My line of argumentation in the preceding chapters clearly shows that, as far as our behavioral control mechanisms are concerned, humans can hardly be viewed as harmonious, internally balanced systems. In our concept of time, the transition from uni- to multicellular organisms took place very slowly, but on the evolutionary timescale it was an extremely rapid process. As multicellular organisms, humans are – and into the foreseeable future will remain – subject to innate drives that powerfully influence our behavioral repertoire. As the core of the hypercell organisms that serve us, we are slowly feeling our way forward into a new freedom for which we are poorly prepared. The additional organs that make us so successful exert feedback and are developing faster than we can integrate them into our subconscious. Ever since the birth of insightful thought and self-consciousness, humans have had to deal with two different control mechanisms. The first is the one we learn through upbringing and experience and which is constantly being improved and transmitted to an ever-increasing number of descendants and other fellow humans through the written and spoken word and other media. Controlled by natural selection, it has led to enormous technical, economic and organizational advances. We owe the second control mechanism, which many refuse to acknowledge and whose effects often escape our self-conscious thought patterns, to our long chain of ancestors. These are the innate instincts that both enrich and burden our lives with a confusing array of pleasurable, painful, and inhibitory feelings. As I attempted to show, these mechanisms contributed significantly to the cultural evolution of various peoples; this ranges from our efforts to secure well-being and pleasure to the sublime feelings of happiness associated with the intellectual satisfaction that refined lifestyles and the arts can provide. On the other hand, we have been less successful in reducing the many conflicts that have raged between individual humans beings, within groups, as well as between states and peoples since the dawn of humanity. Positive examples include the abolition of slavery and serfdom and establishing equality before the law for all people. The basic conflicts, however, remain the same. Konrad Lorenz recognized this when he pointed this out that intelligent animals have improved their relationship to the extra-specific environment much more than their behavior toward conspecifics. He wrote: "The proof that this unfortunately also applies to humans is expressed in the crass discrepancy between our amazing success at controlling our physical environment and our shattering inability to solve intra-specific problems".
Lorenz attributed this in no small part to human aggression, an instinct that I will not go into here because the theory of hypercell organisms emphasizes two other motivations. As long as we view human beings as a species and as the current epitome of evolution, we must ask ourselves why this very creature treats members of its own species so brutally and ruthlessly. If, on the other hand, we do not view humans as the end of the evolutionary line, but rather as a link in the transition to even more powerful life-forms, then the scenario changes dramatically. Just as multicellular organisms, which consist of unicells, gave rise to new species, this development is repeated in the hypercell organisms formed by humans. Those hypercell organisms that successfully utilized new energy sources, new niches and new lifestyles also produced numerous individuals of precisely the same species (for example bakers, electrical engineers, pharmaceutical companies, insurance agencies) which entered into competition with one another. This at least partially explains the unfriendly attitude of humans toward their fellow man. Another important factor, however, helps fan animosity between individual human beings.
I have already discussed at some length the special role played by money. It not only serves as the cornerstone of trade and commerce and therefore the motor for species development in the realm of hypercell organisms, but it also functions as a "magic wand" that can in principle convert any one capability into any other capability. In the terminology I have introduced here, the shift or capability boost that money enables becomes the norm (whereas such shifts were rare events in uni- and multicellular organisms). The inevitable consequence is that money becomes a supernormal stimulus, a phenomenon already known to influence animal behavior (Fig. 6). Breeding birds, for example, have an innate instinct to roll displaced eggs back into their nests. If one experimentally places both a normal and an oversized, artificial egg into the nest of an oyster-catcher, then the bird prefers the latter, even though it cannot brood the artificial egg because of its large size. Researchers also refer to this as a superoptimal stimulus, which emphasizes that it is even more effective than the natural object that normally triggers the response. The cuckoo chick is another well-known example: its gaping beak induces the involuntary foster parents to feed the cuckoo more diligently than their own nestlings. In the toy business, Walt Disney introduced an entire range of animal figurines whose oversized eyes and heads attracted the children’s sympathy more than life-like reproductions. In this functional sense, money is clearly an object that has gained a supernormal status in humans, simply because it provides access not only to food and other necessities of life, but also to any luxury items one desires, including every imaginable service. The only prerequisite: enough coins and notes to pay the bill. The fact that an inheritance can lead to lethal enmity even among close relatives, despite all familial bonds, is a well-known phenomenon. It is also no secret that whatever can be easily converted into money is an invitation to robbery and theft.
