Through integration of macromolecules the first life-form came into being on Earth – the single-cell creature :
This bacterial life-form comprises three functions of such direct sequence that it can only be described as a single, relatively simple unit (complicated though it is, in fact, having several DNA molecules, thousands upon thousands of RNA and protein molecules, and many millions of smaller organic molecules) whose purpose and structure is almost exactly described by its activity. The three functions are these: (1) the cell absorbs food and converts it, by photosynthesis, into energy in order that it may absorb more food, and convert it into more energy, and so on. (2) The cell grows and, (3) in due time,with the help of its DNA, splits into two replicas of itself, thus doubling its single activity. The purpose which such single cells at first appear to be fulfilling is that of expressing energy to the optimum.
This term’ expressing energy’ keeps recurring in the following pages and requires some explanation. By ‘expression’, in this context, I mean ‘to use inventively – to pursue the possible applications of energy to the limits of complex ingenuity’. As I hope to make clear, this means exploring the true possibilities until the advance of intelligence has reached the point where a form of energy, human life, has acquired the means of expressing truth – intellect.
Putting aside the question of what persuaded molecules to integrate and what gave purpose to single cells, we can imagine that once such a cell is built and programmed it and its progeny could go on indefinitely, like a perfect engine. It has no central nervous system but evidently does not need one. Absorbing food is automatic; the cell’s DNA might cause it to grow and split automatically, and the whole be kept going by self-generated energy. Eventually the single-cell population would reach the point where it had out-grown its food supply, when many cells would starve to death but the rest would carry on as before, unchanging.
But this is not an ordinary cause-and-effect system. There was no purely chemical or physical cause why these cells came into being and began converting matter into energy. The same influence which caused their creation continues as the force which gives them to live. They are not ordinary systems because they represent life, impelled by this will to live. This will comes to them direct from life-force, impelling them not merely to continue unchanged but to take every opportunity to progress and improve their techniques of expressing energy. The same life-force would also be exerting itself to defend and protect its creation, both internally and in the biosphere (Gaia).
The fact that life-forms have changed and proliferated enormously points to a greater aim, beyond the purpose simply to express energy. That purpose could have been achieved by these simple cells adjusting their numbers and habits to the available food supply, with comparatively little change and in a non-competitive way. History suggests that the greater aim, to be achieved by optimum competitive expression of energy, is to develop ever more advanced and complex life-forms.
Many of the bacteria and algae continued in simple cell form, reproducing by identical splitting, or dying and being replaced by free-floating DNA meeting suitable conditions so as continually to produce new cells. Genetic errors in reproduction, and random combinations of genes in the production of new cells, resulted in the emergence of cells with new characteristics, many of which survived. Over a period of about two thousand million years this process of change enabled life to adapt to the introduction of oxygen to the atmosphere, for instance. Today, the influenza virus can change rapidly enough to produce, each year, a new strain capable of defeating anti-bodies which were developed as rapidly the previous year to combat the old strain.
A more dramatic cause of change, which created complicated life-forms, was the integration of cells. Two or more cells joined together, forming one cell with a nucleus, a combination which increased the prospects for successful survival. This was a first step towards achieving increased efficiency by the internal co-operation of different cells and functions. Such integrated cells had the advantage that the nucleus could develop independently and, under protection from its external casing, free of direct interference from the world outside.
Advancing change was facilitated by the means of reproduction. As cells became more elaborate the effects of error and randomness in the distribution of genes became more far-reaching. Eventually, by way of natural selection, the creatures that progressed furthest and succeeded best were those which assumed female and male genders and reproduced sexually. Each offered its genes for random selection by the embryo, to which the female gave form and the male the spark of life, which then grew independently as to fundamentals but dependent on one or both parents for nourishment and guidance. Sexual reproduction foreshortened the processes of change by the cross-fertilisation of ever more intricate genetic variations.
