The theory of hypercell organisms is a direct extension of Darwin's theory of evolution and builds on his concept of natural selection. This calls for briefly recapitulating some of the key thoughts of this pioneering scientist. Darwin's book "On the origin of species", published in 1859, maintains that all organisms, including humans, stem from common ancestors; he bases this thesis on three premises which he supports with an impressive array of examples. Some of his arguments and conclusions may appear banal or even self-evident today, but this was certainly not the case at the time. As emphasized by the German naturalist Ernst Haeckel, a particularly energetic proponent of the new theory, traditional ideas that have been handed down through the generations are exceptionally tenacious. The generally held belief at the time was that the various species of plants and animals were separate creations: according to religious interpretation they were put on Earth by gods or, according to Aristotle, by a directed force which he termed "entelechy".
Darwin's first premise was the assertion that reproduction in both plants and animals leads to offspring whose hereditary features differ from the norm. This was common knowledge to animal and plant breeders, whose experience provided Darwin with convincing evidence.
Darwin's second premise stated that, under favorable conditions, both plants and animals can produce many more progeny than the respective area can support. The evidence for this premise was as strong as that for the first. Insects, for example, often produce thousands or even many tens of thousands of progeny, while fishes frequently produce hundreds of thousands or even millions of offspring in the course of their lives. The logical conclusion is that not all offspring can survive. They fall prey to predators or are killed by a wide range of environmental impacts. In the omnipresent and very tough "struggle for existence", only the best suited or "fittest" can succeed and reproduce. As Darwin clearly stated, the struggle for existence should not be taken too literally. The respective foe need not necessarily always be an organism or involve direct physical contact. Heat and cold can decimate the offspring, as can a wave, insufficient light or a range of other adverse conditions. Darwin unequivocally demonstrated that members of the same species were surprisingly among the most dangerous opponents. After all, they rely on the very same food sources and are adapted to the same environmental conditions. Were all the offspring of a species to survive, so his argument, then the planet Earth would soon be unable to provide for them. Only a tiny fraction are actually successful, on average not more than two individuals per parental pair. Darwin's painstaking studies revealed that the number of individuals of a species remained quite constant in a particular region. If more capable species arise and displace others, then they can reproduce unhindered for a certain period of time. Eventually, however, they come up against natural limits and are forced to adjust to the conditions in the respective habitat.
This leads to the third premise, namely that "natural selection" yields the most suitable species for the particular habitat. Based on the variability of individuals, such species can adapt to the environmental conditions in a series of continuous small steps. The adaptive improvement of plants and animals - the displacement of less well-adapted species by superior forms - is therefore by no means the result of conscious acts of will effected by supernatural forces. Rather, higher development is a slow yet entirely lawful process. The more closely Darwin examined causes and effects, the more he recognized that it was rarely if ever possible to determine precisely why individuals of one species were superior to those of another species or to conspecifics in this struggle for space and food and against predators and the forces of nature. Natural selection acts on its own to better adapt organisms to the environmental conditions, enabling them to tap new resources, occupy new niches, radiate into new, differentiated species, to make the transition from sea to land and even the air, and to produce the most extraordinary specialists (culminating in parasites of other organisms).
The formative power behind this process, which took place over extremely long periods of time, was not and indeed could not be a directed will. Regardless of what a creator created: if this deity did not change the underlying laws of nature or the local conditions, then it would have had no influence on what survived and what perished. This is the inescapable conclusion, even if Darwin did not explicitly put it into words. The formative power behind the innumerable different species was therefore a "natural selection" of the best adapted. Here, Darwin clearly stated how complex the interactions behind this selection were and how difficult, if not impossible, it was to define them in numbers and words.
Over the last few decades, the business world has been abuzz about the newly discovered "interlinkage" of processes that ultimately lead to success in this field; economics has only now recognized how naive traditional "linear thought" is. In nature, more specifically in the realm of populations of organisms, Darwin long ago pointed out and amply illustrated precisely this interlinkage.
