Chapter 3


When I said earlier that life is not one constant process headed somewhere I did not mean that there is not a process within life; and this is our second major characteristic of living bodies: they all grow for at least part of their lives.

Growth is the process by which the living body goes from its initial instability as living to its mature state.

Growth does not necessarily mean "getting bigger." Many plants (such as trees) in their mature states continue to get bigger; but this is really a kind of adaptation to the seasons than a tendency toward larger size. That is, plants that do not die back to the roots every year nevertheless tend to lose their leaves; but apparently it is not possible to put forth leaves in the same place where the old ones dropped off, and therefore, new leaves and stems must be introduced. Also, when the sap drains into the roots, the sap-bearing layer of cells is no longer suited for this function, and so a new layer must be supplied. So the tree grows bigger by doing more or less the same thing we do when we replace our skin cells; the only difference is that the old cells don't disappear, but remain as a kind of skeleton supporting the new living cells, which perforce make the whole organism bigger.

This is different from the process of growth as such, which might better be called "maturation," perhaps. In growth, the organism at the beginning cannot perform all the properties it can perform in its mature condition, and so it acquires the bodily parts and the requisite energy to be able to do this. As an example, the apple tree in my side yard this year for the first time was full of blossoms, although it has been alive for a number of years. Up to this year, it was an immature tree, because it couldn't reproduce; but now it can do all that an apple tree can do; it is now in biological equilibrium.

This, then, allows us to say the following:

Conclusion 7: Biological equilibrium is the condition in which all of the living acts given in the genetic potential of the organism can be performed.

I say the condition in which they can be performed because of what I said above dealing with rest, and also with human choice. It does not follow that if a living being can do some given act, it is doing it.

But what is this "genetic potential?" Once again we find that the body cannot do anything without a mechanism. The basic mechanism of the body is the genetic structure of the cells, which harks back to the genetic structure of the first cell it was when it began its life.

But then what is this genetic structure? I will assume that you are familiar enough with elementary biology to know that every cell has a nucleus in which there are a certain number of "chromosomes," which take color when the cell is stained, and actually consist of interlocked spirals of a very complex carbon molecule called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), locations on which are called "genes," and determine (usually in clusters) characteristics the body is to have. The chromosomes with their genes are the genetic structure of the organism.

Now the "genetic potential" of the organism is the properties that are allowed by the bodily parts and so on that the genetic structure determines. Thus, it is within my genetic potential to walk around and breathe oxygen, while it is beyond a tree's genetic potential to move from place to place, and it can only breathe oxygen at night.

The genetic potential of an organism is individual as well as specific; it is within the genetic potential of Radu Lupu to do things to the piano that I could only dream of no matter how hard I practiced, and I can do things which are entirely beyond the retarded friend I have who lives three houses down the street.

We can leave to biologists details of which genes in combination with which other ones determine what bodily parts and so what properties; but there are some things we need to say for our purposes of finding out what the nature of the living body is.

First of all, we can say this:

Conclusion 8: The genetic structure of the body is not the life of the body, or its unifying energy.

The reason this must be true is that the cells of a corpse have the complete genetic structure; but the body is no longer alive. Hence, the genetic structure is merely the basic mechanism the unifying energy uses to construct the body.

But, like all that we have seen so far with living bodies, it is not that simple. The genetic structure seems to precede the unifying energy and determine it, even though it is not the same as that energy.

But all the genetic structure is, in the last analysis, is a pattern; the genes of themselves don't really do anything, as can again be seen from corpses. True, there are chemical interactions that take place along the chromosomes, and these chemical reactions (which involve the formation of new chemicals by the fact that some atoms get temporarily attracted to the genetic locations--"lightly stuck," as it were--until their number is complete, whereupon they bond together and become "unglued" from the template) more or less happen automatically; but they don't seem to be going on in dead cells, nonetheless, and certainly not in any systematic way, as happens in living ones.

