The Field of Biology
Kathleen is majoring in religious studies and has been sitting quietly in the back of the room not saying a word—not a question, not so much as a whisper. She has just broken up with her boyfriend, Zachary, who does not want to marry her, even though she is pregnant. Depressed, she is ruminating, and coming down hard on herself for having let this happen, especially now that she knows her lover does not want the baby. Not lover, she reminds herself, former lover now: her heart pangs doubly at the thoughts crowding in on her. How could she have become so attracted to this man? In deep sadness, moving toward despondency, she is meeting with a campus counselor.[i]
Dean: We are honored to have Professor Stephen Jay Wilson with us from Harvard University to talk about how biologists look at evolution.[ii]
Prof. Wilson and I have talked about how we emphasize student participation in this class. Our guests are here to help us think and talk about the idea of evolution. If anyone does not understand what a guest speaker is saying, please raise your hand and ask him, or her, to clarify the point. And feel free to add your own ideas (big smile for all).
I also talked with Professor Wilson about some of the principles we have explored in physics, such as attraction, repulsion and synthesis. We want to see whether these forces might also be operating at this stage of biological evolution. Do these principles apply in biology? Do they operate with greater complexity in life forms?
I told Professor Wilson that we’ve been having fun asking, “Who are we?” From what he has begun to say by way of an answer, it looks like we have a big family tree. We’ll be able to see how far back our ancestors go, perhaps to the Big Bang.
We also have Professor Amitai Parsons joining us from our sociology department. He has written widely on social theory and economics. I asked him to comment on how his studies might be linked with biology.
Finally I asked Tom here, majoring in biology, to explore with us new outlooks in his field. He has consulted with Professor Wilson, who is his advisor; and he has ideas to share with us.
So here we are, ready to go! And thank you all for coming.
Prof. Wilson, would you please start with a short history of biology so that students begin to get familiar with the field. (The class applauds as the professor takes the podium.)
Prof. Wilson: (looks around the class) Let me surprise you. I think that biology might be traced back to the beginning of bacteria some three and a half billion years ago. These creatures started “talking,” that is, communicating, with one another and building networks of communication. Professor Parsons may speak about this aspect of the matter if he is on a similar track.
We can also trace the origins of biological history back to the rise of civilization. In Babylonia around 8500 B.C., people began to classify animals, like sheep, and sort cereal grains, and plant seeds. They did what we do today: classify organic life. So our history could go far back into ancient times.
When I visited Egypt last year I discovered that, four thousand years ago, a great figure by the name of Imhotep diagnosed diseases, like tuberculosis, gallstones, appendicitis, gout and arthritis; he performed surgery and extracted medicine from plants. He knew the position and function of the vital organs and according to oral history, the circulation of the blood system.[iii]
The “ancients” had no concept equivalent to our “evolution,” but in Greece when Thales claimed that all things originated from water and Anaximenes called “air” the principle of all things, and referred to a process of its thinning and thickening, these early thinkers were close to this notion of evolution. Aristotle saw a graded scale of perfection emerging from plants; he was able to classify life in terms of a hierarchy but he had no concept of evolution, as we know it. [iv]
Dean: Fascinating. Then, how did the science of biology begin?
Prof. Wilson: The name was created at the beginning of the 19th century by a combination of the Greek word for bios (“life”) and the suffix -logy (“knowledge”).[v] Biology developed alongside other fields such as medicine, physiology and natural history.
I do not have time to tell you in detail about all the great figures in our history, such as Andreas Vesalius, William Harvey; and naturalists like Carolus von Linnaeus and the Count of Buffon, both of whom classified the diversity of life and looked into the fossil record. But you must know about the most famous of all, Charles Darwin.[vi]
Dean: Yes. The sciences were evolving simultaneously. We have said that their evolution has progressed similar to the way we see nature evolving outside.
Prof. The Dean and I talked about your idea that science is evolving like the birds that Darwin studied on the Galapagos Islands. Every finch on the Islands shared a common stock of genes, as they looked for food and adapted to their environment. The finches evolved from a common set of genes – in the way that biology evolved from a common stock of knowledge. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, fields like botany and zoology were one and the same, but subsequently separated and soon began “crossbreeding,” so to speak.[vii]
Dean: Tell us how the idea of evolution began in modern biology.
Prof.: Enlightenment thinkers like Georges Buffoon looked at petrified things and thought they might be fossilized from some earlier time. Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis wrote about how advances from one species to another might occur. At the end of the eighteenth century, Erasmus Darwin– grandfather of Charles -- thought about how evolution might have happened. So the idea was “building” slowly without anyone having reached firm conclusions.
Dean: (Smiles) Building, like coral reefs were growing mounds in the sea.
Prof.: Well. Coral reefs take a longer time – hundreds of thousands of years. Science is “building” much more quickly than reefs.
Dean: So, to paraphrase the Dalai Lama, we need to take the long view.
Prof.: (continuing) At the opening of the nineteenth century, Jean-Baptist Lamarck was the first person to use the term “biology” officially in a book called Système des Animaux sans Vertebres. He classified invertebrates and developed a nomenclature for plants. He believed that an organism acquired characteristics in its lifetime and passed them on to its offspring. (Wilson looks at the puzzled faces in class and decides to simplify the rest of his history.) For example, Lamarck wrote about how a giraffe will stretch its neck to reach leaves in higher trees; its offspring would then inherit that type of long neck. He got biologists thinking about evolution, but he was not convincing.[viii]
Dean: Why not?
Prof.: Lamarck's book on the Theory of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics was disproved. We have seen through observations how changes that occur in an animal during its lifetime are not passed on to offspring. So it was Charles Darwin who caught the attention of the public with his theory, which was substantially much more accurate.
Dean: How did that happen?
Prof.: Darwin knew about the idea of evolution but had resisted trying to confirm it until he found a mechanism to explain it. He called that mechanism “Natural Selection.”
Let me ask Tom to pick up the story at this point.
Tom: Okay. In Darwin's theory, new species evolve within populations; when a percentage of them begin to produce more offspring than others, they replace their “less productive” competitors. I’m sure everybody knows that story. But I have more to tell about our time that goes beyond Darwin.
Prof.: Go ahead; tell us.
Tom: Darwin agreed to be a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the 1830s. In South America he found fossils of extinct animals that were like modern species. On the Galapagos Islands he discovered a lot of variations among plants and animals of the same type and collected specimens to bring home. When he got home, he looked at his findings and began to think about how a gradual change must have taken place over millions of years. (Pause)
Prof. Wilson: Darwin’s findings shocked him, and he was reluctant to present them to the public. Based on his premise, how could he explain that millions of species had arisen from a single original life form?
He decided that this had happened through a branching process called "speciation." Species variation, he believed, occurred randomly. Survival must have occurred by the ability of an organism to adapt to its environment.
Dean: Wasn’t there another biologist who discovered evolution at the same time?
Tom: Yes. Darwin got an essay in 1858 from a British naturalist named Alfred Wallace. Wallace was at work collecting specimens in Southeast Asia to sell to museums and private collectors.
Dean: But Darwin got the credit!
Prof.: Yes, and he deserved it. His work was so much more extensive and convincing.[ix]
Tom: But Darwin didn’t know that an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel also was working in his garden. (He looks at his professor, enjoying the shared thinking and speaking about their favorite subject.)
Prof.: In the 1860s, Mendel was discovering the principles of heredity in his garden. He wrote a paper on plant hybridization that formed the basis for the modern study of genetics.[x]
It was used in the 1940s to support Darwin's theory of evolution. A whole new series of specialties began evolving that led to what we call the “Modern Synthesis.” [xi]
Dean: What is that? The class has been talking about (quote) “synthesis” as a key feature of evolution from the beginning of time. What was meant in this case?
Prof. The Modern Synthesis combined Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Mendel’s theory of genetic inheritance. Scientists around the world could stand together at this point against the religious opposition to their work.[xii]
This decision led to further new research, making it possible for James Watson and Francis Crick to discover DNA.[xiii]
Dean: I know you think Darwin’s theory is undergoing some big revision. Tell us about that.
Prof. (Writes on the board.)
The Classic Theory: Unit of Selection
Let me quote a textbook: “Evolution is the way inheritable favorable traits become more common in successive generations of a population while unfavorable traits become less common.” [xiv]
Biologists support this view but its details are complex. One big question has been “What is the “unit” of selection”?
A unit of selection is an entity within a hierarchy of organization that is subject to change. But for decades there has been debate among biologists about the idea. Now, why is this so? Is this “unit” an organism, a species, a gene, or a population? The answer can make a difference in political policy.
Darwin leaned toward the idea that natural selection is an adaptation that takes place at the level of the individual organism. He found exceptions in the colonies of social insects where a group of individuals (like ants) worked together, but he dismissed “groups” as an exception. He figured that “entire colonies” of insects act as if they were one organism.
Tom: The idea of cooperation and self-sacrifice did not fit his picture of individual struggle.
Prof.: Insect colonies -- in which workers labor for others -- did not fit his theory that suggests a fight for survival. The idea that ants would work for the “good of the whole community” was an anomaly.[xv]
Dean: Which is more important as the principal unit of evolutionary change: the individual or group? Professor Parsons, would you help us here? What would you say from a sociological perspective?
Prof. Parsons: In the nineteenth century, intellectuals began to distinguish between what was individual against what was social. The first uses of the term in its French form individualisme, came in a critique of the Enlightenment. Conservatives in the early nineteenth century condemned the appeal to individual reason and self-interest. The debate over which term was more significant to explain the condition of “man” developed into a debate between ideologies: individualism versus socialism. This debate belongs to the history of ideas. However, this was the climate in which the idea of evolution was born.[xvi]
Dean: A big debate ensued about social Darwinism.
Prof. Wilson: Yes, but that’s another story.
In 1962, a Scottish ecologist by the name of V. C. Wynne-Edwards decided that the “unit” was the “group.” He began looking at red grouse and found that these birds sacrificed opportunities to reproduce – just to keep their flock from starvation. The grouse gauged the amount of food the moors could provide each year and adjusted their foraging behavior to the available food. They would delay breeding when supplies of food looked scarce. It appeared that they would even become abstinent waiting for the stock of food to come back. So he was convinced that the interests of the group overrode those of the individual. I will tell you later about the latest “group idea” as it pertains to bacteria.[xvii]
Tom, you have been looking at the Dawkins story. Tell us about his “unit of selection.”
Tom: In 1976 Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene. He argued that the only unit of selection that matters is the gene. If you take the gene as the unit, you couldn’t accept the organism or the group as the unit.
