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2. Society (X) = Organism (X+1)

 

 

2-1 Conventional Wisdom

According to conventional scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology:

- Our Universe originated about 18 billion years ago, starting with the Big Bang, which essentially was the spontaneous materialization of matter from energy and space-time, resulting in the original explosion and the ensuing universal expansion. The primordial matter comprised subatomic particles and hydrogen and helium atoms.

- Galaxies began to form about 10-12 billion years ago. Their first-generation stars and their planets, if any, comprised only hydrogen and helium. In their hot interiors, however, nucleo-synthesis brought forth heavier elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, all the way to iron. Elements heavier than iron could not form under even these extreme conditions, but required something even more extreme, such as a nova or supernova explosion, when they, such as gold or uranium, would be spontaneously formed.

- The result of stellar explosions is interstellar clouds rich in a broad spectrum of elements. When these clouds mix, and eventually recollapse into second-and-subsequent-generation stars, these stars and their planetary systems would be rich in these elements, of which life would eventually be made. Our Solar System was formed about 4.6 billion years ago.

- Life originated on Earth about 3.3 billion years ago, in the form of the first unicellular organisms. These original unicellular organisms were created by their own constituent molecules by a gradual process called "Transcendental Integration", or alternatively, "Integrative Transcendence". TI or IT involves the integration of specialized parts comprising differentiated lower-level units into a single higher-level being.

- By the same process in principle, the unicellular organisms transcendentally integrated themselves into the original multicellular organisms. This success in integrative transcendence on the part of the unicellular organisms occurred about 600 million years ago.

- And by the same process in principle, the multicellular organisms transcendentally integrated themselves into the original animal societies, those of insects. This success in integrative transcendence on the part of the multicellular organisms occurred probably shortly before 100 million years ago.

 

2-2 The Amoeba Dream

Why Transcendental Integration? Why Integrative Transcendence? Let me answer this by means of a parable.

Once, while sleeping under the stars, I dreamed about being an amoeba living in the pond on the bank of which I had pitched my tent.

I, the amoeba, had climbed up the stem of a bulrush, what in Amoebal language was known as a "Stairway to Heaven", for what lay beyond our puddle of a universe was what Heaven was to us. I was pushing as hard as I could to penetrate the water/air barrier, and failing miserably, when suddenly, I heard, "Why are you doing this, my friend?"

I looked around, and noticed a spherical being attached to the Stairway. "Who are you?" I asked.

"I'm the egg of a dragonfly. And you?"

"I am an amoeba."

"What were you doing?"

"I was trying to get into Heaven."

"Why?"

"I'm tired of the bottom-of-the-pond, amoeba-eat-amoeba existence."

"I can appreciate the sentiment, but I'm afraid you are going about it the wrong way."

I wanted to shout "You condescending asshole!" to the dragonfly egg, whatever a "dragonfly egg" was, but I didn't detect any condescension. Still I said, "Oh yeah? Well, if you know the right way, how come you're still stuck in here?" And I couldn't help but add, "At least I have some freedom of movement, unlike you."

"My right way will take time," the dragonfly egg responded calmly. "Yours will take even longer, much much longer."

"How long will yours take?"

"A couple of months."

"That's not too long. I can live forever. I can wait. So, how do you do it?"

"Tell me. Are your descendants different or alike?"

"They are identical, except for the odd mutant."

"And their behavior? Identical or different? Cooperative or competitive?"

"Identical and competitive. The same amoeba-eat-amoeba bullshit."

"Will they be free or bound?"

"Free, the only saving grace of our miserable existence, which unfortunately is bound within the confines of this pond."

"My descendent-cells will be different from each other, both structurally and behaviorally. And though they will be stuck fast to each other, collectively, they will have a much higher degree of freedom. They will be bound, but free. That's the major difference between you and me."

"You got me lost somewhere."

"While some of my descendents will become eyes so all can see, others will produce armor so all can ascend into your "Heaven", and still others will become wings so all can fly in the winds of the great beyond, clear over the mountain, and the mountains beyond."

"All the way to the moon?"

"Unfortunately not. Only human beings are capable of doing that."

"Human beings? They must be tremendous flyers then?"

"Strangely, the individual human being cant even fly."

"You lost me again."

"Quite simple, really. Whereas all dragonflies of the same species are virtually identical, like you amoebae, human beings are different from each other to fill various social roles, like dragonfly cells. Thus, they can form still higher societies with yet greater capabilities."

"I understand, I think. Anyway, back to my original point, how do I get out of here?"

"As I said, your way will take much longer. But then, if you take the right evolutionary path, your descendents may become something more akin to a human being than a mere dragonfly."

