a lover or a pauper but becoming a professional tennisplayer or violinist takes training during 10 years. The renormalization model might also explain in hindsight (not predict, cf. Physica A 348, 611-629 (2005)) social phenomena such as sudden phase transitions in crowds that remain paradoxical when described without invoking renormalization and network theory (or facebook). Criminal law, which now has a rather platonic view on the person, would have to be changed if the model would be accepted.

A pedestrian but awesome vision

Atomism is now seen as the foundation of every discipline of matter including the arts of matter, energy conversion technology, geology, ecology, biology, and all medical sciences. If done by professionals. Reality may be an illusion as the platonists like to say, but in practice the concept of reality works better than any illusion they ever came up with. The assumption that illusions are produced by atoms is easier to support than the other way around. Even some philosophers now seem to accept that. Nature is all about the exploitation of atoms which necessitates intelligence. Nature uses that intelligence vastly better than humans, and certainly better than Aristotle to choose a name at random.

The nervous system is a fascinating miracle in which consciousness emerges from molecular and ionic interactions in many billions of nerve cells. But that miraculous organ of interconnected neurons has only a fraction of the intelligence of the immune system which uses modal molecular logic in an organism to control its existence. Not by transferring signals between body parts, but by matter conversion in a set of coupled chemical reactions that integrates observation, memory, feedback, and motor action with wordless logic; biologists modestly call it gene expression. Humans are basically self-organized chemical reactors that produce life and consciousness. The molecular model keeps generating staggering insights. Recently a new physiological discipline was initiated called psychoneuroimmunomodulation (PNI). So far it has solved many medical riddles that used to be unsoluble.

Many deplore the recent demise of grand narratives that were cherished because they used to make sense of human existence. If those people need a substitute they can stop searching. The eastern wisdom of the story told in our pious classics such as the Gilgamesh epos, the Vedas, the Mahabharata, and the Bible, pales next to the profundity of the stories of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, cell physiology, post-darwinian biology, and neuroscience, at least for those who know about them and is prepared to evaluate them. Atomism is "truly protean". There is grandeur in the atomist view of life.