Tom: Because genes cause phenotypes and a gene is “judged” by its phenotypic effects.
Dean: (Interrupts). Would explain what “phenotype” means to the class.
Tom.: The word “phenotype” refers to the visible characteristics of an organism.
Dean: Dawkins argued that genes survive beyond the life of an organism.
Prof.: Yes. He called genes “replicators” as opposed to “vehicles,” the term used for organisms. Organisms have a less permanent existence. [xviii]
But not everybody liked his idea.
Ernst Mayr at Harvard University called Dawkins’ preference for the gene “reductionism.” He said it fit into the theories of geneticists who had adopted the gene as their principal entity of change.[xix]
Dean: So there was a debate about the proper unit of selection?
Prof.: Yes. And the debate kept going. Some biologists have emphasized the group as the proper unit because the interaction of its members affects their survival. Social interactions are critical to group development.
Tom: And then the eco-system became the “driver” of evolution. Ecologists started to focus on climate change. And this has had political implications.
Prof.: Should the government’s conservation efforts try to preserve the species or the ecosystem? Particular species may be threatened by extinction, but the ecosystem preserves other species in a network of interdependence and biodiversity.
Dean: Interesting. Prof. Parsons, you told me that the word social refers to human “interdependence” and “interaction.” It seems to me that this concept of “social” could be key in evolution. Could it apply all the way back to the Big Bang? (Looking at Prof. Parsons who nods his head.)
Prof. Parsons: If you take the term “social” in its abstract meaning, it exists in the whole scheme of evolution, right back to the Big Bang.
Prof. Wilson: (Surprised). This could be true. Species and ecosystems are interdependent, interactive, and bound together. A whole web of interactions is at the heart of evolution. All things evolve together –interactively.[xx]
Dean: Is evolution a social process?
Prof. Wilson: Elin Whitney-Smith says that we should be thinking of how the species and ecosystem evolve together (reading from notes):
When Chicago’s first human inhabitants arrived at the end of the last Ice Age, they encountered a landscape much different from what the Europeans observed 11,000 years later. Mastodons and woolly mammoths inhabited an evergreen spruce forest similar to what can be found in Alaska today. Over the succeeding millennia, the climate warmed, the spruce forest gave way to deciduous forest and then to prairie, and the large Pleistocene mammals went extinct. Climate, never constant, drove these changes. Cyclic variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, affecting the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth, are a primary driver of climate change and of the glacial-interglacial cycle. Because of the constantly changing climate, ecosystems are in continual flux, as plants, animals, and other organisms must continually adjust their ranges to regions of suitable climate.”[xxi]
He is looking at evolution from a broader level than the species. A major climate change will wipe out a species no matter how fit it may be in its environment. Climate change and solar radiation in this scenario -- not species and genes -- describe this evolving scene. The systems are connected.
Dean: What then, would you, and other biologists say is the primary “unit”?
Prof.: Well. The classic story is being revised. The “unit” could be a gene, an individual, a group, an eco-system, the climate, the earth, or even the sun. All these systems are interacting. What we do know now is that as you go up this scale of systems, Natural Selection no longer applies.[xxii]
Dean: Who is right?
Prof.: They are all right. Each specialist has a theory that works at a “system level.” All systems with units and forces interact with other systems.
Dean: Could these outlooks ever come together in a single theory? Are new fields emerging between departments?
Prof.: It will take a long time if it does. Prof. Parsons has an interesting idea but I doubt that it would sell.
There is no such thing as a “social physics” or a “social chemistry,” but there is a “social biology.” It stands between biology and sociology and draws from ethnology, anthropology, zoology, archaeology, and population genetics. It began with the study of social animals.
Dean: “Social animals”!
Prof. Wilson: Look (writing on the blackboard):
Co-evolution and Sociobiology
The idea of co-evolution began with Paul Ehrlich and Peter Raven. They coined the term when they were studying butterflies and plants in the 1960s. It had been in the minds of biologists (including Darwin) but had never developed as a solid field of study. The idea is that all living things are socially interactive. [xxiii]
Dean: How about some illustrations?
Prof.: I suggested at the outset that we have learned in the last decade how bacteria communicate with one another, but in the 20th century, biologists began to realize that communications were taking place mutually between species of animals and plants.
Biologists began to study how flowers take advantage of the sensory abilities of pollinating insects to attract them by their color.[xxiv] Orb-web spiders take advantage of the sensory interests of their prey to attract them through ultraviolet rays as they construct webs at artificially lit sites.[xxv] Crab spiders ambush insects as those insects are attracted by flower odors. Bees evolve interactively with flowers. They evolve together.[xxvi]
Different species collaborate in order to replicate and sustain their species. Certain types of flowers have a nectar chemistry associated with a hummingbird’s diet. Their color and their morphology coincide with the bird’s morphology and vision. The blooming times of (ornithophilous) flowers coincide with the hummingbird’s breeding seasons. These are the kinds of studies that become the subject of sociobiology.[xxvii]
Dean: When did that field of study begin?
Prof.: In the 1970s, when biologists began to examine mating patterns, territorial fights, pack hunting, and the collective behavior of insects. It was thought that “selection pressure” caused animals to interact with each other and the environment.[xxviii]
Dean: Now let’s go back in time. How might the principles of “attraction, repulsion, and synthesis” in physics work in biological evolution?
Prof.: You asked me before class, and I have thought about it. (Pauses thoughtfully, chin in hand.)
Physicists talk about “attraction” through gravity, but in biology we see this force acting in the drive of animals to mate and plants to pollinate. Biologists acknowledge the power of attraction in the sex drive and the food drive. But this attraction has a lot more complexity in biological life than in physical matter.
Mating patterns are highly complicated, subtle and variable. In some cases this attraction looks like it could be linked to beauty in the eye of the beholder.
Dean: What, really?
Prof.: I think there is some bodily attraction to beauty, but I can’t argue for this scientifically. Birds of Paradise dance and develop great “adornments” to attract their mates. Mating looks like an art in this case; attraction is a serious business. (Kathleen is suddenly reminded of dressing up, studying her face in the mirror, covering the slightest blemish, fixing her hair. She does know how “looks” can make a difference in dating.) Sex is rooted in nature, beyond reason. (“Yes without reason,” Kathleen thinks ruefully to herself..)
Look at the variations of attraction in the patterns of courtship. Courtship among Japanese Cranes involves the male spending a lot of time “dancing” to signal readiness to a mate. The same for Bower Birds; they consume a lot of time building beautiful nests to impress their mates. (Images of boogying with her boyfriend, relaxing with him on the sofa in her decked out living room, crowd Kathleen’s mind.)
Some males show a willingness to die to get their females; they fight right to the end; it’s a “win-all-or-nothing” competition for them. Elephant seals, for example, will fight to their death. There is that principle of “repulsion” you also mentioned that applies in this case to a competitor or an enemy.
Dean: Is there any case in which the males do not fight for access to the female?
Prof.: Yes, some male animals are fairly peaceful. And although zebras fight until there is one winner, the loser does survive. Cheetahs, on the other hand, live in brotherly groups, and when a female comes along they all investigate and share sex with her. No problem.
Some animals and birds develop special calls to identify each other in mating. And other animals respect that. We could call this “individuality.” (Smiles and looks at Prof. Parsons.) Penguins in Patagonia search for their mates by signals known only to special mates. (Kathleen remembers how she and Zach had pet names for each other.)
But I think you are right, in principle. Mating is based on social attraction, and sex is a “fusion,” so to speak, at this biological stage of evolution.
Dean: To move out very far now to remote parts of the universe, could we say that the attraction and fusion in Supernovae have been and are transforming along this long path of evolution – through particles, atoms, molecules, cells and into organisms? Does this powerful attraction remain latent and active throughout the history of change and eventually transform into animal life? I mean: Is that original energy still remembered in organic life, transformed through eons of evolution? (“Fusion”: Kathleen’s thoughts return to one night with Zach that felt like exploding Supernovae energies .)
Prof.: It is a force that stays with us, yes, transforming, evolving; a constant tendency to come together and make some synthesis out of differences.
Dean: But we have never conceived of it as a continuous force, constantly innovating and transforming.
Prof.: It is powerful; there’s no doubt about that. Adult males, for example, produce thousands of spermatozoa each second. Each spermatozoon contains DNA and looks like a living organism. Each has the sole purpose of fusing with an ovum.
Dean: Sole purpose! Hmm. (Kathleen’s thought is running on a different track: “Can spermatozoa by themselves represent human life?”)
Prof.: Its movements are caused by chemical reactions. And as a woman produces one mature ovum (or egg) cell, it also does not meet a strict definition of a living organism, because it lacks the ability to reproduce. It is not human.
Prof. Parsons: In my field of sociology, a human being is said to develop when an infant begins to symbolize. We have studies of children raised by deaf mutes and infants fed in isolation without human contact. They behave like animals. Instead of speaking, they function on animal impulses and have no sense of self. (Kathleen is wondering about whether or not to have an abortion. She does not want to kill an unborn baby. When does life begin . . .at conception? When the heart starts to beat When the embryo starts to look like a human being? Not until the child learns to speak? Oh, no – Not that late!)
Dean: Is this ovum just an “inert globule of chemistry” that began in the stars?
Prof.: You talked to me about how “attraction” and “fusion” began in the stars, but it is a huge leap for me to think about this idea so abstractly, moving from stars straight to sex.
Dean: The units in these stars are atoms and molecules, and gradually over eons of time, they have been transformed. Eventually, over that vast stretch of time, the units have become seeds in botany and semen in animals.
Prof.: Oh. It is hard for me to think in these terms. What do students think? (wanting a diversion.)
Dean: (Hoping for participation.) What is sex all about?
Kathleen: (Speaking for the first time, and somewhat emotional, she surprises herself.) I believe that sex is based on love. It’s not just “attraction.” (A devoted Christian, Kathleen recalls her religious training; for her, what is often called just “sex” is an act of love that seems sacred.) Sex is a celebration of nature at some deep level. (This surprises everyone, but she is speaking from her religious beliefs.)
Dean: (stunned, but wants to encourage her). Yes, go on.
Kathleen: Sex is a gift from our Creator. It is sacred; it involves a reverence for life.
Dean: Yes. We hear that that is important to you.
Kathleen: I think we participate in the vastness of things – the mountains, rivers, and animals of the Earth, the planets and the stars. (She startles the class with her Olympian view. But she also has an unexpressed cry deep down in her voice stemming from the loss of her lover.)