But I think it safe to say that the genetic structure is passive with respect to the unifying energy, not active; the unifying energy is active, but it apparently can't act without there being a limitation or curb on its activity to prevent it from riding off in all directions at once; and since it is going to be doing very complex acts, then the very complex genetic structure forms a manual of what it can do and what it can't, like those massive tomes you get when you buy a new computer program. They can't operate the program, and the program itself can't do anything; but you can make the program do many things within the limitations it imposes on the switches of the computer's circuitry.

This seems to be confirmed by the fact of viral infection. If "being alive" involves a biological equilibrium at higher than the body's ground state, then it does not seem as if viruses are alive; they don't do anything to maintain a high energy level, and give no evidence of nutrition, growth, reproduction, or repair of injuries as living bodies do, including such simple organisms as bacteria.

What they are is strands of DNA with a shell around them which collapses (in a mechanical sort of way) on contact with a living cell, injecting the DNA into it. The cell then takes this into its nucleus, and uses it as a template for its constructive activities; but unfortunately what this template is the plans for is other virus particles; and so the cell turns itself into a factory for manufacturing more viruses, until it exhausts itself and bursts, releasing all of its warehouse of viruses, which then hit other cells and get injected into them.

So the virus doesn't reproduce in the body; it is reproduced by the living body; and it can't be killed either by the body (though it can be broken apart, of course, which is like killing), because, unlike bacteria, it isn't alive. The only thing the body can do to avoid destroying itself wholly is (a) recognize that some untoward activity is happening, (b) find what foreign object (the virus) is connected with it, and (c) devise some kind of chemical that will break it apart, so that it can't fool the cells' construction mechanisms any longer. When this happens, you begin to feel better.

Apparently, then, the unifying energy is in itself beyond, somehow, the particular body it is in, and uses the genetic structure of the body as determining what the limits of its activity are to be--if you will, exactly how it is to finitize itself, or be finitized.

Once again, this is not to say that the unifying energy is some sort of spirit that decides it wants to inhabit a body, and in so doing lets itself be limited by the genetic structure of the initial cell of the body. It is not quite to say that. There is no evidence in the lowest forms of living bodies (the non-sentient ones) that the body ever does anything that doesn't have a quantity; and in spite of the fact that you can't tell that a living body is incapable of doing something when it doesn't happen to be doing it, still, if a body--even a living body--never does some act, it's a pretty safe bet that it never does so because it can't.

So presumably, the unifying energy in at least the lowest forms of living bodies is energy and does have a quantity; and also presumably, this quantity is somehow dependent on the structure of the genetic molecules. Indirectly, then, they determine the bodily structure, by determining what the unifying energy is limited to being able to do as it builds the body and integrates its parts once built and uses those parts to perform its properties.

To come finally to growth, then, the first thing that happens is that the fertilized cell is made unstable in a way determined by the genetic structure, and the act of nutrition begins. At this first moment, the living body is unstable in both directions: (a) downward toward its ground state and death, because already at the first moment of life, it exists at too high an energy-level for the physics and chemistry of the system; and (b) upward toward either some intermediate dormant stage or toward its biological equilibrium. So the initial living body simultaneously has too much and too little energy: too much as a body, and too little as living.

Since the living body is physically unstable all through its life, then as it heads toward biological equilibrium, it must be able to survive and fight off its counter-tendency at every stage of its growth. This means that for practical purposes, growth will be sporadic, and the organism is apt to have rather different shapes along the various stages of its development, while it erratically develops properties. Some properties (and parts, in fact) might be necessary only for certain stages of growth, and may appear only then and not earlier or later.

But the thing that is instructive for our purposes is that growth is a progress of increase of total energy, and is exactly the opposite of what the Second Law of Thermodynamics would lead one to expect.