Darwin considered it futile to determine why a particular plant species was superior to another or what features enabled one animal species to gradually displace another in the natural habitat. In Staffonshire, he investigated "a large and extremely barren heath, which had never been touched by the hand of man; but several hundred acres of exactly the same nature had been enclosed twenty-five years previously and planted with Scotch fir". He was amazed at the difference between the vegetation in the fenced off area as opposed to the remaining heathland; this difference was greater "than is generally seen in passing from one quite different soil to another". Not only were the proportions of the heath flora entirely different here, but twelve additional species (excluding reed and other grasses) that were absent in the heath grew in the fenced area. The influence on the diversity of the resident insect population was so great that he recorded six species of insectivorous birds that were nowhere to be seen in the adjoining heath; on the other hand, three species were unique to the heathland. This enabled Darwin to recognize how great the impact of introducing a single tree species was in this area, "nothing whatever else having been done, with the exception that the land had been enclosed, so that cattle could not enter".
Another observation that Darwin cited was that when a forest was felled, in Central America for example, an entirely different flora appeared. He wrote: "but it has been observed that ancient Indian ruins in the Southern United States, which must formerly have been cleared of trees, now display the same beautiful diversity and proportion of kinds as in the surrounding virgin forests. What a struggle between the several kinds of trees must here have gone on during long centuries, each annually scattering its seeds by the thousand; what war between insect and insect - between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and beasts of prey - all striving to increase, and all feeding on each other or on the trees or their seeds and seedlings, or on the other plants which first clothed the ground and thus checked the growth of trees!" To this he added: "Throw up a handful of feathers, and all must fall to the ground according to definite laws; but how simple is the problem where each shall fall compared to that of the action and reaction of the innumerable plants and animals which have determined, in the course of centuries, the proportional numbers and kinds of trees now growing on the old Indian ruins!"
Biology has made eminent progress since Darwin's pioneering
book was published. Ever better technical aids enabled scientists to probe
down to the molecular level of life's structure, with the discovery and
partial deciphering of the genetic code representing the climax in research
into life's building blocks. New insights were also gained into the interrelationships
driving the evolutionary process: Mendel's laws of heredity, the mechanics
of mutation, the recombination of genetic factors through sexual reproduction,
the definition of the species as a gene pool, the effect of population
size, of isolation and genetic drift and, more broadly, adaptive processes
and the factors promoting or limiting speciation. The selection process
and the optimal adaptations in nature that it explains are irrefutable
fact for the modern biologist. No evidence whatsoever exists for metaphysical
acts of creation in plant and animal evolution. No miracles have been reported
here. On the contrary, evidence abounds that progress has often involved
quite astounding detours, while a "helping hand" pointing in the right
direction would have accomplished this much more quickly and efficiently.
I have referred to this in one of my earlier books and will provide examples
here as well. Since Darwin's time, little practical progress has been made
in determining which structural features and attributes make one species
better and allow it to gradually displace another. Rather, biology's advances
on all fronts have led to an inevitable fragmentation into an ever greater
number of subdisciplines, a development that is in no way conducive to
simplifying our overview of the phenomenon of life.
The intransparency of natural selection
Those who tackle the question of how natural selection influences speciation or who seek to determine the structural and behavioral features on which selection acts are most likely to obtain answers by investigating species adapted to life in extreme habitats. Habitats that are particularly hot, particularly cold, particularly dry, or where it is extremely difficult to pinpoint a food source (endoparasites, for example) yield the best clues as to which new attribute or ability provides the critical selective advantage and can be increasingly reinforced in a series of small steps. The morphological and physiological capabilities that enable bacteria to tolerate temperatures of -80 °C (no doubt a significant selective advantage in polar regions) have been analyzed in detail. In the case of the desert rat Dipodomys merriami, which can survive in extremely arid habitats and therefore outcompetes its rivals in some regions, we know that high production of a pituitary gland hormone enables the rodent to very successfully recover water from urine. The larva of the oil beetle Meloe climbs to the top of flowers, attaches itself to the hairy surface of the bees that land there, and is then transported into the hive (where it devours the bee's larvae and food reserves). In this case one can at least infer which ethological and morphological adaptations were required for this "fitness", i.e. what ultimately enabled natural selection to provide a green light for the further development of this beetle based on the special adaptations of its larva.