"With due respect to the dragonfly, I think I'd rather be a human being. So, how long will it take?"

"A couple of billion years, if you succeed."

As the amoeba began its long integrative transcendence, I opened my eyes, and saw that the moon had moved far to the west. But already, I had looked way beyond it, all the way to the stars.

 

2-3. The "Superorganism"

"Thats one bizarre looking geological formation," I overheard one of the tourists remark. I was doing tiger conservation work at Indias Kanha National Park. We were at the edge of a meadow having brunch. What he was referring to were a number of jagged sandstone spikes or spires spaced out more or less evenly amidst the widely spaced trees. These spikes or spires ranged from less than one foot to more than ten feet tall.

What the tourist didnt know is that the "geological formation" would look even more bizarre if I showed him the video recording of this meadow covering the last millennium compressed into 100 seconds, which of course I didnt have. Otherwise, what he would have seen was the trees mushrooming out of the ground in a matter of seconds, then disappearing, with other trees doing the same, each in its own time and place. This is to be expected. What he would not have expected was that the spikes or spires were doing the same, except it was more like jabbing out of the ground than mushrooming. If we slowed down the playing speed a little, he would also have seen annual flashes of flowering on the part of the trees, and seed dispersal on the part of the spires. It would seem that the sandstone spires are at least as alive as the trees. But there is more. He would also have seen the spires sending out feeding tentacles to forage for grass, leaves and dead wood.

The truth be known, these spikes or spires are termite mounds veritable termite cities - and the "seeds" are winged reproductive termites called alates. In this meadow, all the termite mounds release their alates simultaneously, usually right after the first ground-softening rain.

Yes, you get my drift. The termite mounds exhibit behavior suggesting that they are alive not only alive, but are themselves each a bona fide organism.

Classical biology has it that if a certain object in question can satisfy the so-called Seven Vital Functions, the object is considered a bona fide organism, so lets put the termite mound to the test.

  1. Nutrition - The termite mound does ingest grass, leaves and dead wood as food. We are talking about what the mound ingests, not what the individual termites ingest, because there are certain termite species which takes leaves into the mound, not for the termites direct consumption, but to use as substrate for the cultivation of certain species of fungi upon which the termites themselves feed. In this case, the mound ingests the leaves, and the fungus is but an intermediate product of the mounds digestion.
  2. Excretion - The mound does discharge waste products, such as dead termites and exhausted substrate. The termites own body waste is used as building material for the mound. In this case, the termites feces is considered an internal secretion of the mound, equivalent to the internal secretion of the crab which builds the shell of the crab.
  3. Respiration - There is gaseous exchange with the environment oxygen it, carbon dioxide out. It does require oxygen for the release of energy.
  4. Irritability - The mound does react to external stimuli. If attacked, it defends itself (by means of its soldiers). If damaged, it heals itself (by means of the major workers).
  5. Movement - A termite mound, in fact, has more power of movement than a tree, since it can send out its termites in search of food.
  6. Growth - As our virtual videotape demonstrated. The mound also grows in its constituent termite population.
  7. Reproduction - Old mounds do beget new mounds. In this context, the reproduction of the termites constitutes the growth of the mound.
  8. Ill make it even tougher by adding not one, not two, but three more Vital Functions

  9. Homeostasis - The termite mound can maintain its own core temperature to within one degree year round. If heated, it cools itself (by water-cooling); if chilled, it warms itself (by the termites clustering).
  10. Differentiated Cooperation - Just as the cells of a termite are differentiated into organs which cooperate among themselves within the body of the termite, so are the termites themselves differentiated into castes which work as social organs within the body of the mound.
  11. Evolution - Not only do the termites themselves evolve, so do their mounds, in terms of maximum size and internal population, structure and physiology (caste function).

So, the termite mound is indeed a bona fide organism.

This is not altogether a new notion. As early as the 1920s, entomologists had already advanced the term "Superorganism". If the termites are organisms, they reasoned, then the organism that they collectively constitute should be called a Superorganism. This became an instant sensation, lauded for holding great promise, and made a few major waves which, unfortunately, soon died down and stayed dead. Why?

The lack of systematics and a sense of order.

Lets follow this line of reasoning:

Is an amoeba an organism? Yes.

Is a dragonfly an organism? Yes.

Is a body cell of a dragonfly an organism? Conventionally, no. Unconventionally, yes. Why?

Lets ask this: Is a termite an organism? Yes. Even if it is also an integral differentiated unit of a higher-level organism - the termite city (instead of the less descriptive "mound") - unable to survive on its own as a dragonfly can? Yes. So, again, is a body cell of a dragonfly an organism? YES, even if it is also an integral differentiated unit of a higher-level organism the dragonfly unable to survive on its own as an amoeba can.

