by Beverly Rubik
NOETIC SCIENCES REVIEW # 26, PAGE 10
scientist reports that ultraweak light emitted from
virtually all organisms is enough to spotlight the
difference between two worldviews:
mechanical and the organic.
Virtually all organisms give off light,
say scientific frontier researchers. Is this light merely an
insignificant waste product? Or does it mean the existence of what
ancient philosophies called "subtle life energies" or a "vital
force"—an organizing energy field which communicates within whole
Increased recognition and respect of this subtle energy, variously
called "the life force", "prana", "qi", or "life energy", is a
common thread among the medical practices of what is today called
A larger paradigm than mechanical reductionism, one
that may involve a new or at least modified concept of life, is
needed to accommodate the increasing number of biological and
medical phenomena that challenge the paradigm.
For example, some experimental
findings show beneficial effects of healers laying hands on sick
organisms or patients. But how is the healer-healee interaction
There are profound
psychophysiological changes reported from the effect called
Kundalini-awakening in certain mystical experiences. Are they
due to the release of a subtle life energy?
Then there is the mystery of
homeopathy, an alternative medical modality in which there are
infinitesimal dilutions of substances, in some cases without
measurable numbers of active molecules present. Do they act
"energetically" or "informationally" on the body-mind to promote
Dozens of laboratories around the world
have studied a wide variety of species of plants and animals, of
tissues, and of single cells and have collected a substantial amount
of experimental evidence that all these emit a weak biological
light. Among the best studied are yeast, plant seedlings, and blood.
They’ve found that a beating heart isolated from a frog continues to
produce light. Even human breath has proved to emit light.
Particularly well studied is the development of the larch tree, in
which changes in the light emitted correlates with various
This ties in with investigations of tumor tissues which show a
different light emission than normal tissue.
Further research (see
below) shows results that cannot be explained in terms of properties
of single cells, but in terms of whole tissues, suggesting a new
communication mechanism within the organism.
In the biophoton theory of Popp et al.4, it is critical that the
postulated bioelectromagnetic field within the cell be coherent, a
special condition in which the waves are in phase like a laser beam.
One reason is that coherent light sources have some remarkable
properties and must be regarded as integral wholes. By contrast,
incoherent light may be regarded as being produced by a collection
of independent emitters.
Another reason is that coherent light is
capable of carrying more information than incoherent light. The more
coherent the interaction is between the emitter and the receiver,
the less energy is needed for resonance, and hence for communication
to occur. Accordingly, the ultraweak biological light should display
at least some degree of coherence. Thus, experimental verification
of the biophysical hypothesis must demonstrate this coherence.
Ideally, one would measure the coherence directly using the
classical interferometer, but here the light intensities are too low
and of too many wavelengths. Because the biological light emission
is ultraweak, a quantum physical theory of coherence must be
invoked. There are ways of ascertaining the coherence indirectly
from the kinetics of the luminescence decay, but questions remain,
as this is on the frontier of quantum optics. In fact, this area of
research has attracted some of those interested in the frontiers of
communication and quantum optics due to the apparently unusual
properties of the biologically produced light.
Physical theory predicts that under certain conditions an incoherent
light source, upon excitation by external light, would show a
different decay response than a coherent source. Whereas an
incoherent source relaxes according to an exponential relationship
between light intensity and time of measurement, a coherent emission
decays according to a hyperbolic relationship. Popp et al. and
others have done considerable research to measure the kinetics of
the decay of biological light emission from many organisms, with the
result that almost all of the decay curves show a hyperbolic
Although hyperbolic decay might also be
observed for systems with a large number of independent emitters,
Popp and Li
maintain that under the particular conditions in which they have
measured hyperbolic decay for light from organisms, the long-lasting
hyperbolic decay observed for induced light emission is a sufficient
condition for coherence.
Two sinusoidal oscillations of the same
frequency are said to be mutually coherent if
they exhibit a constant phase relationship
during the course of time. For example, a laser
is coherent, and sunlight is partially coherent.
