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Connection, Always and Everywhere
Sep 1, 2009

“… there is a stable order in the world as well as a well-established connection, constant norms and fundamental laws. In this sense, the world is analogous to a clock or a well-designed machine. Every single wheel, every single screw, every single nail not only has a role in order of a machine and an impact in its final benefit but also positive consequences for all living beings, especially for humans.” (Signs of Miraculousness, Seven Heavens, p. 186)

There is a strong parallel between the general principles to be observed for a healthy social structure in a society and the necessary conditions that enable cells to make up a healthy tissue. The laws prevalent in the universe present amazing parallels since they derive from the same divine source. In order to have healthy development in societies, it is necessary to have healthy connections, reciprocal understanding, and correct information transfer between people. Similarly, having healthy cells, which can be considered as micro-societies, also depends on the cells’ continual use of complex signal connection networks and their maintenance of connections with their environments. In order to maintain a harmonious and healthy life in the cell, there must be dense information transfer (through chemical molecules) at all levels with neighbor cells. Thanks to the connection networks that start at their membranes, cells can recognize warnings coming to them and produce responses. Through such information networks, a continuous connection is established in living organisms, starting from their lowest level mechanisms (i.e. molecules in cells and organelles) to their highest level mechanisms (i.e. organs, systems, organisms, populations, ecosystems), in order to ensure a healthy and harmonious processes of development, reproduction, differentiation and aging. Organized as a tissue (micro-society), one of the most amazing features of cells is the way they behave in accord with the society they live in, rather than acting as individualistic beings. Cells behave in a way to make micro-societies possible. In cytology (study of cells), this feature is known as “contact inhibition” (i.e. maintenance of healthy and harmonious operation and development that is based on connection), and its damage may lead to cancer. Every cell is sensitively programmed to receive all signals, coming from inside and outside, and to manage the proper responses to them. Here, the question arises whether a lack or disorder of connection is caused by pathological conditions in cells or whether the emergence of pathological conditions is caused by connection problems. It is generally assumed that, molecular changes in the cell occur first (i.e. mutation) and then this mutation leads to abnormalities and connection problems at the levels of tissue, organ, and even organism. Damage to communication or connection and disorders in this system are a very important reason for the appearance of some pathological conditions (such as an abnormal increase of cells, cancer and death). Thus, diagnosis and treatment of many diseases today depends on knowledge of how biological communication and connection are harmoniously established.

Cells are designed to control their behavior through special signal molecules that can themselves function as stimulatory. For instance, using signal molecules, cells can establish colonies or biofilms. Moreover, plant cells, through channels known as plasmodesmata, maintain their connection with neighboring cells and trade certain materials. In the state of illness, the density (among cells) of signal molecules that are transferred in the plasmodesmata changes.

Hormones, reproduction factors and neurotransmitters are charged with ensuring transportation and communication at different levels. Cell and tissue elasticity and their adaptability are increased by this diversity in signal operations. Different ways are used to transmit signals into the cell depending upon the characteristics of the signals. For example, hydrophobic (water-avoiding) molecules like steroid hormone pass directly through the cell membrane and connect to their receptors in the cell. The receptors that are responsible for decoding genes stimulate the decoding of related genes. If a problem (mutation) occurs in the molecules that are responsible for transportation and communication, the transportation and communication breaks down and the cancer process is triggered. The existence of continuously reproducing cells in inappropriate times and places is an important symptom of cancer initiation. For example, in colon and rectum cancer, if a mutation occurs on the Ras protein, which is one of the signal proteins that takes the “Reproduce!” message from the cell membrane the cutting off of the GTP molecule, which is responsible for turning the signal molecule on and off, is blocked, and since the molecule stays permanently active a signal like “Reproduce!” is permanently sent inside the cell. Thus, the benefits of the medicines that are used in cancer treatment and that show their effects by hindering signals on the cell membrane level are observed in the non-existence of this mutation on Ras proteins. If the mutation happens the medicines mentioned above cannot be effective. Today, the presence of the mutation can be determined by a biopsy taken from the patient, thus, it has become possible to choose the type of therapy that will be most helpful to that person.

