Saturday, November 20, 2004

Developmental Microbiology and Caste

Here's one of the fundamental puzzles in science:

When an egg is fertilized and begins to divide, the divided cells share the exact same DNA. In fact, they're identical as far as we know. These cells, however, begin to arrange themselves into differentiated groupings: some become bone, some brain, some liver, etc. The fact that they begin to diverge from each other is no shock, but the fact that they always end up in the very exact, complex form of a human is. They each hold identical instructions (DNA), so how do they know to take on different roles, and especially, how do they create such a similar complex structure without any outside guidance and instruction? This is the fundamental puzzle of developmental microbiology, and we do not have an answer to this day.

There are various theories--usually labeled "New Age" and rarely acknowledged by the microbiology community--that suggest that the "field" or "vibration" or something similar in the mother guides the development of these cells. John Holland, in his book "Hidden Order" (see book list on side bar) attempts to solve this problem in his computer simulations of life, but cannot. It's a mystery.

Now take a step back and look at human society. When it comes to raw resources, all societies are composed of very similar building blocks--humans, just like humans are composed of very similar building blocks--cells. Why is it that isolated societies tend to develop remarkably similar systems of symbolism, religion, even political mechanics? Is the similarity between Ceres/Bacchus/Demeter, Horus/Isis/Osiris, Jesus/Mary/God due to cultural diffusion, or is it due to some larger pattern that invisibly guides societal development? Do so many cultures share a mythology of a flood (Vikings, Mayan, Incan, Persian, Christian, Aboriginal, etc.) because it actually happened, or because of the guidance of this unidentified pattern? Could this same concept of organizing pattern answer the questions of society and microbiology?

Perhaps of greater concern, is escape from this pattern possible? Science can't explain why cells dividing from a fertilized egg ever divide themselves into bone vs. muscle, brain vs. liver, etc. Why don't they just keep dividing to form a big blob? Similarly, there have been many (continuous?) attempts to influence the stratification of humans in society: Marxist and communists and democratic idealists all push for a society in which there is no stratification of priviledge or power. Similarly, autocracies have attempted to create societies completely subservient to a small ruling group. Why have all of these attempts always failed? Why are there always outcasts and rebels, followers and leaders, plodders and innovators? Is this pattern of stratification due to some larger pattern that dictates caste to humanity much like some unknown force tells some cells to become bone and others muscle despite the fact that they both began as identical (or in the case of humanity, nearly identical) organisms?

It may be a stretch to compare microbiology to human society. In fact, the only value may be metaphorical. However, it is critical to any theory of political philosophy to explain IF all people can possibly exist free and independent, or IF some people need to follow obsequiously. WHAT causes some to be restless and look for new answers, and others to happily accept a life of repetition and order? Is there some form of caste built in to the governing pattern of human organization? I explore this topic briefly in the framework of H. G. Well's Eloi and Morlock in my book, "A Theory of Power", but it remains an unanswered question. Is this stratification of human functioning increasing as hierarchy increases? Will it divide us into multiple species, some literally serving others? Is it dependent on the size of a hierarchy, as this phenomenon exhibits less in smaller, more isolated societies than it does in large, integrated hierarchies?

This is a critical question to anyone who would change politics, society or spirituality. It also seems to touch on questions of identity, self and soul. Is there a fundamental organizing pattern in our world that relegates some to slavery and elevates others to some kind of pattern nobility? What is the cause of this pattern-influence: does it create hierarchy, or is it the result of it? Can it be altered, and how? Like other patterns of control, can we free ourselves by means of awareness of the mechanics of its influence???

No comments: