Thursday, January 12, 2012

2-04 - The SUPERorganism

In his box of books in the jeep were another two, titled [SOCIOBIOLOGY] and [INSECT SOCIETIES], both heavy-duty hard-covers by the great scientist Edward O. Wilson. Today, he brought them out to read about termite mounds.

On p. 317 of [INSECT SOCIETIES], titled [The Superorganism Concept and Beyond], he read:

[The idea of homeostasis leads easily to the visualization of the entire insect colony as a kind of superorganism. In fact, the story of the superorganism concept, from its origin as a philosophical idea sixty years ago to its present sharp decline in contemporary thinking, should prove instructive to historians of science as well as to biologists with a more immediate interest in the subject. During some forty years, from 1911 to about 1950, this concept was a dominant theme in the literature on social insects. Then, at the seeming peak of its maturity it faded, and today it is seldom explicitly discussed...

[... the current generation of students of social insects... saw its future in stepwise experimental work in narrowly conceived problems, and it has chosen to ignore the superorganism concept... Seldom has so ambitious a scientific concept been so quickly and almost totally discarded.

[The superorganism concept faded not because it was wrong but because it no longer seemed relevant. It is not necessary to invoke the concept in order to commence work on animal societies. The concept offers no techniques, measurements, or even definitions by which the intricate phenomena in genetics, behaviour, and physiology can be unraveled. It is even difficult to cite examples where the conscious use of the idea led to a new discovery in animal sociology...

[... But it would be wrong to overlook the significant, albeit semiconscious, role this idea had played in the history of the subject...

[Finally, it might be asked what vision, if any, has replaced the superorganism concept… there is no new holistic conception...]

“So, what does this leave us?” I asked Raminothna. “It seems that the door has been slammed shut on the concept decades ago.”

“It is about to open again.”

“It slammed shut for a reason. Is the reason gone?”

“Yes it is.”

“And what is this reason?”

“There are several reasons.”

"Such as?"

"Tell me. Have they ever considered a human-based society as a superorganism?"

"Not in these books."

"And have they considered if the insect societies have the ability to form higher societies of their own?"

"No, and I've never thought of it myself either."

"Did the Superorganism concept considered the sociality of the superorganisms at all?"

"Not at all."

"Finally, a big problem resides right there in its very name."

“What? 'Superorganism'? Why? I thought it sounded fascinating, and should have raised widespread interest."

"It did, but only for 4 decades, then lost it. To raise interest is one thing, to keep it raised is another."

"So, what's wrong with its name?"

"Tell me. If you call a society of organisms a superorganism, what would you call a society of superorganisms?"

"Assuming that superorganisms can form societies of their own, of course?"

"Of course."

"If a society of organisms is a superorganism, then a society of superorganisms can only be called a 'Supersuperorganism'."

"And what do you call a society of supersuperorganism?"

"A supersupersuperorganism. Um, I think I'm beginning to see what you mean. It is cumbersome, to say the least."

"'To say the least' is right. More so, it is unsystematic."

"So what’s your solution?”

“What’s yours?”

“Well, first, we have established that the termite cell, termite and the termite mound are all organisms.”

“Yes, we have.”

“Wait. No, we haven’t. The termite cell is not an organism, is it? It is only a body cell of a termite which is an organism.”


“Because… it has lost its independence, for one thing.”

“Is this the only reason?”

“Isn’t it enough?”

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

“You did say that a termite an organism, didn’t you?”

“Yes I did.”

“Just like a grasshopper or a dragonfly is an organism?”


“Can a grasshopper. Live on its own?”

“Yes, it can.”

“Can a dragonfly live on its own?”

“Yes, it can.”

“Can a termite or a bee live on its own?”


“Has it lost its independence?”

“Yes it has."

"But your still consider the termite an organism."

"Yes, I do. I see what you mean. A body-cell of a termite, or dragonfly, in spite of its sociality, is nonetheless a bona fide organism, albeit a social one."