(There is a respectful but slightly awkward silence, as this sentiment seems out of place in a scientific discussion. Kathleen’s plangent voice has changed the mood, and no one knows quite what to say. Aware of her major in religious studies, the Dean continues.)
Dean: Thank you, Kathleen. Let’s think about that for a moment. … (More awkward silence. Then finally) Let’s hold on to this idea. We’ll come back to it at some point in the course. (Pause.) But for now, let’s return to biology and physics.
We see this first fusion in the creation of stars. Our Sun fuses hydrogen atoms to make helium atoms. It will be consumed in a fiery death at some point in the future. What about that? We know about this drive to fuse that creates life, but then all that is created will also die. Is there a death-drive in nature?
Prof.: All creatures are born to die. So death happens along with—in conjunction with—life’s attractions and fusions. Look. Queen bees leave dead mates behind. The Red Spider inserts his sperm and then his female partner kills him. The female Praying Mantis devours the head of the male, who dies in the sex act. (Kathleen feels some touch of rage.)
Dean: So this power of attraction can be beautiful and deadly at the same time. It may begin inside the stars, but at the level of biological life, it keeps growing more complex and subtle. Death and creation go together. It’s awesome.
Prof.: There are thousands of variations in the forms of reproduction. They are pure creation and destruction. And they appear to be experimental. Some animals can be either male or female; it is their choice, as it were.
Barnacles are both male and female, and either partner can become a hot male with a long penis at any time in the mating process. Banana slugs are both male and female as they fertilize each other; and when they are finished “fusing” so to speak, they chew off their penises. Lizards have no need for sperm; both male and female, regenerate as individuals, by themselves. Bacteria also “make love” all alone, as it were; they just reproduce themselves.
Tom: (Popping back into the conversation.). And today we see how the climate -- the weather and the season -- get into the act.
Prof.: (half-suppressing a smile at his student.) Yes. We are learning that evolution is not just about organisms. Physics, chemistry and geology are equally involved. There are many forces operating here. It seems like we keep looking toward a higher “force,” but I am not talking about God. (Kathleen stiffens and does not speak.)
We came from the Earth; we were born from the sea, and we are living through climate change. Some animals mate by the season, others according to the moon and rain. Male toads call out for a partner during the full moon. The Grunion (we call it Leuresthes tenuis) has sex by the moon. Marine worms rise to the surface with the moon and synchronize their breeding by the moon before daylight.
The Green Turtle heads for a warm beach to lay eggs in the sand, and the temperature has a role in determining whether they hatch as males or females. Cicada nymphs bury themselves in the ground for seventeen years and then climb up a tree again in season. They mate for larvae, which then go back into the ground to sleep.
Figure all of this out in some higher scheme of things! (Kathleen wonders where this is going.)
Dean: You said that this fusion process could evolve subtlely and delicately, not just fiercely and ferociously. The power of attraction can become soft and tender, in the way that the sun touches a flower.
Prof.: Some animals are very gentle and delicate in mating. The male baboon woos a mate by touching her softly, then grooming her. Gibbons sing duets through the trees to reinforce their bonds and to indicate their attraction to others.
The seasons and the moon have some “chemistry” at work. (Kathleen wonders how the seasons and chemistry might have affected her in her relationship with Zach.)
Dean: Seasons? Chemistry?
Prof.: There are strong indications that the menstrual cycle for women is linked to the cycle of the moon. Women tend to menstruate at the time of the new moon, but evidence for this is still debated.[xxix]
The menstrual cycle is equally under the control of the body’s chemistry, the hormone system. It is divided into different phases. The length of the average cycles is 28 days, but there is considerable variance from woman to woman.[xxx] (Kathleen shakes her head, thinking about how far she is beyond that cycle at the moment. Her gynocologist has already told her that the baby is due before the end of April.)
Dean: Would you say more about this “chemistry”?
Prof.: The changing moods of women are connected to brain chemistry. The ovaries release hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. They influence the neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. The brains of some women are especially vulnerable to hormone changes. That means we can treat them by using chemistry. Feeling good or bad is related to this chemistry in the brain. The mind’s mood and the body’s chemistry work together.
Dean: Social chemistry. This idea of “working together” in chemistry goes all the way back to the birds and bees?
Prof. Definitely. Bird-pollinated flowers show higher nectar volumes and sugar production, which fit the needs of birds. In breeding seasons, hummingbirds appear in North America at the same time that their partner flowers bloom in these habitats. … Perfect timing.
Flowers converge into a common color and body shape, but they also influence the shape of birds. Tubular flowers force birds to orient their bills in a particular way when the birds are probing them. They influence each other’s development. This “interaction” is easy to see; the bill and corolla are both curved alike; this allows the plant to place pollen on a certain part of the bird’s body.
Dean: It sounds like “challenge and response” might be going on here. This is what Arnold Toynbee said caused the evolution of civilizations.
Prof. Parsons: Hmm. (Interrupting.) This “challenge and response” discussed by Toynbee is part of the politics of society. And it is part of family life. (Pauses, thinking.)
Last night I was listening to Rameau’s Suite and Dances. The whole musical piece is written like a “challenge and response.” A Bach Fugue does that. This same dynamic could be the basis for animal-plant “adaptations.”
Prof. Wilson: It’s damn mysterious. (Oh, excuse me.) (He’s embarrassed about swearing, but class likes it.) Something in common -- across the board -- is going on here. It looks as though species in different locations challenge each other, so to say, and evolve together.
Dean: Could some higher force be involved?
Prof. Wilson: Well, I would say: the “higher force” of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Dean: Back to physics!
Prof. Wilson: Birds have great spectral sensitivity and hue discrimination at the long wavelength end of the spectrum. The color red, for example, is conspicuous to birds. Hummingbirds see ultraviolet “colors.” In fact, the prevalence of ultraviolet patterns in “nectar poor” flowers (we say entomophilous) makes the bird avoid these flowers on sight.[xxxi]
Dean: Mmm. (Scratches his head.) The “mating” of birds and flowers makes them appear to be relating as “predator and prey.” Sex and predation are different systems of exchange emerging through… dare I say… a social chemistry?
Prof. Wilson: There are different words to explain this process in biology. Our word is symbiosis. The birds and flowers -- like preys and predators -- are in a symbiotic relationship to one another: if one dies, the other could also die. They are co-dependent. (Mary, head down, wonders if there might be a prey and a predator in her case.)
Dean: What do you mean?
Prof. Wilson: If rabbits were to learn to run faster by the effect of a higher cosmic ray on their genes, thereby increasing their chances to escape foxes, they would not only increase their own fitness, they would also decrease the fitness of the foxes. The life of foxes could be over, gone.
But then the new faster rabbit could also pressure the foxes to run faster. The two species pressure each other, so to speak, to run faster and faster. It’s like a challenge and response situation.
But then, the decrease in the foxes’ fitness for “running” might make them explore new ways to catch their prey by digging the rabbits out of their holes. That too could also lead to the rabbits’extinction. It’s rough out there.[xxxii]
Dean: Fascinating. The “eating drive” is equally powerful. I have watched a fox catch a rabbit and shake it while it is still alive. My cat catches a mouse and plays with it before she kills it. She looks delighted with her catch—she wants to demonstrate her success in conquering—but for me she’s vicious at the same time. (Kathleen wonders how anybody could be delighted and vicious at the same time.)
Prof. Parsons: Ha! (quickly shifting the topic.) You must be talking about the economy. In the stock market, we call it “making a killing.” Those who profit are delighted while somebody has lost everything they own. We call it vicious competition. So market relations might have their distant origins in animals. (The Dean wonders, given the great distances in evolutionary time--and the apparent differences we see today, looking at the surfaces, between cats, mice, human beings—how such comparable features could remain in them and humans.)
But I tell you that this economic market is evolving with health and safety standards. There is an evolution in society going on here.
Prof. Wilson: Evolution is complex. Look at my next instance of co-evolution, which transcends any single species.
Lions use social hunting strategies to produce more carcasses, but not to benefit themselves alone; their strategies are also helpful for vultures, hyenas and other scavengers. There is no competition between the lions and the scavengers. The scavengers concentrate on pieces that are too small or too difficult for the lions to reach, such as bone marrow. So different types of animals evolve together. They are all networked. Vultures need the lions.
Dean: Amitai, what do you think about this?
Prof. Parsons: In our field, we call such scavenging part of the unintended consequences of social action, as is the case with those feeding lions. Some consequences are functional and others dysfunctional. It happens all the time in society.
Dean: What about that specialization of feeding between vultures and lions?
Prof. Parsons: It is comparable in its own way to market specialization and consumer choice. There are 25,000 trade associations in the United States in which so-called “species interbreeding” is taking place. Industry associations are separating and interbreeding, so to speak.[xxxiii]
Prof. Wilson: The term “social” has been your basic unit in sociology. That is similar to the way in which the cell was once the basic unit of the organism in my field. But units are changing today. The unit has been the classic focus for research, but evolutionists now emphasize process.
Dean: Professor Parsons, what do you say?
Prof. Parsons: (sensing a growing agreement between himself and Professor Wilson in this conversation.) Sociality – the broader term --includes networking, interaction, competition, cooperation, accommodation, adjustment, adaptation, rivalry, and exchange – all sorts of processes that have developed over time. Sociology is about the ongoing processes of evolution. You could say that the individual is evolving in conjunction with its community.
Prof. Wilson: So, too, with animals. Working together, wolves can kill larger animals —a moose or deer – larger than one wolf could kill alone. It is more efficient and more effective for wolves adapt, adjust, and cooperate in their hunt. Is there a parallel? (Looking at Prof. Parsons.)
Prof. Parsons: Nations with common identities cooperate, accommodate, negotiate, and network with one another, when they battle other nations that have different identities, when they are irreconcilable with their own. (Glances back at Wilson.)
Prof. Wilson: If all wolves were to follow the same strategy for killing, I mean, all jumping at the throat of a deer, for example, they would hinder each other. If we thought of wolves just as individuals, we would not see the coordination of the whole pack aiming at the same target.[xxxiv]
Prof. Parsons: Self-interest never goes away. It just evolves onto higher levels.
Prof. Wilson: So Dawkin’s “selfish gene” applies all the way up the hierarchy of “units.” Each “unit” has an element of self-interest, so to speak, as it evolves with other units. They are all interacting within a community. Dawkins calls the gene “selfish,” but that’s a dramatic play on the word. Each organism could be said to act “egocentrically” when it protects itself in cooperation with other units that are changing within the same network or networks.
Dean: What would you say is the highest force acting in all of this? (The Dean has in mind to bring Kathleen into the discussion more.)