In my opinion, most human aggression can be traced back to the most primitive of all instincts developed in animals, namely the instinct to obtain food, i.e. vital energy. This is expressed in the drive to protect and enlarge our territory, our stock of customers, our market shares. Most wars are probably ultimately fueled by the drive for possessions, riches, money and power, even if this is not openly expressed.
Fig. 6: Example of a supernormal stimulus.
A: Some bird species innately roll a displaced egg back into the nest. If one experimentally places a normal egg and an oversized artificial egg of the same shape and coloration next to the nest of an oyster catcher (Haematopus ostralegus), then the bird disregards its own egg and attempts to roll in the giant egg even though it is too large to brood (after Tinbergen, 1951). This demonstrates the existence of key stimuli that can activate instinctive behavior even more strongly than the normal stimulus. In humans, this effect is successfully employed in advertising, the toy industry, cartoons and eroticism.
B: Innate human drives are complemented by habits and desires, which
represent very powerful acquired motivations. Since human drives, habits
and desires can all be satisfied with money, we have developed a particularly
strong acquired central drive for money. As a result, money – the crucial
universal mediator in the business world – developed into a supernormal
stimulus that triggers a wide range of activities designed to help us to
earn this money; after Hass, 1988.
In an earlier book (1988), I outlined in detail how humans acquired the key drive for money via the process of conditioning (Fig. 6). Since money can help fulfil virtually every innate and learned drive (habit) or desire, some of the drive-related energy of each individual drive is diverted into a new central drive: acquiring money. I will return to this important topic again later in the chapter when we discuss environmental problems.
This book presents two new intellectual concepts. The first is the theory of hypercell organisms, which is a direct extension of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The second is a call for a fundamental re-evaluation of how we look at organisms; rather than being based on our sensory impression of organisms, their parts, or their behavior, it stresses the capabilities that these organisms display in order to survive and advance life on our planet. This viewpoint is based on the fact that natural selection selects for the capability exhibited rather than for material structures or behavior patterns. After all, most vital capabilities can be provided by more than one strategy, and we can quantify most of the criteria that describe capability. My approach is therefore in full agreement with the principle of natural selection as formulated by Darwin, yet I scrutinize this process in greater detail.
Since it is difficult to deal with abstract capable entities,
in this final chapter I would like to present specific examples of how
life can be interpreted if we use capability rather than bodies, organs
or behaviors as our basis of evaluation. In a next step I use this perspective
to assess the current situation of humankind, the current threats we face,
and the opportunities we have for averting these threats.
The origin of life and the capability of unicellular organisms
As outlined in the first chapter, I identify six fundamental capabilities as being vital for all organisms: first energy gain, second the acquisition of substances and organ formation, third counteracting adverse environmental influences, fourth the utilization of favorable environmental factors, fifth reproduction, and sixth structural improvement. In asking how life first evolved, we must inevitably face the problem of how to imagine the onset of a process that sparked itself yet simultaneously had to fulfil so many and such different demands.
Science has quite a precise picture of what the primeval seas looked like four billion years ago when, according to modern theory, life arose. The energy of the sun’s rays and powerful electrical discharges gave rise to a multitude of molecules in the primeval atmosphere; these were rich in free valences, i.e. in free energy, and were washed into the primeval sea by strong rains. Since most of the particles suspended in the water contained abundant free energy, nothing stood in the way of the first fundamental capability, that of energy gain. The second fundamental capability, the acquisition of substances, initially presented no problem due to the favorable environmental conditions: the basic building blocks of life had already been formed in abundance. As demonstrated in experiments conducted by Stanley Miller (1953), recreating those primeval conditions in the laboratory spontaneously gives rise to the building blocks (amino acids) necessary for protein formation as well as to the nitrogen bases (for example adenine) involved in information transfer by nucleic acids. The essential components for self-reproduction were therefore already available and, under favorable circumstances (chance), combined to yield autocatalytic, i.e. self-reproducing, structures. Those that proved best suited for the first life processes asserted themselves. In introducing the "hypercycle" concept, the molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate Manfred Eigen provided a plausible scenario in which these first autocatalytic processes took place in much the same way as certain chemical reactions involving free molecules in the cell protoplasm today: the course of events depends on the chance encounter of particular molecules. Brownian movement, which is effective on the microscopic level, probably also played a role. In a next step, these components fused into more consolidated structures. Interestingly, the theoretical approach that considers specific vital capabilities rather than material body itself leads to the same conclusions reached by molecular biology.
The earliest forms of life thus consisted of molecular structures that achieved greater capability by forming novel proteins with ever new features. The first organisms procreated using the reproductive mechanism of nucleic acids. Natural selection, which first came into play at that time, favored the best-suited variant.
