La Torre, Revista General de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Nº 63, 1969
Note by the FIBE. This article was written in 1969 and Cordón presented his definitive concept of the living being in 1990 (Evolutionist Treatise of Biology, Volume I. Part Two). In this work, which is essential for the reader who wants to understand Cordón’s theory, he does not conclude all its essential concepts (for example, he considers that the physical field of the experience of a living being is permanent, whereas he later reasoned that it establishes its soma instant by instant).
This article presents what I have been able to deduce with regard to what essentially distinguishes living beings from all other real beings and processes. I present my thoughts in a nascent state, with all the advantages and disadvantages that that involves. These thoughts were discussed in a workshop offered to a group of selected students of the Bachelor of General Studies of the University of Puerto Rico (January-May 1969), and I have been writing them in parallel to the workshop, whose topic was a specific implementation of what I study herein, namely the origin and the nature of human experience.
I should point out that my thought has been continually guided by the knowledge I have acquired over many years regarding what the protein is, what the cell is and what the animal is. It is therefore abstract knowledge that I have aimed as far as possible to induce, at each moment, from the consideration of all the specific knowledge that is available, without ever allowing it to come into contradiction with some partial aspect of which I was aware. I think that abstract thought achieved in this way in fact has the largest possible basis of truth because it is organized through the coordination of human experience and the contrasting of a large amount of facts.
The effort was worthwhile, because the general thought that I achieved in this way seems to possess greater precision, greater power of resolution and wealth of detail than the thought that I attained when analysing each particular biological field. As I have mastered some general coordinates, what has been achieved may be a better starting point for going back to study separately, with greater rigour and precision, the nature and origin of the different types or levels of living beings: the endergonic molecules which gave rise to the life of the protein, the cell and the animal.
This article was thus like a provisional integration of biological work, and as such it has unity. But I hope that it may also provide the necessary basis and perspective (i.e. a notion of what a living being is, with its action and experience) for a later understanding of the experience of the highest living being, the human, through its process of origin. In turn, this will serve as the preliminary work for applying the greatest possible scientific rigour to studying the evolution of this experience and, finally, the present state of this experience.
Definitions of organism, experience and action
Beings of a type that we can call organisms or living beings are defined by a certain capacity for experience (that is, the capacity to adapt to a given medium (Note 1) and to correct the adaptation as it is performed). Organisms are therefore not conceivable without experience, which they must apply in order to survive from the moment they emerge and during every moment of their existence. Indeed, the adaptation to a continuously changing environment for the benefit of the persistence of the adapting being requires this being (organism) to change constantly in some way; and because all processes of reality are interdependent, this in turn requires the organism at all times to influence the environment in which it lives. In turn, this capacity to act continuously on the environment (to adjust to the environment), which we call capacity for action, can only be explained if the living being is a refuge for some of the forms of energy into which the environment is divided. The potential of this refuge with respect to the general level of this form of energy is what allows it to apply energy to the environment and, guided by experience, to anticipate changes in its medium in order to correct them; of course, a difference in energy level that is continuously applied to the action is continuously being destroyed, and therefore must be continuously rebuilt.
In conclusion, all beings susceptible to having experience (all living beings) must be continuously acquiring it and applying it to remain in existence, through the exercise of constant action on the environment, which sustains their capacity to adapt continuously to the medium. Therefore, all living beings are by definition always in the throes of instant disappearance (death), from which they are saved, moment by moment, by a constant action on the environmental processes, an action that must be exercised as a whole. We can reserve the name living being (or organism) for this indivisible whole in constant process; i.e. we can define an organism as the becalmed physical field that governs the action of its soma and that results from this action (Note 2).
According to the foregoing, experience and action are inextricably linked to the unceasing process of the physical field that defines an organism (a living being) (Note 3). They are so united that one can only be defined in terms of the other, and the organism can only be understood in terms of both of them. Moreover, both the experience and the action (both defining an organism, as a mode of experience driving a mode of activity that generates more experience) can only be understand within the general framework of biological evolution (and this within the framework of the overall evolution of all reality). Through the action, the organism applies the physical energy field to govern the action of subordinate organisms (the animal to govern the activity of cells, etc.), and it does so necessarily in accordance with the laws that coordinate the corresponding forms of energy in the evolution of the environment and with reference to the environmental levels of these forms of energy. Through the experience, the action becomes increasingly complexified and thus ties the organism with increasing intimacy and complexity to its medium, which means not only a better adaptation of the individual organism to its medium, but also the ephemeral and partial improvement of this medium by the organism (more specifically, a certain improvement of the organization of a given reality determined by the organism’s life course) and, in the long term, the progressive evolution of the medium corresponding to the living being (and, conversely, of the living being itself) in the course of generations of large sets of organisms. Hence, just as the action of the organisms is supported by the current state of the medium reached by evolution, the experience that individuals generally attain influences future evolution.
Thus, considering the experience as the permanent progress that the action of the organisms brings about in the bond between the organism and its medium, we can explain that the experience of all organisms (and not only human experience), is integrative or cumulative to a greater or lesser extent, in accordance with the fact that not only humans but all living beings are subject to the same coherent, overall process of evolution.
Of course, the nature of the experience (and the corresponding action) varies with the essential types of living beings (the protein, the cell, the animal and, within the animal, the human) (Note 4). It is also obvious that within each essential type each species is characterized by a given content of experiences that it attains through a certain sequence of actions; as a result of learning from these actions, the medium proper to each species is imposed on the individuals of the species. The congenital capacity to acquire experience of individuals of a species is determined (by natural selection) by the degree of complexity of the medium consistent with the species; conversely, the medium is complexified and refined step by step in the course of evolution with the capacity to acquire experience (with the patterns of behaviour) of the co-environmental species of which the medium is made up (Note 5). Finally, the individuals of each species have a peculiar mobility of experience (and a corresponding mode of moving from one pattern of behaviour to another) in accordance, on pain of death, with the variation in structure shown in their specific medium, i.e. the continuous shifting of the space-time environment that houses them.
The somatic processes (the relationship between an organism and its soma)
What meaning does the soma of an organism (whatever its type) acquire when we consider the organism to be the unitary field of physical energy that coordinates the joint activity of the soma? What gives meaning to the soma, when it is considered from and towards the organism understood in this way, is the fact that it is the seat of energy processes whose interaction forms the basis of this physical field that we have identified with the individuality of the organism. It is obvious that one of the basic problems of biology is to understand how all these somatic energy processes are coordinated so that organisms emerge and are maintained, and how they necessarily do so in terms of the coordination of the processes of the environment. What does the phenomenon of acquisition of experience by organisms tell us about the complementary coordination of the soma and the environment?
If we are consistent with the thought expressed in the previous section, we can draw the following conclusions with regard to the somatic processes.
1) The somatic energy processes that are coordinated to maintain an organism must belong to those that take place in the physical fields that define organisms of the immediately lower field to the one considered. For example, the animal organism results from the coordination of processes that take place in the physical fields that define certain cells of the animal soma (certain nerve cells); and the cellular organism results from the coordination of processes that take place in the physical fields that define certain proteins.
2) The fact that a physical field results from the coordination of processes performed in other physical fields that are maintained individualized shows that the first field and the other fields belong to qualitatively different forms of integration of energy. If this were not so, instead of being coordinated by their activity, these seconds fields would be merged into a general field of the same nature, and the organisms of the lower level would lose their individuality when the higher level emerges, which they do not.
3) In defining every organism as a unitary physical field in the first section of this article, we stated that it must have the same nature (the same level of matter-energy integration) as some level of the environment. We argued that, if this were not so, the organisms would be defined by the energy field of a fictitious, inoperative, potential energy without being defined with regard to something. We can go a step further. If the physical field that defines a type of organism results from the coordination of processes that occur in the physical fields that define organisms of the immediately lower level to the first, one must deduce that the two levels of matter-energy integration that define such types of organisms are related to each other in the same way in the processes that occur within the soma and in the corresponding general processes of the environment.
4) Circumscribing the organism to the physical seat of its individuality involves, complementarily, advancing its scope to include the soma in it (with the only exception of the unitary and unifying field of the somatic activity). We will now see how this helps us to approach the scientific study of organisms and their somas.
Let us simply recall that all knowledge (indeed, all true or false statements) is always reduced to accounting for the entity (what is permanent) through processes of the environment, or accounting for processes of the entities that perform them or the entities from which these processes emanate in one way or another. Therefore, in the relationship between an organism and its soma, the organism (precisely because of its nature as a pure process at its level, as a persistent and unitary physical field that is constantly in the throes of disappearing and emerging) appears to us as a being, but the soma appears as the coordinated processes that are accountable to the organism (Note 6). Meanwhile, the key to the direction and joint order of the somatic processes lies in two poles or origins of stability: first, with the joint order of the major processes in the Earth’s environment (Note 7). The soma confronts and links the unity, the individuality, which lies in its organism, to the general evolution of the biosphere and the cosmos at large. (As we go deeper into the somatic energy processes in search of the physical field in which the essential unity of a living being lies, in search of what we call an organism, this unity is resolved, at the other extreme, in the joint order of the environment).
5) The soma therefore appears as the processes of the immediate scope of the organism that sustain it and link the organism to the environment. It is a zone of processes external to the organism which is and is not environment. What distinguishes the somatic processes from genuinely environmental processes?
It seems clear that, as we have said, the somatic processes are originated and directed, first, by the general joint order of processes of the Earth’s environment and, second, by the organism itself. This is confirmed by the fact that the disappearance of the organism (the destruction of the unitary physical field of which it is essentially composed) always leads to the immediate disorganization and interruption of the somatic processes, and then the total disintegration of the soma, which is undifferentially incorporated into the general processes of the environment.
The foregoing imposes an important corollary: the somatic processes of an organism cannot be established without the existence of this organism. However, as it is also obvious that the organism can only exist on its somatic processes, we must deduce that, indeed, all organisms and their corresponding somatic processes must originate simultaneously: from their origin to their destruction, they are inconceivable without each other.
The fundamental property of processes and organisms and their mutual relationship
If we extend the foregoing to all development processes, we have that in the ontogenic development of each living being, and in the phylogenic development of each race of each living being (Note 8), the organisms of different levels and their corresponding somatic processes must have originated simultaneously. Given the general coherence of reality, this compels us to understand and explain, through each other, the fundamental property of the reality manifested in all processes (including somatic ones) and the fundamental property manifested in organisms (genuine beings) (Note 9).
General human experience of processes (gathered mainly in physics and chemistry) establishes the following fundamental law of processes: an obligatory and often constant course is imposed on all processes by the general coordination of all processes (Note 10). This leads us to a monist conception of reality (shared by most scientists), according to which all types of phenomena are potentially intelligible (i.e. referable to other processes and entities in the environment).
Let us now consider the fundamental property of organisms, defined as circumscribed physical fields capable of action and experience. This property could be defined as the resistance of every organism to disappearing as a coherent whole and the capacity to do so by maintaining the joint order of the activities defining the organisms of the lower level from which it has arisen; this joint order of activities is the essence of the physical field/organism (Note 11).
This property is the differential characteristic between ordinary becalmed processes (whose level of matter-energy integration does not exceed that of the processes of the scope that becalms them, which are studied by physics and chemistry along with the directed processes (Note 12)) and the organisms (becalmed processes whose level of matter-energy integration has one degree more than the level of the processes [always, in turn, defining organisms] whose coordination of activities constitutes the former). Of course, both of these becalmed processes (the ordinary ones studied by physics and the organisms studied by biology) and also directed processes are intelligible (as expressed in the fundamental property of processes) by the general coordination of processes of the cosmos, manifested in the direction and intensity of the processes of the environment. In other words, in organisms the unitariness and coherence of the cosmos expressed in the fundamental property of processes is belied; the fundamental law of organisms describes something additional that is observed whenever, in the overall process of reality, there occurs a leap from one matter-energy level to the immediately higher one.
Thus, the universal nature of the fundamental property of processes (which is fulfilled in all transformations, in any direction, within the overall evolution of the cosmos which penetrates everything) makes it necessary to combine the fundamental property of organisms with it. This issue is so important that, in fact, it means the unification (through its base and in terms of the general evolution of reality) of the objects of study of physics and biology, which have undoubtedly been artificially separated. Treating this issue seriously would force us to subject all biology to a systematic review within a new order of problems. Here we can only make a few brief comments that help to approach the problem of the action and experience of organisms.