Prof. Parsons: Business corporations are not the highest force. They compete with self-interest as an end, but at a higher level they cooperate in trade associations. And beyond them looms the “highest force” of all: the government. (Pauses.)
Still there is the field of society and the constant call for community.
Dean: I hadn’t thought of that. So an organism—the wolf, for example—integrates its self-interest with the group’s self-interest; they compete, but then also work together to sustain life. (Looks toward Wilson.)
Prof. Wilson: When an amoeba is in danger, it calls for “friends” to collaborate with for protection; it “circles the wagons,” so to speak. Then comes the repulsion, joining together to fight the external enemies.
Dean: So amoebas, as well as nations, circle their wagons to fight “terrorists.” Hmm. (Quiet.)Do students have questions?
Alice: What about Kathleen’s question? Do animals experience love?
Prof. Parsons: (Pauses. Nobody says a thing.) Well. Sociologists study altruism. Is this in biology?
Prof. Wilson: The members of an insect colony with sterile females assist their mother in the production of more offspring. It’s called “kin selection.” Organisms favor the survival of relatives at the cost to their own survival. This is a sort of … “self-sacrifice.”[xxxv]
Dean: Self-sacrifice? (The word conjures different meanings for the different participants in the discussion. The Dean thinks of parents who sacrifice to get their children into college. Prof. Wilson thinks about soldiers who sacrifice their lives in war. Kathleen is thinking about saints.)
Prof. Wilson: Ground squirrels stand on their hind legs and make loud calls to warn their friends about predators so that they can head to safety. The “alarm squirrel” will be able to run away too, hopefully, but it takes a huge risk. It makes itself obvious to the predator, standing on its hind legs, screaming. It alerts others of danger but in doing so draws attention to itself, at high peril of being killed.[xxxvi]
Dean: How do animals identify their friends? How do they know who they are? How do they know their own species? What makes them a community?
Prof. Wilson: Through imaging experiments, we have found that social signals are in the sensory system. We have monitored mice that have a genetic calcium indicator in a sensory organ linked with pheromones. Neurons encode information about the identity of animals in the nervous system.
Prof.: A small group of cells are dedicated to detecting sex-specific cues. They encode information about gender, for example. These pheromone cues are regulated by the hormonal status of the animal. This conveys their reproductive status and carries information about the genetic background. The pedigree of an animal is encoded by a joint activation of cells. And the cellular action is unique for each individual. Each animal can be recognized by the signature pheromones it carries. [xxxvii]
Prof. The human nervous system follows similar principles. The neural circuitry in the human brain underlies human behavior.
Dean: Professor Parsons, what do you say about common identity and individual identity? It looks like animals can identify each other as individuals and species through their nervous systems.
Prof. Parsons: Human identity is social and symbolic. It begins with a child held by its mother. The two of them identify with one another. They get emotionally attached. . . . Professor Wilson would know better than I whether their nervous systems could identify each other by touch, sight, and smell; perhaps he will address that for us. I can tell you, though, that the mother would sacrifice her life to save her baby, normally. And as a child matures, its identity expands to include neighbors and friends, and to people who have the same language, race or religion. Who we are – depends on the emotional intensity of that social identity. (Alice inhales, a sharp quick breath, flummoxed again at the thought: “Who am I?”) Self-sacrifice can happen at any point in this expanding communal identity. But I do not know how it connects to the nervous system.
Dean: So “common identity” is basic to the process of evolution. It seems to apply all the way from bacteria to society.
Prof. Parsons: Common identity. It could be a major key to evolution. That identity in society expands over time from the earliest primitive families that evolve into clans; then into tribes and governments.
Dean: What happened to “individual identity”?
Prof. Parsons: Individual identity grows out of a social identity. You can’t have one without the other. It begins when one is a child and gradually expands outward, as I said. (Kathleen had felt a powerful identity with Zachary, but now that “oneness” with him is leaving, and she feels bereft, sickened at the thought. Her feelings swirl, a powerful mix of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and anger. She would have given her life to save him from harm at one point, but now she is abandoned.)
Wars are based on common identities; religious wars, I mean, where people have died for the sake of their faith. Soldiers also sacrifice their lives for what they consider the common good of their nation. War depends on common identity.
Prof. Wilson: You are abstracting this identity thing more than I would. I stay with the details in my own field: Plants and animals.
Dean: Let’s get back to symbiosis. We’d like to hear more about that.
Prof. Wilson: Well, here’s another example:
Lichen is composed of two unrelated organisms, an alga and a fungus—a mould—that are in a symbiotic relation. The alga, which contains chlorophyll, extracts carbon dioxide from the air and transforms it into organic matter. The fungus can only use organic matter and converts it into other resources, which the alga can’t produce. Can you follow that? (Heads nod Yes.)
Every improvement in “resource utilization” by either the alga or the fungus makes those resources directly available for the other organism. This increases the fitness of both sides. It’s like a marriage.
Prof. Parsons: (Laughs). Marriage. Now you are stepping over the border into my field of study. Dean: Well, I’m puzzled. What is the real “unit” of selection?”
Prof. Wilson: It keeps changing with new research and expanding fields. A unit could be a gene, an organism, a group, population, or climate outlook. As scientists study evolution at different levels, the old paradigm of Natural Selection in biology does not apply.
Dean: This theory does not apply in physics, chemistry, or geology. In them, the “unit” idea disappears. Each field has its own unit of change.
Prof. Parsons: You heard me talk in “units,” such as individuals, families, neighborhoods, states, and so on. But I also talked about processes that encompass all of them. These units are in a hierarchy.
Dean: But no unit could be supreme over another. No one field or theory can make an overall claim to what’s pushing evolution.
Prof. Wilson: I think you’re right about that. Cells cannot be reduced to molecules and explain organic behavior. Molecules cannot be reduced to atoms as a way to explain their behavior. Each level has its own autonomy and rules of interaction.[xxxviii]
Dean: That means: All disciplines are interdependent, none superior? All stages of evolution are interdependent, none inferior?
Prof. Wilson: Hmm. I have to think about that. (Pause.) We are all interdependent. Without bacteria, humans could not live. Without pollinators, we could not survive. We exist as one family, so to speak.
Dean: So we should not get “big-headed,” as if “we” are at the peak of evolution, standing above and beyond all lower creatures.
Prof. Parsons: Well. We humans are powerful creatures. We have the capacity to destroy everything. Our chemicals are polluting, and our pesticides are poisoning at unprecedented rates…
Prof. Wilson: Yes, and we are losing pollinators at an alarming rate. The way we farm, and the way we organize real estate is connected to our DNA.[xxxix]
Alice: (After this long period of listening, she interrupts with her most fundamental question.) So, who are we? Are we the most powerful?
Prof. Wilson: No. Look at the smallest creatures. Remember the bubonic plague in the 14th century? It cut human populations by nearly 40 percent. The rapid spread of microbes today could make the killing fields of Cambodia look like a minor event for humans.
In news reports today you read about the West Nile and the Ebola viruses…hundreds of viruses are hidden in rainforests and swamps. Tuberculosis claims three million lives annually. Malaria kills another 180 million. (Looks to the Dean to see how to continue.)
Dean: So, we may not be the most powerful creatures in the universe. I’d like to know what you students think about this? (Long pause; students don’t know what to say.) Are microbes competing with us to survive? (Pause.)
Are humans better at competing or cooperating? Is it better for us to compete or to cooperate?
James: Prof. Wilson, I’m majoring in economics. My field assumes that competition is superior. What do you think?
Prof. Wilson: Many biologists have said that competition is superior to cooperation. Animals compete for food, killing each other when necessary. But this matter is more complex.
Over a century ago, Peter Kropotkin wrote about his trips to Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria. In1902 he tried to change the assumption. He studied animal relations and the terrible struggle for existence in Asia, but he did not see competition as superior. For him, it was cooperation; the basic force of evolution was mutual aid.
James: But that is not true for the market! My professors talk about the importance of competition in order for markets to accelerate growth. (Professor Parsons is smiling to himself.)
Prof. Wilson: Kropotkin was realistic. Cooperation was more important, based on his evidence.
Prof. Parsons: Let me enter the discussion again here, if I may. The idea of competition in Natural Selection came at the same time that capitalism evolved. This idea made the capitalist market look more legitimate in the late 19th century.
Prof. Wilson: At beginning of the 20th century Kropotkin talked about “sociability.” He also warned about how this idea might be misinterpreted. There was no great love among animals, but there was cooperation. (He looks toward Kathleen.)
He said people should not reduce “animal sociability” to love. It is not love for my neighbor that “induces me to seize a pail of water and to rush toward his house when I see it on fire. It is rather a far wider feeling of solidarity and identity.” He argued for this notion of sociability as the underlying force in evolution.
Prof Parsons: Kropotkin’s idea connects with studies in social economics. Say more about this, if you would.
Prof. Wilson: He says the process of cooperation is not the same as love or sympathy, as we know it. What “induces a herd of horses to form a ring to resist an attack of wolves?” (Students are looking curious.)
It is not “love” that brings wolves to form a pack for hunting; nor love that “induces kittens or lambs to play,” or “young birds to spend their days together in the autumn.” It is not love or personal sympathy that brings “a thousand fallow-deer -- scattered over a territory as large as France -- to form into a score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in order to cross a river.” [xl]
Dean: Well, what is it? (Kathleen is listening.)
Prof. Wilson: Kroptkin says: it is a feeling infinitely wider, something that has been slowly evolving among animals and people in the course of an extremely long evolution. It has brought animals and people to accept a force in nature they can all draw from. Physicists might call it attraction but Kroptkin called it mutual aid. It was this attraction to others with common identities in social life.
Dean: Interesting. So human love is not present, but it might be developing through all of this. (Silent audience.) One question puzzles me. (He goes to the blackboard and writes:)
I place this subject before you because so far we have not been able to connect the idea of “progress” with “evolution.” What do you think?
Prof. Wilson: Biologists speak of things being “older” and “younger,” sometimes “earlier” and “later” in their evolution, but we have no basis for saying “better” or “worse.” Let me say that even the terms “successful” and “unsuccessful” are difficult to generalize over this long time period. Bacteria could be the most successful form of life on Earth.
Dean: So biologists don’t put the two ideas together?
Prof. Wilson: No, they don’t put them together in my field. Have you heard about the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould? (Heads nod.) I have not always agreed with him, but I will give you his opinion.