“So how do you solve the problem of the superorganism now?” I asked him what he asked me.

"It is very clear to me now," he said with light in his eyes. "Get rid of the prefix 'Super'. All are organisms, but on 3 different levels of organization - at least three: the Cellular, the Metazoan, and the Tribal. No more 'super super'!"


“And on each level of organization, there are nonsocial and social organisms.”

“Very good.”

“I can even write a simple equation to describe these levels: Society (X) = Organism (X+1), or Organism (X) = Society (X-1).”


“This is so obvious, why didn’t they think of it?”

“What did Thomas Huxley say after reading Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species?”

“I believe he said these very same words: 'This is so obvious why didn’t I think of it?'”

“A common question for the cerebral silver medalists.”

I am Raminothna,
the Fortunate and Called Upon,
at your service.

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2-03 - Organism as Society, Society as Organism

2-03 – Organism as Society, Society as Organism

There was a large mixed herd of Zebra and wildebeest grazing in the meadow, among the widely dispersed acacia trees and what looked like sandstone spires up to 20' tall. The landscape was so bright it was brilliant. The air was so silent it hissed. On the African savannah he was automatically silent, and whatever he said to anyone, principally himself, was done in a whisper.

And he whispered, "This is truly the holy of holies. It's no St. Peter’s Cathedral, only infinitely greater. The least of God's creation, so to speak, is greater than greatest production of man."

And I whispered back within him, "Ultimately, the Universe Itself is the supreme cathedral, the Earth is one of Its innumerable chambers of worship, and life is the act of worship itself."

He fell down on his knees in whatever humility a human being was capable, and in this attitude, he received a glimpse of perceptual pliancy in the 4th dimension.

"Take a mental time-lapse movie of this meadow covering a hundred years, then play it back in a hundred seconds. Tell me what you see after you have seen it," I instructed him.

He looked intensely at the meadow for what seemed like a hundred years, then said, “Yes, I saw what I think you wanted me to see. But I don’t see what point you’re trying to make.”

“What did you see?”

“Well, first, I saw the grass covering the meadow. It was like a shimmering carpet alternating green and brown once every second, that is, once every year in real time.”

“Good start.”

“Next, the trees. They sprouted from the ground, mushroomed to full stature, then suddenly collapsed, and eventually crumbled to nothing, all within a few dozen seconds, decades that is, each in its own time of course."

"Go on."

"And while they live, they give off once-per-second flowering flashes.”


“And the animals. They're individually invisible, because they move too fast. Instead, they formed a ground-hugging probability cloud, with a thin aerial probability haze for the birds.”

“Excellent. Now that the stage is set, let's bring on the living spires.”

“The living spires, yes. They behaved just like the trees. They sprout from the ground just like the trees, mushroom to full size just like the trees, then suddenly dying and eventually crumbling to nothing, just like the trees, all within several dozen seconds just like the trees, each in its own time of course, just like the trees. And while they live, just like the trees, they also give off once-per-second flashes, which in their case comprises the release and swarming of reproductive units from all the spires simultaneously. This is what you want me to see, isn’t it?”

“And what do you make of it?”

“On the understanding that these spires are in fact termite mounds, I surmise that your point is that a termite mound is as alive as a tree."

“Yes, but not far enough.”

“I would have thought that to call a termite mound alive is already going a little too far, since only the termites are alive, but not the shell of the mound.”

“Is this like saying that calling a crab alive is going a little too far, since only its cells are alive, but not its shell?”

“But a crab is a bona fide organism – a certified living thing.”

“Aha, now we’re getting somewhere.”

“You’re not actually saying that a termite mound is a bona fide organism, are you?”

“Isn’t it?”

“Well, there is one test I learned in high school that can answer this for certain. I can run it through the gauntlet of classical biology’s Seven Vital Functions. A candidate entity must possess all seven vital functions to qualify as a bona fide organism.”

“Sure. Do it.”

