KNOWLEDGE - Conclusion (continued from Part 23)
How is it decided that certain attributes become genetically encoded; that is to say, how is the value of evolutionary change determined as it relates to the best interests of the species? Clearly, a single cell does not have enough information to make a judgment as to what is advantageous to the perpetuation and progression of the greater organism. It only has fragments of the empirical knowledge pertaining to environmental change.
Does a cellular community decide upon the genetic code it will pass along to the reproductive cells; that is, does the old theory, of individual mutation being the driving force behind a concept of survival of the fittest, have any merit? In this context one creature cannot cause an evolutionary advance; there has to be a commonality among all members living within that particular environment. For example: using the single organism theory, there would logically have been a point in time when one “human” existed. Until the moment of its birth, all past and present members of the species were “subhuman” (or "pre-human") because no other had yet crossed the defining line. Subsequently this first human would grow to maturity and mate with a subhuman, producing a child which was half human and half subhuman. Consequently each succeeding generation becomes less and less human. Evolution becomes regressive using this simple model, so another factor must be introduced.
For each generation to gain the evolutionary advantage, every zygote must give priority to the new gene. The information contained in the programming of the “normal” cell must be eliminated, and be replaced by the new data. A simple arrangement of dominant and recessive genes cannot work in this scenario, otherwise a portion of those born would always revert back to subhuman. An organism cannot make this value judgment. Why give preeminence to a new untested gene, over an existing one which has demonstrated functionality generation after generation? This would require either advance knowledge, or an incredibly complex system of abstract reasoning, particularly in regard to cause and effect. Each individual cannot come to an independent conclusion; all cells of all species members must react in the same way, without physical collusion.
As demonstrated by the aborigines in the Americas and Australia, the human species can evolve different characteristics within a closed environment, yet all of the races are fundamentally the same. Man is a functional design, and portions of humanity will adapt to the environmental demands of a particular region, while retaining a basic species identity. If a local ecosystem is unique enough to require substantial changes in the design of a creature, and that life-form is a necessary part of that area’s biodiversity, the organism will evolve into a new species. All of the genetic prioritizing will be done within that specific segment of the original species, while the remainder living in other parts of the world will stay the same.
The points discussed thus far indicate that a complex form of decision-making is constantly at work, yet it appears physically impossible for this to occur. The overall intent and genetic prioritizing that directs existence cannot be solely attributed to one level of life. This leaves us with two options: either the genes of all living things contain a complete record of all that has occurred during the existence of life, and this comprehensive knowledge of cause and effect permits simple stimuli response, eliminating the need for decision-making; or organisms access a pool of knowledge which exists on a different level.
Analysing the preprogramming concept leads to an interesting chain of reasoning. To have genetic markers indicating the correct response to a given environmental change, especially when it involves the proactive influence of thinking creatures, means that the change must have occurred before. Determinism allows for a reasoned conclusion as to what effect results from given causes, but to remove the capacity for reasoning from the equation, the effect needs to have been experienced. This is not to say that it must have been experienced by any particular species, since the commonality of all living things means that they share identical programming as it relates to the survival of life-in-general. Nor does it mean that circumstances must be precisely the same each time. The Peppered Moth altered its colouration due to the unnatural actions of man, but lengthy and widespread volcanic activity could also lead to the darkening of tree bark. However, response is also dependent upon a creature’s place within the ecosystem, and the balance is always maintained: all other life in that environment would also have to occupy similar niches.
This system is workable until we move much further back in time. What about when life was relatively new to the planet, and there were few experiences to be “remembered”? There was no room for error when life first appeared. Organisms randomly mutating to adapt to environmental change would be just as likely to choose the wrong response, as the right one. Prioritizing requires decision-making, so to stay within the parameters of stimuli-response means that it comes down to mathematical chance. If the likelihood of extinction is the same as perpetuation, life would have vanished from the planet on numerous occasions, and all of the gains made along the way would have been lost. Because a single failure means that all prior successes must be discarded, and random chance reapplied to each one, the odds of life existing for any length of time become extremely remote.
To surpass this hurdle, we would need to conclude that life had “preexisted”. All the knowledge required would have to be present in the first living things on Earth, which would mean that life arrived from elsewhere. This is entirely possible, since our planet is perpetually bombarded with celestial objects, and simple organisms could be frozen within any given meteorite. This appears to be far more likely than the spontaneous generation of a life-form containing all of the genetic information required for survival and perpetuation.