One of the first and most important capability-enhancing developments was probably the formation of a membranous outer layer that protected the newly consolidated systems against adverse environmental influences. The crucial fundamental capability that marked the origin of life, however, was the development of an organ that enabled species-specific reproduction; it was capable of transferring instructions (information) on the assembly of specific structures to other, identical individuals. Whenever chance errors led to altered, more capable individuals, then these were automatically promoted by natural selection. To some extent, natural selection therefore helped promote the sixth fundamental capability, structural improvement.
The central control and reproductive organ (DNA) has changed only little over the ages. It consists of thread-like strands in which different sequences of the four different bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine) represent an alphabet that forms the individual words of the genetic language (the genetic code). As these first living entities became larger and more complex, the number of instructions that had to be passed on in order to produce offspring also grew. Information transfer thus became the first important supplementary capability.
As the supply of energy-rich molecules in the "primeval soup" of the world’s oceans gradually became depleted, the selective pressure to obtain vital energy by other means increased. Two strategies gained the upper hand: the first involved life forms that were able to directly utilize the energy of the sun’s rays, i.e. the first plants. They harnessed the energy in sunlight to build up their own tissue from inorganic building blocks. A second group of organisms, namely animals, became specialized in stealing the energy reserves from plants. They also predated each other, so that the stolen goods essentially "changed hands" several times. Natural selection played a role in promoting this process as well.
The fossil record shows that more than two billion years passed before these very primitive ancestors gave rise to highly specialized unicellular organisms with organ systems comparable to those of the unicells found today in virtually every drop of water. Their vital reproductive apparatus was now enclosed by a membrane and formed the nucleus. The remaining fundamental and supplementary capabilities were gradually taken over by increasingly powerful, highly differentiated organelles: the Golgi complex, vacuoles, tentacles, cilia, light sense organs, sensory setae, to name but a few. Several of these typically join forces to deliver a particular capability. In other cases, supplementary capabilities contribute to several different fundamental capabilities. At any rate, it is clearly evident how the entire organ complex is tailored to executing vital tasks.
Beyond the nucleus, the two most interesting organelles are the plastids, which are responsible for harnessing the sun’s energy (photosynthesis), and the mitochondria, which enable animals to release the bond energy contained in the ingested organic material. At the same time, every plant also contains such mitochondria; it uses them to break down its own molecules should these energy reserves be needed for other functions.
In the true Darwinian sense, this development, which I have only roughly outlined here, took place in small steps. Furthermore, the sexual process and its combination of different genetic information probably arose at a very early stage. This helped to accelerate evolution because it increased the probability of new, more capable new structures. Moreover, by that time, a good number of shifts had apparently already taken place. Two particularly important ones have left clear traces to this very day.
It has now been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the plastids in plants and the no less vital mitochondria in all animals developed through an endosymbiosis. As their reproductive mode demonstrates, plastids are simply primitive blue-green algae that at some point in the distant past migrated into the body of unicellular organisms and became their organs. Similarly, mitochondria are simply bacteria that long ago entered the bodies of other unicellular organisms and became organs. This means that neither unicellular plants nor unicellular animals gave rise to the organelles that those organisms needed to gain energy. Much like some anemones gain well-developed legs without "financing" this development themselves by entering into a symbiosis with hermit crabs, the unicellular plants and animals gained access to vital energy-providing organs by joining up with other organisms.
Unicellular organisms proved to be extremely successful. Before the first multicellular organisms appeared, they were the undisputed rulers of the seas and other aquatic ecosystems. Even today, calculations show that they contribute at least 30% to the total plant and animal biomass on our planet. Under the constant pressure of natural selection, the cell developed into an astoundingly perfect construction. Nonetheless, physical and organizational factors placed limitations on its further evolution and improvement.
Multicellular organisms were the response to these limitations.
They first arose when some of the daughter cells failed to separate after
division and formed clumps whose size apparently imparted certain advantages.
This led to ever larger aggregations (colonies) and a gradual division
of labor. Fundamental and supplementary capabilities which up to this point
had been assumed by organelles were then transferred to multicelled, much
more capable organs.
Capability in multicellular organisms
Viewing the evolution of organisms as an evolution of capability rather than of material structures opens up new perspectives on a number of issues: certain facts that previously received little attention become paramount. One such fact is that in the overall evolutionary process, only some of the fundamental capabilities were transformed to multicelled organs, while precisely the most important ones remained in the evolutionary domain of unicells. This occurred even though unicells were by no means prepared for the task and were inevitably at risk of being unable to live up to the new demands.
