Friday, April 20, 2007

LIFE vs. TRAITS

Darwin's groundbreaking book was called 'The Origin of the Species' not 'The Origin of Life'. Is there a difference between species and life itself? Darwin was attempting to explain the myriad ways in which life took different forms through the ages, but was he talking about life itself? Is there a basic patten, a describable essence that exists prior to this differentiation and is consistent through all these forms; all these phyla and species?

Supposedly life begins with single celled organisms. Viruses are considered a kind of quasi-life in that they must invade a living cell and hijack its DNA in order to replicate. The cell, then, pretty much every one agrees, is the first life form. What are the functions of this most primitive form of life? A cell grows, replicates, senses it's environment, takes in nutrients to give it energy and to continue to grow, eliminates what is useless or dangerous to it, and protects itself from threats to its existence. Is there anything in this that sounds familiar?


A few years ago, accompanying my daughter on her school field trip to the Scripps Ocean Institute, we looked through a microscope at a drop of ocean water. There were dozens of plankton in that drop scurrying frantically about. I thought, "What are they doing down there? What is all that frenetic activity?" Then I realized that what they were doing down there was pretty much the same thing that we were doing up here; trying to survive. They were looking for something to eat, getting away from enemies, finding a mate and trying to get their children raised. Isn't it strange that every life form, plant and animal, that has been created, shares all these functions with that original single cell? Not only are they doing these things but, using whatever genetic equipment they have, they are 'trying' to do these things. How is it that every single being and form of life, and in the case of multi-celled beings, every cell and tissue and organ within each being, is trying to survive? Can we attribute all this energy and determination to the DNA molecule's ability to 'self-replicate'? Modern evolutionary theory does exactly that. It attributes the entire development of the species to the creation of more efficient ways for the DNA molecule to self-replicate. All species, including humans, live to serve the replication needs of the DNA molecule. Can this possibly be?


Replication takes energy. Survival takes energy. Is it in the DNA molecule itself, in the sugars, the proteins and/or the acids, that this need and determination exists? Scientists assure us that it is blind. The whole thing is a blind, random matching of genes, originally begun by a blind, random collision of atoms. But why does it continue? Why don't we just give up? Humans may need a reason to live, and for me, the prosperity of the DNA molecule isn't quite sufficient. But foxes, oak trees, seaweed and amoebas don't need a reason, at least not a stated one. They just keep doing it. Is it just the replication of the DNA that makes them do it? Does the DNA even desire to replicate? Of course not. It's just a molecule. If the DNA had any consciousness, which, of course it doesn't, and it 'wanted' to replicate, I should think it would have been more than happy many millions of years ago. Amoeba, plankton, microbes, bacteria, all replicate like mad. There are billions and trillions of them, all containing DNA, and all replicating away in our oceans and soil. If the DNA molecule could have any 'needs' certainly they would be met the moment there was any life form whose birth rate exceeded its death rate. What in the world would DNA need from human beings on this earth teeming with microscopic life?


What about this blind, random matching of genes? This has to be a conclusion drawn by people spending too much time peering through microscopes. Genes don't combine by themselves. Beings (a term which I prefers to life forms) seek out other beings and their mating produces gene combinations. Beings are driven to seek out other beings by deep and ineffable desires. Does the will to live, to mate and to survive originate in the DNA molecule, or does it originate in the force that caused the DNA molecule to replicate in the first place?


Evolution is the history of traits, not the history of life itself. Traits are all the different ways that we take in energy, sense our environment, grow, replicate, eliminate, protect ourselves and move. Cilia, feet, fins, wings, claws and talons all are different ways of accomplishing the same thing. They all allow a being to move toward that which will enhance its survival and away from that which threatens its survival. The basic essence of life, prior to any differentiation, has the following characteristics: consciousness, in that every life form senses its environment to distinguish what is helpful from what is harmful; will, in that every life form is committed to using whatever evolutionary equipment it is given in order to survive and replicate; and intelligence, in that every thing it does, in the construction of the form of life, in the execution of all these processes and, above all, in the incredible system of genetic reproduction, it does with a searing, transcendent and awesome intelligence. This absolutely unique essence of consciousness, will and intelligence, is what we humans share with every single life form, plant and animal. Prior to genes, prior to bodies, prior to any physicality whatsoever. This is life, itself.




Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.

1 comment:

Andre du Plessis said...

Yes this is typical if you look at poorer classes of people. Poor people will usually just try and look for food and wonder how they can survive, they tend to produce more children as well. It is only when people become rich enough to automatically sustain themselves that they start contemplate life and it's purpose. Interestingly enough you get more rich people committing suicide, thus if you have enough time on your hands you can think yourself out of this life. Thus survival depends more on how poor you are ? (ha ha)