First, the need to harmonize the two fundamental properties considered may help biology to consider physical phenomena from an evolutionist perspective. Indeed, the fact that every organism always originates from organisms of a matter-energy level that is immediately below their own means that we must understand the essence (Note 13) of animals through that of cells, the essence of cells through that of proteins and the essence of proteins through that of molecules. However, for the same reason we must understand the essence of molecules through that of atoms, the essence of atoms through that of the “organism” of an immediately lower level, etc. Thus, the evolutionist problem (the problem of how the higher being originated from the lower being) is approached from the biological integrative levels to the molecular integrative levels and below. Of course, biology will also have to explore, level by level, the body of knowledge and theoretical thought that will allow us to resolve each “leap” from one level to another as a sui generis problem, but this will need the guidance provided by what the contiguous leaps can teach us in general (Note 14). (It is also obvious that processes in the direction of increasing integration must extend to the whole cosmos because the opposite phenomena of increasing levelling and degradation, whose scope is undoubtedly cosmic, must be fuelled by processes that result in an increasing hierarchization and integration).
Second, conversely, the need to harmonize the fundamental property of processes and that of beings may help physics to consider biological phenomena in their continuous interaction with the environment. Let us see how. The fundamental law of processes discards the explanation of any phenomenon that is not based on the coherent evolution of the whole of which this phenomenon forms part. We must therefore admit that even the impressive phenomenon of the appearance of a new level of matter-energy integration (i.e. the emergence of a higher organism, qualitatively different from everything existing, such as the emergence of the first animal organism in the course of biological evolution or, as a reflection of that event, the emergence of each animal organism as a culmination of the process of multiplication of embryonic cells) is—and paradoxically is not—something new. Put another way, the essence of something qualitatively new (an organism) must be explained through an understanding of processes in the environment in which it is created, in all their particularities.
Preliminary comments on the process of origin of each new living being
This is not the place to engage in the study of how a new integrative level originates from the immediately lower one. (Above all because it is a subject to be studied separately in each level.) For our purposes, we must merely state the general or external aspect and the elementary or internal aspect of the emergence of a new organism, whatever its level of matter-energy integration.
The general or external aspect tells us that the emergence of organisms with a higher level of matter-energy integration than the existing ones cannot be a fortuitous, local event, but occurs as the culmination of the joint evolution of all the organisms of the immediately lower level (Note 15). Indeed, if this organism of a higher level is a physical field that results from the coordination of activities of organisms of the immediately lower integrative level, it seems obvious that from the time when these in turn emerged as something new and virgin in evolution (only explainable by the process of the previous and lower level) to the moment when they were able to give origin to the higher organism, there must have occurred several stages, in each of which they all participated: 1) the first stage, in which the lower organisms that had recently emerged multiplied until they filled their potential environment (Note 16); 2) the second stage, in which the lower organisms must have been refined by competition with each other in the dispute for a medium whose boundaries were established by the previous phase (in this very long stage, natural selection was mainly operative); 3) the third stage, in which, as a result of the refinement of relations in the previous phase, the relations of competition between some organisms became relations of association (with an advantage for the associated individuals, always within the general competition of the evolving level); and 4) the final stage, in which the refinement of these associations (by natural selection of the most effective in the competition) culminated finally in the qualitative transformation of these associations into organisms of the immediately higher level. But there is something more. As a sine qua non of existence, each type or level of organism includes in its soma, successively, organisms of all the lower levels of matter-energy integration, and extends throughout the environment colonized by the lower level (Note 17). It can therefore be said that the emergence of organisms of a new integrative level in fact means the elevation of a whole environment of reality to organize a new level of relations that sustain the new organisms and, complementarily, are established by them.
Let us note now that precisely the general stratification of all reality into successive levels of matter-energy integration is what makes it possible for organisms to gain experience, despite the unceasing movement that penetrates the entire cosmos. Indeed, 1) processes occur in constant directions from level to level (organism to organism) (Note 18); 2) organisms emerge and are maintained on the general coordination of processes produced by the general evolution of the organisms of the immediately lower integrative level (Note 19); and 3) in each place and moment of the cosmos, the processes that are coordinated there and the mode and content of experience of the organisms that emerge there are gradually and reciprocally conditioned and complexified (like the obverse and reverse of an indivisible phenomenon)(Note 20).
Finally, the emergence of each new type of organism, whatever its level of matter-energy integration (protein, cell, animal) has an elementary or internal aspect that, paradoxically, clarifies the interlocking of the various levels of the general evolution of reality and the linking of the organisms to them. But what is the nature of the roots or elements with which this higher level will be formed, before they are integrated in the higher level? It seems reasonable to put forward the following argument, supported by many facts in each of the successive leaps of level (from the molecule to the protein, from the protein to the cell, from the cell to the animal)(Note 21).
a) Our premise is, naturally, that an organism “is” precisely the joint order of activities of organisms of the immediately lower level that are integrated in the organism without losing their individuality. Knowing this, we must now consider the physical nature of the field in which this joint order is expressed, as it were, and how this field originated. The answer seems obvious: the physical field (the level of matter-energy integration) of an organism must have the nature (the integrative level) of the disturbances caused in the environment by the oscillations of the physical field that defined the organisms of the immediately lower level when these organisms had not yet been integrated into the higher level (Note 22). (For example, the animal organism has the same nature as the disturbances caused in the environment by the oscillations of the unitary physical field in which the individuality of all cells lies, and if the physical field that defines all cells were really (as we believe) an electrical field self-maintained by the emergence of ions in certain places, then its oscillations would cause a magnetic field, so the nature of the physical field that defines the animal would be a magnetic field self-maintained by the joint order of activities of several cells).
b) Such influences exerted in the environment of the oscillations of the physical field of an organism that is not integrated into a higher one (in the increasing direction of integration of biological evolution) can only be, as noted in Note 22, alterations of one of the general levels of the environment (established by cosmic evolution). These alterations are propagated over this level until they are buffered by it, with no use or meaning for biological evolution.
c) According to the foregoing, for organisms of a given level to form (necessarily on their conserved individualities) the organism of a higher level, the following event must first occur: throughout their joint evolution, these organisms must have formed (through selective advantages) very intimate associations such that individual organisms of these associations act closely, in unison and in parallel in response to frequent external stimuli, and as a result of this, the alterations caused in the environment by the oscillations of the activity of the associated organisms begin to converge in a single global alteration instead of occurring in isolation (Note 23). Of course, in principle, this joint alteration of the environment caused by the oscillations of several organisms acting in unison would be lost in the process of the level proper to this alteration (as occurred with the alterations caused by the oscillations of activity of isolated organisms), and would have no influence for biological evolution.
The first exploitation of the evolutionary event that we have discussed must have been the following: in some of these associations there are subordinate organisms that come to perceive as stimuli triggering their activity precisely the changes in the alteration of the environment that have collectively been caused by these subordinate organisms and other organisms that tend to act synchronously. Let us reflect a moment on what this capacity means with regard to the selective advantages that could introduce it and refine it, and to the circumstances that made it possible.
When an organism associated with another acquires this capacity, it means that it perceives the integrated activity of organisms of the same level and that it uses this perception as a stimulus triggering its own activity. In other words, the organism has acquired a capacity to perceive a type of stimulus that no organism had acquired before. Thus, these organisms reach the very threshold—but without yet crossing it—of elevating reality to a new level of matter-energy integration (it should not be forgotten that this elevation requires the simultaneous transformation of the organisms and a medium) (Note 24). Only when these stimuli come to be established and to interrelate regularly, as a consequence of a further evolution of the organisms, will these organisms have been elevated to integrate on themselves organisms of a new level of matter-energy integration, and the stimuli will have come to constitute the medium that these organisms need and constitute. We will deal with this subject in the following section.
What selective advantages could have been offered by this new capacity to perceive the activity of organisms of the same level as a stimulus triggering its activity? It seems clear that the capacity can only be acquired by intimately associated organisms cooperating closely; for these organisms the selective advantage in favour of cooperation is obvious. In a mere association (for example that of cells in a plant) the stimuli of the associated organisms come mainly from other associated organisms. Thus, in the course of evolution, effects of the activity of some organisms acquire the meaning of special stimuli that determine the activity of others to the general benefit. But for two associated organisms to coordinate their general activities so that they follow each other, the following is required: a stimulus (Note 25) must affect one of them; this stimulus must affect its general activity; this general activity must trigger in the organism a special response that acts as a stimulus for the other associated organism; and this stimulus must affect the activity of this second organism. Similarly, for two associated organisms to coordinate their general activities so that they are simultaneous, the following must happen: both organisms must be affected at the same time by equal stimuli; these stimuli must affect both organisms in the same way and synchronously until their joint activity is triggered; and this joint activity must trigger an equal response in both organisms simultaneously. The sequence of activities in the first case and the synchronicity of activities in the second may occur within a satisfactory time margin. However, it seems clear that in both cases the coordination can be much more precise when both organisms have acquired the capacity to directly perceive the oscillations of the general activity of the other and to take them as a stimulus for their own general activity; in that case, the perception of a common stimulus by one of them would be sufficient to almost simultaneously trigger the coordinated activities in both.
We have yet to indicate the circumstances which made it possible for an organism to acquire such an attitude. As always, it seems to be the culmination of a progressive refinement of the interiority of the associated organism that acquires it and of the internal medium that the association provides for it. Naturally, how these two refinements were introduced gradually and reciprocally in the phylogeny and in the ontogeny is a different problem for each level of organism. However, in all cases it is obvious that the association must have been refined by natural selection of variants that were better suited to survive until they reproduced, and that this refinement involves the selection of the variants that are better able to establish and preserve suitable internal media for the organisms that make up the association. Thus, an association is refined because the associated organisms specialize in complementary functions so as to permit the maximum utilization of the external medium and the desirable stability and diversification of the internal media that the association constitutes for the associated organisms. However, both the better exploitation of the external medium by the association and the adjustment and increasing stability of the internal media only occur in an association through the refinement of the capacity of the associated organisms to respond suitably to increasingly fine stimuli (and thus to use more effectively the general medium and cooperate more closely with each other).
However, this refinement of the organisms means, in turn, stabilization and diversification of the medium, and thus, the possibility that, in this more stabilized medium, successively finer environmental alterations will begin to act as stimuli and, thus, that associated organisms with increasing capacity to perceive them and exploit them will be selected. Finally, as an asymptote of this gradual and reciprocal refinement of the media and the organisms, some of the latter end up perceiving as stimuli the finest environmental alterations that their nature allows them to perceive; i.e. they begin to respond to the interference caused to the environmental effects of their own activity by the effects of the activity of other organisms of the association linked with the greatest intimacy (Note 26).
The following specification will complete the understanding of how the alteration can act as a stimulus (how it can retrocede, how it can be perceived). The self-maintained and circumscribed physical field that defines an organism is continuously subject to small oscillations, in virtue of which the dynamic balance which distinguishes it is maintained (Note 27). As we know, these oscillations of the physical field that define an organism cause in the environment the disturbance of the level of matter-energy integration immediately below that of the organism. (Let us state in passing that this lower level is that of the gap separating the circumscribed physical field that constitutes the organism from the general physical field [of the environment] of the same nature: this gap links the organism to the environment as something that is at once different and dependent).
However, the physical field that defines an organism is also often subjected to more intense oscillations that depend on the field and are caused by a certain coordination of activities of the subordinate organisms which, in turn, respond to a stimulus constituted by an order of information that only the higher organism itself can integrate on the activity of the lower levels.
It seems that the two types of oscillation must have the three following relationships, which explain why the second type of oscillation caused by an organism can act directly as a stimulus for another closely associated organism of the same level: 1) the two classes of oscillation must have the same physical nature because they are alterations of the same field; 2) they must both depend, first, on variations in the matter-energy coordination from which the organism in question emerges and, second, on variations in the general physical field of the same integrative level as the oscillations of the organism (as we have stated, this level is obviously the immediate perimeter of the organism); and 3) the oscillations of the first class, although of the same nature, must be much less extensive and intense than those of the second class (Note 28). We thus have a rigorous explanation for the fact that the alterations of the second class can interfere with those of the first class produced by another organism of the same level and the fact that this interference is distinguished by its intensity by all the others of its nature that come from the environment, so it can also objectively be an unequivocal sign of an event with a potential value for the receptor organism.
e) We therefore have organisms of the same type (until this moment the maximum integrative level achieved in the evolution of the biosphere) associated by their recently acquired capacity to perceive the alterations of the environment caused by other associated organisms as a stimulus triggering their own action. These organisms (whose synchronicity of action, through an advantage for associated individuals and for the association, has led to the reciprocal refinement of the individuals and the association up to this eminent achievement) have reached the very threshold of constituting on their individualities the organism of the immediately higher matter-energy level (i.e. endergonic molecules constituting the protein; proteins constituting the cell; and cells constituting the animal). But though they are in a suitable condition to cross the threshold, it is obvious that they have not yet done so.