Now it is true that if you take the growing organism in its environment, that system runs down. That is, the amount of energy in the sunlight (or air) and the food and the organism is greater than the amount of energy in the organism and its waste products; there is a loss of energy in the form of the "free energy" of heat, even though the act of nutrition loses very little, in comparison with mechanical systems. Still, there is a net degeneration of the organism-environment system, with some energy lost out of the system as the organism nourishes itself. And this is consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Nevertheless, it is still true that there is a net gain in energy for the organism itself; the net loss is on the part of the nutrients and the oxygen or energy that breaks them down. The organism itself, of course, uses up energy in the process, as you can verify if you chew on some very tough meat; but from its point of view, this loss is more than compensated for by the amount of energy released from the breakdown of the molecules of the food; so it has more energy than before it started nourishing itself.

Hence, looking at the living organism as the system in question, it runs up, not down, in growth; and this is an anomaly from the point of view of inanimate bodies and the laws of physics.

So where are we? Something in the genetic structure tells the unifying energy, "You have too few parts; you need these and these and these; and you have far too little energy; get to work and get this much"--and this puts the unifying energy into that peculiar instability of having not enough total energy, and of needing to pull it in from the environment.

One of the things that this implies is the following:

Conclusion 9: The purpose of growth (the biological equilibrium) cannot be determined by the quantity of the unifying energy.

The reason is, of course, that the quantity of the unifying energy is the energy-level it exists at; and at the beginning (in fact, at any stage right up to maturity), it doesn't have enough.

It is easy enough to think of instability as quantity-determined when the instability consists in having too much energy for the particular form of unification in question; but how could the amount determine the purpose (the future equilibrium) when there isn't that much yet? The amount, after all, is just a limit--this much and no more; and so the amount itself can't "need" more than itself.

In one sense, of course, the genetic structure determines the amount the biological equilibrium is to be (except possibly in humans, but let us table that for a while; we have troubles enough as it is). But, as I said, the genes are passive, not active, and so they can tell what instability there should be in the unifying energy, but they aren't the instability, and they can't really put it there either; all they are are chemicals.

Once again it sounds as if the form of the unifying energy is responsible for the instability itself as "less than the energy it should be"; it, as it were, while reading the plans of the genetic structure, "feels the need" to be greater than this minuscule energy level that it happens to be at at the moment, and proceeds to take steps to remedy the situation.

Hence, we can probably say this:

Conclusion 10: The control of the living body comes from the form of its unifying energy, not from the quantity of that form.

But the living body is still limited quantitatively; it is just that which quantity it is to have is not determined (as in inanimate bodies) by the quantity it has at the moment, but by the form as limited by the form of the genetic molecules. It has to be their form, not their quantity, because various living bodies of the same species exist at very different levels in their biological equilibria, but the genetic molecules which determine (indirectly) these biological equilibria have the same quantity, but different forms (i.e. different chemicals at the genetic locations).

So now we have the form of the unifying activity, which has a quantity because of the amount of energy available in the parts it is unifying, determining for itself the energy it is "supposed" to have (its purpose) because it is somehow forced to do so by the genetic pattern that it is reading. There seems to be a very strange kind of independence-dependence here.

And there is something even stranger in the growth of plants. The first thing that a plant's cell produces, generally speaking, is a seed, which is living at a very low level, barely maintaining itself, so that it can last in this state for a long time. There is no tendency here to grow into the mature plant; a seed will remain a seed until it dies. Hence, the seed is in equilibrium at a lower level of life than the plant it will become when water penetrates the shell; once that happens, growth toward the adult stage starts. It can no longer remain a seed, but must acquire new energy and parts or die.

But of course, the internal organization of the seed is such that a very slight disruption puts it into the instability whose purpose is the mature plant; and the kind of disruption that does this is the kind that normally occurs when the seed is in an environment such that the growing plant will have the nutrients from the earth that it needs to produce the mature plant.