Life’s early evolution, up to the development of complete cells with a nucleus, took place in the seas over a period of of about 2300 million years. Some 1000 million years later, photosynthesising multicellular organisms – plants – had inhabited dry land, and animals followed 50 million years later. We are particularly concerned with the free-moving, intelligent higher life-forms, especially the most advanced, the human species, and features of the evolutionary process which gave us our characteristics.
The foregoing scientific information was obtained from the work of other people and their writings, particularly the books already acknowledged – James Lovelock’s Gaia and Peter Russell’s The Awakening Earth. Whilst acknowledging these two authors for their knowledge of science, however, I do not go along with their other reasoning, that concerned with moral rather than factual truth.
The original photosynthesising types of simple cell must have multiplied until the point was reached where all available elements which they required, once freely and abundantly present in the sea, had already been converted into energy, and newly released elements were being immediately consumed. I have already suggested that an influence to express energy is responsible for the universe and for the creation of life. It might have been expected that when life in the sea reached this balance, the photosynthesising cells producing oxygen (followed by other cells which were able to utilise that oxygen) would stabilise their numbers to coincide with the rate at which needed elements were newly released into the sea. This would be the optimum expression of energy, as things stood. But I also suggest (in Part V, Chapter 32) another influence whose objective is to advance life until it becomes aware of truth, and to which this balance of activity, in the sea, was unacceptable stagnation.
Under this second influence (which I had not intended to insist upon, since it cannot be proved, but which becomes more convincing the further my thoughts progress), certain cells, unable to accept stalemate and feeling the urge to progress, turned to the only alternative food supply – other living cells. This would seem to go contrary to the first influence (to express energy) since by one cell eating another two energy convertors would be reduced to one. But the second influence, by complicating life-forms in pursuance of its objective, also served the first influence in that life was thus impelled and enabled to extend its activity onto the land and into the air.
Still confined to the sea, simple life-forms became more complicated. As food became more scarce, they had to develop means of locomotion to find it, also the ability to convert what they could get into the forms they needed to sustain themselves. As competition for this food increased, their movements and senses had to be more and more efficient if they were to survive. When cells began eating each other, survival came to depend upon being well equipped for attack and defence – skilled in competitive conflict. Measures had to be taken to attempt the protection of offspring. To illustrate once more that the object of all this activity does not seem to be purely to express energy by living, but to encourage the creation of optimum intelligence, consider a food chain in the sea. The millions of one species at the bottom of the chain feed on inorganic matter, whilst all the rest depend on this species, and each other, for food. Apart from the supreme predators, each species has to vastly over-reproduce just to maintain numbers and survive, a seemingly pointless exercise until its objective is perceived. Suppose that every living member of this chain were to be evaluated with respect to mass and energy and totalled one million units. Then suppose that all but the lowest species were eliminated and, after a period of adjustment to life without predators, all members of that harmless species were evaluated too. It seems certain that, subject to availability of food to sustain them just at this level, they must total more than a million units. This also assumes that it was predation which kept their numbers to the previous lower level. I recognise that the populations of victims and predators normally fluctuate in inverse proportion. Victims would tend to total more because of energy retained which would have been dissipated by the various predators consuming each other, i.e. finding, killing and reproducing the same food. In terms of the mass and energy of living matter, all the predators would appear to be unnecessary, until it is noted that amongst species at the tops of food chains, and practically invulnerable to all predators except mankind, are Earth’s top intelligences – whales and dolphins, for example, and humans.
The more advanced cells, with complicated nuclei, joined together into colonies, and colonies into organisms, the better to survive against competition (united we stand, divided we fall). Different colonies, in their own interests, performed locomotive, defensive or combative functions, or became direction finders and distributors for the organism, in its overall interest. All these cellular functions, the frameworks which held them together and the casings which protected them, required to be fed. There had to be many means of taking food, breaking it down into the numerous elements which the many different cells required, and providing this food, together with oxygen, to all parts as appropriate. There also had to be a nervous system, to help the organism’s various functions to co-operate by passing messages to and fro.