To accept this conclusion, we must then deduce that life, like the universe, is infinite; otherwise we encounter the same problems associated with the beginning of life anywhere. But a finite chromosome cannot contain an infinite amount of knowledge, so it follows that there is a definable number of possibilities as far as life is concerned, and the pattern of biological development is fundamentally the same for every planet endowed with living things.
Removing decision-making from consideration leaves us with a situation where life is perpetual, and cyclical; developing in the same basic fashion, yet constrained by a limit to the amount of knowledge programmed into it. This makes life-in-general a property of the universe, as much a part of existence as any other substance or force. In other words, attempting to speculate on the origins of life becomes as pointless as the illogical theorizing regarding the appearance of matter and energy from nothingness.
Could this system of universal archetypes account for everything pertaining to the existence of life? Being that every star eventually dies, and consequently every planet; life must ultimately reach an end to its cycle on each world. Due to the limitations of programmed knowledge, life-in-general would be incapable of adapting beyond a given point in its evolution. Genes could only contain the experiences from the planets which had existed for the longest period of time, which would mean that if man were to colonize other worlds, he would reach a termination point. Facts indirectly support this idea: humans experience a steady decline in fertility while in space, appearing to indicate that nature will not permit mankind itself to infect other worlds.
What purpose is then served by progression? If life must come to an end on each planet, while starting anew in younger solar systems, why evolve into incredibly complex organisms? Why move beyond a state where a multitude of bacterial variations populate the universe, and life thrives without the complications introduced by creatures capable of altering the status quo?
One answer is to say that the progression of life is part of the process of perpetuation, and ultimately, intelligent life-forms acquire the ability to visit other worlds as they near the end of their own planet’s cycle. Thus, life is seeded throughout the universe; not by the complex creatures who enable the process, being too specialized to adapt to an alien environment, but by the simple bacteria accompanying them and/or their machines.
To adopt this perspective, we would then have to consider the development of empirical knowledge as being akin to evolution; the preservation of information through learning leading to a contained biosphere attaining its goal of perpetuating life outside of its own realm. Therefore, progression becomes a property of the intent to perpetuate. There would be a finite number of alternatives as to the direction taken by thinking creatures, because reasoning would be dependent upon the purpose defined within the genetic programming. This would mean that knowledge is also cyclical, and the non-programmed events that occur due to individuality are insignificant to the greater goal, and are only side-effects of the capacity to reason.
Civilization, which reflects mankind’s pool of empirical knowledge, does show us a cyclical pattern. History repeats itself, and although the Western world appears destined to experience the usual social and economic collapse of expansionist empires, the next one will, as has normally occurred in the past, begin from a more advanced starting point. We could say that intelligent life is prone to go in the correct direction, yet due to limited programming, it must repeat some cycles until circumstances are such that it can succeed, and any particular planet’s advanced life-forms do not necessarily have to encounter the right circumstances; it is only that a sufficient number of worlds do so. From a pessimistic perspective, it could even be said that man would efficiently spread life throughout the universe by exploding our planet into a trillion fragments, some of which might contain organisms destined to land elsewhere.
This speculation on reducing the existence of life to a logical sequence of cause and effect may seem somewhat extreme, but it is no more remarkable than any other possible solutions. Eliminating any external mechanism for the pattern followed by living things requires that certain conclusions be forced upon us. There is one problem with theorizing along these lines: simple stimuli-response is an inadequate explanation.
Returning to the subject of aboriginal cultures, we can see that a conflict arises when considering progression as a genetic property. If the tendency to advance toward the capability to spread life beyond Earth is solely an innate quality, why would segments of humanity stagnate? To use the justification that their failure to develop is insignificant, because an adequate proportion of mankind was moving forward, means there would have to be some level of awareness that this was occurring. Could these isolated cultures know that they were not the only humans still existing on the planet? A case could be made that the Plains Indian knew of the civilizations existing in the south, yet there is no evidence of this. Australoids were completely cut off from the rest of our species, and even if they had knowledge of the inhabitants of neighbouring islands, these surrounding societies were also primitive. A genetic propensity to apply learned knowledge in a given way, to attain a specific goal, would require that either all members of a species follow the same pattern, or some external mechanism permits variation because a sufficient number are on the correct path. This does not eliminate the possibility of a preprogrammed aspect to learning, but it does indicate the need for an additional factor.
Australoids, and the Mongoloid racial variant native to the Americas, both appear to be destined for extinction. The inability to adapt behaviourally can have the same effect as a failure to change physiologically. This was likely the fate of Neanderthal man who, when forced to compete with the Homo Sapien species which had moved into the same range, either died out or, for those attempting to adjust culturally, were absorbed through interbreeding over thousands of years: they were “genetically prioritized” out of existence.