All other oscillations that do not exhibit a
constant phase relationship during the course of
time. This includes, for example, all ordinary
incandescent light and fluorescent light
Types of Light
Light emitted from organisms is of two types:
The detection of this ultraweak biological light requires sensitive photoelectric devices
available since about 1950. The intensities of this weak light range
from a few to several thousand photons per second per cm 2
it is sensitively dependent on a variety of factors such as
temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, freshness, integrity, etc. The
spectrum is broad over the full optical range, from the ultraviolet
to the infrared.
By a method pioneered in Japan, one can actually make images of
certain living tissues such as plant roots by means of their own
natural light emission by placing them in a darkroom on a
** . These
two-dimensional photon-images of plant seedlings show localized
light emission in areas of active cell division or injury. There is
also some indication that seedlings may serve as "light pipes",
transporting light from localized regions throughout the organism.
Alternatively, one can make time measurements of the light intensity
to study dynamic processes in living systems. This offers a way to
study the dynamics of a whole living system non-invasively. Phenomena
such as circadian rhythms or the effects of stressors such as
chemicals or electromagnetic fields are readily seen. Whereas
research on this topic has been ongoing in Eastern Europe and Russia
since the 1920s, it was only in the late 1960s that ongoing
scientific inquiry began in the West, with most of the present work
being done in Europe and Japan
In the 1920s, the pioneering Russian biologist Alexander Gurvich
discovered that onions kept close together stimulate growth of each
others’ roots. He separated the roots by encasing them in different
materials and showed that this was not simply a chemical influence.
One important finding he made was that the roots are stimulated when
separated by quartz but not by glass. He therefore hypothesized that
a radiation, possibly ultraviolet light emitted by one onion and
absorbed by another, stimulates root cell division. This has been
called the Gurvich effect, and the radiation originally called
Today modern research has confirmed many of the early phenomena
observed by Gurvich. For example, what he called the "pre-mitotic
flare", a burst of light emitted just before cell division, has been
demonstrated in synchronized yeast cultures. In general, growing
cell cultures radiate more light than those in which growth has
ceased. "Degradation radiation", the intense burst of light emitted
from damaged or dying cells, has also been confirmed, regardless of
the cause of death. The kinetics of the decay of the light emission
provides information about whether these agents destroy or merely
disturb life processes.
Ultraweak biological light emission has been implicated in
connection with other biological phenomena as well. For example,
there are Eastern European reports by Kaznacheev and others
on the alleged transfer of "pathological information" by means of
What is known as the "cytotoxic effect" involves two
cell cultures separated by at least a few centimeters and by means
of a quartz or glass window. Under certain conditions, a poisoned,
dying culture apparently communicates a long-range electromagnetic
signal that initiates pathological changes and even death of the
Similar to Gurvich’s original experiments with onion
roots, positive results have been obtained using a quartz barrier,
but not glass, supporting the notion that the signal is ultraviolet
radiation. This research has not yet been replicated in the West.
We are chinks in the lantern through
which the One Great Light shines.
"Biochemical" Versus "Biophysical"
There are two schools of interpretation of the phenomenon.
"biochemical school" maintains that the ultraweak biological light
is an insignificant waste product of certain biochemical reactions.
Alternatively, the "biophysical school", which sometimes refers to
the light as "biophoton emission"
that it is indicative of an endogenous, innate, electromagnetic
field pervading the entire organism, which may act as both sender
and receiver of the biophotons that are "electromagnetic
bio-information" used in regulating life processes.
According to many in the biochemical school, the extremely low
intensities and the broad spectral range of the light are considered
as evidence that the phenomenon is biologically insignificant. These
researchers maintain that the light emission is due to
heterogeneous, localized phenomena in various parts of the cell with
different sources of emission from unrelated processes.
maintains that the light emission is accidental "leakage" from
various metabolic reactions, a spontaneous transformation of
chemical energy into light.