Nonetheless, insights from extreme scenarios are of only limited value in providing a general answer to the mechanism behind natural selection. Why? Because life obviously primarily developed in regions with favorable rather than extreme conditions. The functional network of interrelationships in such favorable environments, however, is usually so complex that - as Darwin so vividly illustrated with his example of feathers tossed up into the air - analyzing the relevant factors is difficult if not impossible. This is compounded by additional, significant stumbling blocks.
Organs typically have more than one function. In such cases, mutation-induced changes that improve one function can adversely impact another. The vertebrate lung is a good example. Its primary function (gas exchange) was supplemented by a secondary task, namely to provide the airflow necessary to produce sounds. The result in humans is that we cannot eat and speak at the same time. Here, the disadvantage is so minimal that it did not dampen evolutionary development. In other cases, however, we are justified in asking whether functional progress at one level has been offset by disadvantages at an entirely different level. The topic of multifunctionality in organs (expanded functions) and its consequences will be dealt with in detail in Chapter 6.
Conversely, certain functions require the coordinated efforts of numerous organs. In the blood circulatory system of vertebrates, the branching capillaries and the course of the veins and arteries through the body are no less important than the heart which drives the system or the pacemakers that control the rate of heartbeat depending on demand. Any number of improvements could be made to this system. Similarly, successful reproduction in a cherry tree depends equally on the internal structure of the flower as it does on the features of the cherry pit, whose hard shell prevents the digestive fluids in the stomach of birds, which transport pits in their stomachs, from destroying the seed within. Virtually every new function is characterized by complex correlations that can influence the selective value of mutations.
In all actively motile animals, the efficiency of the locomotory organs is highly dependent on the efficiency of the structures controlling these organs and vice-versa. To this day, however, the relationship between physical body and behavior is often depicted as if the temporal structure of behavior is fundamentally different from the spatial structure of the organs. While this may be plausible, it is only a half-truth: each innate behavior is based on control mechanisms that represent material structures just as any organ does. Their size, however, may be many times smaller, potentially in the realm of molecular "switching circuits". This means that mutations affecting mechanical control mechanisms (both their "hardware" and "software", to borrow terms from computer technology) can be equally as important as those affecting the executing organs. As emphasized by the evolutionary scientist Ernst Mayr and the philosopher Karl Popper, hereditary changes in behavior can trigger the evolution of morphological structures (pacemaker principle, spearhead theory). This important insight is supported by a wealth of evidence. On the other hand, there is ample evidence for a reverse causality, namely that improving an executing organ can initiate a large number of new, ever more perfect behavioral programs. A case in point is the human hand, with its opposable thumb, which we inherited from the climbing habit of our animal ancestors. This perfect grasping organ already enabled apes and monkeys to carry out numerous useful activities (wiping the corners of their eyes or cleaning their noses, removing fleas, picking fruit, etc.). In humans, which are by far more intelligent, the number of functions whose control programs are formed in the brain, particularly by learning processes in professional life, is legion.
Evaluating natural selection involves another difficulty:
the distinction between the terms "function" and "capability". They are
often used synonymously in that a "good function" means an equally "good
capability". The fallacy of equating the two in the evolution of organisms
becomes clear when environmental conditions change or when species occupy
new niches. Even if organs subsequently lose their purpose, their functionality
often remains intact for quite some time. Indeed, the degeneration of organs
is an extremely slow process. During this time, such organs provide no
required by the organism. Moreover, they can even become a genetic burden,
a selective disadvantage. At the same time, the rudiments of reduced
organs whose function has been lost can very well serve as the starting
point for new capabilities. When vertebrates adapted to life on land, their
gills lost their function and were gradually reduced. The primary jaw articulation
was replaced by a new one and lost its purpose as well. Embryonically,
these long-superfluous organs are still formed in vertebrates, and it is
proven fact that their rudiments gave rise to entirely different, highly
capable organs. The dorsal part of the first gill arch developed into the
auditory ossicle termed the stirrup, while the rudiments of the primary
jaw articulation gave rise to the other two ossicles, the hammer and incus.