“Okay. The First Vital Function is Nutrition. A bona fide organism needs to ingest materials of some kind, be it solar energy, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide and certain minerals in the case of plants, and plants and other animals in the case of animals. The termite mound does need to ingest materials, which includes grass, leaves and dead wood.”

“Do the termites themselves ingest the grass, leaves and dead wood?”

“Actually, they do not.”

“What do they ingest?”

“They ingest a specific species of fungus that grows on a substrate composed of mulched grass, leaves and wood.”

“So, what exactly is the food for the termite mound?”

“Grass, leaves and wood.”

“And the fungus?”

“An intermediate product of the mound’s physiology.”

"Move on.”

“The Second Vital Function is Excretion. An organism needs to remove waste material from itself. The mound does discharge waste material, such as exhausted fungal substrate, uneaten fungal parts, miscellaneous debris and dead termites.”

“And the termite’s own excreta?”

“It is used as a cement for the shell and internal partitions of the mound."

"So the termites’ own excretion is not the termite mound’s excretion?"

"Looks not. The termites' own excreta is the internal secretion of the mound for building the shell of the mound, equivalent to the secretions of those crab cells which builds the shell of the crab.”

“Go on.”

“The Third Vital Function is Reactivity. The mound does react to external stimuli. If attacked, e.g. by ants, ant-eaters, etc., it defends itself - by means of its soldiers. If damaged, it heals itself - by means of the major workers.”

“Go on.”

“The Fourth Vital Function is Movement. Movements of the termites within the mound notwithstanding, the mound itself can send out a stream of termites, like a tentacle, to procure food. So, in fact, a termite mound as a whole has more power of movement than a tree.”

"Go on."

“The Fifth Vital Function is Growth. The termite mound does grow, as our virtual video demonstrated, in physical size as well as its internal termite population."

"Go on."

“The Sixth Vital Function is Homeostasis. The termite mound can maintain its own core temperature to within one degree year round regardless of external air temperature. If heated, it cools itself by having the minor workers to go down to the water table via tunnels dug by the major workers, sometimes meters down, each bringing back a droplet of water in its jaws, which they would then stick onto a partition wall, thus cooling the mound. If chilled, the mound warms itself by the termites clustering at the core, thus maintaining its core temperature. Another aspect of Homeostasis is that if disturbed, the mound has a tendency to return to its 'default' order."

"Go on."

“The Seventh Vital Function is Reproduction. The termite mounds do reproduce.”

“Are you referring to the termites themselves reproducing?”

“No. As pointed out before, termite reproduction is actually the growth of the mound. Mound reproduction is old mounds begetting new mounds. And the new mounds, and their termite constituents, are genetically and memetically the same as the old mounds.”

“And so?”

“So, now, I conclude that a termite mound is a bona fide organism, a certified living thing, according to classical biology.”

“There is even an Eighth Vital Function, if you’re interested.”

“Really? Do tell."


"I see."

"Not only do the termite cells evolve, and the termites evolve, the mounds evolve as well - in size, shape, internal structure, and the societal termite species within.”

“Okay, consider me convinced. A termite cell, a termite and a termite mound are all fide societies organisms, just on different levels of organization."

"How many levels of organizations have you seen so far?"

"Three: the Cellular, the Metabion, and the, let's say, Tribal levels of organization. And on each level, there seems to be nonsocial and social units.”

"You have it right and straight."

"So, what is the significance of all this?

“’Society as organism’ is an extremely important concept in its own right, an a central founding principle of the Omniscientific Cosmology.”

I am Raminothna,
the Fortunate and Called Upon,
at your service.

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)

2-02 - Perceptual Pliancy for Cosmic Consciousness

Dear Homo Sapiens of Earth:

He woke up from the dream still submerged in the amoeba's scale of perception, such that, as soon as he stood up, he felt as if he was ten miles tall, and had to sit down to prevent toppling over.

The pond, which was but 60 feet away, now looked like a lake, but one a hundred miles distant. There was a dragonfly poised on a bulrush stalk at the edge of the pond, and though they looked small, on the amoeba's scale they were enormous, so his eyes saw them as being huge, but very far away.