From in vitro biochemical studies it is
known that chemical reactions involving strong electronic
excitations of free radical species, such as peroxides, may emit
light. From this perspective, ultraweak biological light emission is
considered to be chemiluminescence—physiologically insignificant,
waste energy. Considerable experimental support from biochemical
evidence abounds. Because the biochemical view is also consistent
with the dominant biological paradigm of molecular reductionism, it
has been widely accepted.
The competing viewpoint, the biophysical interpretation, maintains
that the ultraweak biological light arises globally from within the
whole organism or cell. Experiments show that interfering with a
living system increases the intensity of the light emitted.
Actually, this observation may support either interpretation, but
the drastic and similar changes in light intensity under the
influence of virtually all external agents could indicate that the
light emitted is a centrally regulated response of the whole.
Cooperative interactions between molecules or regions within the
cell might be involved at the very least. It has been demonstrated
that the spectral distribution or color of the light is independent
of the type of external perturbation. This observation supports the
biophysical viewpoint, because chemiluminescence should lead to
spectral changes depending on the perturbation. For example, the
intensity of the biological light emitted may be greatly enhanced
for a small increase in concentration of a toxic agent, contrary to
standard chemiluminescence theory that predicts a linear
relationship between them.
In addition, the complexity of the temperature dependence of the
light emission cannot be understood within the framework of the
classical biochemical model based on individual reactions.
These observations, among others, suggest central control within the
living state that is nonlocal and possibly electromagnetic in
nature. Many significant correlations between features of the weak
biological light and a number of fundamental biological processes,
such as cell division, death, and major shifts in metabolism, exist.
These correlations may indicate that the light is a sensitive,
global expression of biological regulatory processes.
One frequent argument against the biophysical hypothesis is that
cells are optically opaque and therefore cannot use light for
intercellular communication. However, experiments testing the tissue
transparency show that this objection does not hold. The
transparency of tissues to the light from organisms is at least two
orders of magnitude higher than that of comparable artificial light
of higher intensity.
The high transparency may reflect the high
degree of coherence of biophotons. Furthermore, in certain media the
coherence of incident light actually increases with the distance
traveled, due to multiple propagation and diffraction. Biophoton
theory even predicted these optical characteristics of living
tissues. Moreover, it is well known that certain deeply situated
organs such as the pineal gland and the brain are light sensitive.
All of this would allow for a rapid, extensive biocommunication
network in the body through light.
DNA may be involved in biological light emission. Changes in DNA
conformation, that is, molecular shape changes, are known to occur
when certain chemicals such as ethidium bromide are added to cells,
and the light emitted from them changes in a direct, quantitative
fashion. Cell fractionation studies show that most of the light
comes from isolated cell nuclei. Moreover, isolated chromatin—the
thread of DNA as it exists in resting cells which consists of a
complex of nucleic acids and proteins—emits more intense light than
A well-developed biophysical hypothesis for the ultraweak biological
light is that of Popp et al.4
who propose that the biophotons are released from a coherent
electromagnetic field within the organism that serves as a basis of
communication in living tissues.
In this model, the biophoton is trapped and reemitted by DNA, which
undergoes physical resonance, resulting in light emission with at
least some coherence, in which the light waves dance together in
synchrony like a corps de ballet. Cellular biochemistry is thus
conceptualized as a highly dynamic, space-time structure with
long-range order. Biochemical processes may be integrated by the
endogenous bioelectromagnetic field that has a primary
organizational and informational role. Conformational states of DNA
may serve as the photon storage of the coherent modes of the
electromagnetic field within the cell.
A detailed model has been proposed by Nagl and Popp
in which cellular DNA is considered as a high energy, electronically
excited molecular complex that both chemically and energetically
regulates all nuclear information transfer in the cell. In this
model the biophoton emission from the DNA is energy emitted from the
cell that contains information about the state of the whole cell.
Furthermore, emission and absorption of biophotons by DNA regulates
the energy state of both DNA and the whole cell.
