In the course of diving expeditions to tropical seas in order to study coral reefs and their inhabitants I was able to make a wealth of observations that suggested parallels to processes in large cities, in the business world and in affairs of state. As a biologist, I was confronted with the thought that certain fundamental views about manís position in evolution might need reconsideration. Could it perhaps be that the many facets of the human condition, as different in every respect as they may appear to us, are governed by laws similar to or even identical with those behind the evolution of plants and animals? I asked myself whether the development of organs, which determines the physical capabilities of all organisms, is really as fundamentally different from manís production of tools, weapons, buildings and machines as first impressions might lead us to believe. I also asked myself whether our innate instincts, with their undeniable affinities to animal behavior, might have intrinsically influenced or even determined the development of our technology, economy and culture.
These observations and considerations prompted me to end my research activities in the marine environment in 1960 and motivated me to spend the following decades analyzing business management and economy, politics and other realms of human activity and organization as integral components of the evolutionary process. To further this approach, I also turned my sights to comparative ethology. I beg the reader's forgiveness for including these biographical notes, but they are meant to underline the fact that the theories presented in this book are not the product of hastily drawn conclusions.
In the course of my research in marine biology, I developed a series of underwater cameras and produced many films. The idea struck me that special film techniques might perhaps contribute to the present effort as well. I constructed a lens with a built-in mirror that enabled me to film people without their knowledge; at the same time, I altered the normal speed of events with time-lapse (2 to 6 frames per second) in wide-angle views and, in close-ups, with slow-motion techniques. This approach forces the brain to evaluate even everyday scenes from a new perspective. The first sequences in Vienna, on Somoa and in Benares (1962) yielded promising results. This led me to film human activities on all five continents, in most cases accompanied by my friend Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. The range of subjects included indigenous peoples, advanced civilizations and industrial society. This method has since proven to be a valuable research tool in human ethology as well.
These film sequences led me to clearly recognize the degree to which humans and their artificially produced tools and machines merge into units that enable new, specialized capabilities. A visitor from outer space observing evolution on our planet would no doubt be particularly intrigued by humans: they are the only organisms capable of boosting, virtually at will, the capabilities of their bodies by using tools and other artificially produced aids. We use them to move faster, cross oceans, fly, visit other heavenly bodies, and engage in a host of other activities that our "natural" bodies would never permit.
Up until Darwin's time, humans considered themselves to be something entirely separate from other organisms. We also considered it self-evident that each species was a creation unto its own. Darwin's contribution was to demonstrate that all organisms, including man, are interrelated and stem from common ancestors. The originally highly controversial theory of evolution has since been overwhelmingly confirmed by successive generations of natural scientists. According to modern science, life originated approximately four billion years ago in shallow seas. Initially, structures in the molecular size range gave rise to unicellular organisms; about 1.8 billion years ago, these in turn gave rise to multicellular organisms. An ever more highly organized succession of forms inhabited the sea and other aquatic habitats. Four hundred million years ago, the first organisms - initially plants, then animals - successfully conquered dry land. Life exploded into a spectrum of species that rapidly spread across the continents.
Humans arose from the ranks of the vertebrates and have, up until this point, been recognized as a species within the order of the primates. We owe our superiority over other organisms to our highly developed brain. Based on this enhanced intellectual capacity we are able to improve our capability by artificial means. Initially, these were weapons and tools. Since they are separate from the body and are not composed of living cells, we humans tend to view them as something fundamentally different from the organs of our body. This interpretation has remained largely unchallenged until this day.
The fact remains that, in the struggle for survival, those organisms that exhibit the optimal capabilities gain the upper hand. Darwin termed this virtually inevitable process "natural selection". Species with more capable organs displace their competition.
All organs of multicellular organisms are composed of cells. The artificial aids produced by humans are "additional organs" in the sense that they also boost the bodyís capability or even help it achieve entirely new abilities. The word "organ" stems from the Greek word for tool ("organon"), which - from the dawn of scientific thought - points to the close affinity between organs consisting of cells and the additional organs we produce. Externally, the differences between an ax and a lung are substantial indeed, as are the differences between a cooking pot and a red blood cell. Nonetheless, whether the units that are vital to or even boost our survivability are made of single cells, of cellular organs, or of units that our bodies additionally form from environmental materials is secondary. The key criterion is the overall capability that organisms - and we humans clearly belong in this category - display. This alone decides whether individuals and species persevere, whether they can, in effect, reproduce their own three-dimensional structure.
In the transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms, vital capabilities were transferred from cell organs (organelles) to multicellular organs. The theory I present here contends that man and his intellectual capabilities have, for a second time, led to a shift of capabilities to even more effective organs. A good example of this is the throwing spear, which helped early man dominate the animals. In competitive interactions between humans, those individuals with the more capable additional organs had the decisive advantage. I term the capable unit formed by man, along with the supporting structures that serve him, a "hypercell organism". My contention is that these larger and more capable units - rather than the naked human being as such - represent the continuation of the evolution of uni- and multicellular organisms. From this perspective, humans are by no means the epitome of evolution, but rather an additional germ cell that forms even more powerful living bodies. In the succession of ever-larger structures, humans become an increasingly diminutive, exchangeable organ.
Darwin's theory of evolution explains the early history that led to the origin of man. The theory of the hypercell organisms continues where Darwin's theory left off and deals with the course of evolution beyond humans themselves. Just as certain unicellular organisms ushered in the prodigious development of plants and animals nearly 1.8 billion years ago, a no less astounding development of new life forms, i.e. that of the hypercell organisms, was ushered in by early man. Their additional organs are all formed by man, just like all organs of multicellular animals and plants continue to derive from a single cell (the germ cell). This book is my attempt to demonstrate the underlying continuity in the transition to hypercell organisms and that, despite the altered external appearance, the same fundamental principles remain valid for them as well. This perspective allows interesting conclusions to be drawn about our image of humankind.
Darwin's theory served in our search for truth, but did
little to change the course of history. The theory of the hypercell organisms
may well suffer the same fate. Nonetheless, todayís ever accelerating technological
advances, the population explosion, and unbridled economic growth confronts
us with an entirely new set of problems and threats. Perhaps an evolutionary
approach to the overall process could help us master this situation.
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Continue to chapter 1 - "Capability as a selection criterion"