Gould argued that the notion of progress requires taking into account -- as he put it – of “the full house of variation of a system.” Only by a complete study of a system’s total potential for variation could we distinguish where a change is a result of “an explicit mechanism of directionality,” as opposed to being random.[xli] (Heads shake at that statement. What does directionality mean?)
Gould also questions “increasing complexity.” With the limited fossil record, he says it is impossible to determine an explicit mechanism for the increase of complexity. Greater complexity must be carefully specified.[xlii]
Dean: But we are not proposing to know a “full house” of “variation possibilities.” No one can know the full potential for variation in nature. We are proposing a “house of disciplines” that could help us discuss the directionality. Personally, I think there is some direction to evolution, but I don’t know how to explain it.
Prof. Wilson: Direction toward what?
James: Could you say: to evolve into human beings? Aren’t we the highest stage of evolution? (James has not yet understood the point about interdependence among all things created.)
Prof. Wilson: Look. Have you read the work of Lynn Margulis? (Heads shake “No.”) She would disagree with your idea of human superiority. She studies the smallest organisms on Earth and says there is no basis for feeling superior. People cannot live without these tiny creatures. Symbiosis is everywhere.
The smallest creatures in the world support our digestive tracts and live in our eyelashes. We are “festooned all over,” she says, with bacterial and animal symbionts. We are built as one world moving through another in a great system of networking and community.
Dean: What does she say?
Prof. Wilson: We must pay attention to this larger ecology of creatures. They are all around us – and in us. The term “symbiosis” refers to the practice of different species living together.
There is another term called “endosymbiosis.” It refers to organisms living inside one other. Research points to the appearance of new tissues and organs and other features that result from long-drawn-out symbiotic association. Two great classes of eukaryotic cell organelles, plastids and mitochondria, evolved symbiogenetically, as we say.[xliii]
Dean: Explain that for us.
Prof. Wilson: Symbiogenesis is the merging of two separate organisms to form a single new organism. Two billion years ago, the interactions of bacteria created a new kind of cell called the first “proctotists,” or nucleated cells. They formed when different bacteria merged together. Proctocists include about 250,000 species, such as the amoebas, diatoms, giant kelps and red seaweed. Those that consist of a single cell are called “protists” (or small proctocists). [xliv]
Dean: The ancient Egyptians used to say “As above so below.” (He is hardly audible, as he says it, and no one is sure what he means, so Prof. Wilson continues.)
Prof. Wilson: Lynn Margulis studied this “merging” of different kinds of bacteria.
Prof. Parsons: (Injecting some dark humor.) It is like a marriage. (Smiling.) It means living together through suffering, for better or for worse! (Prof. Wilson ignores this and goes on.)
Prof. Wilson: Margulis proposes that the common ancestor of all eukaryotes originated by genome fusion of several different prokaryotes, which became a new organism by symbiogenesis. These were “metabolically dependent consorting bacteria that led to this genetic fusion.”[xlv] (The Dean looks puzzled).
Margulis argues that death and sex are processes originating within protists. Her idea of how things are born is important for you to explore.
Dean: Can you help us understand this better?
Prof. Wilson: Let’s look at the human body.[xlvi] (Prof. Wilson goes to the blackboard and writes:
The Human Body
Prof. Wilson: One quadrillion cells exist in the human body and 90 percent of them are bacteria, yeasts, and other microbes that keep us alive. (Looking toward Prof. Parsons.)
Prof. Parsons, you must know Paul Hawken. (Prof. Parsons nods Yes.) Hawken describes how our bodies are the outcome of the earth’s evolution, with all its elemental compounds, all its salty fluids that not only wash our eyes, say, but surround our cells. Our body is a “work in progress.” (He reads from a note to enliven the story:)
A single bacterium cell, Escherichia coli, contains 2.4 million protein molecules of nearly 4,000 different types, 280 million small metabolite and ion molecules, 22 million lipids, a genome consisting of 4.6 million base pairs of nucleotides, and 40 billion water molecules all packed into a cell whose diameter is one hundredth the width of a strand of hair.[xlvii]
Those first cells are everywhere on earth, on our tongues, in leaves, three miles deep down in the ocean, and in all the deserts of the world.
Eukaryotes were creative artists. They assembled into millions of different life forms, such as praying mantises, chanterelles, night blooming jasmine, and caribou herds. The total amount of cellular activity in our body is unbelievable -- one septillion changes take place at any one moment. In one second, our body has undergone ten times more processes than the number of stars in the universe. Each human body is a micro-universe of activity.
Alice: Ooo! That puts the story in a new light.
Prof. Wilson: Humans are not too different from a sunflower or a seal. (The Dean’s eyebrows furrow.) We are all self-replicating and innovating. This is a very powerful process of creation. “We are nature.”
Everything has a common identity and territory. (“What?” Kathleen whispers, startled) Cells mutate and fail but do not kill the cells next to them. Why? The body’s immune system is joined like a nation in a line of internal defense; it’s there to protect the body. Antibodies attach themselves to molecular invaders, which are neutralized and destroyed by white blood cells.
Tom, this material is in your senior thesis. Take it from here. (Prof. Wilson has prepared him for this.)
Tom: Yes. In my thesis, I studied the body’s immune system. It works by the cooperation of proteins, monocytes, macrophages; this is a body of cells working in harmony. If they were not working for us, we would become rotten fruit. (Looks at his advisor, grinning at his own analogy.)
Prof. Wilson: And then what would happen?
Tom: We would be devoured by billions of fungi, viruses, and parasites. The immune system is everywhere in our bodies. The lymphatic fluid is moving through the thymus, spleen, and thousands of lymph nodes all through us. (Pause.)
I argue that the thymus organ is the blueprint of who we are. It has an entire inventory of our genes; it records all our past diseases and our whole body condition. It floods the lymphatic fluid, preventing anything that is not “me” from taking over. So it says something about our question: Who are we?
Alice: I’ve never thought about that.
Dean: We are all here to learn, me included.
Prof. Wilson: These thymus cells (we say “T- cells”) are white blood cells called “lymphocytes,” and hundreds of billions of them meander throughout the body with a memory of who we are. T-cells identify all diseases, past and present. They have a library of pathogens. They move from the bloodstream to the tissues and back again.[xlviii]
Dean: This circulation is also a part of who we are.
Prof.: These cells tell us when our body is in danger. When an enemy is spotted they say, in effect: “Circle the Wagons.”
Prof: A message is passed on from the T-cells to the B-cells (a “buddy”), which then help to neutralize the problem. My research tells me that its “memory power” rivals that of the brain.
Memory cells recall previous antigens, so we can vaccinate ourselves and protect the body from deadly toxic organisms. These cells are the body of our society. (looking at Amitai.)
Prof. Parsons: Herbert Spencer compared “society” to the body, and you are comparing an aspect of the “body” to society. Interesting.
Prof. Wilson: Paul Hawkins compares the human body and its physical movements with the rise of social movements in countries where people are organizing to save the body of humankind.
Prof. Parsons: Yes, I know him. He sees people cooperating all the way and at every level -- in those “units” from local neighborhoods to international organizations. He hopes that “people movements” will save the environment. So, we could say they are like an immune system.[xlix]
Prof. Wilson: But immune systems sometimes fail to save the human body.
Tom, tell us about other social interactions that interest you. (Tom stands up and writes on the blackboard:)
Pheromones and Morphic Fields
Tom: Prof. Wilson has suggested writing term papers on these subjects.
Dean: (Smiles.) Tom, what is a pheromone? . . . We have already talked about them, but it would help if you’d remind us now again of what they are.
Tom: A pheromone is a chemical that triggers a response in another member of the same species. There are different kinds of them, such as alarm pheromones, food trail pheromones, sex pheromones, and a lot of others that affect animal and human relations. Pheromones are a communication system. They are grounded in attraction and repulsion. (Kathleen’s thoughts start to churn: what about all those signals she and her boyfriend used to send to one another.)
Prof. Wilson: Give us some examples.
Tom: Well, the first are the sex pheromones! (Everyone laughs, and Tom looks a little embarrassed.) In animals and insects, pheromones signal that a female is ready for breeding. (Male students smirk at one another from under half-lidded glances.) Insects send out pheromones to attract a mate.
Moths and butterflies can detect a mate from as far away as six miles! (Tom is now joining the fun and smiles, as the class laughs.) And there are repelling pheromones for self-protection. When a predator attacks a species, it can release a pheromone and scare it away. (Kathleen ponders all this information. She had put on a special perfume to attract Zachary, and yet she has mixed feelings for him now. How could she have felt such a deep attraction and now feel this growing repulsion?)
Prof. Wilson: This is based on biochemistry.
Tom: Right. I hope to take more chemistry in graduate school. (Prof. Wilson nods for him to go ahead.) Ants mark pathways with pheromones --composed of “non-volatile hydrocarbons.” These ants lay down a trail to mark their way back to the nest with food. But it is also a guide for other ants.
And there are territorial pheromones that mark the boundaries of an organism’s rights to thrive. You know dogs mark trees with hormones in their urine.[l]
Dean: Okay, and now what are morphic fields?
Tom: Biologists do not accept this theory, but Prof. Wilson has said, “If that interests you, explore it.” Stay empirical. (Looks toward his mentor.)
Prof. Wilson: (Smiles.) I encourage students to follow their noses . . . I mean their instincts. Tom, go ahead.
Tom: Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist in England. I think his theory is fascinating. (Pauses.)
Dean: What does he say?
Tom: He describes nature as composed of morphic units. Units include atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, tissues, organs, and organisms. He says they are organized by electromagnetic fields, which contain a memory. Each unit inherits a memory from previous things of their kind by a morphic resonance. He says that there is a continuous spectrum of morphic fields that include human fields.
Dean: Morphogenetic fields?
Prof. Wilson: (Interrupts). This is different from morphogenesis. Morphogenesis is about the shapes of tissues, organs and organisms and the positions of the various specialized cell types. It has to do with cell growth and the differentiation that takes place.
Tom . . . .
Tom: Morphogenesis means, the “coming into being” (genesis) of a “form” (morphe). How does an acorn grow into an oak tree?
Dean: Okay, that’s back to our first class session. But what happened to Natural Selection?
Tom: Sheldrake says evolution is more complex than Darwin claims. Evolution is purposive.
Dean: What could be its purpose?
Tom: I dunno. But there is an electromagnetic field within and around a morphic unit that organizes its structure and pattern of activity. A particular animal will tune into its field and read the collective information. Sheldrake describes a morphic resonance that guides a unit’s stages of development. The morphic fields are a database for both organic (living) and abstract (mental) forms.