Let us begin by examining the interesting question of the organizational prerequisites for individual cells within the larger community to deliver differentiated capabilities, i.e. what prompts them to develop liver, eye, muscle and bone cells along with many other types of cells and to use these to form highly specialized organs. After all, in the normal course of events, each division and constriction of a cell yields daughter cells with precisely the same genetic makeup.
The solution to the problem, which no doubt also involved a long series of mutations and recombinations, is rather astounding: each somatic cell in a multicellular organism contains the entire information required to build the complete organism. In the daughter cells, however, certain messenger substances (repressors) suppress all those genetic commands that are not crucial for the respective differentiation. Therefore, only those relevant for the specific task kick into action. Let me use a practical comparison to illustrate how this mechanism works. Imagine the construction of a large factory complex by several thousand workers. The complete instructions for the building and all its furnishings are compiled in an enormous, multi-volume tome. Every worker is given the complete set of volumes, and all the pages that are not relevant for each individual’s job are crossed out in red ink. The pertinent information for the individual worker is therefore restricted to those pages that are not crossed out. As a consequence, for some workers one or two volumes may well contain no relevant information at all, whereas that person will have to seek out a range of isolated passages in the remaining volumes. A modern businessperson can only shake his or her head in disbelief at such a solution. Not only would every worker have to carry such a bulky volume around at all times, but finding the correct instructions for a particular task would no doubt be difficult and time-consuming.
In the transition from uni- to multicellular organisms, however, no better solution was apparently possible. At that point in time it was already entirely impossible for the highly evolved cell to fundamentally change its reproductive mode through mutation and recombination. Each component cell of a newly evolved multicellular organism therefore inherited the total set of instructions for that organism. Additional nucleotides were constantly being added to the DNA strands within the nucleus, steadily increasing the length of the genetic code along these threads. The repressors, whose number no doubt also increased, were responsible for preventing the wrong instructions from being activated or the correct instructions from being issued at the wrong time. This mechanism is scientifically proven fact: considering the great number of viable multicellular organisms – both plants and animals – and particularly the very successful human race, it clearly functions excellently.
Before we go into the fundamental mechanism that determines every detail of our bodies, I would like to present three examples illustrating that key capabilities were also transferred to multicelled organs during the transition from uni- to multicellular organisms. The first example involves locomotory organs, which in the former are basically restricted to whip-like flagella and the synchronized, rowing motion of cilia. In multicellular organisms, much more powerful units took over this function, which is essential for most other fundamental capabilities. Hundreds of thousands of cells form the fins of fishes, the armored, multi-segmented legs of crustaceans, the limbs of amphibians and reptiles, the wings of birds, and our own legs, arms and hands. Each component cell of these powerful organs contains a full set of genetic instructions – in ever longer DNA strands – for the entire body and all its functions. An array of chemical messenger substances is responsible for ensuring that precisely the correct events take place in each cell.
The differentiations of sensory organs, which also consist of hundreds of thousands if specialized cells, are even more impressive. Our eyes and ears are perfect examples. Both are precision instruments whose capabilities by far transcend the primitive sensory organs of unicellular organisms. As many transitional stages demonstrate, our eyes and ears evolved through mutations and the recombinations inherent to the sexual process. Again, an army of signal substances, control units and accessory organs help ensure that full function is retained and that errors, should they crop up somewhere, be rectified. Obviously, this is simpler in more primitive organs of less highly evolved multicellular organisms than in the highly differentiated organs of more highly evolved representatives: certain bounds are placed on the perfect interplay between cells and their messenger substances.
The third example I would like to introduce is the organs serving in energy gain. In every animal, various sensory organs and the auxiliary, locomotory organs are used to recognize and pursue prey. Multicelled organs that serve in feeding include the mouth with all its teeth, the tongue, the salivary glands, as well as the esophagus, the stomach, and the intestine with its various auxiliary structures. Food, once partially broken down into its useful components, is conveyed into the bloodstream via the microvilli lining the intestinal wall. These substances are then conveyed to the individual cells and further broken down in the mitochondria. ADP-ATP batteries then bring the energy gained to the ribosomes, which assemble the required proteins. In the fundamental capability we are examining here, virtually every energy-gaining process has been taken over by multicellular organs: only the final fractionation step and energy production is carried out – as in unicells – by the mitochondria in the cytoplasm. The core function of the overall process therefore remains within the competence of an organelle. Note also that the tiny energy-transport batteries (ADP-ATP), which are already present in unicells, are produced by the individual cells themselves. The same holds true for the ribosomes that assemble the species-specific proteins: these organelles, which can be found in every cell, are also formed by that cell. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the multicellular body requires a separate system of channels in order to provide the cell, which once led a free and independent existence in the sea, with an adequate environment. This function has been assumed by the lymph system: it guarantees that each cell is surrounded by a thin layer of fluid whose chemical composition approximates that of the primeval sea. In order to maintain a specific osmotic pressure under changing environmental conditions, the membrane enclosing each cell is provided with numerous "ion pumps". This feature is for example crucial for those fishes that migrate from seawater into freshwater and vice versa.