Further to this space dilation, even beauty was enhanced. Take the pond, for instance. Were it really a lake a hundred miles away, it would look discoloured and hazy, but now, it looked crystal clear, with its colours in shining in all their glory. The only way his eyes could handle this was to interpret the pond, the bulrush and the dragonfly as all emitting some kind of inner light, and that the air was 110% smog-free. This invoked Aldous Huxley's hallucination in "The Doors of Perception".

"What you are experiencing is what is known as Perceptual Pliancy, which is essential for Cosmic Consciousness." I commented.

"I see what you mean," he said, entranced.

"What is the one word that comes to mind while perceiving yourself as being ten miles tall?"

He hunted for the word, then said, "Majestic."

"How about a down-and-out homeless person on skid road?"

"Down and out, but still majestic."

"And the dragonfly?"

"I'm awed by it, as I would be by the starship Enterprise were it hovering right in front of me."

"You may now consider you having experienced half of Perceptual Pliancy."

"What is the other half?"

"What you have experienced is to see the small as large, or the tiny as huge, depending on the degree of spatial dilation involved. The other half of Perceptual Pliancy is to see the large as small, or the huge as tiny, depending on the spatial contraction involved."

"So how can I experience this other half?"

"Soon you shall see."

While still on spatial dilation, he regarded the landscape all around - the acacia trees, the soaring eagles, the wild flowers, the bees, the termite mounds, even a blade of grass... are all majesty personified, the present tense appropriate to their majesty's being timeless. And how could he bypass the butterflies, which should have been called the Beautifly, one of which having just landed on a flower within arm's reach.

I posed to him a puzzle. "As a cell, is the amoeba social or non-social?"

"We've been through this before. As a cell an amoeba is non-social."

"And the egg of a butterfly, or any cell in its body, is it social or non-social."


"What is the product of Integrative Transcendence of social cells?"

"A cellular society called a Multicellular Organism."

"'Multicelluar Organism', being two words, is cumbersome for future use. Give me a single word for it."

"In biology, a multicellular animal is called a Metazoan."

"What about a multicellular plant?"

"Hm, I don't think there is any such word. You might call it a 'Metaphyta', I suppose."

"Give me a single word for 'Multicellular Organism', embracing both animals and plants."

"I could make up one. How about 'Metabion'?"

"'Metabion' it is. So then, is a metabion, say a dragonfly, or butterfly, social or non-social?"

"Both are non-social."

"Do you see any Social Metabions around here?"

"I do. There are bees, ants, termites, lions, and the Masai."

"What is a society of bees called?"

"A hive."

"What is a society of lions called?"

"A pride."

"What is a society Masais called?"

"A boma, or village"

"What is your own society called?"

"A city, called Vancouver, of a country called Canada."

"So now, abstractly, what do you see?"

He pondered for some time. "Abstractly, I see a multi-levelled structure of at least two levels - the Cellular level and the Metabion level - each comprising nonsocial and social organisms."

"And, abstractly, what do you call one of these levels?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Give a generic word for one of these levels."

"I still don't..."

"If I ask you to fill in the blank, what would you put into the blank in 'Level of _______"?

Again, he pondered, then said, "'Organization'. I would call each level a 'Level of Organization'."

"You got it."

I am Raminothna,
the Fortunate and Called Upon,
at your service.

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)

Monday, January 2, 2012

2-01 - Amoeba's Illuminating Dream


Dear Homo Sapiens of Earth:

On New Year's Eve, he said, "When?"

In the early morning of New Year's Day, he awoke from a dream that gave him a first clue of what this "inconceivable" Tao might be.

It would be strange enough for a human to dream of being a non-human - a lion maybe, an eagle, even a dragonfly, but of everything on Earth, he dreamed of being an amoeba, one living on the bottom of the pond beside which he was sleeping.