In this manner, functionless structures can provide new capabilities and
gain high selective value. Natural selection changes its judgement accordingly.
The meaning of measurable success
During my research on coral reefs, my attention was drawn to a phenomenon that, although well known in itself, has to my knowledge never been enlisted to improve our understanding of natural selection and its underlying mechanisms.
As habitats, small reefs in particular can be clearly viewed from all sides by SCUBA diving and are much easier to study than a forest, a meadow or a river. Here, I was able to document the wide range of different strategies used by small and medium-sized fish species to fend off larger fish predators.
Certain species have developed spines on various parts of their bodies, some even being equipped with poison glands. The behavior of larger predators clearly shows that these features caused them to avoid such spiny fishes. Other fishes have developed a behavioral mechanism enabling them to make a lightning quick retreat into the sand bottom between the coral structures; this action is so perfect that, after the cloud of sand settles, no mound or other irregularity betrays the spot where the fish has disappeared. A totally different method is used by fishes whose patterns and coloration are so similar to the that of the corals or underlying sand as to render them virtually invisible. When threatened, these species actively seek such sites. Sole and squid have improved upon this strategy by their striking ability to adapt the colors and patterns of their skin to a wide range of different bottoms and coral structures. The skin of a sole that straddles a patch of light sand and mottled cobbles is sand-colored on one side and mottled on the other.
In the case of sharks, for which I had a particular interest, I was able to observe how remoras (Echeneis) used these top predators as a shield. They swim close up against the shark's body, a behavior that affords two advantages. On one hand, the remora feeds on small reef fishes, which are not large enough for the shark; the shark therefore presents no threat to these fishes, and when it approaches, they retreat only a short distance, if at all. This puts them within easy striking distance of the remoras. On the other hand, those predators for whom the remoras would make a good meal do not venture close to the sharks. This affords Echeneis with optimal protection; the remora itself is apparently too small and agile for the shark. Remoras may also be tolerated because they feed on ectoparasites attached to the shark's skin. In their long phylogenetic development, remoras have modified their dorsal fins into a sucker; when they are tired or satiated they can attach themselves to the skin of the shark and save energy. This animal has created an absolutely optimal situation - an example for the occupation of a niche that provides both food as well as protection and to which this fish species is perfectly adapted both morphologically and in its innate behavior.
Comparing the above four predator-avoiding strategies reveals their underlying dissimilarity on all levels. The cell differentiation required to develop spines and poison glands is quite different from that involved in developing a behavior program that enables a fish to disappear without a trace into the sand. Totally different mutations are required in order to produce appropriate skin patterns and colors along with the corresponding sensory and cerebral capabilities that enable the fish to accurately determine the quality of the bottom and the immediate surroundings. Finally, an entirely different set of behavioral and structural adaptations is necessary to transform a large predator such as a shark into a personal protective shield.
Nonetheless, there is one element common to all strategies: the result. Despite their differences, all four adaptations were ultimately designed for a capability vital to all animals, i.e. to avoid landing in the stomach of another animal. In my opinion, this observation in the coral reef provided me with an important insight into the essence of natural selection.
The diffuse multitude of factors that directs the course of speciation and therefore the course of evolution is, in itself, not of primary interest. Success is the sole criterion that is assessed. If a fish species can successfully ward off predators - regardless of the strategy - then this is a valuable plus for its survival and further development. Moreover, an additional selective advantage is gained if the defense mechanism leads to lower losses than in competitors that feed on approximately the same prey. On the average, this species will be statistically more capable and will therefore more successfully assert itself against the environment and its competitors. In other words: unique cell differentiations enable it to better face natural selection. Step by step it displaces or even entirely eliminates competing species from this struggle for existence.