These facts help underline my earlier contention that the cell is a highly adaptive but rather demanding building material. The fact that the human body is composed of 1013-1014 cells, each of which maintains a separate, highly specialized "workshop" and therefore great versatility, should cause anyone active in the business world to shake their heads in disbelief. Nonetheless, when these units began to form multicellular organisms, the cell was already so perfectly organized that – beyond adding additional units – nothing fundamental needed to be changed.
Let us return once more to the processes taking place in the nucleus, first to the cell differentiation involved in forming multicellular organisms. In this process, the germ cell had to induce the daughter cells to differentiate according to plan: into muscle, nerve, connecting tissue, bone, and other cells. This is the responsibility of messenger substances which, in the respective cells, block all the commands that the differentiated cell does not need and only permits those that effect the desired differentiation. Furthermore, messenger substances that control subfunctions must also be present. In the case of the eye, for example, which consists of numerous, variously differentiated cell types, overall functionality is inconceivable without appropriate control mechanisms.
The full mystery only begins to unfold when we more closely examine the size of the cavity in the nucleus in which the DNA strands (chromosomes) float about as if in a tiny aquarium, and when we compare this with the length of the strands, which were originally dimensioned to enable reproduction in unicellular organisms. With the advent of multicellular organisms, many additional letters and words had to be added to the genetic code, increasing its length correspondingly. In the case of humans, geneticists have calculated that this chemical text, which issues the instructions for our entire bodies, consists of three billion letters. Compared with the number of printed lines in a book, this is equivalent to 30 times the pages in all 25 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Our concern here is the number and length of these strands (chromosomes). Each cell in the human body bears a complement of 46 chromosomes (diploid set). Each individual strand, in turn, is approximately 10,000 times longer than the diameter of the cell nucleus. If we compare the nucleus diameter to that of a wine glass, then the length of the DNA strands would measure nearly 700 meters!
It boggles the imagination how 46 approximately 700m long threads can find space in a fluid-filled wine glass without becoming hopelessly entangled and still retain the capacity to undergo complicated maneuvers and functions. During each division they must become extremely compact, rendering the chromosome visible under the microscope. In the course of this process they apparently become packed in special "packets". The chromosomes align themselves in the center of the nucleus and one set is pulled into each of the developing daughter cells by the central bodies (centrioles) and the spindle apparatus, a process that is also visible under the microscope. Before the next division the DNA strands lose their compressed form and duplicate themselves in full by adding on the respective complementary bases. In the sexual process, which I only briefly touch upon here, the same number of equally long strands of the sexual partner penetrate the nucleus of the egg. If this entire scenario seems implausible enough, then we can further complicate matters by asking: "what moves these endless strands, which lack any locomotory organs of their own? What prevents them from becoming entangled? How do they become condensed into packets? And how, during duplication, do delimited sections of the strands unravel (from their double helix configuration)? Moreover, there are grounds to believe that the repressors lay a type of protective sheath over those genes that are to be blocked during cell differentiation; this raises the question of how such sheaths avoid impeding subsequent cell division processes. The manner in which all this proceeds automatically, without auxiliary tools, remains largely unknown even today.
The nucleus along with its internal structures was designed for the needs of unicellular organisms, which underwent continual improvement over a period of two billion years but whose dimensions remained largely unchanged. All this leads to one conclusion: an organelle responsible for two fundamental capabilities (reproduction and structural improvement), which then had to expand these functions to cover the needs of the much larger and considerably more differentiated multicellular organisms, was clearly heavily overtaxed. This is all the more evident when we consider the organelle’s third impressive achievement: by regulating differentiation, it gave rise to the full range of multicellular organisms, including man. The fact that this all proceeds virtually error-free is a truly astounding feat.
From an evolutionary perspective in which capability
is paramount, the fact remains that two of the most important fundamental
capabilities, reproduction and structural improvement, were not
transferred to multicelled organs in the transition from uni- to multicellular
organisms. Furthermore, a third fundamental capability, namely energy gain,
largely remained within the competence of an organelle. This drives home
the magnitude of the constraints that were shed when, during the transition
from multicellular to hypercell organisms, both reproduction and structural
improvement were shifted to multicelled entities (in the central nervous
system), and how both were then very rapidly transferred to additionally
formed organs (for example written language and research institutions).