Indeed, now we have organisms whose action is determined by stimuli that are direct alterations caused in a general level of the environment by the action of organisms of the same type, in order to coordinate actions with increasing benefit for the associated organisms. In view of the nature of an organism, for an organism of a higher level of matter-energy integration to emerge on the joint order of the previous ones (for the “association” to be transformed into an “organism”), the following conditions must be met: a) the alteration of a general field of an environment (which services as a stimulus linking the activities of associated organisms) must separate from the rest of this general field and become an individual, a circumscribed field; and b) these individuals must be sustained by a medium that has emerged with them (of course, this medium emerges without form, virgin of evolution) and, complementarily and reciprocally (with the new organisms), this medium will be refined over a new stage of biological evolution, in which the whole biosphere will be gradually elevated to a higher level of matter-energy integration (Note 29).
According to the above, the basic problem of biology regarding the origin and nature of living beings can be approached in the following, more specific terms: How can we verify the fact that the alteration of a general field of the environment (an alteration that services as a stimulus linking the activities of associated organisms) is transformed into a stable, self-maintained circumscribed field—in a word, into an organism of a higher level than that of the associated organisms? What general quality of reality does this transformation seem to imply? What does it involve? What does it mean? Let us see what we can glimpse of these essential questions from the viewpoints that we have reached.
First of all, it seems clear that a) the alteration must break the coherence of the altered level and b) the break must be maintained. Let us examine these two conditions. With regard to the first, it is sufficient to consider that, in the reality subjected to a single process of coherent evolution, the break in the coherence of the altered level caused by the alteration seems to place both the break and the alteration on the same level; as in the lower level, the alteration involves the incorporation or suppression of the immediately lower integrative level, and the break involves the establishment of a discontinuity that always, in stratification, has an immediately lower integrative level than that of the altered organism (perhaps all alterations of level always involve compensatory discontinuities).
The question is, then, one of the (to some extent simultaneous) maintenance of the discontinuity and the alteration: i.e. how a more or less stable point of potential energy (a more or less permanent origin) is established in this general level which was until now limited to being altered ephemerally by the oscillations in activity of the organisms.
As I achieve a careful consideration of the facts and manage to interpret them, I am inclined to think that the establishment of this circumscribed field requires it to have an internal or intrinsic quality and an external or extrinsic quality. However, as this extrinsic quality is merely an intrinsic quality of the circumscribed fields that define the subordinate organisms, it can be said that these intrinsic and extrinsic qualities necessary for a new circumscribed field to be established are the same quality on successive levels of matter-energy integration. This quality can be expressed as the greater or lesser tendency shown by all circumscribed fields, when they appear, to maintain themselves as they are (or to conserve their own individuality) (Note 30). For an organism (i.e. a circumscribed physical field with the capacity to maintain itself indefinitely, through the coordination of activities of organisms of the immediately lower level) to appear, it seems that the progress of biological evolution must establish conditions that first support and then progressively strengthen both tendencies towards self-maintenance of the individuality of the circumscribed fields of two successive levels.
How can this strengthening come to take place? It seems that the first event must have been the establishment of a permanent circumscribed field by the activity of the lower organisms. Some of the following effects may have contributed to this event (perhaps all of them, because they all offer selective advantages for the cooperation of the merely associated organisms to be more effective): 1) the alteration caused by the joint action of the lower organisms had a regularity, breadth, intensity and mode of originating such that the circumscribed field into which it is translated has a special stability (a greater resistance to disappearing) (Note 31); 2) the number of lower organisms “intimately” associated as stated above increases (Note 32), thus prolonging the persistence of the alteration, particularly if some of the organisms thus associated specialize in responding at different rates (offering the additional advantage that the collective response of the association—which is still no more than the sum of the individual responses of the organisms that are “intimately associated”—persists for much longer than each response of the associated organisms can be maintained); (Note 33); and 3) the “intimately” associated lower organisms also specialize in initiating the activity (which will later act as the stimulus of other “intimately” associated organisms) through varied regular stimuli, thereby increasing the frequency with which the alteration is initiated (the frequency with which the circumscribed field is produced) (Note 34).
It is logical for these three tendencies (towards increasing stability of the circumscribed field, initially very ephemeral; towards the prolongation, in stages, of the cause that gives rise to the field; and towards increasing frequency with which the field is initiated) to culminate in the circumscribed field becoming first almost permanent and finally permanent. At this point, there exist the objective conditions that allow and force the brusque transformation of the circumscribed field into an organism of a level of matter-energy integration immediately higher than that of the associated organisms (in other words, the transformation of the association of organisms of one level into the soma of an organism of a higher level). In the following section we will see how this essential qualitative transformation occurs and what it means.
The new organism and its corresponding medium in relation to the lower organism from which it has arisen, and the medium of the lower organism.
Summarizing the above, the organisms that are “intimately” associated are organisms of an association that have come to perceive the change from inactivity to activity of organisms of the same level (co-associated organisms) and to initiate their own activity in a (to some extent mimetic) response to this stimulus. Therefore, the new stimulus has a different nature to the full range of stimuli to which the organisms of the level of associated organisms normally respond. However, it is also clear that this stimulus of a new nature was initially limited to refining, as stated above, a concertation of the activities of various organisms of an association, and that this concertation had been previously established in response to own stimuli of the organisms of the level of the associated organisms. In short, initially, the stimulus of a new type was merely the sign of a normal prior stimulus, and the ability to perceive it (in which the joint action of the organisms of a level culminated) merely refined an existing cooperation between these associated organisms.
When this new stimulus was transformed from an ephemeral circumscribed field into a permanent circumscribed field (as the culmination of the process studied in the previous section), a permanent being appeared with the immediately higher level of matter-energy integration than that of the organisms whose coordinated activities gave rise to it. We have yet to consider how the permanent circumscribed field could acquire all the essential characteristics of a living being (establishing a peculiar medium of its own and progressing complementarily with it; having a mode of action and experience) and the qualities that must be postulated in the circumscribed physical fields, both the recently created one and those that define the “intimately” associated organisms, whose coordinated activity gave rise to the new permanent circumscribed field. We will dedicate the present section to examining this question and reserve the next and last section for interpreting the experience and action as essential characteristics of living beings.
1) When the circumscribed field becomes permanent, it is obvious that it must lose the function (which it had when it was ephemeral) of acting as the stimulus signalling the arrival of the normal stimuli to the bundle of “intimately” associated organisms. However, it is clear that each time that permanent circumscribed fields have emerged with a higher level of matter-energy integration than the previous ones (the protein, the cell, the animal), these fields have ended up occupying the whole biosphere.
Therefore, the possession of a permanent circumscribed field must offer an extraordinary potential selective advantage for associations that have come to acquire it. This essential selective advantage can only be that the permanent circumscribed field becomes the origin or potential location for new stimuli, which it coordinates in a way that was previously impossible, and it thus lays the bases for the associated organisms to coordinate their activities with an essentially greater efficacy.
2) The physical nature of the stimuli that emanate from the permanent circumscribed field towards the “intimately” associated organisms that establish it cannot differ from the nature of the circumscribed field itself (Note 35). These new stimuli must therefore be ephemeral, partial alterations within the circumscribed field, of the same nature as this field, and they must not break its space-time coherence. (They must be ephemeral sub-circumscribed fields that self-compensate, within the permanent circumscribed field, without the latter losing its continuity which, as we are going to see, has become essential for the association of subordinate organisms).
3) Of course, given their nature and origin, these changes in internal state that occur in the permanent circumscribed field can only be signals for the “intimately” associated organisms of the activity of others. It seems as if all of the “intimately” associated organisms establish and maintain the permanent circumscribed field and then various groups of these “intimately” associated organisms “modulate” it, causing in it, through their action, partial and ephemeral alterations that can be perceived by, and become, stimuli for the action of other groups of these “intimately” associated organisms (Note 36).
In conclusion, the permanent circumscribed field provides the “intimately” associated organisms with the possibility of engaging in activity in response to stimuli of a new type that correspond to different concordances of activity of all the organisms.
4) We have reached the crucial point of the origin of a new type of organism; to analyse this origin with some benefit, we must remember where we started from.
It must be taken into account that, before the permanent circumscribed field originated, the association as such was not a living being (although it maintained itself and even reproduced) but a mere result of the mode of life of the organisms that formed it. This means a) that the stimuli operating until now were only stimuli of the medium of this level of subordinate organisms (stimuli that are proper to it and had been established in the previous stage of biological evolution, then in its final phase); and b) that the activities of these associated organisms consisted in their responses to adapt individually to this medium (Note 37). With the appearance of the permanent circumscribed field, there occurs a noteworthy inversion of the “intimately” associated organisms that give rise to the field: as we have seen, these organisms use as stimuli for their action not the previous stimuli but the coordination of their own actions.
As, of course, nothing can maintain itself by constituting a closed cycle (Note 38) (something magically separated from the environment), the foregoing means that the “intimately” associated organisms, along with their permanent circumscribed field linking them as a whole, form a unitary set interposed between, on the one hand, the stimulation of the remaining associated organisms faced directly with the old stimuli of their genuine medium and, on the other hand, a response of these organisms in accordance with this stimulation.
Thus, this intercalation seems to establish a succession of stimuli and responses:
I Stimuli exerted by the medium of the associated organisms (internal and external environments). Associated organisms.
II Responses of the associated organisms, of which some will cause stimuli for the “intimately” associated organisms. “Intimately” associated organisms linked unitarily to each other by the permanent circumscribed field.
III A coordinated response of the “intimately” associated organisms that will cause stimuli for the associated organisms. Associated organisms.
IV A response to the external medium.
In short, the establishment by the association of a new matter-energy level (the permanent circumscribed field) involves a complexification in the chain of stimuli and responses of the association. This fact means that a new organism has arisen on the previous ones and therefore a) the stimuli and responses (the medium) of the subordinate organisms must be conserved and b) a new system of stimuli and responses must originate: the new medium consistent with the recently emerged organism.
5) The process of origin of the new organism (the fact that it has emerged as a culmination of the general evolution of the subordinate organisms) leads us to the deduction that, complementarily, its medium has emerged as a culmination of the evolution of the medium of the subordinate organisms. This development is manifested in the following:
a) Through the evolutionary process (in which the new organism emerges as a coordination of the activity of the lower ones), the stimuli of the new organism must influence it through the mediation of the organisms of the lower level and never directly (Note 39). The medium of the new organism must therefore consist essentially of the same stimuli as those of the previous medium but coordinated in a new way and with the addition of a few more stimuli (Note 40).
b) The stimuli that thus act on the organisms of the lower level must have the necessary richness and regularity to keep the lower organisms alive and the necessary degree of firmness and perception of variations in their medium and of mutual adjustment to culminate in the establishment, on the association, of the permanent circumscribed field. Thus, the new organisms are inserted in a new medium that, in turn, is configured by them; and this fact occurs through the increasing protection of the previous medium—and the consequent protection of the subordinate organisms—in the soma of the higher organism that has recently emerged.
c) Conserving the lower organism and its medium is the condition sine qua non for the conservation and refinement of the higher organism and its medium. However, as is clearly expressed in the chain of stimuli and responses presented above, the general evolution of the biosphere is determined by the complementary and reciprocal progress of the higher organism and of its medium (Note 41), i.e. the progress of the higher organism explains and accounts for the evolution of the lower organism and its medium, and not vice versa (Note 42).
