Recovery as a Universal Biological Feature
Let us make the claim that biological objects are in a flux; they always change. The idea generally is a perspective on biological homeostasis and specifically frame all biological processes that promote homeostasis to be the biological object’s efforts to recover. Since biological individuals are hard to define we let the term ‘biological object’ be undefined.Footnote 3 Its meaning, however, is meant to be humans, dogs, rats and other more developed biological organisms as well as less developed ones but not artificial systems as computers, robots et cetera.
A general definition of energy is that energy is tied to the object’s ability to do some work.Footnote 4 We see here that energy is directly linked to an object (or, more precisely, to a system). So, biological energy would be the ability of a biological organism or a biological object to do some work. At closer inspection this can be further analyzed into two parts: the objects potential ability to do some work and the actual work being done by the object.
In physics we talk about an object’s energy of position, or, potential energy, and its kinetic energy. An object gains potential energy if it is positioned higher above the ground and it can use the energy to gain speed (kinetic energy). A steel ball that is moved in this way is intact and “has” and “loses” energy while remaining the same object. The opposite is true if we look at nuclear energy. When we extract nuclear energy (in a power plant for instance) the object losing energy does not remain the same. Obviously, therefore, there are two kinds of energy in regard to a system or an object. The one kind permits the object to gain and lose energy while being intact, or “the same” object, whereas the other kind of energy destroys the object carrying the energy if it is used.
Concerning biological objects this distinction is crucial but previously unnoticed in the literature. Traditional “biological “energy is, as it seems, mixed up with chemical energy. A typical example is the following:
Strictly speaking, "biological energy" ought to refer to the chemical potentials produced and consumed by the myriad and interwoven reactions that take place within the compartments of living matter as it... well, lives! But these processes are perhaps better known, collectively, as metabolism.
We use the phrase "biological energy" as a convention to refer to a specific social and technological endeavor: to use the metabolic capacities of organisms to convert some combination of light, biomass, organic compounds, gases and water into useful chemical-bond energy; i.e. storable, transportable, energy yielding molecules as well as industrially useful materials. Examples include hydrogen, methane, alcohols, ammonia and bioplastics. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mission statement from the biological energy interest group, 2019)
What we look for, instead, is a concept of biological energy that permits the object to do some work while remaining intact. It should therefore correspond to the concepts of potential and kinetic energy in physics.
Biological Energy as the Organism’s Ability to Recover from Load
Since there is no concept of biological energy in the literature, in the sense discussed here, the first step towards such a concept is a leap into the unknown. From an abstract perspective, however, we can construe all biological activities as efforts of biological organisms to recover from load upon them. From here the next step is easy. We let biological energy be defined as the biological object’s ability to recover from load upon it.
Two Kinds of Biological Energy
The suggested definition of biological energy is that biological energy is the biological object’s ability to recover from load upon it. The biological object, therefore, has an absolute maximal amount of biological energy that it can use to recover. Let us call that amount Emax. For a specific biological object i (BOi) we could adopt the notation Emax(BOi) to denote the maximal amount of ability to recover that the biological object has.
One part of Emax is energy that could be used but that is not used at the moment. This is analogous to potential energy in physics and we will use that terminology here too. The ability to recover that the BO has that is not in use is its potential biological energy. Likewise, we adopt the term kinetic energy for the part of Emax that is in fact being used at a given moment. Kinetic biological energy is the very recovering going on.
For practical reasons we will not say much about load as such. The basic assumption is that biological organisms constantly need to recover and they need to recover from the load that is put on them. One thing, however, must be sorted out immediately. We have discussed that ability to recover, or, energy, is related to load. We have also stated that the organism has an amount of energy, at any given moment, that it either uses or has to its disposal, or any mix of the two. The thing that has to be sorted out is the relation between load and energy.
The Organism’s Need of Recovery
As noted above the basic assumption is that biological organisms constantly need to recover and they need to recover from the load that is put on them. We can therefore postulate that load and need of recovery has a positive relation; the more load, the more need of recovery. We can now use the concept of need of recovery to link load to energy or ability to recover.