The same holds true for energy gain, which leap-frogged the multicellular
phase: the use of external energy to power additional organs was directly
shifted from an organelle (mitochondrion) to additional organs such as
Capability in hypercell organisms
Since we are unaccustomed to viewing capability as the paramount factor, we must reset our sights in examining how capabilities shifted to better-suited organs in the course of evolution. Our standard approach has been to focus on the development of the animal or plant body and to concentrate on the continual improvement of its components in investigating its overall evolutionary progress. As the preceding section has demonstrated, viewing organisms as capable entities and therefore focusing on the ongoing development of capabilities opens up an entirely new array of questions and assessments. Thus, some key capabilities in multicellular organisms remained bound to organelles; while this allowed some measure of improvement, it never yielded the advantages of multicelled organs. Let us apply this novel perspective to evaluating the path of evolution and the accompanying problems. Let us also begin our examination of how capabilities were transferred to additional organs by using the same set of clear and simple shifts that I listed earlier. The first example involved locomotion as a crucial capability in most animals. It shifted from the flagella and cilia of unicellular organisms to the much more efficient fins, legs and wings of multicellular organisms. The subsequent shift to additional organs is no less spectacular. In humans, for example, locomotion shifted from the legs to the bicycle, to the automobile, and to the railway system as a communal organ.
I illustrated the shift in the sensory organs from uni- to multicellular organisms with the organs involved in visual and acoustic perception. These organs underwent an extraordinary development not only in the vertebrates, but in the molluscs and insects as well, and they are hardly comparable with the analogous organs of unicellular organisms. In the human-controlled hypercell organisms, the eye’s capabilities were further enhanced by eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes and television, while those of the ear were enhanced by the telephone, telegraphy and radio. The sense of smell, which in multicellular organisms has improved to the point where certain insects can even detect individual odor molecules, hypercell organisms boosted their capabilities through analytical instruments that detect chemical compounds. Hypercell organisms have even added additional sensory organs that enable previously unknown capabilities, for example Geiger counters that detect and measure radioactivity.
Energy gain – as my third example – was considerably improved in multicellular organisms by auxiliary units such as the mouth, stomach, intestine, circulatory system (in plants: leaves, branches, trunks, roots, sap channels). The basic competence, however, remained in the domain of organelles: the mitochondria and the plastids. This illustrates how capabilities can be enhanced by new organs while the central function remains entrenched at a lower evolutionary level of organ development. The situation is no different in the human eyes, ears and nose: their capacity is decisively improved through additional organs, whereby the core function perseveres in multicelled organs. Energy gain is a more complicated case. In hypercell organisms a division occurs in that the controlling core (a human) continues to rely on the energy gained from food (like all multicellular animals), while the power for additional organs, which determine the competitiveness of most hypercell organisms today, has shifted to external energy.
The interested reader can no doubt come up with a whole array of other vital capabilities and determine how these are delivered in unicellular, multicellular and hypercell organisms, how they shift from certain organs to others, how they are often merely enhanced by new additional organs, or, as in the above-described example, how they may split into parallel, disparate yet ultimately mutually interdependent channels. At this point I would like to briefly return to the two particularly important fundamental capabilities of reproduction and structural improvement.
As indicated earlier, reproduction in hypercell organisms has also split up into two channels. The human beings at their core continue to reproduce in the same manner as all multicellular organisms, whereby additional capable entities such as medical doctors, medications and hospitals can provide anciliary services. On the other hand, our crucial additional organs, which are separate from the cell body, are reproduced in an entirely different manner: initially through written or oral instructions, later through specialized hypercell organisms from which they can be purchased. In this case, the individual need no longer deal with organ reproduction him/herself. Favorable environmental conditions lead to a situation in which such organs are produced by others as long as demand remains, whereby their purchase price is several times lower than that of an equivalent "home-made" article.