Prof. Wilson: Pure mysticism. (Smiles in a friendly manner standing firm on his professional position on the subject.) That’s my judgment. I call him “Sheldrake the Magician.” He has the right pedigree, but serious scientists rule him out. It’s all in his head.
Tom: Well, it’s like String Theory. (Smiles back.) Carl Jung wrote about archetypes in the unconscious. You cannot see them except in dreams. They are in the collective memory and coded in the human brain. (Prof. Wilson is a long-suffering professor faithful to his student and nods for him to go ahead.) This theory proposes that any form “remembers” its past, so to say, and that any new forms having similar characteristics will “use” the old pattern of similar forms as guide for its appearance. (The class now looks doubtful. So Prof. Wilson decides to support Tom).
Prof. Wilson: Sheldrake says that a morphic field underlies the formation of morphic units. His hypothesis is that a particular form belonging to a certain group will tune into that morphic field and read the collective information through the process of morphic resonance. The unit uses this field to guide its own development. A particular form will then provide, again through resonance, a feedback to the morphic field of that group. This strengthens it with its own experience resulting in new information being added, all stored in the database. This is the way a simpler organic form (synergistically) “self-organizes” into more complex ones.[li]
Dean: (He wants to support Tom, too.) Tom, are you saying that life is not just a thin layer over matter? Could those naturalists like Emerson and Thoreau be right? Is there something transcendent here? Is there more to the universe than meets the eye? (Kathleen perks up again, fully alert.)
Tom: That’s my thinking. Molecular structures each have a special vibration rate. They are like a bunch of crickets; molecules are constantly chirping their identity and location.
Prof. Wilson: Sheldrake is saying that the nature of life’s energy contains information modulated in electrical fields, magnetic fields, and quantum fields. These fields interact in resonant patterns and harmonics. Information is a vital part of the process of self-organization. Tom?[lii]
Tom: We are all part of an electromagnetic spectrum. Our bodies absorb and radiate photons. Everything evolves to become higher forms of these processes of molecules, which vibrate their identity and location. [liii] (Pause.)
Prof. Wilson: (Supportive of Tom, but also skeptical.) Tom is imaginative. And Sheldrake is, too, but they need empirical evidence.
Tom: I feel like we are entering an exciting new age. Sheldrake is in tune with string theory.
Dean: What do others think about this?
Jane: (She has been quiet; but since her father’s death, she has been reading Freud and Jung, so she takes a chance now and speaks.) Sheldrake is looking for things we cannot see. Carl Jung said we have an inner Shadow that’s not visible. Our Shadow consists of thoughts and feelings that we try to suppress; but eventually it, and they, get projected into the world around us…
Prof. Wilson: (Interrupts because he wants to keep the discussion on empirical grounds.) Wait, before we get too far off track. I wanted to speak about the evolution of the brain. Time is short. Tom and I have talked about this in line with his research.
Dean: (with a quick sympathetic look at Jane, wishing there were more time to hear her point.)Yes, we have limited time. What about the evolution of the brain?
Prof. Wilson: It does fit with Tom’s idea. The brain has evolved to become the most complex object in the universe. How could this have happened? It weighs between three and four pounds, contains over 11 billion specialized nerve cells called neurons; it is capable of receiving, processing, and relaying the electrochemical pulses. All of our sensations, actions, thoughts, and emotions depend on it. Tom’s interest in the electro-activity of the brain -- could have some merit in the future.
Prof. Wilson: Look how far the brain has evolved!
It begins in a jellyfish with no differentiated cells; a jellyfish’s cells just “coordinate” swimming. Later, we see worms evolve with a central nervous system and a distinct brain; this brain connects to neurons running along the length of the worm’s body. But it has not yet evolved into the sole “commander” of the animal because -- if this brain is removed, worms can still mate, burrow, feed, and learn things in a maze.
Dean: These worms are pretty flexible.
Prof. Wilson: (Laughs.) Yes, but a “brain” with no central control! Here is the curious thing. These brain changes build from “within” the creature. The animal is increasing its interior potential for power over its environment. (The Dean’s eyes sparkle with pleasure and a smile reappears. He breathes to himself: “Interiority.”)
Further along, insects evolve with more complexity inside their nervous systems. Giant fiber systems develop for the conduction of nerve impulses. Insects connect parts of the brain to specific muscles in legs or wings. The brain breaks into segments—the proto-cerebrum, the deuto-cerebrum, and the trito-cerebrum. Insects can crawl, hop, swim, fly, burrow, and even walk on water. So -- Jesus is not the only one who walked on water! [liv] (Everybody whoops and Prof. Wilson keeps going.)
The brain becomes larger. “We” evolve into vertebrates: fish, amphibians, and reptiles. (Alice notes how he says “we,” suggesting he is including animals in answer to the question, “Who are we?”) The spinal cord becomes a servant of the brain. Now there is a busy two-way interstate of communication, with fibers segregated into descending motor pathways and ascending sensory ones. Gradually we develop our hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain. From the hindbrain, biologists see a distinctive structure emerging called the “cerebellum.” (Listening attentively, Alice hears how he shuttles back and forth between a subjective and an objective outlook: “we” and “it.”)
With the evolution of mammals, the brain adds two new structures. The neo-cerebellum is added to the cerebellum, and the neo-cortex grows out of the front of the forebrain. Eventually brains in primates grow still larger, from within, responding to the environment; they are now so large that the original brain stem is virtually hidden by this large convoluted mass of grey neural matter.
Dean: Does this mean that the brain is showing “directionality”?
Prof.: Yes, but if you say that, then where is it going?
Dean: Well, the animal has more control over its environment. It has more freedom to get around. (He is wondering: Will there be a greater interior development in the future? Will there be more freedom to move about?)
Prof. Wilson: Freedom to get around? Well, yes. Directionality. Look at our human transportation systems, and our jet planes. We keep getting more control over our environment every day. (Grins broadly at Professor Parsons.)
Prof. Parsons: Really? Look at global warming. It’s out of control!
Prof. Wilson: This brain has gone from a tiny cerebrum to a complex organ of about 1350 grams. We have caused more changes on earth in 10,000 years than all other living things in 3 billion years.[lv]
Dean: (Seeing a debate looming, he changes the subject.) What else have you read about outside of classic biology?
Tom: The Gaia hypothesis. James Lovelock formulated this idea in the 1960s when he working for NASA. He found a self-organizing principle.
Tom: Different combinations of chemicals (like oxygen and methane) remain stable in the Earth’s atmosphere. He says that the Earth evolved into a self-regulating living system. The Gaia Hypothesis is supported by scientific experiments.[lvi] (He looks happily toward Prof. Wilson.)
Prof Wilson: What can I say? Gaia is debated. The subject is complicated, but in case there are those who are interested, I’ll give it a shot.
Lovelock said that life on Earth provides a cybernetic, homeostatic feedback system that operates automatically by the biota. (Pause.) To translate: the term biota stands for all the life forms that have evolved. But here’s the point. Lovelock argues that “life forms” control the Earth’s chemistry. This is where the debate comes in. Tom, you take it from there.
Tom: The Earth’s biosphere acts like a self-organizing system. It keeps the earth chemistry systems in “equilibrium.” This helps to sustain life on earth. Hey, “life” controls its “chemicals.” This is fascinating. (Looking to the Dean.) It sounds something like your idea – life has transcended chemicals!
Prof. Wilson: It is like co-evolution but a new brand. Biota influence the abiota (that’s the nonliving systems in the environment) and the latter in turn influence the biota.[lvii]
Dean: You mean that forms of life regulate their ancestors, those chemicals.
Tom: Yes, as I see it. I want to study this more in graduate school.
Prof. Wilson: Lovelock assumes that the biomass “self-regulates” the conditions on the planet. This makes its physical environment (that’s the temperature and chemistry of the atmosphere) more hospitable to life.
Dean: So Lovelock says that life is influencing the chemistry. Life has transcended chemicals and now regulates them?
Tom: Yes. A lot of new research is taking place in biochemistry. It’s based on social relations, and it counters the idea of Natural Selection in evolution.
Prof. Parsons: Let me know more about this.
Dean: Yes, tell us about how Natural Selection comes in here?
Prof. Wilson: Biochemists do not work with Natural Selection. It does not operate in our field. Tom, you’ve been reading in this area, front-line stuff!
Tom: Antonio Lima-de-Faria says we do not need Natural Selection to explain evolution. Evolution takes place without this mechanism. And Eshel Ben-Jacob is spearheading new theories beyond this theory.
Dean: Who is he?
Tom: He is the head of the Physics Department at Tel-Aviv University. (Dean nods.) He studies how bacterial colonies spread in fractal patterns. Fractals show up in inanimate things like crystals, snowflakes, and stones. He argues that these same patterns appear in bacteria. They follow the same rules that shape rocks and blizzards. He agrees that evolution is not based on natural selection.
Dean: Natural Selection does not work at this level?
Tom: Right. Bacterial colonies generate what he calls a “creative web,” like a social network. It carries trillions of “microprocessors” as he puts it. In a physics journal called Physica A, he gives “proof” of how a bacterial colony can reengineer its own genome. It can invent solutions to problems that no previous colony ever encountered before. [lviii]
Dean: Whew. That’s right down our alley. That sounds like self-determination. That’s like self-creation!
Tom: Yes. (excited) He says that his studies of bacteria call for a radical change in Darwinian theory.
Prof. Wilson: Ben-Jacob at Tel Aviv University and James Shapiro at the University of Chicago view bacteria as being in a social relationship. Bacteria, that is, work together to keep their particular colony alive. When food runs low, they do not just replicate themselves but rather create children of a different kind to set out in new directions for food. First, they invent external whips that twirl them through water. They swim across smooth surfaces and slime until they find new food. Then, they produce children with no whips to mine the new food. And when this food runs out, they create whips again to look for new food. They send chemical signals to one another to achieve their goals. They are inventors.[lix]
Prof. Parsons: Some of my colleagues have written about social invention. William F. Whyte, a former president of the American Sociological Association wrote about how “social invention” is critical to research today.[lx]
Prof. Wilson: Eshel Ben-Jacob calls this “purposeful invention.” Cilia-powered protozoa produced a second generation of children that were able to sense an obstacle in front of them and flash a signal to their comrades so fast that a whole multitude could react instantly in total coordination. John Holland calls this a “hidden order.”[lxi]
Tom: (Eagerly) And I am reading about how “self-assembly” develops in nature.
Dean: Good, but we are running out of time. In one sentence, what do you mean by “self-assembly”?