The fishes in waters adjoining the coral reef exhibited a wealth of additional predator-avoidance strategies. In a flash, members of very different species flee directly into caves or crevices that they have chosen as their protective organ as soon as predators appear. Or they retreat into hiding places that they have excavated themselves under stones or in the sand. Flying fish (Exocoetidae) break through the water surface to lose their pursuers. Their pectoral fins have expanded into wing-like structures and the lower half of their tail fins is extended. These adaptations enable flying fish to lift off and successively glide for distances totaling 100 meters as a method of escaping predators. Certain harmless fishes are the spitting images of dangerous fish species (mimicry) and are therefore rarely attacked. Others live in schools, where the confusion effect protects them against attackers. In this case, predators can easily overtake the school, but are distracted by its many hectically criss-crossing members and have difficulty concentrating on a single individual. Their meal is guaranteed only if they succeed in isolating individual fish from the school. Still others are perfectly streamlined, extremely fast swimmers, which provides a clear advantage both in pursuing prey and in escaping predation. Clownfishes (Amphiprion) seek shelter at the very site where other fishes are engulfed and digested: between the arms and in the digestive cavity of large sea anemones. The consensus is that the anemones recognize the fish based on a chemical substance in the mucus layer of the skin, and that the symbiosis developed because the fish rid the anemone of parasites and unwanted scraps. Finally, many other fishes defend themselves when threatened by biting or with a powerful whack of the tail.
Each of these methods can aptly be termed a "strategy", "technique" or "method", and all involve both structural elements as well as innate behavior patterns. The bottom line, however, is the result or the success achieved. The ultimate criterion is the effectiveness of the respective method, which can be quantified based on the proportion of successful versus unsuccessful defensive acts.
The validity of the above conclusion extends beyond predator avoidance and coral reef fishes to cover virtually all organisms and most of their vital activities. Any number of examples prove that "many roads lead to Rome". Thus, the eye enables visual orientation in the environment; its structure in arthropods (compound eye), however, is entirely different from that in vertebrates and molluscs (where important features of the eyes also differ considerably from group to group). The wings of butterflies have an entirely different structure than those of birds and bats, yet are not completely identical to those of the more closely related dragonflies. The cells of insects are supplied with oxygen by a system of tubules (trachea) traversing the body, while in vertebrates this function is fulfilled by the blood circulatory system (which also functions to distribute food). Here, the lungs are responsible for drawing air into the body and providing oxygen to the bloodstream for further distribution. As any biologist knows, there are no end to examples for vital capabilities being delivered by a range of very different approaches. Capabilities that are principally provided by only a single structure or a single behavior pattern are the exception.
Thus, many different components usually contribute to a particular capability; beyond physical structures and behavioral mechanisms, this may also include utilizable factors in the environment (as the remora example illustrates).
This insight inevitably leads to the question whether the traditional definition of "body" in fact encompasses all the material units that constitute the vitality and survivability of organisms. In other words, can one use the term organ to refer to structures that are not permanently attached to the bodies they serve? This raises the next question: what concrete capabilities must organisms, independent of their external appearance, exhibit in order to face natural selection? Can such capabilities be clearly formulated and do generally valid guidelines exist?
Both questions lead to a perspective that differs considerably
from the traditional manner in which biology approaches the phenomenon
Fundamental capabilities and supplementary capabilities
From the earliest times, humans have gauged other organisms mainly by the impression they make on our senses and by the behavior they display. Our assessments therefore tended to emphasize the material aspect, much in the same way we evaluated our overall environment. This changed only little with the emergence of scientific thought and directed scientific inquiry: this criterion was adopted and served as the basis for further investigation, as if its validity was beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ongoing technological advances allowed us to study the bodies of organisms and their components in ever more detail: the activity and interplay of organs; the behavior of species towards one another and their adaptations to the environment; their body plans and their phylogenetic relationships; their geographic distribution; and their reproductive mechanisms, to name a few. Then, Darwin demonstrated that natural selection decides which organisms survive and reproduce. If, as outlined above, natural selection acts not primarily on material structures and behavioral repertoires, but on the selective value of demonstrated capabilities (i.e. success), then the essential capabilities of a particular organism's body become more important than its structure and function per se.