As far as structural improvement is concerned, it helps to recall the cumbersome and uneconomic process that led to gradual improvement during the long evolution of uni- and multicellular organisms. Statistically seen, the odds of taking a step with positive selective value via mutation are pegged at a mere 1:108. Virtually all mutations lead to faulty progeny that succumb in the competitive struggle. On the other hand, the odds that a step with positive selective value takes place through the sexual process (by recombining various mutations) is several orders of magnitude greater. Nonetheless, considering the difficulties associated with this process, it must be labeled highly ineffective despite the wealth of animal and plant life on our planet. These difficulties include: the need for two partners from the same species to find each other; the need to at least temprarily abandon innate inter-individual distances, an event that requires special behavior control mechanisms; the formation of obligatory secondary sex characters; and the complications that arise during genetic recombination and fertilization. Such results could only be achieved over the course of very long time periods – and in my opinion only with considerable support by numerous shifts. This situation changes dramatically with the advent of the additional organs purposefully built by human beings. The information melting pot (the goal of the sexual process) can be achieved much more effectively and at less cost through conversations, discussions, technical literature, seminars, university lectures and the like. At this level of function, all the additional organs and behavior patterns behind progress in hypercell organisms and business enterprises were formed at an ever-accelerating pace.
This example once again clearly demonstrates how capability-oriented
thought can lead to radically different evaluations of the very same facts.
In light of the major role that the sexual drive and all its ramifications
plays in modern society – not least in connection with the population explosion
as one of the great problems of our time – nothing would seem more far-fetched
than mentioning it in the same breath as discussions, lectures, research
and seminars. Nonetheless, from an evolutionary standpoint, both processes
serve to promote the same capability.
Capability in business enterprises
As argued earlier, business enterprises cannot be clearly delimited from the hypercell organisms that spawn them or from governments, with which they are allied or even identical to on many levels. As the life process becomes an increasingly powerful force, the structures that perpetuate it also consolidate.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we can draw certain parallels between the current state of development and the earliest beginnings, i.e. the origin of life. Favorable environmental conditions played an important role in sparking life because they fulfilled fundamental capabilities. At the level of hypercell organisms and businesses we see how two such fundamental capabilities, namely reproduction and structural improvement, have become partially or entirely superfluous. In reproduction this is the case when successful humans make the transition into another species by themselves assuming the build-up costs for new individuals of that particular species. The situation is much the same in structural improvement, where research has increasingly become the domain of state institutions, i.e. of the community, or when efforts in a particular direction are dropped when further progress poses a threat. It is entirely possible that environmental issues will turn out to be the main motor behind further development: after all, environmental degradation is the first common enemy that life as a whole must face. A common enemy, a threat that affects everyone, can work wonders by virtually eliminating individual interests and disputes and spawning a uniform entity with a common goal.
The only truly novel aspect linked with the development of larger states and business enterprises is our attempt to harness intractable nuclear energy. Characteristically, it first found use as a weapon of mass destruction and is now to be elevated as an external energy source for additional organs. Every reactor represents a potential nuclear bomb despite the most stringent security standards and even when the by-product and waste disposal problems have been solved: it merely needs to be taken under fire or sabotaged to lose its protective shield and to subsequently devastate the environment. Moreover, the history of man has with utmost clarity demonstrated the alarming regularity of new conflicts and no lack of unpredictable psychopaths. If we dare hope that the life process will finally consolidate itself, then we must abruptly terminate this experiment. The gates, which have been briefly opened, must be hermetically sealed despite any losses that the community may incur.
Money, which has fueled progress in hypercell organisms
and businesses, represents another unfettered source of power with similar
wide-ranging repercussions. In free market economies this universal mediator
is increasingly mutating into an all-powerful seducer and idol. It is certainly
no easy matter to separate the inherent advantages and risks of money and
to seize the advantages and ward off the risks. In my opinion, parental
guidance and the proper education of children play a decisive role in this
critical stage in the evolutive process.
The threat of self-destruction
Since the size of our planet is limited and offers only finite space and vital resources, the unbridled reproduction of hypercell organisms and business enterprises has reached a critical level. In their book "The limits of growth" (1972), Dennis L. Meadows and his collaborators were among the first to emphatically stress this dilemma, and ever since then a wide range of efforts have been made to counter the widespread environmental damage. Organizations such as Greenpeace and Global 2000 have made a remarkable effort around the globe – including activist tactics and calls for altered consumer behavior – to draw attention to the many problems that are rapidly becoming acute. From the evolutionary perspective, however, every effort along these lines will have only limited success unless we tackle the root causes of this evil: the ever-increasing growth of the human population coupled with exponential economic growth (Fig. 7).
Fig. 7: The explosive growth of the human population and of industrial economies. Both curves, which are based on the most recent surveys, show a growth trend that is incompatible with a planet of finite size. Every schoolchild can recognize this. The inability of the leading minds in the field of economics and politics to do so can be explained by the clear consequences that we would all rather negate. Perhaps we would react similarly if we knew that a comet was approaching the Earth and would destroy our planet at a precisely predicted time. Nevertheless, this rapidly approaching, self-inflicted catastrophe can be averted. The prerequisite, however, is a fundamental re-assessment within the next one or two generations. We must supplement the admonition "know thyself" on the frieze over the temple of Delphi with the maxim "know thy limits".
