and entropy—or anabolic and catabolic processes—feed
each other through circuits called collectively, metabolism. Nature's
metabolism encompasses the organic and the inorganic
in a continuum of anabolic and catabolic exchanges.
The opposite tendency, away
from equilibrium and toward complexity— the anabolic leg of nature's metabolism—is the concern
theory. The linking of the two processes, anabolism and catabolism,
into the higher-order concept of metabolism plants biological thinking at the foundation of the physical world.
Kabbalists went so far as to try symbolically to diagram reality
or, as it were, the divine psyche itself. They envisioned a sefirotic tree.
We today are more comfortable with the double helix of DNA or the unified
field theory of modern physics, but they're all fundamentally the same:
one awesomely integrated organism."
the concept of metabolism in this way highlights the feedback relationships and interdependencies
among nature's various processes, organic and inorganic. Each leg of the metabolic circuit receives as input
the output of the other: complexity grows from unorganized raw material,
and entropy turns organized complexity back into unorganized
raw material. The processes enlist one another to create circuits that provide feedback,
which stabilizes the whole of nature. The process gives
that whole an organic quality.
the early Greeks quite simply, and with some qualification
for all Greeks whatever, nature was a vast living organism,
consisting of a material body spread out in space and permeated
by movements in time; the whole body was endowed with life,
so that all its movements were vital movements; and all these
movements were purposive, directed by intellect. This living
and thinking body was homogeneous throughout in the sense that
it was all alive, all endowed with soul and with reason; it
was non-homogeneous in the sense that different parts of it
were made of different substances each having its own specialized
qualitative nature and mode of acting. The problems which so
profoundly exercise modern thought, the problem of the relation
between dead matter and living matter, and the problem of the
relation between matter and mind, did not exist. There was
no dead matter, for no difference of principle was recognized
between the seasonal rotation of the heavens and the seasonal
growth and fall of leaves on a tree, or between the movement
of a planet in the sky and the movement of a fish in the water;
it was never for a moment suggested that the one could be accounted
for by a kind of law which did not even begin to account for
in this general sense enables natural forms to persist for extended periods in states that
are far from equilibrium. If complexity theory
and the second law of thermodynamics describe essential tendencies
of nature, from the largest to the smallest physical systems and from the slowest to the quickest processes and spanning
the organic-inorganic divide, then nature’s essential activity, her foundational process,
must be metabolic.
organisms that populate the Earth are the metabolic systems
that are easiest for scientists to observe in detail, because their
behaviors occur on scales near the human scale.
The scientific understanding of atomic and galactic processes, for example, is necessarily
less exact than the understanding of biological processes, because
biology is so much nearer at hand. Scientists can get a solid handle on events
that occur on scales from inches to miles and from seconds to decades.
Grasping events that occur on scales of angstroms or light years and
picoseconds or eons poses a greater challenge. However, as research proceeds, the star larvae hypothesis expects the discourse across scientific disciplines to converge
on concepts drawn from biology.
for example, actively maintains its characteristic chemical and thermal
conditions so as to retain a biosphere that is suitable for life, which is one that operates far from equilibrium. This characterization of
the Earth constitutes, in broad terms, the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock. The British
scientist proposes that the Earth is suitable for life because life
itself, through chemical feedback loops that operate across ecosystems,
stabilizes the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans (see Lovelock’s Gaia:
A New Look at Life on Earth). The Earth’s biosphere is a collection of interdependent, interlocking
processes of material and energy recycling that cooperate to keep the
terrestrial environment fit for life. The processes of entropy—decay,
deterioration, breakdown—the processes that liberate materials
and the complimentary processes of construction, building up, and organization
are discernible throughout the Gaian body.
is melting in nature. We think we see objects, but our eyes
are slow and partial. Nature is blooming and withering in long,
puffy respirations, rising and falling in oceanic wave-motion.
A mind that opened itself fully to nature without sentimental
preconception would be glutted by nature's coarse materialism,
its relentless superfluity. An apple tree laden with fruit:
how peaceful, how picturesque. But remove the rosy filter of
humanism from our gaze and look again. See nature spurning
and frothing, its mad spermatic bubbles endlessly spilling
out and smashing in that inhuman round of waste, rot, and carnage."