In some sense it could be argued that all this is irrelevant; that the human race now exists, with intelligence enough to decide its future by concentrating on the future, never mind the past. But for reasons which shall become clear it is necessary to show our evolution so far to have been a sequence of random responses to growing influences. The situation it has brought us to is not a suitable springboard for further progress. Now is the time for deeply thoughtful reconsideration. Were we the ignorant children of an all-wise universe, it would be difficult for that universe to justify its long-drawn-out production of ourselves and, having brought us into being, to explain why it has not caused our rapid enlightenment. I believe, on the contrary, that we are hoped-for pioneers of enlightenment in an ignorant universe, but still following the processes of random evolution, unaware that we have reached our utmost potential already.
It is again necessary to ask why – why did simple cells form nuclei and progress to such levels of complication? I have suggested before that two influences are involved, one to express energy, the other to pursue truth. Life was created and evolves under the former influence, to express energy by all possible means, and it was this which led creatures to depend on eating each other. By doing so they walked into the competitive trap. The essence of life is to succeed in living and reproducing – to survive. Once in the competitive trap, to survive means to advance, progress. To fall back, or merely stand still when competitors are advancing, is to fail. This raises a question which it is my object to answer. The first influence (to express energy) serves the second influence (to perfect intelligence). What happens, and what should happen, when that purpose has been served?
Success goes to those creatures best equipped for attack and defence, and this determines progress. Predators have the advantage that their food has to some extent been processed already by the creatures they eat. Life-force has been built into their every cell from the start, and is now the impulse of their nervous system. Not just the original influence to survive passively (i.e. to express energy but to progress only as far as their present limitations permit, as in the case of green plants) but both influences, which only free-moving oxygen-burning creatures are capable of fulfilling. These influences, in the form of will, strongly compel all creatures to explore and progress in such ways as require ever higher intelligence. But a further question is this. When intelligence is perfected, can it overcome the will to go on competing? This is the question which humanity now faces.
The question is ‘Can intelligence, once perfected, overcome the instinctive will to go on competing?’, and in answering it we have to bear in mind those two influences which are involved – (1) To express energy and thus not only create life but also to develop its forms and functions in every possible way, and (2) to advance the faculty of intelligence until it becomes capable of comprehending truth. This question is important in leading us to perceive (and the aim of this book is to help the reader so to perceive) that while the animal’s purpose is to fulfil itself by following instinct, true human purpose is to fulfil truth by following intellect.
Free-moving multi-cellular creatures continued to be impelled by the force of will, derived from the two influences defined above, but also now had a nervous system, a simple kind of intelligence for transforming vital need into effective action. As these creatures became more complicated, so their nervous systems became more intricate, making it necessary to set up a central co-ordination of this system, the brain, so that functions could be performed in efficient sequence. Logically, the brain should also contain the force which impels the whole organism, the will. But the whole creature is a collection of individual cells, each with its own function, with knowledge of that function alone and the will to perform it. Yet each cell has also a sense of corporate purpose for the common interest; this was what brought it to join a colony and brought the colony to join an organism. Each cell gives up a degree of independence, restricting its activity and its reproduction to the common interest, repelling invading bacteria and viruses and helping to keep the whole body healthy. In return the parent body feeds the cells and mobilises aid when they come under attack or suffer injury.
So all the organism’s many cells contribute a portion of their influence and independence to its will, to the combined strength of the organism’s independence and influence to which they all submit in return for its patronage. Such creatures have passed through a period of random change in the vital pursuit of competitive success. They have developed means of sustaining and reproducing themselves which secure their survival. Having now a brain, with a strong will in command, they are in a position to experiment with further changes. But random change might well endanger survival. There is a need to establish the success already achieved and to make it secure. The very determination of an organism’s will to have its functions continue performing exactly in the manner which had already proved successful caused it to impose upon itself a pattern of behaviour which it then became the predominant will of the organism strictly to observe. This pattern of behaviour is known as instinct.