Communication inside the cell can be carried out through ion channels (such as sodium, potassium, and calcium). These channels in membrane behave selectively for every different ion. For example, while voltage-gated channels open and close according to electric charge ligand, (key)-gated (receptor) channels let ions transfer when ligands are tied up. Sodium and potassium ions and the molecular channels that these two passes are responsible for organizing the changes that effect the communication of nerves in the membrane potential. The calcium channel, on the other hand, plays an important role in muscle contraction, and biological incidents like the formation and deformation of bone.

In recent years, the proteins (matrix) that fill the vacancies among cells have been shown to be the main actor in the general control of communication between cells and in the integration of signals coming from their surroundings by hundreds of proofs. It has been pointed out that CCN proteins, which are one of the adaptors, as well as proteins with multiple modules that are responsible for the connection between cell membranes and matrix proteins have a regulatory role at different levels in the control of signal transfers in ion channels, cell differentiation, adherence of cells to each other, cell collapse, programmed cell-death, cartilage formation and the synthesis of new veins. The multi-dimensional and dynamic communication and connections mentioned above related to cells also apply to people. When individuals develop a healthy connection between their inner world and other people, a healthy society emerges. Every individual is granted these potential connection points, which make the existence of an individual possible. The development of a healthy person depends upon activating these connections, organizing them dynamically and keeping them active.

If we place human beings at the center of creation, the first connection that the individuals should make between their Creator and their ego (nafs) is called worship. The ego is both a help and a hindrance to the construction of this connection. The second connection, which is between individuals and their friends, is ensured by good morals, good conduct, and personal virtue. The construction of a healthy social life depends on how many people have good morals, good conduct and virtuous character in a society. If virtue is not accompanied by knowledge, it is highly unlikely that knowledge will raise an individual to a standard of human perfection.

The third essential, the individual’s healthy connection with their surroundings is established through the “ecological dimension of ego,” which is sensitive to the external world. It is very difficult for people whose dimension of ego, which is sensitive to ecological problems and the environment, has not developed to keep the environment clean and take precautions against pollution. The fourth connection that individuals should establish is the connection with their internal world (heart-consciousness, transcendental ego, real self). “O Man! Know yourself first!” and, “The one that knows himself knows his God,” are expressions pointing out the importance of this connection.

For individuals, groups, and societies to have a healthy life as well as to maintain their health at all levels depends on activating these four connections, in other words, establishing coordination and harmony among them and then maintaining this state. When one ignores one of the connections or some of them, or when the coordination between these connections is defective, troubles and illnesses at various levels emerge. Hence, the links that a healthy individual establishes may include those in civil society organizations, and through these further networked and reciprocal communications. Like our cells, which maintain their connection with their environment and neighboring cells via the “contact inhibition” mechanism so that we feel healthy, for people to become healthy at personal and societal level, individuals should actively join civil society organizations and service-centered communities that can enable activation of these four connections and ensure harmony and coordination among them. The Islamic scholar, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi paid special attention to connection in the letters he wrote to his students (the Kastamonu letters) and highlighted it as a point of progress that should be reached:

Since, in today’s world, saving people’s belief for the sake of God is a very important mission that is above everything; since quantity is not very significant compared to quality; since transient and changing political worlds are trivial compared to everlasting, constant, stable services in the name of God-they should not be even compared; they can never be objectives; therefore, we should be satisfied with valuable positions that are granted in the circle of Risale-i Nur. Instead of having extremely well-thoughts about other people or seeing them at high positions superfluously, we need to have extreme loyalty and steadfastness, and utmost connection and sincerity. We should have progress on these points.

Hamza Aydin has a PhD in bio-medicine. He is a freelance writer from Izmir, Turkey.