REASONED SPIRITUALITY: exploring spirituality, the meaning of life, the concept of God.

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KNOWLEDGE - Genetics

(continued from Part 22)

The greater the number of components, the more complex something is considered to be; yet life appears to contradict this perception when we apply it to knowledge. The information contained in each of our cells far surpasses that which is accessible through the mind. The innate knowledge guides our actions, but we are rarely cognizant of it, and cannot fully comprehend the intricacies of what it means to our destiny. the human mind functions on a more generalized level. The detailed information maintained by our cells enables each person to act automatically, the perpetuation of the species, and hence the cellular legacy, is guaranteed by our unwitting obedience to this underlying knowledge.

The cell itself contains a nucleus, which is the equivalent of its brain, and therein lies the information which enables life. Inside the nucleus are the chromosomes which store the knowledge of the species. Damage a chromosome, and you cause an aberration in the programming of the cell. Just as our brain is the sum of its components, the innate coding within the nucleus creates a whole from its parts. The knowledge used by the cell is a more generalized application of the explicit data in each of our 23 pairs of chromosomes. Inside a chromosome is the DNA molecule, segmented into genes which are responsible for the fine details that map out the essentials for life. Change a single gene, and you alter the destiny of all subsequent “offspring” of that cell, and potentially the whole creature. Everything that is you, including all instinctive drives, the mechanism for the perpetuation of a life-form and species, as well as the design enabling you to learn and develop individuality, is made possible by these fragments of DNA molecules.

When we look at knowledge from a grander perspective, we see the same principle repeated. The human race functions as an organism, acting as the sum of its components; evolving en masse as a species. The direction mankind takes seems a slow, ponderous motion in comparison to the frantic pace in which we live our lives; but progression is relative. The generalized development of humanity is accomplished by an “organism” which lives for millions of years, whereas the individual parts that constitute the greater whole live for less than a century, and each of our cells has a considerably shorter life-span of its own.

Our species is a component of life on this planet. Once again, the type-specific knowledge is a part of the pool of awareness that is life. The direction taken by any particular species influences the future pattern of living things on Earth, because all other life-forms adjust to maintain equilibrium. The balance of predators to prey, habitat to vegetation, and the proportion of sorts of life-forms contributes to the basic “intent” to perpetuate. Life, as a whole, also acts as an organism, adapting to the environment in order to remain viable, and to ensure that the entire “entity” lives on.

This sense of purpose is evident on each level of knowledge, yet all of the larger conglomerates of components are dependent upon the non-sentient information held by the most basic of units. While mankind envisions an enabling force of cosmic dimensions, it actually exists as the smallest of things. Aside from structural differences, the cells that perpetuate life are all fundamentally the same: human and plant cells perform the equivalent task of retaining all the information necessary for the continued health of the individual species, and the ecosystem.

The simplest of life-forms which originated life on Earth contained almost the identical critical genetic information found in modern cells, and the process of passing living cells from generation to generation means that life as a whole can be perceived as immortal; this “organism” has been alive on this planet for billions of years, and you, as an individual, contain a portion of the knowledge programmed into the earliest of life; sharing that legacy with all living things. There are over a billion gene combinations within your DNA molecules, yet a chimpanzee shares 98.4 percent of your genetic makeup. There are many branches of life, yet all retain a fundamental similarity. The differences in genetics are only characteristic of the individual or type, whereas those in common form the basis for existence.

Although one of the criteria for life is the presence of organic compounds, we must keep in mind that these compounds are constructed of basic elements; they are simply a different arrangement of the same things which make up that which we define as lifeless. The fundamental components of a cell are elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon: inanimate materials that, even when we combine them in such a way as to duplicate the complex proteins that constitute life, do not live.

Another measure of life is the presence of biological activity, which we interpret from a human perspective. A star parallels our perception of biology: its gravitational field draws in mass that is processed into energy, which it excretes. A star has a moment of birth, it ages, and eventually dies; the final burst of matter and energy contributing to the creation of new celestial bodies. Nothing in existence is “dead”, for there is always activity on a subatomic level. From this perspective, prehistoric animism is correct in believing that there is “life” (or activity) within everything. Because we have difficulty establishing what physically defines a living thing, we have had to rely on empirical evidence, which has led us astray in the past. Upon discovering organisms living in environments where we thought life was impossible, such as in the boiling water around oceanic vents and inside nuclear reactors, we have had to reevaluate our criteria. When molecular activity was discovered in the soil of Mars, scientists were unable to conclude whether or not it was life, because our knowledge is based entirely on what we have experienced on Earth, and consequently we may be incapable of recognizing alien organisms.