6) Taking into account the above evolutionary concepts, it is easy to understand the stimuli and responses operating in the respective media of the subordinate organisms and the higher organism.
a) The stimuli from the external medium are signs of the medium of the higher organism. First of all, how was this medium of the higher organism produced? Simply, the emergence of the medium of the higher organism marks the culmination of a gradual change that the progress of the association of the subordinate organisms progressively caused in the medium of the subordinate organisms. For the associated organisms the association bounds an area that is differentiated from their general medium; with the progress of the association, this exclusive medium of associated organisms becomes increasingly independent from the general medium, but without differentiating itself qualitatively (it is still the same, although its oscillations are more buffered and compensated internally). The discordance in this process was the lack of communication between the exclusive medium and the general medium. The lack of communication establishes a qualitative difference between the internal and external media. The internal medium, which marked the culmination of the previous exclusive medium of the associated organisms, is the genuine medium of the subordinate organisms, and will continue to develop complementarily with them, as will be explained below. The external medium becomes the medium of the higher organism, which we have identified with the permanent circumscribed field that recently emerged (Note 43). However, it is obvious that the foregoing is an oversimplification, because the higher organism can only orient itself increasingly well in its genuine medium thanks to its growing capacity to maintain an internal medium that allows an increasingly complex interaction of the subordinate organisms (an interaction from which the higher organism emerges).
b) It is sufficient to examine the responses of the subordinate organisms to discover what the simplification consists of. In the subordinate organisms that they affect, the stimuli of the internal medium trigger responses of two classes: responses through which the organisms use the stimulus to maintain their individuality; and responses that do not benefit them directly and are meaningless if considered in terms of the subordinate organisms in isolation. The stimuli of the internal medium that trigger responses of this second class are stimuli of the medium of the higher organism and are of the same nature as the stimuli of the external medium. It is therefore clear that the medium of the higher organism extends to the internal medium (in the internal medium the medium of the higher organism is being built on the medium of the lower organism). This fact is profoundly in agreement with the idea of considering the soma as the environment of the higher organism (i.e. with the idea of restricting the individuality of the organism to the permanent circumscribed field) (Note 44). It is also profoundly in agreement with the idea that evolution is a general, reciprocal and harmonious change of beings and media, in which the emergence of an organism of a new level means that, around it, the coordination of the process of all reality has also been raised to a new level (Note 45).
c) What do these stimuli of the internal environment and the external environment that act on the higher organism consist of? First of all, they must all obviously have two qualities: they must be caused by joint responses of many subordinate organisms that are directly linked to the “intimately” associated organisms and are therefore in the permanent circumscribed field; and they must also cause a response (through the mediation of the permanent circumscribed field) in the “intimately” associated organisms consisting of a coordination of their activities that, in turn, causes a range of responses in many subordinate organisms, whose integrated outcome is the appropriate one for the organism in response to the stimulus in question (Note 46). To understand what these stimuli are and how they have been established, let us consider successively the internal environment and the external environment.
Of the many stimuli of the internal environment (which all, by definition, act on subordinate organisms), obviously, only some will have been selected to act in the above way. The selected ones will objectively signify the general state of the environment in one variable or another of great value for survival, initially for the association and later for the higher organism (and, hence, for the subordinate organisms). Furthermore, a general response will have been established for these selected ones in the course of evolution, first a response of the association and later one of the higher organism.
Among the great variety of stimuli that coordinate the activities of the subordinate organisms that progressively specialize within an association, this dual property must be possessed by those that must operate on a special type of subordinate organisms: namely, the subordinate organisms that initiate the ramp leading towards the higher organism (i.e. those that are in the very anteroom of the subordinate organisms associated so “intimately”, which learn first to react to ephemeral circumscribed fields and then to maintain and modulate the permanent circumscribed field through their concertation of activities)(Note 47). It is also clear that the complexity of the internal environment and the variety of internal and external influences that modify it makes it impossible for there to exist a type of stimulus that is able on its own to account for the general state of the environment. The general state of the internal and external environment for the higher organism will only result from the coordination of a series of stimuli (all significant) to determine the appropriate response of this organism (Note 48).
Before analysing these stimuli in the internal and external environment of the higher organism, it should be taken into account that, given the unitary nature and essential coherence of the permanent circumscribed field, none of these stimuli that will influence this field (i.e. the higher organism) can do so discretely or absolutely; in fact, the internal coherence of the permanent circumscribed field makes it in every moment perform a single action (a single field of force lines of the same nature), an action determined by the coordination of the effects exerted on the environment by the activity at each moment of all “intimately” associated subordinate organisms (the circumscribed field results from, and is maintained through, this coordination). Thus, with all the qualitatively different stimuli acting on countless subordinate organisms, a unitary stimulus is composed that acts on the higher organism. This conclusion is valid for every organism, whatever its level of matter-energy integration; it therefore also applies to the subordinate organism, which thus also responds to a unitary stimulus composed of the various stimuli that act on organisms that are in turn subordinate to it. This way of composing the stimuli shows the nature of the medium of each organism and the evolution of the media in terms of the organisms and vice versa.
Thus, an initial induction seems to emerge. In the constitution of the complex stimulus operating on the permanent circumscribed field that defines a given organism, all the stimuli that are significant for the subordinate organisms must necessarily be integrated (directly or indirectly). Furthermore, the one integrated response to the stimulus that emanates from the permanent circumscribed field must be such that it allows the subordinate organisms to give to their stimuli the responses that keep them alive. How can this occur? This is the problem of the coordination of processes of different levels.
Taking into account what has been stated in the long digression above, let us consider the internal environment of a given organism. The internal environment, as we have seen, is both (1) an important sector of the receptor system of components of the stimulus of the higher organism and (2) the set of all the environments of the subordinate organisms within the higher soma. All these various particular environments of the subordinate organisms must have two qualities in order to (1) sustain the corresponding subordinate organism and (2) contribute to the receptor system of the components of the stimulus of the higher organism. These qualities are (1) possessing all the variables necessary to keep the corresponding subordinate organisms alive and healthy without disturbing, through their oscillations, the circumscribed field that defines these subordinate organisms; and (2) possessing a number of variables, to each of which one of the types of subordinate organisms living in the environment is specialized in responding with a joint action. Needless to say, the variables of type 1 are very numerous (because the subordinate organism is formed by sub-subordinate organisms that receive many partial stimuli). The necessary condition for the effects caused continuously on any subordinate organisms to be integrated with the effect caused in the subordinate organism by the type 2 variable in which the subordinate organism is specialized (so that this effect can act as a significant component of the stimulus of the higher organism) is that the oscillations of the type 1 variables must be well buffered to an optimum level in this internal environment.
Of course, the possibility of an internal environment of well-stabilized type 1 variables being established depends, reciprocally, on the differentiation and coordination of functions that have been established (in the course of the evolution of the association and then of the higher organism) between the subordinate organisms. (This differentiation, in turn, provides the basis for the differentiation of internal environments within the soma of the higher organism.) It can considered to constitute a line of progress established by the mutual conditioning among quanta of refinement of specialization and mutual adjustment of the organisms that live in this environment.
Let us now consider something of great interest for our order of ideas. The specialization of an organism does not mean a decrease in its internal complexity: this complexity (imposed by the evolutionary history from which the organisms of its level emerged) is inherent to it because it depends on the complex needs of the subordinate organisms of which it is composed. Therefore, the specialization of an organism does not mean a reduction in the complexity of its linkages to the environment, nor, therefore, does it mean a reduction in the complexity of the effects of the subordinate organisms with which the unitary stimulus operating on its permanent circumscribed field is integrated. The specialization only means that the linkages of the organism to the subordinate organisms and the linkages of the subordinate organisms to the environment have become so strong and regular, owing to the stability of the environment, that the higher organism can respond to a certain variable stimulus acting on a certain subordinate organism. Of course, the effect that this stimulus has on the permanent circumscribed field that defines the higher organism is integrated with the remaining effects, a sort of slightly oscillating background for the effect of the stimulus that is the object of the specialization (Note 49).
In short, the internal space delimited by the surface of the soma of an organism is constituted by a more or less numerous set of different areas, each of which 1) is constantly maintained by the coordination of activities of subordinate organisms, and 2) depends, in turn, on the coordination of all organisms by the joint activity of the soma. This joint activity (which is, after all, coordination of activities of subordinate organisms) must be determined at each moment by a unitary stimulus which contains some note of the state of each particular environment in function of the remaining ones. Each particular environment must provide all the necessary stimuli to maintain each subordinate organism and it must select a number of these stimuli that signify alterations in the environments, which can be corrected by the joint action of the higher organism. As the same applies to all the somas of the subordinate organisms (and to the somas of the subordinate organisms of the previous ones, etc.), we reach the following conclusions on the internal environment delimited by the surface of an organism’s soma: 1) this environment is composed of a set of environments of subordinate organisms whose somas are, in turn, composed of other sets of environments (sub-environments) of the organisms of the immediately lower level, etc., up to a level of complexity that corresponds to that established by the cosmic evolution of the Earth (the molecular level, whose evolution culminated in the primitive sea in equilibrium with the atmosphere); 2) each environment thus involves the persistence, in sub-environments of the successive levels, of all the stimuli of the subordinate organisms of the successive decreasing levels of integration; 3) from the stimuli of the environment affecting the organisms of a given level, certain ones that cause the integrated response of specialized subordinate organisms have been selected through the progressive stabilization of the corresponding environments. The effect of this response is integrated with that of other similar responses to jointly constitute the internal component of the process stimulating the higher organism. Thus, an organism appears as a result of the joint evolution (established in the phylogeny and ontogeny) of organisms of the successive levels and the environments that sustain them (Note 50).
d) The above statements with respect to the internal environment of an organism enable us to understand the nature of the stimuli and of the environment that is external to an isolated organism, and how this external environment is transformed into medium (i.e. how it is organized by the recently emerged organism). Indeed, it is first obvious that, because of the individuality of each organism, the stimuli of the external environment that acted on the soma of a recently emerged organism had to be initially similar to those that acted from the internal environment. In particular, 1) they must have acted on subordinate organisms and the latter must have triggered a response whose effect must have been integrated in the stimulating, unitary process of the higher organism; 2) triggering this response requires the environment of the subordinate organism receiving the stimulus to be stable, and to this end, this organism must live in a stabilized internal environment, which must be influenced by the external stimulus; and 3) external stimuli would already be operating on the association from which the higher organism emerged, because this emergence means that the medium had reached a state that required a suitable normal response through a direct coordination of the activities of subordinate organisms.
How will the appearance of the permanent circumscribed field gradually transform the external environment in which the association is located into the medium of the higher organism? We have seen that the transformation of the association into the soma of an organism involves, in the internal environment, the organization of all the matter-energy processes of the organisms and media of the lower level up to one more integrative level; all previous levels continue, and with them there is organized a new, higher one, whose focal point (which results from and accounts for the joint process) is the permanent circumscribed field. However, outside the limiting surface of the association (and, therefore, in the moment when the new organism emerges from it) there was the external environment, whose level of matter-energy integration does not exceed the general maximum level of the biosphere, i.e. it is explicable as a result of the general evolution of the cosmos on Earth. This general environment is until this moment not influenced (or only local and ephemerally influenced) by the associations of subordinate organisms that live in it. Of course, the degree of organization that this external environment achieved in cosmic evolution is the assumption and the basis necessary for, first, these associations and, later, the organisms that emerge on them to have emerged and to maintain themselves in equilibrium with this environment. Let us see how this emergence (the appearance of the permanent circumscribed field) influences the relations between the association and the medium.
Let us consider first the centripetal direction and influences. The incident stimuli will change meaning and can integrate on them (specifically, on the effects of the responses that they trigger in subordinate receptor organisms) the external stimulus that guides the joint action of the higher organism. It seems obvious that all the joint action of the association in response to variations in the external environment must necessarily become guided by the complex unitary stimulus once the joint action in response to the internal environment is guided by it (because otherwise there would be a disharmony between the internal and external activity that is incompatible with the individuality of the organism and with the coordination of all the somatic processes towards it) (Note 51).
Just as the integration of the internal component of its stimulus provides the higher organism, from its very emergence, with information from the internal environment that is different (i.e. has a higher degree of integration) from that which operated and will continue to operate on the subordinate organisms, in the same way the integration of the external component of its stimulus provides the higher organism with information received from the external environment of the same higher degree of integration. In fact, the following can be said:
1) Both the internal and the external components are merged in a single unitary stimulus that constitutes the only afferent link of the organism to the internal and external environment.