Tom: Things transform without any external influence. (He looks to Prof. Wilson for help.)
Prof. Wilson: “Self-assembly” is a set of very complex processes -- hard to explain in a sentence. First, there is a system of components that appears to be in disorder. Second, this system moves into an organized structure because of specific interactions among the components themselves -- without external influence.
Dean: Oh my! Our time is up. Let’s begin on this note in our next class. Our subject is about chemistry and evolution.
Life regulates chemistry! (The class is excited.) I can’t wait. Prof. Wilson, could you join us in that class to talk more about this? (Nods.) Okay. See you next Wednesday. Everyone: Have a good day!
(As Kathleen leaves the class, she is wondering how signals are given among the new cells that are developing in her body. On the way out the door, her thoughts are on cell communication… and embryonic development. Her head is full of new thoughts. How can she put all this new information about biochemistry together with her religious beliefs and the life developing within her? Suddenly she feels like she is being swept onto a new track: she must talk with an obstetrician and with a guidance counselor.)
[i] For the first time in a half-century of record keeping, a majority of babies born to women younger than 30 were out of wedlock. See email@example.com. Source: Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
[ii] Originally, the word "evolution" meant “unrolling” or “unfurling” in the development of a fertilized egg cell into an embryonic creature. The term was later applied to organic change over time, used probably for the first time by Herbert Spencer. Spencer defined evolution (in 1862) as "a change from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; through continuous differentiations and integrations." He argued that he had discovered the subject before Darwin.
[iii] Imhotep worked mainly under King Djoser who reigned from 2630 to 2611 B.C., the second king of Egypt’s third dynasty. (He may also have lived under as many as four kings.) Imhotep built Egypt's first pyramid, but ancient historians refer to him as the first doctor, priest, scribe, sage, poet, and astrologer. Sir William Osler tells us that Imhotep was the "…first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity." Imhotep diagnosed and treated over 200 diseases: 15 diseases of the abdomen, 11 of the bladder, 10 of the rectum, 29 of the eyes, and 18 of the skin, hair, nails and tongue. Reportedly, Imhotep treated tuberculosis, gallstones, appendicitis, gout and arthritis. He also performed surgery and practiced some dentistry and extracted medicine from plants. He knew the position and function of the vital organs and circulation of the blood system. The Encyclopedia Britannica says, "The evidence afforded by Egyptian and Greek texts support the view that Imhotep's reputation was very respected in early times. His prestige increased with the lapse of centuries and his temples in Greek times were the centers of medical teachings." William Osler. The Quotable Osler, American College of Physicians, 2003.
[iv] In ancient Greece, the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander, (611 to 546 B.C.) wrote a poem entitled On Nature. The poem says that in the beginning there was a fish-like creature with scales that arose in the world ocean. As some of these creatures advanced, they moved onto land, shed their scaly coverings, and became the first humans.
Aristotle saw a chain of gradual developments with the life of plants shading into that of animals. Aristotle's pupil, Theophrastus, writing in about 300 B.C., tried to classify plants by describing their structure, habits and uses.
The chief physician to the gladiators in Rome (A.D. 158) went by the name of Galen. He began to study wounds in his dissection of apes and pigs. This gave him information for medical reports on the organs of the body. Galen was able to demonstrate that living arteries contain blood. His mistake was to assume that the blood went back and forth from the heart in an ebb-and-flow motion.
[v] The word “biology” was actually introduced by Karl Friedrich Burdach in1800 and then advanced by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck a year later. Burdach (1776-1847) was a German physiologist, born in Leipzig. Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (1744 –1829) was a French soldier, naturalist, and an early proponent of the idea that evolution occurred according to natural laws. In 1801 Lamarck used the term "biologie" (from the Greek) to denote the study of living organisms.
[vi] Some argue, as would the Dean, that the new science emerged along with the evolution of art. In about 1489 Leonardo da Vinci began a series of anatomical drawings far in advance of anything ever attempted before. Over the next twenty-five years, he dissected about thirty human corpses, many of them at a mortuary in Rome - until in 1515 the pope, Leo X, ordered him to stop. His drawings include studies of bone structures, muscles, internal organs, the brain and even the position of the fetus in the womb. He was on the verge of discovering the action of the circulation of the blood when Andreas Vesalius made the discovery scientifically.
[vii] In Darwin’s study of finches on the Galapagos Islands, every new generation of finches had to conform to an island on which it lived and hence developed different characteristics, while at the same time keeping its inherited traits. The Dean and Professor Wilson are alluding to the way in which the evolution of science differentiated into separate fields from a common stock of knowledge, and from this, make an analogy to the way that finches evolved from their common stock of genes. The large ground finch, Geospiza magnirostris has the biggest bill, in order to be able to crack hard seed, while the warbler finch, Certhidea olivacea, uses its small bill to eat insects, and the sharp-beaked ground finch, Geospiza difficilis, steals the eggs of booby birds from their nests: and yet they all started from the same stock.
[viii] Larmarck is remembered for his theory of "inheritance of acquired characteristics." This theory seemed reasonable at first to natural historians, including Charles Darwin, but it also had traces of religion. Larmarck also thought that there was an alchemical force driving organisms up a ladder of complexity, and a second environmental force that adapted them to local environments through the "use and disuse" of an animals’ characteristics. His famous example-- proto-giraffes stretched their necks in order to reach higher twigs, causing their offspring to be born with longer necks.
[ix] Darwin insisted that Wallace get credit for the natural selection theory during debates over its validity. This occurred at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University in 1860.
[x] Mendel, a monk, was interested in the question of evolution, but his experiments were done in support of a religious outlook on creation. He worked in the tradition of Kölreuter and Gärtner, studying Linnaeus's theory that hybrids played a role in evolution. His experiments were designed to expose an essential difference between hybrids and species. B.E. Bishop, (1996). "Mendel's Opposition to Evolution and to Darwin," Journal of Heredity 87: 205-213. L.A. Callender, (1988). "Gregor Mendel: an opponent of descent with modification," History of Science 26: 41-75. D. L. Hartl, and V. Orel, V. (1992). "What did Mendel think he discovered?" Genetics 131: 245-253. By the 1930s, the field of Population Genetics had developed from his work.
[xi] Mendel’s experiments on hybrid peas showed that genes from a “mother” and a “father” do not blend but remain distinct. An offspring from a short and a tall parent may be medium in size; but it carries genes for shortness and tallness. The genes remain distinct and can be passed on to subsequent generations. Mendel mailed his paper to Darwin, but Darwin never opened it.
[xii] Biologists could now confirm scientifically that natural selection is “the driving force of evolution” and that evolution is understandable in terms of mutations and recombination of genes. Scientists shaping of the modern synthesis included Theodosius Dobzhansky, George Simpson, Ernst Mayr, and R. A. Fisher, whose book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection is now a classic.
[xiii] Following the establishment of the Synthesis and the cracking of the genetic code, biology became split between “organism biology”—the fields that deal with whole organisms and groups of organisms—and cellular and molecular biology. By the late 20th century, biologists in new fields like genomics and proteomics were mixing with organism biologists using molecular techniques, and molecular and cell biologists investigated the interplay between genes and the environment, as well as the genetics of natural populations of organisms.
[xiv] Ruth Moore, Evolution. (New York, TimeLife Books, 1964.) Alan Villiers, “In the Wake of Darwin’s Beagle.” National Geographic. October 1969. At the time of Darwin, no one knew how old the earth was, but geologists were estimating that the earth was older than the years explained in the bible. Geologists were learning about strata, layers formed by successive periods of the deposition of sediments. This suggested a time sequence, with younger strata overlying older strata. Charles Lyell coined the concept uniformitarianism in his attempt to calculate earth history. He proposed that present conditions are the key to the past. Discoveries of fossils were accumulating during the 18th and 19th centuries. Similarities among groups of organisms were evidence of a relationship. So Darwin's predecessors accepted the idea of evolutionary relationships among organisms, but they could not provide a scientific explanation for how the events occurred.
[xv] The geneticist Theodosius Dobzhransky said in 1873: "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution," but now the Dean is arguing that all fields of knowledge make sense in this light and manner. Dobzhansky’s essay was published in the American Biology Teacher, volume 35, pp. 125-129. Dobzhansky first published the title statement in a 1964 article in American Zoologist, "Biology, Molecular and Organismic."
[xvi] Edmund Burke criticized the individual's “private stock of reason.” He expressed his fear that the commonwealth would “crumble away with this power of individuality” (Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790). Joseph de Maistre, on the other hand, spoke in 1820 of a deep and frightening division of minds among all doctrines and asked, “What is power without obedience? What is law without duty?” His answer was “individualism.” In contrast, Saint-Simon and his followers began to use the term “social” in the1820s, to refer to the modern “critical epoch” originating with the Reformation. They saw eighteenth-century philosophers as “defenders of individualism,” and believed their ideology to be in opposition to any attempt at organization from a center of direction “for the moral interests of mankind.” In the 1830s Robert Owen coined the term “socialism,” and a political movement arose to defend this opposing ideology.
[xvii] V. C. Wynne-Edwards, Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior, (N.Y: Hafner, 1962).
[xviii] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, new edition).
[xix] Richard Dawkins endorsed the gene as the target of selection, which was widely accepted at first but eventually criticized. Ernst Mayr, “The objects of selection,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 94, March 1997, 2091–2094.
[xx] Claire de Mazancourt, Michel Loreaux, and Ulf Dieckmann, Journal of Ecology, Vol. 93, Department of Biological Sciences and NERC Center for Population Biology, Imperial College London Correspondence. These researchers write of “mutualism” as a beneficial interaction between individuals of two species. Mutualism is an interaction in which removal of either partner results in a decreased performance of the other, i.e., both species show a positive proximate response to the presence of the partner.
[xxi] My italics in the quotation. A System Dynamics Model Ph.D. dissertation available from University Microfilms. See also: Eric C. Grimm, Richard G. Baker, Louis J. Maher, Jr., Craig A. Chumbley, and Kent L. Van Zant. “Patterns of Holocene Environmental Change in the Midwestern United States.” Quaternary Research 37 (1992): 379–389.
[xxii] Robert Brandon and Richard M. Burian, eds. Genes, Organisms, Population: Controversies Over the Units of Selection. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1984.
[xxiii] Ehrlich and Raven have documented the mutuality between species of butterflies and their host plants. They described how noxious compounds produced by the plant determined the usage of certain plants by butterflies. The implication was that the diversity of plants and their "poisonous" secondary compounds contributed to the generation of diversity of butterfly species. Paul Ehrich and Peter Raven, “Butterflies and Plants: A Study in Coevolution,” Evolution, 18, December, 1964.