The distinction raised here may initially be difficult to discern. Nonetheless, I hope to conclusively show that a clear difference does exist and that a capability-oriented approach leads to a much simpler and better understanding of the phenomenon of life.
The first step is to determine which capabilities all organisms must demonstrate in order to survive and reproduce, and which additional capabilities merely play a supporting role. I term the former "fundamental capabilities", the remainder "supplementary capabilities". As is the case in all terminological differentiations designed to bring a measure of order into the diversity of forms, this one is also an artificial construct: it makes no claim to providing razor sharp delimitations. Nevertheless, at least the fundamental capabilities inherent to all organisms can be defined quite clearly. They arise as a consequence of necessities, but can also be derived by logical deduction. The following overview lists them in abbreviated form.
The first fundamental capability is energy gain. No movement, no process, no development is possible without useful, productive energy. Just as no automobile can run without gas, no living process can proceed without energy input. Since modern science holds that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but merely transformed from one form into another, every organism must gain the energy it needs for all of its activities and processes from environmental sources. Two fundamentally different methods can be distinguished:
The energy source for virtually all plants is sunlight. The photosynthetic process allows them to use solar radiation to convert inorganic building blocks into organic molecules (assimilation). Here, electromagnetic energy is converted into the energy of chemical bonds. The plant then releases this energy when it needs to fuel growth, reproduction or other processes (dissimilation).
The energy source for animals, on the other hand, consists of animal and plant tissue. Their form of nourishment is therefore based on consumption. They eat and digest other organisms or parts thereof and use oxidation or fermentation processes to extract the bond energy contained in the molecules. This is analogous to the process plants use in breaking down the molecules they themselves formed. Animals use the released energy to support body growth and to power all their processes and activities.
The primacy of this first fundamental capability is underlined by the fact that it largely determines the structure of plants and animals. In plants, specific organelles (plastids) are responsible for capturing and harnessing sunlight. They are distributed along the leaf surface, which is turned to face the sun. In terrestrial plants, the water necessary for photosynthesis is delivered by the roots and through canals in the trunk and branches. This basic body plan is therefore determined by the energy-gaining process. The same holds true for animals. The predatory nature of their feeding typically requires them to actively seek out and hunt prey. For this purpose they need locomotory organs. They must be able to recognize and find their prey: this requires sensory organs. They must consume and digest the prey: this calls for a mouth and digestive tract. A control program is necessary to coordinate the sensory perceptions and movements: this task is fulfilled by a central nervous system with specialized centers. Those animals that are unsuccessful in extracting enough energy from the environment are doomed. The basic animal body plan is therefore also clearly determined by the modalities of energy gain.
The second fundamental capability that every organism must demonstrate is the acquisition of substances it needs to form and maintain organs as well as to grow and reproduce. While animals acquire both energy and useful substances with their food, plants obtain most of the substances they need directly from the environment, i.e. from the water, soil and air.
The third fundamental capability is to counteract adverse environmental factors, whereby three categories can be distinguished. The first is defense against inorganic impacts such as cold, wave action, storms, etc. The second category involves organic influences, particularly predators and parasites, while the third is the conflict with competitors that seek to exploit the same energy and material resources. A particular feature of the latter struggle is that many competitors never directly encounter one another. It is hard to imagine an organism that doesn't need to protect itself against adverse environmental influences. At the same time, many different negative impacts can often be countered with the same defense strategy, for example with armor.
The fourth fundamental capability is the utilization of favorable environmental factors. This includes taking advantage of external capabilities that help save (one's own) energy. This is the case in partnerships and group formation. Inorganic forces such as those generated by water currents and wind can also be exploited. Favorable environmental conditions also influence the size of the distribution ranges of all plant and animals species.