Instinct is a governing programme, embodying means of impelling and inhibiting a creature’s behaviour in the related interests of its many cells, itself, and its species. It is easy enough to comprehend that animal life is dependently subject to instinct but not so easy to understand why. It is vital that we do understand this, because our present problems are the result of our misunderstanding of that which impels us. Our instincts were genetically laid down – strongly imprinted over a very long time. Many are essential, and some harmless. But many others are dangerous, and although these ought to be outmoded our society remains such that we constantly revert to them. Perhaps these undesirable instincts can never be erased, only overlaid. We have to learn how to make them so completely redundant that we never again need them and can never again call them up.
Figure 2 represents the central, controlling nucleus of the multi-cellular creature – the brain – the being’s essence, or self. The creature is identifiable, to an outside observer, as a set of physical characteristics, and by its familiar pattern of behaviour which is animated by feelings conveyed by its nervous system. Its self is aware but is not yet capable of self-awareness. Nor is this self independent or autonomous. It is a series of strict and entirely predictable responses to instinctive instructions, powered by the original life-force will to survive and reproduce, which encapsulate the creature and operate through its instinct. This may be changed only by genetic mutation brought about by accident or chance, capitalised by will, but not by intention.
However, although locked into a fixed programme of behaviour which forbade any other avenue of change, most of these creatures followed a path which enabled them to change dramatically. Before they had any means of foreseeing or planning the future, they progressed to advantage. One reason is this; that whilst one part of instinctive will is to obey the letter of instinct, and so prohibit change, the other part is to reflect the spirit of instinct which is to try and change for the better. Another reason is that instinct dictates the behaviour of the organism as an individual whole, but the individual cells which make up the organism have no instinct. Simply obeying instructions from the organism’s brain, they co-operate to ensure that the organism functions successfully because their welfare is synonymous with the well-being of the whole. But simple cells also respond to the spirit of instinctive will, and are free to experiment with mutations which can be adopted, or rejected like a disease or cancer, by the ordinary process of natural selection, without in any way compromising the security of overall instinct.
Before the formation of its instinct the situation of the multi-cellular organism was very subtle. Its needs were those of its component single cells and cell colonies; it had no independent needs. Its will was partly that of its cells and partly that which they gave it to protect their interests, so that it had force of will before it had acquired its own individual interests. These interests, as well as those of its component cells, were catered for by its completed instinct which became the vehicle of its individual will.
It has to be considered how instinct came to be established. There being nothing capable of working it out or applying it, instinct must have created itself. In principle it is related to the universal cycle of ‘explosion and implosion’, birth and death. Instinct is a programme made up of extreme impulsions and inhibitions, establish by progressive selection as an average between extremes, which constitutes a continual expression of energy, and is proved by experience to secure successful survival. The programme of action and reaction is imposed by way of emotions which have been brought forward from experience resulting from past behaviour, and made into anticipatory feelings which guide present behaviour. For example, hunger is a pain accompanied by anticipated pleasure, and these are relieved or fulfilled by eating; sexuality is a desire accompanied by anticipated pleasure, and these are fulfilled by the sexual act. Animals neither eat because they know their bodies need food nor copulate because that is necessary to securing the future of their species. They obey the impulsions and inhibitions of instinct, a kind of knowledge automatically calculated from past experience as a series of emotional “do’s” and “don’t’s”, which is quite unaware of the future and unable to predict or prepare for it, and which is supposed to be locked away from a creature’s voluntary interference and to prohibit any contrary behaviour.
Whilst a creature was developing, the will, random mutations, and progressive selection played their parts. The objective was survival success, and by the time this objective had been achieved every feature of the creature’s behaviour was secured by its instinct to ensure that its success would be maintained. The creature’s ‘self-will’ became increasingly identified with the centralised brain containing the letter of instinct; resistant to and impatient of the body’s independent experimental mutations, which were faster than error or chance but still too slow and uncertain. There was a growing sense of mounting competition, an awareness of the vital need to progress faster if only to keep abreast, a sense that the brain should not be dominated by instinct but should have its own means of modifying and manipulating instinct and, consequently, a more direct influence on progressive mutation.