2) Therefore, this stimulus (i.e. this stimulating process) has the same nature as the permanent circumscribed field; the stimulus is a process that continuously converges from the whole environment—channelled in the activity of subordinate organisms—to maintain and modulate the organism.
3) The response that in the efferent direction emerges from the permanent circumscribed field has the same nature as the stimulus of the organism and as the organism itself; the stimulus starts in the permanent circumscribed field as a complex unitary process and, on separating, it becomes diversified and causes simultaneously a progressively more complex joint order of subordinate organisms that, in turn, end up modifying the internal environment and adapting the soma to the external environment; of course, this response could not be composed by the subordinate organisms if they were merely associated, and the degree of integration of the response corresponds to the degree of integration of the stimulus.
4) It should be specified that the unitary nature of the organism (its nature as a physical field) means that existence and activity are confused in it (it is in perpetual origin from the stimulating process to the response process).
The response is, like the stimulus, unitary and inseparable on the internal and external sides; it tends to adjust the internal environment but cannot do so without at the same time performing actions of varying complexity on the external environment. And the internal components of the stimulus and the action have the same integrative level and are inseparable from the external components. Taking the foregoing into account, let us, however, turn our attention back to the evolution of the relationship with the internal environment.
A few pages back we pointed out that in the moment when the first organisms of a new integrative level emerges, the external environment is not influenced by this level (or by the subordinate organisms, which do, however, influence the internal environments) (Note 52). The appearance of the permanent circumscribed field allows it to integrate in a stimulus various variables of the general environment that are correlated in some regular way (and that separately already had the meaning of a stimulus for the subordinate organisms), provided that, furthermore, the information of a higher integrative level that is thus achieved allows an appropriate response to be obtained from the same integrative level as the stimulus. Needless to say, this new reaction with the environment initiates a peculiar medium: it adapts the higher organism to the environment through a combination of variables that constitutes its own peculiar medium, while it is unaware of the isolated variables that, in contrast, act as a stimulus on the subordinate organisms (in the internal environment of the higher organism). The reaction is thus elevated to a new order of environmental alterations that are more elementary, primitive and general, but in theory it does not influence them.
Things change when the organisms of a new integrative level, having emerged, reproduce until they fill the biosphere at the expense of the mere associations and the independent subordinate organisms. The new permanent circumscribed fields in which various combinations of the same variables converge and from which they depart must necessarily converge. Their community of origin and constitution will subject them to the same process of coherent evolution; because they constitute the multiple modes of the same processes of stimulation exerted by the environment and of reaction to it, they are potentially perceptible to each other and are objects of reciprocal activity.
When they have filled the biosphere, and when the main form of the selective advantages becomes adapting in multiple ways to the reciprocal perception and action, the higher organisms come to constitute the media of each other; they refine their mutual adjustments (of exploitation of residues, predation, parasitism, symbiosis and association) and thus come to organize the general environment, to modify it complementarily and gradually with their own modification (Note 53), to convert it into a genuine medium.
We thus see that each organism of a new level of complexity fundamentally initiates a new state in the evolution of the biosphere by converting the stimuli and the responses that act on subordinate organisms into unitary stimuli and responses, respectively, of a new type (Note 54). This creates in the reality a new order of links that allows (and requires) the fabric of the old ones to be maintained. Needless to say, the environment of the biosphere is elevated to a higher level of organization due to new links, because the natural processes of all types that operated previously as stimuli (whatever their physical nature physics, and therefore whatever the internal level of the subordinate organism that they affect) end up causing a modification in the joint activity of subordinate organisms, and this modification therefore always has the same physical nature and has come to converge in the permanent circumscribed field that defines the higher organisms. Now, this radically new capacity acquired (as the culmination of an intelligible evolutionary process) by some subordinate organisms (the ones that we have called “intimately” associated) allows some subordinate organisms to come to perceive stimuli of the general environment that also have the same physical nature as the effect of their own action on the environment. Hence, a new type of stimulus is added to the complex stimulus that guides the higher organism, along with the stimuli that were previously operating (we repeat that all of them initially acted from the subordinate organisms). The new elementary stimuli (which are in accordance with the nature of the physical field that defines the organisms of the growing integrative level, which corresponds, conversely, with a more elementary and general physical level of the environment (Note 24)) link the new organisms to each other by more extensive (distant), subtle and general linkages.
In the first section of this article, we postulated that organisms are distinguished from other beings by their capacity for experience and action. They are defined essentially by a charge of potential energy through which they permanently exercise actions that allow them to maintain their individuality against the constant variations in the environment in which they find themselves. Their individuality lies precisely in this charge of potential energy (which we have called the permanent circumscribed field) that is maintained within a given matter-energy level of the Earth’s environment (more specifically, of the environment of the Earth’s biosphere (Note 55). By the second law of thermodynamics, these permanent circumscribed fields tend continually to disappear, becoming mixed with the corresponding general physical field; furthermore, persistence is essential for reconstruction. For all these reasons, organisms, thus defined in their essential individuality, are continuously maintained by a dynamic equilibrium between disappearance and reconstruction.
On the basis of this definition of organisms as permanent physical fields capable of action and experience, the fundamental property of all organisms came to be considered as resistance to disappearing as a coherent whole and the ability to achieve this by maintaining the joint order of activities of the physical fields that define the organisms subordinated to them. Moreover, the identical nature of the circumscribed field that defines the various types of organism (protein, cell and animal) and the corresponding types of physical field forces us to consider this general property of living beings according to the general property of processes (namely, that an obligatory and often constant course is imposed on all processes by their general coordination). Accordingly, the nuclei of individuality oppose each other and result from the evolutionary course of the reality in their environment. From this evolutionist approach, we have attempted to induce (with the support of facts and general biological laws) the following: the process of origin of each new level of organism in function of the nature and evolution of the environment in which it is located; and the relationship between the new organism—and its medium in relation to the lower organism from which it emerged and on which it depends—and the medium of this subordinate organism.
As a conclusion to this whole exposition, let us return to our initial approach to make a few comments regarding the capacity of experience and action as an essential characteristic of living beings.
1. Above all, it is clear that the higher organism is linked to the environmental processes (and links them together) in a different way to the subordinate organisms (its stimulating process and its process of reaction on the environment are of a different nature). Therefore, the organisms of a given integrative level (the proteins, the cell and the animal (Note 56) receive information and perform an action that are qualitatively different from those corresponding to the organisms of the remaining levels. We can say that their mode of action and experience are characteristic.
2. Although the organisms of a given level are linked to the environment through a different type of link from that corresponding to the organisms of the other levels, the emergence of the higher organism means that the environment as a whole (the biosphere) is now connected more closely and is richer in links. Indeed, the appearance and maintenance of the organisms of a level requires the persistence of organisms of each of the lower levels, with the high degree of joint evolution that allows the elevation to the immediately higher level and the consequent coherence of the medium that that involves.
3. The organism of a given integrative level can be defined essentially by its mode of information and action. Indeed, the permanent circumscribed field that defines an organism has the same physical nature as the stimulating process and as the effector process whose interaction continuously results in the organism. And it would be incomprehensible for it to have been otherwise.
4. The process of stimulation of an organism and the process of action that the organism performs (and therefore the organism itself) are merged with effects of the coordination of actions of subordinate organisms. (We say “with effects of the coordination of actions” and not simply “with the coordination of actions” to indicate the change of quality implied by the leap of the organisms of a given level to the organism of a higher level of matter-energy integration).
5. If an organism is identified with its action, and if its origin and nature are identified with effects of the subordinate organisms, it can be said that a) the action of an organism is equivalent to its self-maintenance and b) in turn, this self-maintenance is equivalent to the maintenance of activities of the subordinate organisms whose coordination of effects give results in the organism.
As the foregoing is applied in the same way to the subordinate organisms (the organisms of any level), we have that (against the false notion that can be imposed by the consideration of the somas) organisms are pure dynamism (process) in a becalmed state, supported by pure dynamism (process) in a becalmed state on another integrative level, and all of this is supported by the joint order of directed processes established by cosmic evolution on Earth.
6. The fact that an organism is pure process means that it is a unitary physical field (of a given level of matter-energy integration) capable at each moment of modulating a single response to the integrated stimulus that constantly reaches it.
The coordination of actions of subordinate organisms, whose effect is the maintenance of an organism, and the coordination of actions of subordinate organisms, whose effect is their stimulation, are merged in a single effect: the permanent circumscribed field that is altered to varying degrees and in one way or another by the stimulus. Needless to say, the component that conserves the organism (which ultimately consists of the stability of the environments of the subordinate organisms) must be stronger at all times than the component that stimulates the permanent circumscribed field, which is the basis of the experience and action of the organism (and which ultimately consists of regular variations (Note 57) of the internal and external environments that operate coherently on the subordinate organisms). This is established by biological evolution (the adjustment of ontogenic and phylogenic processes) within the evolution of the Universe.
7. If the permanent circumscribed field (the organism) is only action, the experience culminating in the action that adapts the organism to a variation in the medium must also be only action. As stated above, the organism emerges as action that self-maintains it, as a consequence and as a cause of a linking of effects of actions of subordinate organisms dependent on regular variations of the medium (it is a unitary action confronted with general evolution).
8. Experience is action, but it is something more: we could say that it is action in nascent state (action directly linked to cosmic evolution in a given space-time environment and explainable by this evolution). In the remaining conclusions we will therefore try to explain the experience as the essential quality of living beings and living beings as the source of process.
First of all, each (independent) higher organism in a given environment and the subordinate organisms “intimately” linked to it constitute an indivisible whole that must be understood as a whole. The higher organism depends on the lower ones for its very existence (they maintain it as a physical field with a charge of potential energy), and the lower ones depend on the higher one in order to gain information on the general joint order of the cosmos, as it is interiorized by the higher organism.
From the above, it follows that the meaning of this information can only be decrypted by the lower organisms “intimately” linked to the higher one through their perception of how they are affected by their positive or negative reaction to the stimulus that reaches them from the higher organism. Given the relationship between the physical nature of this stimulus (the same as that of the higher organism) and that of the subordinate organisms, it seems clear that this stimulus cannot have a direct compulsive effect on the lower organism that perceives it; i.e. the organisms “intimately” subordinated to the higher one have the ability to respond or not to respond to these stimuli with the joint action of their soma and to make this decision guided by how they are affected by the optional response that they give.
We must therefore postulate in these subordinate organisms moments, so to speak, of freedom, in which they must decide what to do in response to a situation with a yes or no. These “free” acts (which are elementary to the level of the subordinate organisms) would be impossible if the organisms in question did not have awareness (also elementary at their level) of the favourable or unfavourable consequence for the persistence of the individuality that arises from the decision which they take in response to the not directly compulsive stimulus that reaches them from the higher organism (Note 58).
9. In order for a subordinate organism “intimately” linked to the higher one to use, for its own persistence, this capacity to perform free and conscious acts, it is a necessary condition that the stimulus that reaches it from the higher organism and the effect that its response to this stimulus has on it follow each other directly (i.e. they must be contiguous in time). This condition is, in fact, essential because the capacity of awareness that can be postulated for the subordinate organisms clearly involves the possibility of establishing the connection between this stimulus and effect, because the higher organism is interspersed between them. The joint activity of this organism is objectively unknowable to the subordinate organisms because it involves a higher integrative level. However, the condition is not only possible but natural because of the “intimate” link between these subordinate organisms and the higher organism from which they continuously emerge.
In passing, it is of great interest to point out that, due to the nature of things (Note 59), the response given by the “intimately” subordinated organisms to the stimulation that reaches them from the higher organism will tend to be unanimous for all those of them that are “intimately” linked to each other directly; i.e. the freedom of response of these subordinate organisms (the qualitatively different experience of the higher organism will indeed by composed from this freedom) will correspond, in response to each stimulation, to the organisms that perceive it earliest and draw the remaining ones along with their response (Note 60).
10. It seems incontrovertible that in all higher organisms (in all organisms in which the directed processes of a soma culminate in a given environment), an elementary act of free and conscious decision (whose effects are perceived) is also carried out in each moment, as in the subordinate organisms. In other words, in every organism (Note 61) there operates at all times an element of freedom, with the consequent awareness (all organisms, as it were, are a source of action, with a level of autonomy—of freedom and awareness—linked to the leap in level from which they emerge).
