Conclusion to The Web of Life
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~ Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu
Physics → Chemistry → Biology
Operationally, the above triumvirate is guided by economy in the employment of energy. Biology goes beyond physics and chemistry in needing memory for cognition. Life takes coherence to another level in embodying a force which matter and energy alone cannot explain: consciousness.
Though pondered throughout history, what defines life has yet to garner consensus. The orderly energetics of organic chemistry are championed by those with a matterist bent. Philosophers ponder purpose, and scratch at the soil of abstraction for the root of soul.
Life comprises organisms attuned to information as the means for survival and self-fulfillment. Living transpires via ecological intelligence: understanding the environment, acting accordingly to stay alive, and, for some, achieving an ersatz immortality through future generations.
In Nature, the wiles to survive and propagate represent a significant accomplishment. The world is treacherous. Survival does not come easy. Ease in being is seldom attained.
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The machinations of microbes come in superb chemical engineering: dynamic intelligence at the molecular level. Beyond astuteness, sociality and sense of community help ensure microbe survival.
Beyond the microbial, plants and their aquatic antecedents form the foundation of every ecosystem. On land, plants have long dominated eukaryotic life. In contrast, until the advent of humans, the global impact of animals was largely inconsequential.
Plants willfully have relations with every kingdom of life, as do microbes. Compared to prokaryotes, plants more intimately understand other life, and, with their chemical concoctions, exploit that comprehension with subtlety. Plants possess intelligence unsurpassed.
Plants can be territorial but are no more so than demanding a home for themselves and their kin. Even the most territorial plant retains a sense of community.
Flowering plants not only have a sense of fairness, they demonstrate altruism. Nectar and fruit are gifts bestowed to those that help plants. In stark contrast to the civilizations of plants, there never is an ecological beneficence to human civilization.
Adhering to a primal instinct of “might makes right,” humans have long suckled a superiority illusion: that they possessed a unique intelligence. Such selfsame singularly of smarts may be said of plants or microbes.
The savvy inherent in every phylum has some novel combination. Different lifestyles involve disparate perceptions and cognitive perspectives. Yet all mentation involves examining objects and figuring relations.
Each species has all the intelligence it needs and then some. Survival depends upon it.
“Nature is all intelligence and beauty.” ~ Indian guru Nisargardatta Maharaj
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Physics and chemistry show irreducible entanglements as their foundation. So too biology.
Among themselves, microbes – ever social – invariably form communities. That is just the start of their sociality. Every eukaryote depends upon its microbiome. To larger life, microbes are an unacknowledged Lilliputian lifesaver. That is merely the commencement of life’s entanglements. Every animal ultimately depends upon phytoplankton or plants. These natural reliances comprise a dynamic web of life.
Spokes of the Wheel continues with Spokes 3: The Elements of Evolution.