It is easy to see why this occurs, because plants stay in one place, and in order to reproduce, something has to be done to get the offspring off the plant and onto the ground--and at a distance away from the parent plant, so that the two will not be competing with each other. Hence, there has to be a dormant stage where the seed can be carried even vast distances unharmed until it is in the proper place to grow into another plant.

This implies, however, that a given genetic structure can determine entirely different forms of living bodies. The genetic structure of the initial cell obviously determined the formation of the seed, and therefore what the unifying energy was doing when it was building the seed is entirely different from what it does when it is the seed, and from what it is doing as the growing and living body afterwards (the plant).

Once the body begins growing toward its adult stage, however, we can say that the form of its unifying energy is the same form as that of the adult. The reason is that all during growth, it is unstable with the adult organism as its purpose; but the purpose can't (as we saw) come from the quantity of this unifying energy, nor can it really come from the genetic structure--especially since we now see that the genetic structure is has the pattern for different kinds of bodies built into it (the seed as well as the mature plant), and it of itself does not decide which one is to be the purpose. Nor can the parts of the body determine the purpose, because the immature organism does not have all the parts, or at least does not have fully developed parts, and so how could they determine what they are to be in their fully developed state? Hence, the only thing left that could be the real determining factor in the purpose toward which the organism is growing is the form of the unifying energy. So Conclusion 10 stands up to this test. But what it means for us is the following:

Conclusion 11: If an organism is growing toward its mature state, the form of its unifying energy is the same as the form it has in its mature state.

This once again shows us the scientific basis for why abortion is such a tragedy. There is no "seed" stage in human development; the embryo and fetus are by no means dormant or in equilibrium as they exist in the uterus; they are constantly growing in an unbroken (if erratic) process right up to the adulthood of the human being, which is the only equilibrium they have. Hence, the human embryo, from the time growth starts, is a human being, and to kill one is not essentially different from killing an infant or killing a ten-year-old, or killing an adult.(1) We do not have rights because we are fully expressing our genetic potential, or sleeping people would lose their rights; we have human rights because we are organized in the human way; and this is the human form of unifying energy. So abortion is homicide; the fact that it has a special name does not make it any less homicide, any more than the fact that infanticide has a special name makes it any less homicide.

I said in the preceding part that the notion that the fetus is a "part" of the mother won't hold water. The embryo is not even attached to the mother during the earliest stages of his life; he moves down the fallopian tube into the uterus and then attaches himself to the mother--taking nutrients he needs, and making the mother uncomfortable and even sick, blocking the mechanisms by which her body rejects him as a foreign object, just as a tapeworm does. No, the human embryo or fetus is a distinct organism living inside the mother; and he is a human organism. Hence, even though a given genetic structure is compatible with different kinds of bodies, this is not the case with the human body as it develops toward its biological equilibrium.

There is another kind of development where an organism takes on two different forms of organization: the larva and the insect, of which the most dramatic example is the caterpillar and the butterfly. The organism is alive all the time, and there is no state of suspended animation as in the seed; but it lives with two different kinds of life. At first, the organism grows into the full-sized larva, which has its own organs, its own metabolism, and so on; but it lacks sexual potency. When the larva is fully developed, then a completely different form of unifying energy takes over, and the organism goes into a state where all that it is doing is building a completely new body, with different organs and parts adapted to a different set of properties; and finally, we have the biological equilibrium of the mature insect, which now is sexually potent, but whose acts of nutrition and so on are totally different from what they were before; it drinks nectar rather than eating leaves, for instance.

As I also mentioned in the preceding part, this sort of metamorphosis does not happen in the human being, and so abortions are not justified on this ground. From the beginning, the body is building the parts that make sense for its life as an adult human being, not for its life inside the uterus; and the behavior of the fetus as he grows involves a certain amount of practice in using these organs that are intelligible only in reference to life outside the womb: breathing the amniotic fluid, swallowing, and so on.