Learning is very much a result of circumstances. Whereas a regional drought will lead to the migration of a primitive society, going in search of water; the members of an advanced culture will invent canals and aqueducts, and bring the water to themselves. The same situation, met with the same genetic resources, results in completely different reactions. When the Spaniards destroyed the Aztec empire, the natives returned to a hunter-gatherer society, and although most now live within a developed culture, some still exist as simple tribal clans in the jungle. Empires always collapse, and new ones arise to fill the void. Yet often this is accomplished by a different group, while the old fades into obscurity even though they still possess the knowledge to rebuild. Disasters can alter the destiny of a society, but often it is because they affect the most seemingly minor of empirical factors which contribute to the sum of a culture’s knowledge. The loss of a single influential and charismatic individual can impact upon the pattern of development.
The unforeseen consequences of events could have easily led to humanity surviving only as primitive tribalistic groups, yet some portion of mankind has always been progressing. Over the ages, this evolution of knowledge, coupled with the variety of human species and races which have come and gone, indicates that life advances in different ways. There is no pattern “written in stone”, no absolutely complete genetic plan; but a generic intent to progress and perpetuate, with a responsive order promoting variation within the confines of the innate outline. Cellular differentiation means that every cell contains all the information necessary to construct the most complex of organisms, with the distinctions between a human and an amoeba being only a matter of which genes are turned on or off. Then why various responses to the same stimuli, particularly within the same species? Since there cannot be a preprogrammed mechanism which accounts for how other living things are faring due to environmental and empirical variables, intent must be supplemented by something which enforces the fundamental guideline which governs balance within nature: enough, not enough, more than enough. A sufficient number of any particular creature, or adequate biodiversity, cannot be controlled via preset coding; differentiation alone mandates that all living things have the potential to adapt to almost any situation, yet creatures become extinct because something inhibits a stimuli-response reaction to change.
Survival of a species is enabled by variations in the genetic code. Creatures resist disease because there are contrasts between individuals, and whereas a virus can evolve the ability to kill a sufficient number of any particular life-form, others of the species type will be immune or resistant to its predation due to having a slightly different design. This random alteration of genetic makeup is caused by the innate controls which ensure that living things produce offspring from different mates, creating distinct chromosome pairings. The tendency toward desiring various partners is preprogrammed, but the resulting gene combinations are governed by the law of probability. There will be “enough” diversity within a species to guarantee that the mechanism controlling populations will function as “intended”, but specific variations cannot be preset due to the existence of mutations that are contrary to survival. These gene-combination failures may be an aspect of population limitation, but any particular disorder is only a part of a generic probability of defectiveness, and each will eventually disappear simply because it conflicts with survival. We only see the persistence of these disorders in humans due to our interference with natural selection. For example: in nature, people with Huntington’s chorea would normally have shorter life-spans because of the gradual loss of survival skills, and males afflicted with the disease would never reach “alpha” status; meaning that in both cases, they would reproduce at a much lower rate, and the gene flaw would eventually be eliminated.
Although many specific genetic flaws are destined to vanish without human intervention, the overall rate of failure remains consistent, and any given disorder will reflect the statistical probability of error. As each particular biological mistake runs its course, new ones will appear. Non-destructive genetic aberrations do not increase in frequency, they still occur at a rate comparable to that of any other anomaly; and some persistent gene flaws appear to exist for a reason.
We can refer to this genetic variation as survival of the fittest only within a very narrow context. Each instance is exclusive, and resistance to one virus does not mean resistance to another. In fact, a virus may evolve to target previously immune creatures, resulting in those who were originally susceptible becoming the “fittest”. Also, the offspring of each individual is a new pairing of chromosomes, and subsequently may or may not enjoy an advantage over any given pathogen. The purpose is not to make creatures better or worse, just different; since no virus can adapt to every possible, and always changing, gene-map. If we were to determine that a certain animal had the ideal level of immunity, and cloned it so that all of the others shared identical DNA, the evolutionary ability of micro-organisms would ensure that the clones would all succumb to a disease which targeted that particular arrangement. All would have identical resistance to current viruses, but all would have no defense from ones that would adapt to the situation.