As far as we know, life-forms cannot exist without the extraordinarily complex knowledge coded within the genes, yet they are ultimately made of elements common to all things. What then truly distinguishes the animate from the inanimate? Intent defines life. The shared intent to perpetuate is the force which differentiates between an organism and simple matter; it is the innate sense of purpose which binds all living things together, and applies to life as a whole, rather than just the components thereof. This collective intent exists to permit the organism, that is the sum of all lesser organisms in the universe, to be immortal; all of the parts live and die for the greater purpose.

The components of life-in-general are part of the flow of existence, and must die in order to allow for renewal through progression. Life-forms evolve to perpetuate the species within the guidelines set for the ultimate goal, of the continuing existence of the whole. If living things were programmed for the preeminence of the individual, evolution would follow an entirely different path. Single creatures do not evolve a longer life-span, which would be in the best interests of the individual, they change in order to assure the health of the species. Man does not live longer due to adaptation, but because of better nutrition, technological protection from the predation of animals (including viruses), and advances in medical science. You are designed to die, and no matter how far humanity progresses up the evolutionary ladder, a person eventually reaches a point where genetic coding dictates that the biological process must cease.

The same applies to a species. Seen as a unit, it evolves to adapt to the environment, while maintaining equilibrium within nature. When a species no longer fits within this balance, it stops evolving, and eventually becomes extinct. The fossil record indicates that even prior to the influence of man, a type of life-form disappeared from the Earth, on average, every three years (of course, there were lengthy periods of widespread extinction as well as ones of relative stability). The components of life-in-general are ultimately both essential and expendable; innate and empirical knowledge is passed from generation to generation, meaning that individuals must exist long enough to perpetuate this knowledge, but no specific component is critical to the destiny of life as a whole.

Intent is the defining property of life, but is perpetuation the only aspect of this force? The universe, and life in particular, is not chaotic; yet neither is it static. For living things to maintain balance, there is only a need for adaptation to the environment; this would merely require passive knowledge, where evolution would dictate a given response to a set of circumstances. Individuality leads to change due to its proactive nature, which would appear to be contrary to the best interests of life-in-general. Why cause life-forms to adapt to the actions of others, which demands a rapid response, and leads to the elimination of types of creatures who no longer fit within the balance? It could be suggested that individuality is due to the concept of “survival of the fittest”, and evolving the ability to alter the environment, or direction of species development, is of benefit to that type of life-form; and whether or not other creatures can adjust is inconsequential, as long as the proactive species gains an advantage. Nevertheless, being too successful ultimately has negative consequences. Being too efficient as a predator eventually means that the thriving population will consume all of its prey. Being capable of eating a wide variety of vegetation leads to the elimination of habitat and food supply. Becoming the “fittest” on a finite planet is a death sentence, as was demonstrated by the dinosaurs, simply due to logic.

Nature has enabled the development of a brain because the intent of life is not just to perpetuate, but also to progress. Individuality moves life forward because it permits abstract thought, which in man’s case, allows us to anticipate and direct future events. Because all cells in a creature are replicated from a single original, the only way that they can change from being a duplicate of the first is through differentiation: where new cells are “told” to turn on, or off, certain genes. This means that every cell has the capacity to perform the same functions as a brain cell. However, the reason that individuality is concentrated in one fragile location, rather than safely distributed throughout the organism, is due to synaptic pathways. These are connections between brain cells which enable the mind to use seemingly unrelated categories of information to come to conclusions. Each time an area of the mind calls on another for input, the data is transferred via the most direct route. Repeated requests for information causes the brain to develop “shortcuts”, allowing for better communication between cells. In this way, the experiences of a lifetime effectively contribute to the sum of knowledge.