Similar models of life involving endogenous physical fields have
been advanced by others. For example, Burr and Northrup’s
model is that of a complex electrodynamic field that is in part
determined by its atomic components, and which in part determines
the behavior and orientation of those components. The concept of the
morphogenetic field, conceived independently by Gurvich
in 1922 and Weiss
in 1926, was believed to orchestrate embryonic development. Of
course, the concept of an organizing field in biology evokes shades
In 1839 Claude Bernard
"The vital force directs phenomena
that it does not produce; the physical agents produce phenomena
that they do not direct."
Vitalism was cast out long ago when
modern biologists adopted mechanical reductionism, and any
suggestion of a regulatory field governing life challenges this
Nonetheless, a growing body of experimental evidence supports the
biophysical hypothesis. This includes research on "photochemistry
without light", whereby certain electronically excited chemical
species promote energy transfer without any energy loss whatsoever
and without any absorption of external light. Conversely, any light
emitted from such excited states indicates a loss of energy
efficiency. However, it is speculated that the "biophotons" released
are absorbed by other cells where they are used to promote
biochemical reactions, thereby forming the basis of "electromagnetic
From another physical perspective, the spectral distribution of the
ultraweak biological light indicates that the living state is far
from equilibrium. Thus, the rate of biochemical reactions in the
organism should be much faster than in vitro. Indeed, this rate
discrepancy has been observed and remained enigmatic in the
conventional biochemical view of life. This evidence indirectly
supports a view whereby the organizing field within cells supplies
energy for metabolism and its regulation.
Studies in this area of biocommunication are extremely difficult to
perform, and direct evidence is lacking. However, indirect evidence
comes from a large number of observations that living systems
respond to extremely weak electromagnetic fields, which is enigmatic
in the conventional biochemical view (see
footnote* below). In addition,
there is evidence that threshold values for biological responses to
light have been found to be much lower than those previously
The measurement of biophoton emission looks promising as a valuable
complement to other analytical biological methods, because it is one
of very few noninvasive techniques that may permit a holistic
approach to the dynamics of the organism.
A number of analytical and diagnostic applications measuring the
ultraweak biological light emission are emerging in various
industrial sectors of Europe and Japan, but most are so far
experimental. These include measurements of plant seed viability,
food quality and freshness, and the innocuity of cosmetic
ingredients on test organisms.
Measurements of the light emitted
from barley-hops fermentation mixtures in beer-making are being used
to diagnose any early bacterial contamination of the brew. New tests
on biopsied tissue to determine the degree of malignancy of tumors
by physical features of the emitted light are also being made, as
well as their energetic response to potential remedies.
Interesting experimental results show differences in the light
emitted from cancer compared to normal tissue. The decay rate of
ultraweak biological light is more rapid in malignant than normal
cells, which implies that cancer cells have a poorer photon storage
capacity. Photon intensity of normal cells decreases nonlinearly
with increasing cell density, and for cancer cells increases with
increasing cell density. This suggests evidence for mutual
long-range interactions between cells in a population, which are
fundamentally different for normal and cancer cells. It could also
be interpreted as indicating a loss of coherence with increasing
tumor size, compared to greater coherence in normal tissue.
Furthermore, this relationship between light intensity and cell
density dependence, always the opposite for normal and malignant
cell populations, shows that the results cannot be explained in
terms of properties of single cells, but in terms of whole tissues,
again suggesting a novel communication mechanism within the
The biophysical hypothesis and biophoton communication theory remain
controversial. Presently, it is very difficult to come to any
conclusions about the presence or absence of coherence in the cell
solely by examining the ultraweak biological light. On the other
hand, there is a separate line of evidence from other biological
research that indicates that, if not coherent, at least collective,
nonlinear dynamics are involved in the mechanisms by which weak
physical and chemical stimuli elicit biological responses.
Novel biological experimentation done in tandem with physical
studies on the biological light emission are needed to fully examine
the biophysical hypothesis, and this has not yet been done. At the
least this hypothesis has had heuristic value and opens new horizons
in the holistic interpretation of the ultraweak light phenomenon and
its role. In my opinion, the prejudices on both sides need to be set
aside to move forward with a new interpretation, a synthesis that
encompasses all of the biochemical and biophysical evidence.