Several arguments can be put forward to support the foregoing: a) as we saw earlier (Note 62), the origin of the capacity to decide in response to a stimulus which by nature is not compulsive (we have seen this capacity in the organisms “intimately” linked to the higher one) lies in the appearance—established by evolution—of these stimuli. This capacity therefore presupposes that the organisms that were up to that time “higher” and in a suitable situation to establish on their action a circumscribed field of a higher level of matter-energy integration were already able to possess this capacity of freedom and awareness; b) within the organisms of a given level, the “higher” organisms have a greater need to adapt to a changing environment than the ones that are “intimately” subordinated to the higher organism that emerged and is maintained through the coordination of their activities; and c) we have our own human experience as a higher organism and what we can extrapolate from it regarding the feeling of the other higher organisms of the integrative level, animals.
11. Although the quantum of freedom of action of the higher organism is qualitatively different, it is based on the experience of the “intimately” subordinated organisms linked to it, and this experience, in turn, lies in the unanimity of the responses of groups of these organisms to a regular stimulation caused by the higher organism. Moreover, the conquest of more experience (the enrichment of the coordination of current actions of the subordinate organisms that establish a link that is increasingly rich and more rapidly adapted to the environment) is attained through a succession of quanta of action of the higher organism previous to the experience (i.e. conscious, expectant experience).
According to all of the above, the seat of the awareness (i.e. the freedom, the source of action) lies in the interference between the actions of the organisms of the lower level and the action of the higher organism, i.e. in the interference between the permanent circumscribed field (with its moment of inertia to self-maintain itself) that defines the higher organism and the modulations caused in that field by the effects of the concerted actions of the subordinate organisms “intimately” linked to it.
According to the foregoing, the rhythm of action of each organism (the speed at which the process of unitary activity of which each organism consists takes place) is determined by its wealth of experience (i.e. by the complexity of modulation caused on it by the subordinate organisms). Of course, this wealth depends not on the number of organisms “intimately” linked to the higher one, but on the complexity of the groups of these organisms with a unanimous response and on the stability and complexity of the media achieved by the coordinated activity of these groups.
12. The experience is action that is incorporated, after appreciation of the effect, on action that is established and acting in the course of time. The experience is not stored, magically isolated from the rest of reality, and then renewed (Note 63), but rather acts constantly as a basis of action. The increase in experience is merely enrichment of the workings of the organism and its medium. The organism, pure action at a given level of matter-energy integration, never performs a fully new action, but rather a constant modification of the coordination of actions of subordinate organisms, each of which requires, in turn, the modification of the coordination of organisms of a lower level, etc. All of this depends on processes of various levels of environment (Note 64). This increasing coordination of a being with the environment (i.e. the increasing coherence of all reality from and towards a high integrative level) is the experience. Moreover, it is obvious that the experience does not integrate all the past action of an organism, but only that which is operating at the time, given the real present circumstance. The coherence of all reality thus explains the shifting, the updating of the experience. Although the being that is gaining experience is apparently always faced with the same environment, it is linked to it in an increasingly rich, more dynamic and complex way; the internal interactions that link the various levels of underlying organisms in the soma become correspondingly more intimate, better modulated, better informed.
As will be seen below, we felt it necessary to distinguish in the reality surrounding organisms (the biosphere), two aspects that we call environment and medium. (This differentiation is not made by the two major schools of biology, stemming from Darwin and Pavlov, nor indeed by the other fields of biology).
The environment is the general structuring of all the reality surrounding a living being. The same environment is common to all the living beings located in a given space-time setting. The environment is obviously divided into large matter-energy levels, which can be explained by the evolution of the Earth in terms of the joint evolution of the cosmos, and which in turn allow the existence and evolution of living beings. Of course, within the environment we must include the living beings and their matter-energy interactions, all of which is no more than the ultimate and particular result of cosmic evolution on the Earth.
The medium is the reality surrounding a living being organised up to a given level of matter-energy complexity that is consistent with, and defines, the being in question. Within an environment, there are therefore as many different media as different types of beings. Each type of living being (and within it each species) has the same evolutionary age as its corresponding medium, and media and living beings are explained by each other within the biological evolution of the Earth.
If through coherence of the reality (through the inter-influence of all real processes) all the processes of its environment influence the organisms that live in it (to a greater or lesser extent and more or less directly), these organisms only have experience of the corresponding medium and only the organisms act on it: in a word, they only interiorize their specific medium (i.e. they are only aware of their medium). In passing we will point out that it is only the evolutionary coherence of the environment that allows the coexistence of the various types of living beings, each one with its peculiar mode of experience and action.
For this definition of the living being (which pays attention to what distinguishes a living being from a recently dead being), the soma of an organism consists of the self-sustaining channels through which energy structured by the evolution of the cosmos flows from the environment to a unitary physical field that defines an organism and vice versa. In the following section we consider the soma in relation to the organism.
These energy channels model the material structure of the bodies and result from it, in virtue of ontogenic and phylogenic processes which are the object of study of biology.
From here we should bear in mind that the somatic structures involve the integration of some forms of energy into others and the coordination of all of them in a way that corresponds to the way in which it is done in the physical world. This problem is the profound object of study physics.
(Note the complementarity of approaches to the joint evolution of the cosmos made by physics and biology and how each of these two sciences is essential to the other).
It therefore makes no sense to ask what comes first: the experience or the action; the experience is what remains of an action as action. The first action of a living being, taking possession of itself, is performed when the experience emerges (it is the origin of its experience). Saying that action comes before experience is equivalent to postulating an action without an agent. Saying that experience comes before action is equivalent to postulating a refuge of potential energy established magically, with no previous activity. In fact, all experience results from past actions with some part of unforeseeable action, and all action is driven by more or less uncertain experience.
Therefore, in the phylogeny of a type of living being (e.g. animals) and in the ontogeny of each of these living beings (e.g. in every animal), in the very moment when they originate, at the same time as the unitary physical field that defines them is established, the mode of action and the mode of experience (the mode of integrating the action) of the living being in question are initiated simultaneously and complementarily.
Experience and action, as the two sides linking the new being to the coherent process of the rest of reality, emerge with the new being from the joint evolution of beings of the lower level of matter-energy integration (if the being that emerges is an animal, it originates from the culmination of an evolutionary process of cells).
So much is this so that the mode of action of the animal is the coordination (from a higher level of energy organization) of cellular actions (specifically neurons), so the mode of action and experience of the animal is obviously qualitatively different from the mode of action and experience of the cell. For the same reason, the mode of action and experience of the cell and the protein are also qualitatively different.
We may note here that the acquisition of experience by individual animals and the evolution of animal experience (in short, the ontogenesis and phylogenesis of animals) cannot be extended without considering the processes of integration of experience and activity of cellular individuals. And going down one level of matter-energy integration, the same can be said of the cellular experience and action with regard to those of the protein.
In various publications I have shown with regard to the animal organisms that the medium of each animal species is “divided” into animal species in a way that is exclusive for each one. The regularity of behaviour of the individuals of each species in comparison with another given one (i.e. the regularity of the process of acquisition of experience until it is appropriately inserted in its medium) is what establishes the fixed channels of acquisition of experience for the individuals of this species, and thus their specific conduct. This is due to the common origin of all animals and the general evolution of the animal kingdom. (This topic is developed in the book by Faustino Cordón, La evolución conjunta de los animales y su medio).(Spanish)
Note that this approach could not be based on many facts; it is practically the opposite of the conventional approach in current biology, which has given rise to many concepts that are still operating in the most diverse biological fields.
Needless to say, this order results from the history of the Earth in terms of the general evolution of the cosmos. Of basic interest for the study of life is the directed energy stream that comes from the sun and the matter-energy stratification under the influence of this stream today and during the transformation of the biosphere of the planet.
The definition of a living being as a unitary physical field that coordinates the activities of unitary physical fields and defines the living beings of the immediately lower integrative level demonstrates the following: 1) the perfect homology of the processes of phylogeny, ontogeny and maintenance of every living being; 2) the possibility of applying the data of ontogeny to clarify the data of phylogeny and physiology, and vice versa; and, reciprocally, 3) the need to elevate biology to a well-integrated science, for which one must consider the data, concepts and laws cherished by its various fields of study, within the framework of the evolution of reality on Earth, whose culmination is the general evolution of the biosphere.
This complementarity between an organism (a becalmed process) and the somatic processes linking it to processes of the environment explains another manifestation of the general coherence of reality: namely, the fact that every organism (without ceasing to be, from its origin to its death, the stable pole of subordinate processes) is in turn immersed, as an element, in a process of a higher order. This relative nature of the being and of the process (which explains the structuring of all reality into levels of integration) must be taken into account, for example, when we correlate phenomena of ontogeny and phylogeny, as mentioned in Note 8.
The analytical basis of the foregoing is the postulate of experimental science that the same causes produce the same effects, which can be said to be the conclusion (and premise) of all the experience gained by human activity.
As has been stated, it is the postulate of evolutionist science that every particular event is explicable in terms of the general evolution of the cosmos. This postulate can be said to be the conclusion of the development of all science, in which there is a clear grouping together of facts that were previously dispersed into laws of increasing generality and the integration of disciplines that were previously disconnected into bodies of science with increasing internal coherence.
As the basis of this statement, the following basic facts, among others, can be put forward: 1) the evidence of our human selves; 2) what we know of the evolution of animal species because “neither would the animal species be refined by the selection of the fittest individuals to survive, in the struggle of existence, until they reproduce”, “nor could the individual animals adjust their patterns of behaviour to the habitual stimuli of a medium through the conditioning of reflexes,” without the tendency of every animal to keep itself alive through the capacity to perceive the beneficial (gratifying) and harmful (unpleasant) effect for the individuality and to act to achieve the former and avoid the latter; and 3) the similar phenomena observed at the cellular level and extrapolating appropriately to the lowest level of living beings: the protein.
However, the organism (as opposed to the general directed processes, such as becalmed processes resulting from the joint order of processes that are also becalmed at a lower level) takes us back to the origin of organisms of various types, from the lowest level of complexity of reality to the highest (as far as we know, man). The fundamental law of organisms thus seems to be a universal aspect of the general evolution of reality that biology discovers from other basic sciences.
For example, the still water in a dam is not elevated to a level of matter-energy integration that exceeds that of the running water that flows into and out of the still water, nor that of the land or the air. It is obvious that still water, running water, land and air are at the molecular integrative level and are subject, in direction and intensity, to the general process of this level of the Earth’s surface.
An organism is a process in a becalmed state, in constant interaction with processes of the rest of reality. Therefore, by the word essence (necessarily dynamic essence) we mean the only possible way to understand the different types of organism: through the processes of origin.
To understand these processes of origin we must use whatever data we have on the phylogeny, ontogeny and maintenance of the type of organism in question; these are merely aspects of the same basic process through which this organism emerges from organisms of a lower level (the organism culminating the joint evolution of the immediately lower level).
In fact, in every leap upward of level, the fundamental property of the process and of the organism cooperate, influencing each other at each moment and establishing the general line of the processes. In a sense, then, traditional physics and biology differ not so much in the objective nature of the phenomena studied as in the senses in which they preferentially study them.
In support of the foregoing, it should be noted that physics and biology do not deal with different processes (or beings) of a certain level of matter-energy integration: rather, both disciplines deal with several levels that are qualitatively different from each other.
Man has studied the increasing sense of levelling and degradation in some of these levels and the sense of the increasing diversification and integration in others. At some levels, man has considered the processes by making abstraction of beings—without seeking to understand them in their process of origin—and at other levels he has considered beings or organisms by making abstraction of the processes, referring these processes independently to the lower levels. These choices are obviously due to the relationship that these levels have with man.
Indeed, it is clear that man discovered first what an organism is in its own individuality (an indivisible whole capable of action and experience), and he extended the notion of organisms from man to animals (“animate” beings like him) and then to other beings. Though these beings were qualitatively different, their similarity to man and animals was gradually perceived until it was discovered that they were formed in a single, ascending evolutionary process that has taken place in the Earth’s biosphere; man, as a culmination of this evolution, is able to gather the data and understand the general lines of this evolution (and thus understand himself). Quite the opposite happens with the levels of integration that go from the molecular level (including it) downward: first, the coordination of these levels that constitutes our environment requires us to understand the Earth in terms of the solar system and the whole cosmos (on whose evolution man has only fragmented data that are not all implicit in its nature, moulded in a specific evolutionary crucible: the biosphere); second, the processes at these levels take place in a descending direction on Earth (except the narrow pathway channelled by life through solar radiation).