Physiologically speaking, making billions of synapses all through the body is impractical, when speed and efficiency are best served by proximity within a compact mass: the additional biomass and energy requirements needed by the body would become a hindrance to survival, and the time necessary to establish links between cells would render the system ineffectual. The value of individuality in the greater scheme of things supersedes the risk inherent to a “master control center”. All creatures could exist with a system which distributes mental functions throughout the cellular community, and in fact many do; but abstract reasoning then becomes impossible because there are a minimal number of pathways.

A system of connections is necessary in order to process empirical knowledge in a way which enables abstract thought. This indicates that there are limitations to what a cell can retain. Although there is a level of redundancy in the mind, the fact brain damage is selective supports the conclusion that, since cells in an organism only contain fragments of empirical data, there is something beyond genetic markers which enables imprinting of the significant experiences relating to the behavioural changes necessitated due to evolution.

Carl Jung was correct in realizing that there is a genetic aspect to knowledge, but he went too far in attributing recollections of myths and cultural events to a “racial memory”. Creatures with brains are capable of teaching future generations, and have the capacity to retain these lessons. Because kernels of knowledge are kept alive through observation and repetition, and identical genetic programming ensures a tendency to reason toward the same conclusions, Jung’s cultural similarities are explained.

Aboriginal cultures in the Americas provide a good example of how both innate and learned knowledge apply to humans. The native population migrated to North, and eventually South, America fifteen thousand years ago. Although they have evolved some superficial differences, all of the cultures are still members of the Mongoloid race. The societies living in Central and South America developed advanced civilizations, as did the people remaining in Asia. There are many similarities between the civilizations created in all parts of the world, and a commonality of spiritual beliefs, yet there are significant differences as well. In North America, the Plains Indian did not advance beyond a simple hunter-gatherer society. Until forced to live within the guidelines set by European conquerors, they remained a snapshot of antiquity, basically unchanged from what all of humanity was twenty thousand years ago. Why did part of this isolated branch of mankind develop parallel to the majority of humans, while part remained static? The concept of attributing advancement to environment does not apply in this case; the indigenous population of Australia existed in a fruitful environment practically devoid of primary predators, yet Australoids also stayed as hunter-gatherers.

All tribes which developed from the original migrants to the Americas shared the same genetic knowledge. They all retained similar fundamental views on spirituality, but diverged from a common society thousands of years ago. It has been suggested that, theoretically, external influences may be responsible for changing the path followed by certain tribal bands, and contact with civilized peoples from Europe and Asia may have led to cultural evolution. Aside from the fact that humans have demonstrated that encounters between groups at different ends of the technological spectrum results in destruction of the weaker group, societies such as that of the Plains Indian have failed to adjust to exposure to civilization. Even now, after centuries of imposed technology, they retain the mindset of early man, and cannot adapt. This external influence has led to phenomenal rates of crime, substance abuse, and suicide. Although they have access to the benefits of modern science, they still have the high infant mortality rate and brief life-span of ancient hunter-gatherers; albeit for somewhat different reasons.

While many of the cultures of the world independently created advanced civilizations, a significant number of them did not, and are still fundamentally tribal clans. Obviously, humans have the capacity to form agrarian societies due to our ability to reason, but because we do not necessarily do so, even when conditions are favourable, it is not significant to the perpetuation of the species; otherwise all humans would be predisposed to follow this path.

 continued as Part 24

Site map indexHomeComments?Links to sites of interest
Part 1:  IntroductionPart 2:  BalancePart 3:  DivisionsPart 4:  Unitypart 5:  Concept of GodPart 6:  Defining GodPart 7:  SexualityPart 8:  Instinctive MoralityPart 9:  Moral Compromise - ReproductionPart 10: Moral Obligation - ReproductionPart 11:  DeterminismPart 12:  Determining Our DestinyPart 13:  Good and EvilPart 14: Crime and PunishmentPart 15:  Belief - fact and faithPart 16: MaterialismPart 17: AppreciationPart 18:  Abstract PerceptionPart 19:  RelationshipsRelationships (conclusion)Part 21:  DeathPart 22:  KnowledgePart 23: Knowledge - geneticsPart 24: Knowledge (conclusion)Part 25: Meaning of LifePart 26: Meaning of Life (continued)Part 27: Meaning of Life (conclusion)

Copyright 1998-2000 B.W.Holmes - all rights reserved (unless noted otherwise). Quotes from ancient literary works do not carry a copyright.