Gaia as being in a state of stable disequilibrium. Gaia operates
far from equilibrium, not in a haphazard way with wild fluctuations,
but with remarkable stability. For what now has been at least three billion
years, terrestrial conditions have remained within the narrow chemical
and thermal range that has enabled life to proliferate and evolve. Lovelock lists ranges of specific physical
conditions within which Gaia must remain to survive as a living entity.
A slight decrease in the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere, for
example, would suffocate all but the anaerobic forms of life. A
slight increase in oxygen level, and the planet’s surface would incinerate. Similarly with other
gases in the atmosphere and with the chemical composition of the oceans:
Earth's chemistry is finely tuned to keep life alive.
But the fine tuning is not a lucky fluke. Lovelock suggests
that, through the use of
feedback controls, biology itself maintains the Earth’s stable disequilibrium within
its narrow bio-friendly range of physical conditions. Tendencies toward imbalance in the proportions of gases
in the atmosphere, for example, are met with changes in the planetary
metabolism—increases or decreases in oceanic algae production, for
example—that redress the imbalance. The Earth
and its biosphere constitute a spontaneously self-organizing complex
system. The carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and similar recyclings
of materials that operate globally, taken collectively, constitute
the Gaian metabolism.
Similarly, galaxies seem to regulate their
rates of star formation by means of material feedback loops. They
seem to possess natural regulatory processes that control precisely
the distribution of matter and energy within them as well as exchanges of matter with the intergalactic medium. Apparently, like biological organisms and planetary biospheres,
galaxies persist for long periods in a state of stable disequilibrium,
something that they are able to do by using means strikingly similar
to those used by organisms and other kinds of self-organizing systems.
(For an overview of the metabolism and ecology of galaxies, see "The Gas Between the Stars," by
Ronald J. Reynolds, Scientific American, January 2002.)
Unanticipated Mode of Intercellular Transport
Despite differing vastly in size and duration, biological cells and remote galaxies possess a trait common to all organisms. They give, and they take in a way that suggests, as does the Gaia concept, that metabolisms do not operate exclusively inside of organisms. They span organisms..
Organisms contribute material to their environments, and they acquire material from those environments. This give and take, or sharing and borrowing, is an essential aspect of metabolism. Unexpectedly, researchers have discovered that the sharing and borrowing among cells and among galaxies is much more involved and prevalent than previously had been thought.
The cells that make up the body of a complex organism give to, and take from, their neighbors such useful items as proteins and organelles. These exchanges occur through intercellular networks of tiny hollow tubes called microtubules. Researcher Yikiko Yamashita, a neurobiologist as the University of Michigan, was a among the first to describe these intercellular networks and their function. As reported in Nature (21 September, 2017),
“Yamashita’s tubes joined a growing catalogue of cryptic conduits between cells. Longer tubes, reported in mammalian calls, seem to transport not just molecular signals, but much larger cargo, such as viral particles, prions or even mitochondria, the cell’s energy-generating structures. These observations suggest an unanticipated level of connectivity between cells, says Amin Rustom, a neurobiologist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, who first spotted such tubes as a graduate student almost 20 years ago. If correct, he says, “it would change everything in medical applications and biology, because it would change how we see tissues”.
The article continues, “In 2004, two research groups separately published observations of something even more radical: nanotubes in mammalian cells that seemed to move cargo such as organelles and vesicles back and forth. Rustom spotted thin, straight tubes connecting cultured rat cells after he forgot a washing step in an experiment. He and his adviser at the University of Heidelberg, Hans-Hermann Gerdes, engineered cells to make fluorescent proteins and watched the molecules flow from one cell to another. Their accidental sighting grew into a Science paper (Science 303, 1007–1010 (2004)that described the structures as “nanotubular highways. [. . . . ] Meanwhile, other labs have reported cell-connecting tubes in neurons, epithelial cells, mesenchymal stem cells, several sorts of immune cell and multiple cancers.”
Intercellular nanotubes facilitate commerce among the cells of, at least some, metazoans, creating an “Internet of cells.”