Population (in billions) / Global industrial production (index 1963
The objective of the present book is to present evidence that humans, rather than being the epitome of evolution, are merely one of its component parts and that the formation of our additional organ complexes also adheres to its laws. I would therefore do my theory and my line of argumentation injustice by applying them to hotly contested issues of the day. Moreover, my theory runs counter to many currently held dogmas in various scientific disciplines, so that there will be no dearth of opponents. Under these circumstances, I believe it better to only briefly address the issue of whether the ideas presented in this book allow us to draw conclusions that can help resolve the fateful and sudden crises that have materialized.
First, we can take note of the fact that three factors have played an undisputed role ever since the dawn of evolution: growth, innovation and reproduction. Every type of organism that possessed these capabilities was automatically favored by natural selection. And now, in the cosmic microsecond of a mere 50 years, have all these fundamental principles somehow changed? No. It would be as implausible as it would be absurd to claim that the most crucial and stalwart values all of a sudden need to be re-thought and re-assessed. I further contend that this would be an impossibility, even with the best of wills. We, along with all other organisms, are programmed according to these values right down to the last fibers of our bodies. Based on our insightful thought, we may well be in a position to comprehend the sudden changes that have occurred and their consequences; nonetheless, drawing serious consequences from this is an entirely different matter, especially since our short life span makes it difficult to imagine that a single individual’s actions could in any way influence the overall course of events.
This is compounded by the information overload that almost all of us must cope with today. The media flood us with an uninterrupted stream of news from all over the globe, leaving us with precious little time to form our own opinions. This is superimposed by a behavior that is also innate to all humans and which ethologists term the "crowd effect"; in humans it expresses itself in the ability of the mass to exert a strong influence on the behavior of the individual – even if this is against that individual’s own will and good sense.
The Canadian philosopher and sociologist Marshall McLuhan wrote that every technical advance leads to "a type of narcotization of humans which renders us dazed, deaf, dumb and blind". For our central nervous system, "every extension of our somatic body is a shock against which the body rebels with this reaction". The automobile, the telephone, television, and the growing flood of new additional organs and additional opportunities clearly overtaxes broad sectors of our brain to which our consciousness has no immediate access
Fig. 8: Periods of quantitative and qualitative growth (highly schematic). The expanding development of life over the last 4 billion years (A1, A2, A3) has already been interrupted twice by compulsory periods of zero growth (B1, B2). We are currently entering a third such phase (B3). Economists currently have difficulty envisioning zero growth; instead, we are striving to promote economic growth. At the same time, the finite size of our planet is incompatible with an ongoing procreation of humans and the hypercell organisms and business enterprises they form. Zero growth is the only hope of averting a global catastrophe. The fact that evolutionary history was already characterized by two long periods of zero growth puts us in a position to evaluate the consequences. Once quantitative expansion is checked, qualitative growth becomes the dominant factor. The task is then to achieve the best qualitative result at the lowest cost. Applying this to our situation means regulating reproduction, curbing our pursuit of luxury, and introducing constraints on industry and economy that are dictated by environmental considerations (after Hass, 1982).
expansion of hypercell organisms and business enterprises
origin of hypercell organisms
improved capability at steady biovolumes
expansion of terrestrial organisms
invasion of continents and islands
invasion of land
improved capability in marine organisms at steady biovolumes
expansion of primitive organisms along with uni- and multicellular organisms in the sea and other aquatic habitats
origin of life
and which, like a computer, must somehow evaluate and order the new input. In a certain sense, the human race is less and less in a position to deal with far-reaching problems that have no apparent immediate implications for the individual.
This is also the appropriate point to mention the incredible power of industrialized economies to sell products and services that help promote further growth. The adage "grow or die" is fully applicable: I have only rarely come across an economist who can envision "zero growth". Most are quite ready to combat and restore recognized damage or to commit ever larger sums of money to rectify past errors. The one thing that apparently no one can imagine is that – once the damage has been repaired – we cannot simply take up where we left off. We will have to gear up to resetting our sights (Fig. 8).
After all, upon recognizing a threat, the human race has
more than once not only changed its ways but managed to rise to new heights.
The bottom line is that we are all sitting in the same, large boat that
has sprung numerous leaks. The situation can be mastered, but only when
every citizen of Planet Earth becomes fully aware of our predicament.
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