Thus, the protein must have emerged as the culmination of the joint evolution of endergonic molecules in the primitive sea: the cell, as the culmination of the general evolution of proteins; the animal, as the culmination of the general evolution of cells, both free and associated in plants; and man as the culmination of the general evolution of animals.
The whole sector of reality that, in the previous evolution, had raised itself to the immediately lower integrative level.
In fact, in accordance with the previous note, as the organisms of a given level have emerged from the lower ones due to their greater efficacy in the exploitation of the environment, the emergence of each level widens the margins of the biosphere (it increases the absolute amount of life, but also extends all previous and lower levels of life).
The directed processes always emerge from the corresponding integrative level in a becalmed state in an organism, circulate in the corresponding general level (causing alterations in the physical field that expresses the coherence of this general level), and always affect the organisms from this general level to the corresponding becalmed level that defines an organism, Thus, the entire cosmos is stratified into levels of matter-energy integration of which one or several must be universal, basic, and on these levels there emerge the remaining levels, which have a given number and stability, in each time and place, due to the general evolution of the cosmos.
For this reason, the organisms of one level differ qualitatively from those of the lower level. It is therefore meaningless to say, for example, that the animal is a more (or less) complex organism than the cell; strictly speaking they are different, heterogeneous organisms. The animal is defined by the coordination of cellular activities; the cell by the coordination of protein activities. Consequently, the physical fields are qualitatively different and the two modes of action and experience must be qualitatively different. The animal culminates a previous stage of biological evolution; the cell culminates an earlier previous stage.
Of course, when the animals emerged and multiplied, the whole biosphere made a leap in evolution; it was elevated to a new order of relations that did not exist before and, as a condition sine qua non, it conserved the orders of previous relationships (of cells, proteins, molecules, etc.). But the relationships of each level have no meaning, or access, at the other levels and must be studied within the level (as a historical level that corresponds to the level of matter-energy integration), only with the knowledge that the general evolution of the lower level is the assumption or basis of the higher level. Man, who emerged from the animal, must therefore be studied regardless of the evolution of the animal, the animal regardless of the evolution of the cell, etc.
This allows us to make two statements of great interest to us. First, all organisms are necessarily born virgin of all experience (because the experience of the lower level from which they emerge is incongruent with them). Second, conversely, the experience that this organism acquires has no meaning and cannot model as such the organisms of the lower level that underlie it (for example, animal experience with regard to somatic cells). Let us state in passing that this is, in short, the hereditary conditioning of animals.
This can be used as a basis for what I believe to be the more general formulation of the dialectics of biological evolution (and extrapolating, of all cosmic evolution). Within each stage of biological evolution (the stage in which proteins evolved as the highest integrative level of the biosphere, the stage in which the cell evolved, the stage in which the animal evolved and the stage in which man evolved), evolution “progresses” when the complexification of the environmental relationships that constitute the medium of an organism establishes the objective conditions for the congenital capacity of these organisms to acquire experience to be refined by natural selection, and this event in turn complexifies the environmental relationships in the same sense as before, etc.
Needless to say, this alternative mutual conditioning by the organisms and their media in order to make their “quanta” of progress leads us to postulate a common nature between each organism and its medium. Therefore, the medium of an organism is constituted by organisms of the same level (for example, the medium of man is human society); more precisely, the medium of an organism is the reality around it elevated to the joint order of relations established by all the organisms of the same level of matter-energy integration. This notion of medium (which I have developed in some detail for the animal organism in my book La evolución conjunta de los animales y su medio) (Spanish) is suited to the coherent evolution of the cosmos, which becomes stratified into levels of integration that establish the modes of experience and the joint order of environmental processes that can be experienced.
Let us say that for the transition from one stage of evolution to the next to take place, a new order of associations of organisms of the previous stage (a qualitative transformation of the medium) must be established, and the association of these organisms must be transformed into the organisms of the new stage (i.e. the appearance of new organisms coherent with the new medium). Needless to say, both of these sudden transformations, that of the medium and that of the organism, are intelligible as the sudden culmination of the previous phase. Deciphering them properly involves knowledge of each type of organism through its origin.
A significant part of my work of the last ten years has been applied to investigating the way in which these three leaps of level occur. Most of the results of this work are still unpublished, although part of it has been covered in courses and seminars). (It is interesting to note that our research into each of the three leaps began through observations and studies that were apparently far removed from the subject but they led us to it because of their objective nature; for example, the effort to understand the secretion of hydrochloric acid by the fundic gland of the stomach somehow led us to consider the origin and nature of the animal organism).
In the list of leaps of integrative level, I have left out the qualitative transformation of the animal into man. Indeed, man (although he differs qualitatively from the other animals because of his medium) is still an animal organism with regard to the physical nature of the field that defines his organism (i.e. its level of matter-energy integration).
The reason seems obvious and we think that it only needs to be stated. Moreover, a rigorous discussion would take up too much space.
An organism emerges and must maintain itself on the joint order (produced in an area of reality that we call its soma) of organisms of the immediately lower level of matter-energy integration and their media; these lower organisms emerge and maintain themselves, in turn, on the joint order of organisms of two levels of integration lower than the first, and on their media; and thus, successively, until the molecular level is reached (and the two lower levels, within the margin below living beings. It is evident, first, that the successive physical fields that define these levels of organisms are intimately dependent but different and, second, that the higher levels (because they emerge from and depend on the lower ones for their existence—they are the result, not the cause, of their joint order of activities) cannot be confused with or force any of the others. Therefore, the high level must be 1) something beyond and different from the whole reality raised to the level of the organisms immediately below it, and 2) both a consequence and a result of this whole. This something can only be the influences exerted within the environment by the oscillations of activity of the physical field of these immediately lower organisms.
I wish to point out that this final consequence of the evolution of the organisms of a level is meaningless to them (it is, so to speak, qualitatively different from their general progress). As we will see, it will establish stimuli that are qualitatively different from those that operate on most organisms of the level. The appearance of this final result of the evolution of the level provides a hitherto non-existent possibility of rising to an organism of a higher integrative level.
A set of organisms of one level, as we know, is what structures the environment into a medium for each organism. In the evolution of the organisms of a level, three successive stages can be distinguished: isolated organisms, organisms in associations and organisms integrated in an organism of a higher level. In each of these stages, the organisms have more intense mutual relations than in the previous one, i.e. the medium is richer and more differentiated. But this medium remains essentially the same, because it is the surrounding reality raised by all these organisms to their integrative level.
Let us specify our concept of this medium as far as possible. We know that the organisms are unitary physical fields that result from the oscillations of activity of organisms of an immediately lower level of matter-energy integration. Therefore, the physical field that defines an organism has a lower integrative level than the physical field that defines the previous, subordinate organisms (of a lower integrative level as organisms).
This can be formulated as follows: as the integrative level of the organisms rises (following the scale protein, cell, animal), the general activity establishes a higher general field whose nature corresponds to that of a physical level of the environment whose integrative level is lower.
The fact that the levels of integration in the organisms and in the environment of the biosphere are connected in this way explains why the organisms of a higher integrative level (the cell relative to the protein, the animal relative to the cell) have the capacity to be influenced by and to influence physical processes of the environment of a lower integrative level. In other words, the higher organisms can correlate what is distant and complex through physical processes that are more elementary, general and common.
According to its nature, this stimulus will initially disturb one of the levels of matter-energy integration of the organism in question. This disturbance must have an influence in stages up to the high level, as the only way in which this high level can cause (as a corrective reaction) a general action with an effect that is meaningful to the organisms of its level and those associated with it.
Needless to say, as indicated above, for organisms of an association to link together in this way, there are two previous conditions: a) the organisms must have specialized within the association in responding to a given common stimulus with the same reply, and b) the simultaneity of the response must have offered a selective advantage.
It is unnecessary to point out that the establishment of these two conditions involves a) that an association has already evolved in the sense described in the text, and b) that the progress culminates, within the association, in the organisms that coordinate themselves in this way in their action.
Let us remember once more that, by the second law of thermodynamics, the physical field that defines an organism tends to be destroyed continuously; it is maintained because it is re-established by the joint order of activities of organisms of the immediately lower level.
As the individuality of the organism could not be maintained without the processes of loading and unloading of its physical field occurring through different paths, and as each process is subject to constant variations of external origin, there is no doubt that the circumscribed physical field that defines an organism must be continuously subject to small oscillations.
Indeed, the oscillations of the first class are conditioned by partial oscillations of the organism in question to self-maintain its stability, and those of the second class are conditioned by the general activity of the organism (i.e. by the maximum coordination of activities of subordinate organisms tending towards a general goal).
Those of the first class may also be caused by oscillations of a general level established by cosmic evolution, not yet subjected to a secondary joint order by biological evolution (i.e. they have no possible current meaning for it), and are of a general basic field (of a degree of stability that is the assumption of all biological evolution), whose oscillations must be essentially lower than those emanating from within the organism towards the environment (those caused by the oscillations of activity of the organism).
To understand the meaning of this process is to understand what a living being (an organism) is, and only this dual understanding can give us an idea of the experience and action as defining capacities of organisms.
With the definition of an organism we face a general aspect of reality, that of the being in contrast to the process. Science (integrated human experience) has these two general principles (and conclusions): the cosmos is unique (all processes and beings of reality are coherent) and all knowledge consists always in referring a being to a process and vice versa. Therefore, the definition of an organism through its process of origin must be a complementary general law of the general law of processes.
I am not far from thinking that this quality is merely the expression of the greater or lesser likelihood of this circumscribed field being formed by the general alteration of the environment, from which it becomes segregated.
Moreover, it seems a consequence of the general coherence of reality, which is manifested in the tendency for differences in energy potential within a field to be destroyed, as stated in the second law of thermodynamics. Owing to the internal coherence of all fields, the circumscription of a field, its separation from a general field, must cause in its interior a reorganization of lines of force, which, in turn, establishes a greater or lesser inertia to change, a tendency of the circumscribed field to self-maintain itself.
If we consider that every elementary ion is an atom carrying a potential electric charge, we can put forward as an example the special stability of certain ions in every atom, which led to the establishment of the number of electrons in the outer orbit.
For clarity, hereinafter we will reserve the expression “intimately” associated for those organisms of an association that use (or may use) as the stimulus of their activity the alteration of the environment caused by the response of other members of the association.
Before the “intimate” association of some organisms is transformed into an organism of a higher level, the bases of the differentiation of responses between the “intimately” associated organisms must be laid in order to obtain a response that is no longer the mere sum but something qualitatively higher than what each associated organism can do when it is still within the association. (As an example, the contraction of a muscle persists for an enormously longer time than the contraction of each muscle cell can be maintained).
It is highly plausible that the three developments cooperated concentrically for the following reasons: a) all three are selective advantages for increasing the efficacy of the association (and therefore for the association to participate effectively with others in its propagation through the biosphere); b) all three are a consequence of the capacity to take and provide the activity of “intimately” associated organisms as a stimulus for their mutual activity; and c) each of them enhances the development of the other two.
To these three reasons, one must add a fourth: (d) the refinement of the capacity of the associated organisms that the three tendencies involve may account for the growing capacity of specialized organisms of the association to constitute the origin of an ontogenic process of an association that is increasingly coherent and complex (as a basis for reason a)).
There are two reasons that seem indisputable: a) the circumscribed field has the nature of a physical field such that it is inconceivable that waves of change in its state do not run through it; and b) perceiving the circumscribed field as a stimulus is now the culmination of the possible refinement of the level of the “intimately” associated organisms.
There must be a difference from one organism to another (i.e. from the circumscribed fields of one level to those of another) a) in the way in which the general circumscribed field is maintained in each moment (through a statistical coordination of all the “intimately” associated organisms that come into activity in each moment? through a type of these organisms that is specialized in doing it?); and b) in the way in which the “intimately” associated organisms are arranged with respect to each other so that, first, they can contribute to the general circumscribed field and, second, they can cause in the interior of this field alterations that can combine with those caused by others discretely and regularly, and perceive differently the alterations thus caused.
