By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Last week I saw the first lightning bugs of the season; no April fooling! As most of you know I’m a Science Fiction buff, and have wondered what an alien might think on first encountering these marvels of nature which we too often take for granted. Paradoxically, the name “lightning” bug intrigues me, though it shouldn’t, because these insects radiate the same electromagnetic energy as lightning. Lightning is caused by a buildup of static electricity in thunder clouds. The “batteries” of lightning bugs are charged by the chemical luciferin which powers their night time summer flashes.

Perhaps more noteworthy for us is the synchronous flashing of lightning bugs in Elkmont of the Smoky Mountains. I’m told this synchronous flashing is also seen in certain areas of Southeast Asia. Apparently, male lightning bugs around the world gather to “flash” young ladies of their species. Years ago I went to see the synchronous flashing in the Smokies, but apparently the bugs were having an “off” night. All I encountered was a young human couple sporting in the bushes when I accidentally stepped on the unfortunate lovers.

Recently,  I read that a long standing mystery of synchronicity has been solved. More than three hundred years ago the physicist Christiaan Huygens lay ill on his bed and noted that the pendulum clocks he invented began to beat synchronously and in the same direction. Others have noted this strange and reproducible phenomenon of pendulum clocks, but no one knew why until recently. One group of scientists posited that sound waves traveled from clock to clock and produced the synchronous beating. In the 17th century Huygens thought that “imperceptible vibrations of the beam on which they (the clocks) are hanging” caused the synchronous beating, and this has been recently confirmed by researchers in Mexico.

Synchronization that occurs throughout the natural world is reflective of the tendency to organize. Examples are birds who flock and fish who swim in schools. Perhaps these creatures find safety in numbers. It seems logical that more eyes to search for and “voices” to announce approaching danger might benefit survival in animals. Interestingly, a computer model has been developed by researchers which duplicates this flocking behavior in simulations.

But why do humans dance in step or sing in unison? The obvious answer is that we consciously or unconsciously synchronize with others. An example of unconscious synchronization is females who cycle together when placed in dormitory situations. The answer is thought to be related to pheromones which modulate hormonal and menstrual cycling under certain situations.

In physics the second law of thermodynamics describes a process known as entropy. Simply put, all systems lose energy, just as a spinning top slows to a stop. You can wind it up, but it will eventually run down again. The tendency of things and creatures to organize (synchronize) has challenged my concept of entropy. Apparently, even subatomic particles organize themselves as pairs just as the stars in galaxies coalesce in patterns which defy known physics. In fact, our Milky Way galaxy and others appear as they do because of what scientists now call “dark matter,” so named because we can’t see it; we can only measure its galaxy forming effects.

Did you know that you have a cardiac pacemaker? The normal heart has a collection of specialized cells known as the sinoatrial (SA) node. These 10,000 cells organize and send electrochemical signals down through the heart muscle to synchronize the pumping chambers of the heart. The heart beats 100,000 times a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year for a lifetime. There is no intellect governing the sinoatrial node. It turns out that all cardiac cells have an inherent property called automaticity, a process of synchronized electrochemical pulsations. In a healthy heart the SA node pulses at a faster rate than other areas and therefore regulates how fast the heart beats. If diseased, the SA node may quit functioning and a mechanical pacemaker must be inserted.

Thinking about pendulum clocks and synchronicity has caused me to recall my minister when I was a teenager. He reminded me of a metronome, the ticking device used by musicians to mark time. His monotonal sermons were—soporific, and not just because I was a young whipper snapper. Science has demonstrated synchronous rhythms of pulse, respiration and blood flow that optimize health and energy expenditure. Similarly, recognizing and synchronizing biological and spiritual rhythms are conducive to optimal health. Studies have shown lower blood pressure and greater peace in people who practice meditation and prayer.

Becky and I share devotional readings each morning. The wisdom of the ages is readily available, and yet so many neglect this aspect of our nature. Cultures in antiquity thought they could build civilizations on what we now know as the “cardinal” virtues. Plato listed these as common sense, courage, justice and moderation. He felt these reflected the “nature of the soul.” Plato recognized humans as rational beings capable of wisdom. And yet his cardinal virtues were not enough. Five hundred years later the Apostle Paul wrote of faith, hope and love in I Corinthians 13. These theological virtues serve to steer the cardinal virtues.

Sarah Young wrote the daily devotional book, “Jesus Calling.” It is a gem. Though based on scripture, the work is unusual because Ms. Young pens Jesus’ words in the first person. Some have considered her prose heretical saying she deigns to speak for Jesus. I think this is hogwash and these folks should read Mark 9:40.

In a recent meditation Ms. Young speaks of  “darkening of mind.” Unfortunately, I believe she’s right. Our increasingly secular society has lost its way as so many cultures have done in the past and ended upon the ash heaps of history. We can still turn it around. The only thing which retards synchronization with the Wisdom of the Ages is our hubris. Bob Dylan once sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord.” I say, make it the Master.