"He", the amoeba, had climbed up the stem of a bulrush, a “Stairway to Heaven” in amoebal lingo, for the pond was his universe, the realm beyond which being "Heaven".

He was pushing as hard as he could to penetrate the water/air barrier, in vain. Finally, in frustration, exhaustion and resignation, he began his dispirited descent back towards his bottom-feeding, amoeba-eat-amoeba existence, when he heard, “What are you doing, my friend?”

He looked around and encountered a spherical being attached to the Stairway, glowing luminously in the filtered moonlight. Despite its being many sizes larger than him, it seemed benign, and he felt at ease.

“I'm trying to go to Heaven," he said, without shame.

"I'm glad you've failed, since you would have died had you succeeded."

"Who are you?”

“My name is Raminothna."

"What are you?"

"I am an egg.”

“What is an egg?”

"An egg is a single cell that will develop into a multicellular organism."

"What is a, what you say, multicellular organism?"

"In the present context, it is something that, unlike you, can go to your Heaven - without dying in the process."

“I want so badly to go!" he lamented without reservation. "I'm tired of my mundane existence. I want to transcend to a higher realm and live with the gods!”

“I can appreciate the sentiment, but I’m afraid you are going about it the wrong way,” said the egg without condescension.

“Oh yeah? Well, if you know the right way, why are you still stuck in here, eh? At least I have some freedom of movement, unlike you!”

“I will be out of this pond before the next full moon.”

"You are quite sure of yourself, aren't you?"

"I know what will happen."

"So, how will it happen?"

“By means of Integrative Transcendence."

"Come again?"

"Integrative Transcendence."

"Two huge words. I can't handle even one of it."

"Tell me. How do you reproduce?”

“I beg your pardon?"

"How do you reproduce?"

"That’s a bit personal, don't you think?”

“You did ask.”

“Okay, I reproduce asexually, by dividing into two, then two into four, four into eight, eight into sixteen, and so on. How about you?”

“The same.”

“So, what is the difference?”

“You are a single cell and I'm a single cell, but the difference lies in how we reproduce, and how our descendants will behave. Now tell me. Are your descendants detached or attached to each other?”


“Are they differentiated or identical?”


“Are they mutually competitive or cooperative?”

“Mutually competitive, for food - bacteria mostly, if not other amoebae. And what about your descendants? Are they detached or attached?”

“They are attached to each other.”

“So they can't crawl about as we do?”

“No, they cannot.”

“So, they don't even have the freedom of movement? Then I don’t see how you can teach me anything.”

“Here is how. Unlike your descendants, mine will be differentiated in relation to each other, both structurally and behaviorally. And though they will be stuck fast to each other, they will share a discontinuously higher level of collective freedom.”

“I don't see it.”

"Of course not, since you have no facility of sight."

"Now that's un-called-for!"

“My apologies. Okay, let me explain. Some of my descendants will become eyes so all can see the sights of your Heaven; others will become legs so all can walk with gigantic strides; some will form protective armor so all can live in the rarified atmosphere; still others will become wings so all can fly in the heavenly winds, not just from pond to pond, but clear over the mountain, not at your amoebal speed of a meter per day, but at 100 kilometers per hour. A quantum leap in power if you've ever imagined one.”

"Wow! What kind of a god that would that make?"

"A dragonfly."

"A DRAGONfly, sounds formidable. How big is it?"

"On your scale, immense, like a spaceship, one that can delivery its own millions of highly social crew members out of this pond into your Heaven, there to live together as one, as the living dragonfly itself."

"Can you take me along?"

"I would love to, but I can't. You are a non-social cell, and do not qualify. You'll have to socialize yourself first."

"What do you mean 'socialize'? You mean to get my kids to stick together, differentiate and cooperate? That'd never happen."

"Not for a billion years or so."

"That's an eternity!"

"But from what I hear, amoebae never die, they just multiply forever. You'll get there one day."

"You think?"

"Just remember those two words."

"Those two huge words? You'll have to run them past me again."

"No problem. Ready?"



"Integrative Transcendence."

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)