“[Messenger] RNA molecules convey genetic information within cells, beginning from genes in the nucleus to ribosomes in the cell body, where they are translated into proteins. Here we show a mode of transferring genetic information from one cell to another. Contrary to previous publications suggesting that mRNAs transfer via extracellular vesicles, we provide visual and quantitative data showing that mRNAs transfer via membrane nanotubes and direct cell-to-cell contact. We predict that this process has a major role in regulating local cellular environments with respect to tissue development and maintenance and cellular responses to stress, interactions with parasites, tissue transplants, and the tumor microenvironment.”
Unanticipated Mode of Intergalactic Transport
But biological cells aren’t the only entities in nature that exchange their constituents freely. Neighboring galaxies do it, too. Research in recent years suggests that, for example, up to half of the Milky Way’s matter arrived from other galaxies.
“Using supercomputer simulations, the research team found a major and unexpected new mode for how galaxies, including our own Milky Way, acquired their matter: intergalactic transfer. The simulations show that supernova explosions eject copious amounts of gas from galaxies, which causes atoms to be transported from one galaxy to another via powerful galactic winds. Intergalactic transfer is a newly identified phenomenon, which simulations indicate will be critical for understanding how galaxies evolve.”
Or, how they develop? The authors continue:
“This study transforms our understanding of how galaxies formed from the Big Bang,” said Professor Claude-André Faucher-Giguère, a co-author of the study and assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
“What this new mode implies is that up to one-half of the atoms around us—including in the solar system, on Earth and in each one of us—comes not from our own galaxy but from other galaxies, up to one million light years away,” he said. “By tracking in detail the complex flows of matter in the simulations, the research team found that gas flows from smaller galaxies to larger galaxies, such as the Milky Way, where the gas forms stars. This transfer of mass through galactic winds can account for up to 50 percent of matter in the larger galaxies.“
Why some material kicked out of large galaxies might not find its way to nearby smaller ones goes unremarked.
“Our origins are much less local than we previously thought,” said Faucher-Giguère, a CIERA member. “This study gives us a sense of how things around us are connected to distant objects in the sky.”
The team’s study, “The Cosmic Baryon Cycle and Galaxy Mass Assembly in the FIRE Simulations” is available HERE. A summary of the work is posted HERE,
Just as the cells of a body exchange their wares, so too, evidently, do the galaxies of our universe. These “internets” of cells and of galaxies that circulate their contents among their fellows would seem to rob cells and galaxies of their individuality, their independence, and show them to be enmeshed in processes that constitute interdependent relationships with their peers. Whether the findings described here tend to make galaxies seem more like cells or cells more like galaxies is a matter of a coin toss. The notions of metabolism and symbiosis apply broadly.
The star larvae hypothesis takes these findings as indicative of research results yet to come. The hypothesis predicts that the universe’s so-called inorganic processes will be shown to be aspects of metabolism in a broad sense, because the physical world consists of nested sets of organisms, some nuclear, some chemical, some gravitational and some perhaps of other natures, all related ecologically.
The ebb and flow of nature’s creative and destructive processes—of her energies and materials—compose a metabolism itself comprised of metabolisms, from quantum fluctuations to cosmological churning.
The overarching trend in this universe, so
far at least, has been one of increasing complexity arising in nature
as time passes, from the near homogeneity of the first millisecond that followed
the Big Bang to the countless arrangements of matter that constitute the
mature galaxies, solar systems, the terrestrial biosphere, and the ecosystems and now cities that ornament the Earth and potentially other planets. The implication is that the universe is still in an
active growing phase, part of a life cycle that began with a bang and
might end with a whimper, but sustained during its lifetime by bogglingly
complex and interwoven metabolic processes.
of looking at nature, putting biological notions in the center of the
conceptual map, is atavistic. It recalls ancient, archaic conceptions
of nature, in which the cosmos was conceived as being a living environment—as
being alive in its motions, ensouled. The most primitive religious conception
of nature apparently was one in which every discernible natural process
was seen to be alive, or at least to participate in animate processes. The idea that nature at its foundation is
nonliving and that life is a local aberration moving in the "wrong"
direction (away from entropy), is a very modern conception of nature and
of biology’s place in nature, and this concept has helped alienate
the modern mind from nature. The alienation has gained steam steadily since
the Enlightenment, but now it might be waning as ecological issues force
themselves on the consciousness of the industrialized world.