As need of recovery can be thought of as increasing with load up until a point where the organism simply collapses (dies), the organism’s level of kinetic energy will not increase in the same manner. On the contrary, kinetic energy has its maximum at Emax. When the kinetic energy is at Emax, the organism has no potential energy and if load continues to raise the organism will not be able to recover as much as it needs to. This produces a backlog of need of recovery.
Reduced Emax at High Levels of Load
An implicit basic assumption behind the energy-concept is that biological organisms allocate resources for recovery continuously. The organism allocates more resources for recovery purposes, if it can, the more it needs to, that is, the more load there is. At low levels of load, therefore, the kinetic energy is low whereas the potential energy is high. At intermediate levels of load the kinetic energy also is intermediate. At the same time the level of potential energy is intermediate. At a certain point of (high) load the level of kinetic energy meets Emax. If load increases beyond that level Emax is reduced.
The Relation Between Load and Kinetic Energy
The hypothesis, thus, is that need of recovery has a positive relation with load. We have also seen that the kinetic energy raises with load up to a point, Emax, after which the level of kinetic energy decreases since all energy is absorbed by the kinetic energy and Emax is reduced with load. At low and moderate levels of load, thus, the level of kinetic energy matches what is needed for recovery. When load exceeds what is possible to recover from right away the level of kinetic energy decreases. At the point of Emax, thus, load is optimal for the level of kinetic energy.
On the basis of the concept of the biological energy of the biological object, we now can go on and look at our options to transpose the concept of the biological energy of the biological object to a concept of psychic energy of an experiencing subject.
The Experiencing Subject
The basic idea, thus, is that an experiencing subject is grounded in a biological object and that the link between the two goes through the concept of energy. We are not stating what the potential interface would be. We just try to establish a concept of psychic energy. The very experiencing subject will be undefined just as we let the biological object be undefined. The first step, thus, is to assume that we have an experiencing subject that is grounded in a biological object.
The path to how the relation between the biological object and the experiencing subject can be conceived is established by way of the suggested concept of biological energy as the biological organism’s ability to recover from load. With help of the intermediate concept of need of recovery (NoR), we can picture the kinetic energy of the organism raise with load up until a point after which the kinetic energy decreases with load. Increased load after Emax leaves the organism with a backlog of NoR and the organism’s ability to recover is lowered.
On an ontological level the NoR of a biological object (BO) is an abstraction. When it comes to a BO with an experiencing subject (ES), however, we acquire a possibility to make the NoR less abstract. Initially, however, NoR is abstract also for a BO with an ES (a BOES). The BOES is basically in the same relation to its NoR as the BO is. The concept of the BOES, however, opens up for an adjoining concept of signals of need of recovery (SNoR). This is because if there is an experiencing subject it can perceive signals of need of recovery. Without an experiencing subject no one can perceive anything. With an experiencing subject, however, we can postulate a one-to-one relation between NoR and SNoR, and replace NoR with SNoR in our model (when it is applied on BOESs), without needing to do any further adjustments. The relation between load and kinetic energy is the same for BOs and BOESs. The difference is what the intermediate dimension is. For BOs it is NoR and for BOESs it is SNoR.
Looking at this closer we can see an analogy between mathematics/physics and biology/psychology. The relation, for example, between the area of a square and its sides is the square root. In mathematics, however, there is nothing that has an area or a length of a side of something. In the physical world, nevertheless, there are things with lengths and squares have sides with the length of the square root of their areas. The analogy is that biological objects have NoR in principle but experiencing subjects have real NoR.