Much of the pattern of life can be explained genetically, but we cannot completely eliminate decision-making from the equation. What is that “spark” which makes a conglomerate of elements a living thing? What enables universal intent? As far as we know, life can only exist as a combination of matter and energy. This can also be said of all substances, yet the force which holds atoms and molecules together is certainly not the same as that which controls life. If a cell dies, the energy within its molecular structure continues on, but its life-force is forever gone. However, simple organisms can have all biological functions cease, yet “return to life” years later. Of course they are not, by definition, truly dead during this period, but this indicates that the force persists without biological support; existing independently of the chemical and electrical activity present within a cell, and “reawakening” the genetic coding when the environment is amicable to life. Yet if you damage the physical structure of the organism while inert, the life energy will not return, nor is its subsequent absence detectable during dormancy.
We see this process when we freeze the sperm and egg cells of higher animals, but these are also simple organisms with the potential to construct complex life-forms; which can also be said of bacteria. Differentiation and evolution permit us to define basic living units as “seeds of life”, as they are encoded with the capability to ultimately produce the most complicated and diverse of living things. Just as our own reproductive cells can create humans, bacteria, over billions of years of evolution, eventually accomplished the same thing.
Simple organisms are incredibly durable, and almost infinitely adaptable. They are the key to the intent to perpetuate, for they have demonstrated the ability to survive in space. When Apollo Twelve astronauts retrieved the camera from the Surveyor Three spacecraft on the Moon, it was found that a colony of Streptococcus bacteria had not only survived the journey through space, they had also endured three years of existence in a sterile vacuum, where the temperature varies from 127 degrees Celsius at lunar noon, to minus 173 degrees at night; while being exposed to intense radiation.
We have undoubtedly introduced life to Mars, and the Voyager missions have sent organisms toward unknown destinations beyond our solar system. The chances of man’s actions leading to the development of a biosystem where none has existed before are slim; yet with each launch of a “contaminated” mechanism, the possibility increases. If our planet ceases to be tomorrow, somewhere life from it may be patiently awaiting the opportunity to begin anew.
It seems that life is dependent upon the physical, with most of the essential data hardwired into the chromosomes. We can compare it to the way a computer functions. Our machines can retain incredible amounts of information in a relatively small space, yet the data is useless unless we plug in the computer. The knowledge within the hard drive remains intact while the unit is without power, and re-supplying energy will reawaken the machine. If an essential part of the disk is physically damaged while unplugged, you won’t know that the system has failed until you try to access it.
A comparison is frequently made between an anthropomorphic god, and a programmer. It has been said that just as a computer is a useless box of components without someone originally entering the data, life could not function unless an entity created the knowledge contained in the DNA. But what if computers had always existed, and a backup disk was invariably moved from a source machine into each new one? The god/programmer metaphor only has merit if we accept that life spontaneously appeared.
The analogy between computers and living things diverges when we introduce abstract reasoning into the formula. Although there is much hope and speculation surrounding the belief in artificial intelligence, the fact of the matter is, computers cannot think. Machines are only capable of deductive logic, where premises deemed to be true are entered by humans, and used to reach analytical conclusions. Inductive reasoning is the domain of higher animals, where abstracts permit us to make inductive decisions.
Place two identical donuts in precisely the same relative positions. Without inductive input, your mind would theoretically be incapable of deciding on which one to choose. To enable a machine to make such a choice, it is programmed to do something like multiplying the time by the date, and if the product is an even number, it picks the “left” one. You would make what you consider to be a random choice, yet in reality the influences of your past experiences, and present state of mind, would cause you to reach for one or the other. Every computer will make the choice based on the same type of criteria, and will choose in the same way every time; whereas humans will vary because the decision is subjective, and has nothing to do with objective knowledge.
The electricity that allows a computer to apply its encoded information is a simple enabling force which has no intent. Preprogrammed data can only result in accurate deductive conclusions if the facts are unquestionably true; false input will result in false output, and the machine can never contemplate whether or not the things it knows are correct. At most, a computer will eventually simulate thought, by having somebody enter enough algorithms to permit it to combine seemingly unrelated concepts into what appears to be abstract inferences; but the machine will still apply these information packets, of someone else’s thoughts, as if they were facts. Computers will not reason until an organic component is introduced; however it will not then be a machine with a biological enhancement, but rather a “life” enhanced by machinery.
The force which enables life also governs it. Preprogrammed knowledge can change from true to false due to circumstances, and this has to be managed externally. That which is true for a species can eventually cause its demise when conditions are too favourable. A climate change causing the loss of a predator on an island may mean that the herbivores thrive, yet their programming ultimately becomes false when they consume all of the plant life, and everything dies. A natural adjustment is necessitated, such as the mutation of a virus into a form which preys upon the herbivores, in order to maintain equilibrium. Life perseveres due to this imposed guidance toward perpetuation.