conception (of nature as a whole and in all of its parts constituting
living processes) was revived in modern times by a small number of philosophers,
including mathematician Alfred North Whitehead. He placed the concept of organism at
the center of his understanding of nature. For Whitehead, the concept
of organism superseded attributes of organic and inorganic and ultimately
even the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity. Organism is the fundamental
unit of natural organization, in his philosophy, of those things that
actually exist. It is the organizational pattern and process of being/becoming.
argued that the constituents of reality are events, or occurrences,
rather than things. The fundamental units of actuality come into being,
incorporating influences from the past; they take place, then they pass
into the past. They influence their descendants just as they are influenced by their ancestors. This notion formed the basis of Whitehead's
metaphysics, which he called the philosophy of organism. He summarized
his understanding in Science
and the Modern World:
point is that a further stage of provisional realism is required
in which the scientific scheme is recast, and founded upon the ultimate
concept of organism. [. . . . ] The concept of the order of nature
is bound up with the concept of nature as the locus of organisms
in the process of development."
Taoist yin-yang symbol represents the harmonization of opposites
into a unity—as of anabolism and
catabolism into metabolism—as
a metaphysical principle, an archetype of dynamic feedback processes that underlies the forms of the physical world.
problem is one of cellular psychology, sociology, or ecology, and
then of molecular psychology and ecology. Finally, everything is
a matter of individual and social psychology, on we know not how
human being is a relatively small organism, with a chemical metabolism.
A galaxy is a relatively large organism, with a nuclear-gravitational
metabolism. The star larvae hypothesis proposes that such metabolic characterizations apply generally to nature and, if substituted for
the concepts and language of complexity theory and thermodynamics,
provide a unifying perspective from which to view nature’s operations
on any scale and across scales.
physiology, anatomy, development, descent, symbiosis, parasitism, mutation,
metamorphosis, ecology, and other concepts from biology
might more usefully describe, than do the vocabularies of thermodynamics and complexity
theory, what occurs in nature—in and among atoms, molecules,
crystals, bacteria, humans and their societies, ecosystems, planetary
biospheres, solar systems, galaxies, superclusters of galaxies, and
whatever other organismic structures and processes to which the universe has given rise (or still might). What, for example, has the study of stars revealed?
That stars are born, that they progress through distinct developmental
stages, and that finally they die. (A peculiarity of astronomy is the use of the entrenched term, "stellar evolution," when what is meant is "stellar development" as it pertains to individual stellar life cycles.) Even given the difficulties inherent
in studying galaxies, the latest theories propose that the many forms of
galaxies represent particular stages of a generalized galactic life cycle
and that the internal processes of galaxies, such as star formation, are
controlled by feedback cycles. Astrophysicist Lee Smolin has proposed that
parent universes beget baby universes and that universes
evolve by natural selection. As much as scientific fundamentalists might
resist applying the language of livingness to anything outside of biology,
dismissing such applications as metaphorical, the biological shoe nevertheless seems
deep ordering principle—the general applicability of biological
relationships and operations—expresses itself also through the structures
and processes of human industry. The industries of human enterprise,
no less than those of bees or beavers, ought not be considered an
anomalous or unnatural development.
Life is not a fluke in the physical world, an unlikely localized countertrend
to the iron law of entropy, and neither is its industry. Life, as
a tendency to metabolize, to interweave catabolism and anabolism, drives the forms of
the physical world, both the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial,
the organic and the inorganic, the "natural" and the "engineered." Growth
and decay alike are local phenomena, always occurring within the context
of and subordinate to, a superordinate metabolism. Nature in this view
is defined as a nested hierarchy of organism-ecologies, in which the
discernible units, the stable disequilibria, function simultaneously
as organisms that participate in ecologies and as ecologies constituted
of subordinate organisms. In a seamless web.
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