[xxiv] L. Chittka, J. Spaethe, A. Schmidt, A. Hickelsberger, “Adaptation, constraint, and chance in the evolution of flower color and pollinator color vision,” in Cognitive ecology of pollination, L. Chittka & J. D. Thomson, ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2001), 106–126.
[xxv] M. E. Herberstein, C.L. Craig, J. A. Coddington, M. A. Elgar, “The functional significance of silk decorations of orb-web spiders: a critical review of the empirical evidence.” Biol. Rev. 75 (2000),
[xxvi] K. Lunau, S. Wacht, and L. Chittka, “Colour choices of naïve bumble bees and their implications for colour perception.” J. Comp. Physiol. A 178 (1996), 477–489.
[xxvii] The mega-nosed fly (Moegistorhynchus longirostris) of southern Africa is like its literary counterpart, Pinocchio. Its proboscis, which looks like a nose but is actually the longest mouthpart of any known fly, protrudes as much as four inches from its head—five times the length of its bee-size body. In flight the appendage dangles between the insect’s legs and trails far behind its body. To an airborne fly, an elongated proboscis might seem a severe handicap, but the proboscis gives the mega-nosed fly access to nectar pools in long, deep flowers that are simply out of reach to insects with shorter mouthparts. Laura A. Sessions and Steven D. Johnson, “The Flower and the Fly,”Natural History, March, 2005. Long insect mouthparts and deep floral tubes have become so specialized that each organism has become dependent on the other. The Nature of Sex, Genesis Film Productions, a PBS documentary, 1992.
[xxviii] E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Harvard University Press, 1975.)
[xxix] Most women today live in urban environments where the moon is no longer as significant as it once was for people’s lives. The fact that women who work on night shifts, where they are exposed to strong light at night, often experience menstrual irregularities suggests, however, that rhythms of light and darkness do influence the menstrual cycle. S. Cohen, “Melatonin, menstruation and the moon.” Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Feb-March, 2005.
[xxx] Jonathan B. Losos, Peter H. Raven, George B. Johnson, Susan R. Singer, Biology. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 1207-09.
[xxxi] Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (NY: Random House, 2002).
[xxxii] Co-evolution also occurs between species of predator-and-prey, as in the case of the Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) and the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). In this instance, the newts produce a potent nerve toxin that concentrates in their skin. Garter snakes have evolved resistance to this toxin through a set of genetic mutations. The relationship between these animals has resulted in an evolutionary “arms race” that has driven toxin levels in the newt to extreme levels.
[xxxiii] I have traced the evolution of business associations in my books on the economy. For example, see A Future for the American Economy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). Trade associations, such as the American Apparel Manufactures Associations, footwear associations, fashion associations, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists, and thousands more, are constantly co-evolving.
[xxxiv] The study of individual/group relations remains on a future agenda for biologists. After the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, in universities a new interdisciplinary field called social psychology appeared to focus on the individual/group relationship. All kinds of intervening variables were observed, but in biology the individual-group relation is still being explored as “group preservation vs. individual preservation.” W. Powers, Behavior: the Control of Perception, (Chicago: Aldine, 1973).
[xxxv] The earliest expressions of the basic concepts were by R. A. Fisher in 1930. W. D. Hamilton formalized the concept in 1963. The actual term “kin selection” was coined by John Maynard Smith (1964) when he wrote about kin and group selection. See R.A. Fisher The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930). J. Haldane, “Population Genetics,” New Biology 1955.18:34-51. W. D. Hamilton, “The evolution of altruistic behavior,” American Naturalist New Biology, 1963. 97:354-356. J. Maynard Smith, “Group Selection and Kin Selection,” Nature , 1964. 201:1145-1147.
[xxxvi] Paul Sherman, of Cornell University, studied the alarm calls of ground squirrels. He found they occurred most frequently when the caller had relatives nearby. In a similar study, John Hoogland followed individual males of animal specified through different stages of life. He found that the male prairie dogs modified their rate of calling when closer to kin. Self-sacrifice is directed, above all, toward close relatives. S. A. West, A. Gardner, and A. S. Griffin, “Quick Guide: Altruism,” Current Biology, 2006.
[xxxvii] The nervous system “processes” sensory information to generate perception and “behavioral output,” according to Jie He. “How Animals Identify Each Other: Insights Into How The Nervous System Processes Sensory Information,” Science Daily, April 28, 2008. He studied the mouse “vomeronasal system” with pheromone information.
[xxxviii] D. T. Campbell, “How individual and face-to-face group selection undermine firm selection in organizational evolution.” In Evolutionary dynamics of organizations, ed. ,J. A. C. Baum and
J. V. Singh . (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 23-38.
[xxxix] Nearly 80 percent of the world’s crop plants require pollination. Birds, bees, butterflies—all of these— but also beetles, mosquitoes, and even bats transfer pollen between seed plants. J. D. Ackerman, A.M Montalvo, “Short- and long-term limitations to fruit production in a tropical orchid.” Ecology 1990.71: 263–272.
B. G. Baldwin1998. “Evolution in the endemic Hawaiian Compositae” in Evolution and speciation of island plants, ed. T. F. Stuessy, M. Ono (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 49–73.
[xl] Peter Kropotkin, “Introduction,” Mutual Aid (London: Heinemann, 1902).
[xli] E. O. Wilson argues that there have been many reversals along the way of evolution but, in the long run, progress can be seen as “a property of the evolution of life as a whole.” Gould, on the other hand, refutes the idea of progress. See Stephen Jay Gould, Full House (NY: Harmony Books, 1996), p. 28.
[xlii] Gould does see a “passive trend” of increased complexity, without making any final conclusions. Stephen Jay Gould, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (Three Rivers Press: 1997)
[xliii] The idea originated with Konstantin Mereschkowsky in his 1926 book Symbiogenesis and the Origin of Species, in which he proposed that chloroplasts originate from cyanobacteria captured by a protozoan. J. Sapp, F. Carrapiço, M. Zolotonosov, “Symbiogenesis: the hidden face of Constantin Merezhkowsky,” in History and philosophy of the life sciences 24 (3-4): 413–40. D. Wallin, C. Ryan, R. M. A. Azad, “Evolutionary Computation,” The IEEE Congress in Volume 2, Issue, 2-5 (Sept. 2005), 1613 - 1620 Vol. 2 These authors are introducing an algorithm based on the ideas of endosymbiosis. They analyze what effect crossover and parasite mutations has on its performance, and conclude that a high parasite mutation rate is preferred over a lower rate, and that crossover has little effect on its performance.
[xliv] Dorion Sagan, “On the Origin of Mitosing Cells,”14 J. Theoretical Biology, 225 (1967), 120.
[xlv] A chimera is an organism, or part of one, with at least two genetically different tissues resulting from mutation, the grafting of plants, or the insertion of foreign cells into an embryo. See Lynn Margulis, Michael F. Dolan, and Ricardo Guerrero, Department of Geosciences, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Graduate Program, University of Massachusetts: Amherst).
[xlvi] Animal and plant cells originated through symbiosis with the permanent incorporation of bacteria in cells as plastids and mitochondria. Lynn Margulis, The Symbiontic Planet: A New Look at Evolution.
[xlvii] Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest (NY: Viking, 2007), 169.
[xlviii] Ibid. 162,
[xlix] Paul Hawken, op. cit.
[l] P. Karlson, M. Lüscher, “Pheromones: a new term for a class of biologically active substances,” Nature, 1959, 183, 55-56. S. D. Liberles, L.B. Buck. “A second class of chemosensory receptors in the olfactory epithelium.” Nature. 2006. 442(7103), 645-50. E. O. Wilson, W. H. Bossert, “Chemical communication among animals,” Recent Progress in Hormone Research, 1963, 19, 673-716.
Tristam D. Wyatt, Pheromones and Animal Behaviour: Communication by Smell and Taste. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
[li] Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past (New York: Time Book Co., 1988).
[lii] Erich Jantsch, The Self Organizing Universe. (New York: Pergamon, 1980).
[liii] Fred Alan Wolf, Taking the Quantum Leap. (New York: Harper & Row, 1981).
[liv] Insects possess a greater variety of sensory receptors than any other group of organisms— including vertebrates—sensitive to the odors, sounds, light patterns, textures, pressure, humidity, temperature, and chemical composition of their surroundings.
[lv] Harvey Sarnat and Martin Netsky, The Evolution of the Nervous System, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1981), 279.
[lvi] James Lovelock defined Gaia as a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil. The totality constitutes a feedback (or cybernetic) system, which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on the planet. James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth (1995); Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist. With his initial hypothesis, Lovelock claimed the existence of a global control system of surface temperature, atmosphere composition and ocean salinity.
[lvii] A. J. Watson and J. E. Lovelock, “Biological homeostasis of the global environment: the parable of Daisyworld,” Tellus '35B, 1983, 286–289.
Lynn Margulis dedicated the last eight chapters of her book, The Symbiotic Planet, to Gaia. She said that Gaia is “not an organism,” but "an emergent property of interaction among organisms." She defined Gaia as "the series of interacting ecosystems that compose a single huge ecosystem at the Earth's surface.” She argues that the surface of the planet behaves as a physiological system in certain limited ways. In effect, the earth's surface looks alive.
[lviii] Eshel Ben-Jacob writes in these terms. He is president of the Israeli Physical Society. His articles appear in such journals as Physica A; also in Contemporary Physics, Nature, and (once) on the cover of The Scientific American. He presides over two biological research laboratories—one in bacterial research and the other in neural research. See Eshel Ben-Jacob, Yakir Aharonov and Yoash Shapira, “Bacteria Harnessing Complexity,” School of Physics and Astronomy. There is more information on Ben-Jacob’s home page http://star.tau.ac.il/~eshel/bacterial_linguistic.html
[lix] G. P. Salmond, et al., “The Bacterial Enigma: Cracking the Code of Cell-Cell Communication,” Molecular Biology (May, 1995), 615-624. A. Pierro, et al. “Microbial Translation in Neonates and Infants Receiving Long-term Parental Nutrition,” Archives of Surgery, February, 1996.
[lx] William F. Whyte, “Social Inventions for Solving Human Problems“ American Sociological Review, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Feb., 1982), pp. 1-13. Whyte emphasized the need to study social inventions, like self-management that is evolving in business.
[lxi] See “Personal Communication,” Howard Bloom, Global Brain (NY: John Wiley, 2000), 229.
John Holland, Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity (Addison-Wesley, 1995), 31.