If the biophysical hypothesis does prove to be scientifically valid,
one may see the whole biosphere as a large network of
electromagnetic communication. With that, perhaps scientists weren’t
the first to invent such long-range global communication systems.
Nonetheless, if the biophysical hypothesis proves to be invalid, and
the ultraweak biological light is not coherent, the general concept
of coherence may provide a new conceptual tool for a more adequate
understanding of the living state. Considered as a unifying
principle in which the components of life exhibit a dynamic
relationship interconnected through space-time, it may be the
beginning of a new epistemology for biology.
The debate between the two schools of interpretation recapitulates
the tension that has existed throughout much of Western history
between two worldviews—one that can be labeled mechanical and the
other organic. At present, there is still little consensus on where
to draw the line between inanimate and animate systems, that is,
between chemical systems and whole organisms, leading some to
conclude that there is no such line. This is the worldview that
predominates today in modern biology, with its focus on molecular
On the other hand, it may be that conventional science has
investigated only those features of life to which its particular
method of abstraction applies, and that the subtler levels of life—qi,
prana, etc.—have escaped detection. The experimental data clearly
show the presence of a ubiquitous, ultraweak biological light.
Although evidence is accumulating that would support the biophysical
view of a deeper organizing field within the organism, further
research is needed to substantiate this concept.
Beverly Rubik has conducted research on healing and other frontier
topics. As Director of the Center for ’Frontier Sciences’ at Temple
University, she is involved in research projects and networking with
scientists worldwide. She is the editor of a new book,
The Interrelationship Between Mind and Matter.
References and Notes
A. G. Gurwitsch, "Über den Begriff des embryonalen Feldes",
Archiv für Entwicklungsmechanik 51: 383-707, 1922.
P. Kaznacheev, S. P. Shurin et al., "Distant intercellular
interactions in a system of two tissue cultures",
Psychoenergetic Syst. 1: 141-142, 1976; A. F. Kirkin,
"Non-chemical distant interactions between cells in culture",
Biofizika 26: 839-843, 1981.
A. I. Zhuravlev (ed.), Bioluminescence of
Cells and Nucleic Acids, Plenum, 1978.
A. Popp, K. H. Li, and Q. Gu (eds.), Recent Advances in
Biophoton Research, Singapore: World Scientific, 1992.
Nagl and F. A. Popp, "A physical (electromagnetic) model of
differentiation. 1. Basic considerations", Cytobios 37: 45-63,
S. Burr, The Fields of Life: Our Link with the Universe,
Ballantine Books, 1973.
G. Gurvich, Principles of Analytical Biology and the Theory of
Cellular Fields (in Russian), Moscow: Nauka, 1991 (Gurvich’s
last, posthumously published book that contains the mature
version of his theory of the morphogenetic field).
Weiss, Principles of Development, Holt, 1939.
Claude Bernard, Des Inquides de l’orgaisme, Tome III, Paris:
A. Popp, K. H. Li et al., "Physical aspects of biophotons",
Experientia 44: 576-585, 1988.
"Photon" is the word used in
conventional physics to mean a quantum packet of light energy,
expressing the particle view of the duality of light, the
This method is not to be
confused with Kirlian photography. Ultraweak biological light is
emitted from organisms in their normal, natural state, or under
stress. By contrast, the Kirlian aura is a corona discharge that
may be quite intense, which is produced by an organism in
contact with one pole of a high frequency electrical generator
of the order of 10,000 volts or more (a large voltage, hence a
large electrical energy input to the organism).
The highly specialized
literature on ultraweak biological light has not yet had impact
on biology as a whole, but a comprehensive technical review is
in preparation: B. Rubik and M. Bischof, The Question of
Ultraweak Light Emission from Organisms: "Superfluous" Light or
Electromagnetic Bio-Information?: Institute of Noetic Sciences
"Biophoton", coined by
the biophysical school of interpretation, simply means a photon
emitted by an organism, although the word carries the implicit
connotation that there is something special about light emitted