Just as there are social multicellular organisms, such as the termites, and us humans I might add, so there are social unicellular organisms, such as the body-cells of dragonflies, termites and humans.

So, if the body cell of a termite is an organism, then, according to the conventional wisdom of the 20s entomologists, the termite should be called a Superorganism, and the termite mound should then be called a SuperSuperorganism which, to say the least, is cumbersome.

The systematic way of looking at things then is call the termite cell, termite and termite mound all organism, but on three different levels of organization, where an organism on one level is also a society on its own social organisms on the level below. Thus:

Society (X) = Organism (X+1)

 

2-4 Social and Nonsocial Animal Societies.

If there are nonsocial and social cells, and nonsocial and social metazoans, are there also nonsocial and social animal societies? Yes, there are.

To avoid the confusing use of the word "society", lets use another word, say, "city" instead. Nonsocial and social "cities" can be exemplified by termite-based and human-based cities (and towns and villages) respectively. Put a hundred termite mounds on a plain, and they would remain essentially identical and competitive. Put a hundred human-based cities on a plain, on the other hand, and sooner or later they would become differentiated and cooperative in relation to each other, and together, form a multi-city organism on the next level above - a National Organism, an organism on the National Level of Organization.

Likewise, there are more-or-less-social nations.

And what would the result be if the nations succeed in transcendentally integrating themselves into one? I venture to say: the Planetary Organism Earth.

If we go "downwards" from the Cellular Level of Organization, we descend on to the Molecular Level of Organization, where there are also nonsocial and social molecules. Nonsocial molecules are those floating free in the atmosphere (e.g. O2 and CO2 molecules), drifting free in the hydrosphere (e.g. H2O and NaCl molecules), and stuck fast in the lithosphere (e.g. CaCO3 and CuSO4). And Social molecules are those integral to the structure and physiology of a cellular organism (e.g. DNA, RNA, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and transient H2O, NaCl and their like, and of course CaCO3 in whatever skeleton there might be, as in the diatoms).

So, all things pertaining to the Earth can be classified on six levels of organization:

the Planetary Level of Organization

the National level of organization

the Citian level of organization

the Metazoan level of organization

the Cellular level of organization

the Molecular level of organization

where an organism on a certain level is equivalent to being a society on the level below, and where each level has its nonsocial and social members, the latter forming societies which become, or are, organisms on the level above.

 

2-5 Artificial is Natural

There are many illusions, by humans, for humans. One example:

Is an amoeba natural? Yes.

Is a dragonfly natural? Yes.

Is a termite natural? Yes.

Is a termite city natural? Yes. Even the walls? Yes.

Is a human city natural? Conventionally, "Of course not! It is artificial." Unconventionally? Yes. The walls of a human city are as natural as the walls of a termite city, cosmically speaking. Cosmically speaking, everything that happens on Earth, everything that comes to pass in the Universe, is a natural phenomenon.

 

4-6 The Machines Are Alive

Is my car alive? Or is it non-living?

Conventionally, "A car is non-living, of course!" Why? "It ingests fuel, oil and water, excretes waste oil, inhales oxygen, exhales carbon dioxide, can reaction, can move, fine. But it cannot grow, and cannot reproduce."

But the total weight of cars has grown immensely, as has their total population.

If we look at cars, and houses, and bridges, and other structures and machines, as integral parts of a living human city, then even the brick wall I sometimes hammer my head on is alive.

 

2-7 Transcendence Limit

In multi-leveled structure of the Earth:

A water molecule in the pond is a nonsocial molecule.
An amoebas DNA is a social molecule, and an amoeba is a nonsocial cell.
A dragonflys DNA is a social molecule, a dragonflys body-cell is a social cell, and a dragonfly is a nonsocial metazoan.
A termites DNA is a social molecule, a termites body-cell is a social cell, a termite is a social metazoan, and a termite mound is a nonsocial city.
A humans DNA is a social molecule, a humans body-cell is a social cell, a human being is a social metazoan, the human-based Vancouver is a social city, the human-based Canada is a partly-social nation, and the human-dominated Earth certainly is, at this point, a nonsocial planet.

So, the Amoeba has a limit to transcendence, as do the dragonfly and the termite. The question now is: Is there a limit to transcendence in regards to humanity? How high in this cosmic order of things can our species ascend to, before we are stuck like the Amoeba on the cellular level, or the dragonfly on the metazoan Level, or the termites on the citian Level? Are we going to be stuck on the galactic level? Or the stellar level? Or the planetary level? Or even the national level? Are we doomed to fighting star wars, or even something as low as a nuclear holocaust?

 

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