The above is indicated schematically. The end of the stage of evolution tends increasingly towards the soma of the new organism that will result from it. The medium of the associated organisms (their stimuli) and therefore their responses are modified and diversified by being associated. The responses of some are the stimuli of others in a chain that makes them depend increasingly on each other.
Nothing, dead or alive, however inherently inert it seems, can maintain itself except as a result of a dynamic equilibrium with the medium (in the organisms) or a sum of dynamic equilibria with the medium (in the case of formless aggregates of organisms).
Apart from the “ontological” reasoning given in the text, it should also be taken into account that admitting otherwise (i.e. that there are stimuli that directly affect the higher organism) would be equivalent to postulating the absurdity that the new organism and its medium were formed independently and then united.
Generalizing (because we are talking about the origin of an organism, whatever its level, from the levels below it), the above applies to the organisms with respect to the sub-subordinate organisms, etc., and we therefore reach the following conclusion: 1) although the stimuli are often performed by living beings of the environment, they are usually processes of an integrative level lower than those of life and they therefore tend to influence and act directly on a level lower than the protein level of the stimulated organism; 2) the disturbance of its level causes a modification in the immediately higher one, etc., until it modifies the level of the organism, which gives a consistent, joint response to the stimulus; and 3) in a given living being, the level of the organism may or may not be the highest of those forming part of its soma.
We must stress that even the stimuli that begin to act in the medium of the new organism (which will be more numerous with the evolutionary progress of this organism) must always act (by the very definition of an organism) through the mediation of the subordinate agencies.
These new stimuli may be of two classes: a) stimuli of the same nature as the previous ones that have simply emerged in the new evolutionary stage or have received from this stage potential meaning for guiding the action of the new organism; b) stimuli of a new nature that come to act as such because the same evolutionary culmination of the subordinate organisms that led some of them to establish and perceive the circumscribed field led others to perceive these stimuli. (These stimuli must therefore be of the same nature as the circumscribed field that defines the new organism but never act directly on it.)
To understand the general evolution of reality, we must reflect on the relationship between stimuli a) and b); on the nature of the stimuli that are added in the successive stages of biological evolution; and on the relationship that all these stimuli have with the organisms of different levels integrated in a single soma.
This is deeply in agreement with the fact that the association has displaced the isolated organisms and has conquered the hegemony of the biosphere through selective advantages that culminated in the transformation of the association into the new organism.
The coherence of all reality explains why, in a given environment, only the higher level can progress (in the sense given to the word in Note 20) and the subordinate lower levels evolve in function of the higher ones (i.e. they evolve in “homeostasis”, according to the concept presented in the book Introducción al origen y evolución de la vida).
The ability to perceive that distinguishes the organisms of a higher level (not only greater but qualitatively different from that of the lower ones) allows them to become protagonists of evolution from the moment they emerge until (to culminate through their evolution a yet higher organism that integrates them) they begin, in turn, to evolve in “homeostasis”.
It should not be forgotten that these stimuli necessarily affect subordinate organisms and directly trigger a response in them. However, these stimuli are the medium of the higher organism for incontrovertible reasons: 1) because the subordinate organism that receives the stimulus does not, of itself, give a coherent response that adjusts it individually to the medium; 2) because the stimulus triggers in the subordinate receiver organism a response that translates, directly or indirectly, into an ephemeral alteration of the permanent circumscribed field, which will necessarily culminate in the numerous simultaneous alterations caused by a great variety of external stimuli; and 3) because only through this combination (integration) of responses of subordinate organisms is it possible to integrate a “stimulus of a higher order” capable of guiding a response that is also of a “higher order” (consisting of a coordination of actions of subordinate organisms), through which the higher organism as a whole adapts to its medium.
The progressive closure of the internal medium creates the conditions for certain stimuli to gain a special meaning as statistical indices of the general state of the internal medium. Moreover, the potential meaning of these stimuli cannot be updated without a response to them from coordinated actions of many subordinate organisms that modify the internal medium as a whole.
It is of great interest to consider the mutual relations and the relative importance and development for the higher organism that is observed in the stimuli of the medium of this organism that come from the exterior of the soma (and to examine these points in both the phylogeny and ontogeny of living beings).
Note that this justifies the choice of the term organism for the permanent circumscribed field, as it is a term in opposition to organization; however, an organism is both the result of the organization of processes from which it results and the condition or agent for this organization to be maintained and progress. This is not conceivable unless on emerging it has an internal unity with a resistance to disappearing (something intrinsic that will give it individuality, a character that distinguishes it from a mechanism).
Note that the associated organisms directly linked to the “intimately” associated organisms whose responses cause the stimulus are necessarily different from the subordinate organisms which are stimulated by “intimately” associated organisms and perform the responses whose integrated outcome is appropriate for the higher organism. This is so, first, because of the different specialization (to the stimulus and in the response) of both types of subordinate organisms.
Second, it is also required by the individuality of the higher organism (the fact that it remains linked to the environment but different from it, so its continuous relationship with the subordinate organisms must take place through afferent and efferent routes, between which the higher organism is intercalated as a substantive refuge, and not through a single, reversible route).
I do not consider it likely, or perhaps even possible, that these stimuli of the medium of the subordinate organisms, with which the stimuli of the higher organism will be integrated, act directly on the “intimately” associated organisms, given that these organisms must be protected as much as possible from all types of stimuli except one that is significant for the higher organism, so that its general activity corresponds exactly to the intensity of a specific characteristic of the medium of the subordinate organisms.
It seems that, in the course of evolution, the number of these stimuli must be conditioned by two types of selective advantage. The first type (which tends to reduce the number of stimuli) is the selection of stimuli that alone are equivalent to two or more stimuli, which have a more general meaning; the second type (which tends to increase the number of stimuli) is the appreciation of variables of the medium that could not acquire meaning until the organism established appropriate responses to maintain the constancy of the medium with regard to more urgent variables (or ones that disturbed the conditions of stability that the subordinate organisms needed in order to react to the first-mentioned variables, using them as stimuli).
Naturally, this composition of effects of stimuli, with one predominant one, is complexified in the course of the ontogeny of the higher organism, which establishes, step by step, internal environments that are increasingly diverse and stable and subordinate organisms that are increasingly differentiated and specialized
The transformation towards specialization is irreversible, because the general evolution of reality prevents this reciprocal interplay between environment and organism from going back with the same coherence (not because of essential impoverishment of the subordinate organism, which in favourable conditions can de-specialize: e.g. a cell de-specializes in cancerization).
It seems artificial to consider the internal component of the stimulus of the higher organism separately from the external component of this stimulus. This is because, as we will see, the two components are merged in the unitary process that guides the unitary activity of every organism.
However, considering them separately may have a justification that goes beyond the mere fact that it is easier to overcome the problems step by step. Indeed, all subordinate organisms (at least the cells in the animal) live in an internal environment and, above all, in the course of phylogenic evolution and ontogenic development the internal component must appear before the external one.
The need for this harmony means, therefore, that from the beginning the internal and external components must be raised to constitute the general stimulating process of the higher organism. Therefore, the separation of the two components is artificial (see previous note). However, it seems likely that in the emergence of the higher organism the internal components must dominate, through the evolutionary tendency of the progress of an association that consists in the establishment of internal environments that the association intercalates between the subordinate organisms and the general environment.
The general environment then shows the essential coordination established in it by cosmic evolution on the Earth (the evolution previous to life), along with the links that have been established in it by the organisms of the lower level. However, I think that at the moment when the organism of the higher level emerged, these links must have been expendable. Indeed, when the organisms of the lower level associate, precisely in order to establish stable, restricted environments, they isolate them from the general environment and convert the previous general medium into islets of highly evolved media (the internal media of the associations) and they do so in the general environment that is very isolated from life. (It could be said that the organization of particular environments is done at the expense of the organization of the general environment).
All organisms interiorize the evolutionary process as it is manifested in a given time and place up to a given level of complexity. They always interiorize the internal and external environment. By modification of the general environment complementary with the modification of the organism, we understand 1) the refinement and diversification of the internal environment in function of the external environment and vice versa; and 2) the consequent interiorization of a general evolutionary process that is increasingly broad and coherent and is composed of both environments.
After all the above, it may seem unnecessary to stress that not all the stimuli of a level organize themselves into the higher medium (in that case the subordinate organisms would be subsumed under the higher organism and would disappear as individuals). Most of the stimuli continue to operate only at the relevant original levels.
One would be tempted to think that the environment of the Earth’s biosphere is delimited by the presence of liquid water, in equilibrium with the atmosphere and the solid crust; that it is not merely a sector of the Earth’s crust that is distinguished “quantitatively” from the rest of it because a number of variables are in it within a suitable margin: in the biosphere, inorganic evolution has carried out a “qualitative” change towards life manifested in a new possibility of reaction.
We refer here only to the levels of organism that correspond to the different types of living beings of the Earth, without considering what should be extrapolated to the other levels of organisms established by cosmic evolution.
In the internal and external environments of the soma of an organism, in addition to the regular variations that determine the stimuli that form the basis of its experience and action, there occur irregular variations that are inconsistent with the normal process of the organism. These irregular variations can be classified into three groups: 1) irregular variations that do not affect the higher organism because they cannot disturb the subordinate organisms linked to the permanent circumscribed field (whether or not they disturb other subordinate organisms or sub-subordinate organisms); 2) irregular variations that disrupt the normal activity of subordinate organisms linked to the permanent circumscribed field, and that therefore disorganize to a variable extent and for a variable time the normal course of the experience and action of the higher organism; and 3) irregular variations that destroy subordinate organisms linked to the permanent circumscribed field and therefore either destroy this field (kill the higher organism) or harm it and force some degree of reorganization of the course of the experience and action.
Pain seems to be related to the effects of the irregular variations of the last two types.
It is clear that this awareness is the capacity to perceive, and to use as a stimulus for their own action, the effects caused in the environment by the activity of other subordinate organisms. The origin of this capacity is studied in the section dedicated to the ephemeral circumscribed field.
Note the equivalence or complementarity of the capacities of freedom and awareness and their linkage to the interplay between organisms of two successive levels. This interplay is at the root of all action.
The “intimately” associated subordinate organisms were linked in this way first between themselves and later, as a consequence, with the higher organism. And this order of priority is maintained constantly. Indeed, let us remember that, in the genesis of a level of organism, we have identified two successive stages: the first (which we have called the ephemeral circumscribed field) corresponds to the linking of some associated organisms to others by the effects of their action; and the second (which we have called the creation of the permanent circumscribed field) corresponds to the establishment of the higher organism on this linking.
It should be specified here that, by definition, being or not being drawn to action by the perception of the effect in the environment caused by the action of an organism is initially optional (so to speak, voluntary) and set by the experience. It therefore also includes the element of freedom (origin of action) proper to all organisms.
In a broad sense, we give the name higher organisms to all organisms whose stimulation does not come from a supra-ordinate organism; i.e. all organisms “intimately” linked exclusively to subordinate organisms.
The reader will not have missed the fact that the essential point discussed in the text is also valid for four types of organisms, the four “higher” ones in the above sense: a) the organism that culminates the general evolution of the biosphere (man); b) the organisms whose environment is the general environment of the biosphere more or less modified by them (free cells and associated cells in plants and Porifera, animals); c) subordinate organisms that originate in the ontogenic development of a higher organism and are not linked “intimately” to it (proteins not “intimately” linked to the general activity of their cell, cells of an animal not “intimately” linked to it); and d) parasitic or symbiotic organisms that live in internal environments of a given organism.
Needless to say, in the different organisms, according to their integrative level and the type to which they belong, there is a difference between the nature of their action and its importance for the general evolution of the biosphere.
See especially the section “The First Stage in the Origin of an Organism of a New Level Tthe Ephemeral Circumscribed Field”.
All the mystery of the memory lies in the fact that the question already anticipates the response. The dog remembers what is directly communicated to it by the coordination of stimuli that establishes the medium. The same happens with man, with the only difference that the medium is a different one.
Reality is not only coherent but appears to us as a special mode of coherence: 1) the coherence imposes an unceasing process that penetrates everything, because every change has some impact on the dynamism of everything; and 2) the existence of organisms capable of experience requires a coordination of self-adjustable processes (what we call evolution). But it is equally true that this coherence requires the existence of organisms (beings with experience).
The fact that the universe is intelligible at all levels requires complementary intelligence operating in all of them. Just as the processes are evolutionarily linked to each other, so are the levels of awareness.