The fifth fundamental capability is reproduction, without which evolution would never have taken place. Although individual members of a species can survive without offspring, the prerequisite for the overall quantitative and qualitative development of life is that more offspring are produced than organisms die. This fundamental capability requires particularly complex regulatory programs. In unicellular and multicellular organisms the genome - the hereditary factors contained in the chromosomes - is the responsible unit. It regulates growth and maintains all functional structures. In the hypercell organisms formed by humans, which will be the topic of the subsequent chapters, same-species (conspecific) reproduction is transcended. Here, members of one "species" can give rise to members of other "species".
The sixth and final fundamental capability is structural improvement, without which life would never have made any advances. The most important mechanism behind this capability in plants and animals is separate sexes. The sexual process, which involves the fusion of male and female gametes, leads to a mixing of the respective genes. This process guarantees that occasionally occurring changes (mutations) in the genetic material appear in ever new combinations (recombination). This significantly increases the probability that more capable structures will arise. Multicellular organisms evolved a distinctive dissimilarity between female and male individuals. In hypercell organisms the capability for improvement has largely been transferred to other, more efficient mechanisms that simplify and accelerate advances.
Each of the above-mentioned fundamental capabilities comprises hierarchical systems of supplementary capabilities that help determine which structural features an organism must have in a particular habitat. This translates into a very high number and diversity of such supplementary capabilities. From the perspective of natural selection, organisms are capable entities. The decisive element is capability, which clearly can only be provided by suitably formed organs.
Wilhelm Ostwald, the founder of physical chemistry, studied the phenomenon of life and the evolutionary development of organisms in great detail. In his book "Die energetischen Grundlagen der Kulturwissenschaft", which was published in 1909, he already pointed out that not only do machines function as energy transformers, but also all of mankind's tools along with all the organs of animals and plants. The motor in an automobile converts the molecular bond energy stored in fossil fuel into kinetic energy, specifically into a capability desired by humans (comfortable and rapid locomotion). When someone chops down a tree with an ax, the chemical energy in the muscle cells is converted into the kinetic energy of the ax and therefore into a capability useful to that person. Equally, every organ in an organism converts "raw" energy that has been extracted from the environment into the "useful" energy of many different capabilities. How this conversion takes place and what structures are involved in the individual steps is only partially known and of secondary importance. The key issue is the result - the quality of the required capability. An important facet in competitive interactions is also how quickly and reliably these capabilities are attained and the energetic costs involved.
Up until one hundred years ago we knew very little about the nature of energy and its characteristics; biological research therefore concentrated its efforts more on the structural features of organisms and the function of their parts. As I indicated above, however, the basic structure of animals and plants itself clearly reflects the importance of energy gain for all organisms. This is equally true for the conversion of energy into differentiated capabilities, a topic that all later chapters will discuss. Although Ostwald's book was published in the same year in which he received the Nobel Prize for his contributions to physics and chemistry, the book received scant attention. His definition of organs as energy transformers remains virtually unknown until this day.
Traditional frameworks of thought and assessment make it difficult to imagine organisms as capability entities. On the other hand, certain biologists (Mittelstaedt, v. Holst, the Nobel Prize winner Tinbergen and others) have applied the term "Wirkungsgefüge" (effectivity structure) to capable organic structures.
The English philosopher Herbert Spencer, one of the forerunners of Darwin's theory of selection, advised Darwin to replace the rather vague term "natural selection" with the term "survival of the fittest". Darwin proceeded to use the term on several occasions. This supports my contention that confrontations between an organism and its environment or its competitors are less a matter of body structures or behavior patterns than of demonstrated capability. As I will show later, the effectiveness of such capabilities can be quantified based on generally valid criteria.
The objection was raised that Spencer's formulation led
to a tautology. After all, the answer to the question "fittest for what?"
is "for survival". And the only possible answer to the subsequent question
"and what survives?" is "the fittest". This objection, however, is misleading
and unjustified because the full answer to the second question is "the
fittest for the required capability". And, as I indicated above,
the necessary capabilities can be quite precisely defined. My argumentation
here more closely follows that of the technical practitioner Spencer (he
was a railroad engineer by profession) than that of Darwin, with whom I
am otherwise in complete agreement.
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Continue to chapter 2 - "Organs that are separate from the body"