Itches and Pains
In our most simple model of the energy of the biological object itches, for just focusing one of the two in the paradigmatic philosophical pair of ‘bodily sensations’, takes an ES to be accounted for. The load should relate to a need for scratching. In a BO without an ES there is no itch since no one can perceive the sensation. In a BO without an ES, therefore, there is only a need to scratch and if the object can scratch it will scratch. The need to scratch without an ES has no sensational basis. A BOES, on the other hand, may have the same need to scratch but the very scratching is mediated by the signals of the need to scratch. Those signals are the itching. In this model, therefore, the old debate as to the significance of experiences (itches in this case) is closed when it comes to BOESs. The importance of experiences is paramount when it comes to BOESs. For BOs the need to scratch leads to the scratching.Footnote 5 For BOESs the itching leads to the scratching.
The Impact of the Signals of Need of Recovery (SNoR)
The dimension of SNoR replacing NoR does not change anything in relation to the correlation between load and kinetic energy. The interest, however, instead is focused on behavioral aspects of the BO and the BOES, respectively, in regard to load/kinetic energy.
Leaning only on kinetic energy, load, and NoR/SNoR we have no reason to consider behavioral differences between BOs and BOESs since the correspondence between NoR and SNoR is assumed to be one-to-one. The difference between a BO and a BOES, however, is, of course, paradigmatic. We can articulate the difference by introducing a most obvious additional dimension. NoR in the BO case leads to recovery measures. SNoR in the BOES case, however, leads to behavioral conduct insofar as the SNoR are perceived. Crucial here, thus, is that NoR in the BO case is an abstract dimension having no behavioral impact. SNoR in the BOES case, on the other hand, is not an abstract dimension. The signals are real. Also, they are only acted upon to the extent they are perceived.
A biological organism without an experiencing subject per definition cannot act upon signals of any kind, nor act upon signals of need of recovery. Such an organism, therefore, who is in need of nutrition, will eat if it can. A biological organism with an experiencing subject, on the other hand, will eat if three conditions are met: first, it has to have signals of need of recovery, in this case have hunger. Second, it must be able to eat. Third, and this is where a BO and a BOES really differ, the BOES has to be able to perceive the hunger it has. Biological objects and other objects without ESs, on the other hand,—computers, stop lights, and thermostats alike—neither have signals of need of recovery, nor do they have any ability to perceive such. They, per definition, have no experiencing subjects and do not have anything to experience.
The impact of SNoR, therefore, is dependent on the subject’s ability to perceive the SNoR. The subject’s ability to perceive the SNoR will be postulated to have a negative relation with load. This is to say, the more load the less ability to perceive the SNoR (APSNoR).
The dimension of APSNoR gives us the possibility to make predictions as to how BOESs will behave depending on the level of load. The postulation of the dimension in itself may be commented with reference to everyday experiences of difficulties to feel hunger under high stress, but it is also important to remember the categorical difference between BOs and BOESs. A computer, for instance, simply cannot suffer. The BOESs can suffer and the APSNoR mitigates the impact of high level of load so the situation for the BOES becomes more manageable under high levels of load.
This “mitigating” dimension, however, has a profound behavioral impact on the BOES. While the BO recovers as much it needs and can, the BOES will tend to recover more willingly at low and moderate levels of load. This is due to the high level of APSNoR. Small increases of load are highly detectable and will be met by recovery measures. At high levels of load, on the other hand, the low level of APSNoR will make the BOES more reluctant to recover. This is due to the accumulated backlog of SNoR. The backlog of SNoR is a source of difficult signals of NoR. The more the BOES recovers, the more it can feel the signals. This, of course, is more of a problem at rather high levels of load, when the backlog is considerable and the BOES’s kinetic energy is low.
The very simple model that we have built appreciates the fundamental difference between biological objects with and without an experiencing subject. The difference is spelled out in two steps. First, the BO recovers as much it needs to and can, while the BOES’s incitement to recover comes from signals of need of recovery. This is to say that while the BO eats when it needs to the BOES eats when it is hungry. Second, the BOES ability to perceive the signals of need of recovery decreases with level of load. While this drives it to really take care of itself at low levels of load it also drives it to push itself at high levels of load. The risk, therefore, is that the BOES, besides, naturally, that it can be pushed towards high levels of load, can push itself towards high levels of load.