Hence, even though there are various ways in which a single body can have different living forms of unifying energy (and so be different kinds of living body) at different stages in its life, this does not apply to the human being; the human being is a human being from the first moment the human ovum is disrupted into being unstable with the purpose of being a human adult.

But when does this occur? Obviously, some time between the time when the sperm touches the outer wall of the ovum and the time when the first cell division begins. The cell division is clearly the result of the instability; the body is now building itself into an adult. But the genetic material of the father has to get into the nucleus of the cell to disrupt it; and there is a time of some minutes between the "attack" of the sperm on the outer wall of the cell and the time when the genetic material of the sperm is actually in the nucleus; and during this time, the ovum is still probably an ovum, and not a human being, though at this time, using Aristotle's terminology, it is potentially human.

That is, the ovum itself (and sperm, of course) is potentially human in a remote sense, the way the seed is the potential plant. It is in equilibrium as what it is, but it can be disturbed; and if it is disturbed, what it will turn into is nothing but a human being (or a corpse, of course). I might point out that this potency is basically in the ovum, because with some organisms, such as chickens, it is possible to "fertilize" an infertile egg with a pin, such that it grows into a chicken (with, of course, half the normal number of chromosomes). The act of the pinprick disturbs the equilibrium of the egg, giving it the purpose of being a chicken, more or less in the way in which water disturbs the seed, giving it the purpose of being the mature plant (except that the seed, of course, has the full genetic structure).

But once the sperm penetrates the outer wall, but before the material is in the nucleus, the ovum is now still potentially human, but in a proximate sense; the Scholastics call this sense of "potentially" virtually human, because nothing short of violence is going to stop it from becoming human, even though it isn't human at the moment.

But when the ovum is actually disrupted and becomes unstable (once the genetic material of the father is in the nucleus and starts the action), then the organism is actually a human being; the only thing that can be said about it now in terms of "potency" is that it is a potential adult. But so is the child; the potential adulthood of the child does not mean that it is not human, any more than the sleeping human is Consnot human.

One final "pro-choice" ploy. It is sometimes alleged that the fact that separation of the initial cells will produce twins means that in the initial stages, the embryo is not a unit, and hence has no unifying energy, but is just an undifferentiated mass of cells. But separation and separate growth of the parts does not imply lack of unity in the organism. I mentioned earlier that fully grown organisms like starfish and most plants will grow copies of themselves if parts are taken off and given the proper nutrients; but this does not imply that the starfish is not a unit while its arm is on it. All it means is that the parts are still unified with the same form of unifying energy when they are broken off; and that the organism is simple enough (or at a simple enough stage of development) that the unifying energy can cope with this and build the whole organism using the genetic pattern in the cells.

Consider: Embryos are "harvested" for stem cells, on the grounds that each stem cell is "pluripotent," meaning that it can develop into any kind of cell of the body (because, of course, it contains the DNA of the whole body). Evidently, then, what makes this cell turn into an eye and that one turn into a foot can't be in the cell itself. Then what in the "mass" picks out what cell to develop into what part of the body? What could it be but the unifying energy of the body?--which, of course, implies that the "mass" is as much a unit now as it will be in twenty years. So the very reason why scientists are experimenting on embryos for their stem cells is a refutation of the notion that they are not killing a human being to get them. Of course, once they are not part of an embryo, then the mass of stem cells (the culture) is simply a mass of cells.

But that the cells of an embryo are behaving together in a systematic way from the very beginning cannot be doubted by anyone who watches what "they" are doing; because differentiation very quickly takes place following a definite sequence; and how could this occur if the parts were not organized systematically?

Thus, there is no evidence whatever, either metaphysical or biological, that there is any justification for killing unborn human beings.

Then where does this put us with respect to what the growing body is? The form of the unifying energy, which makes itself unstable in the "upward" direction by reading the genetic pattern, can actually arise out of material which only potentially has that form, and can be in equilibrium at a lower energy-level; and yet, it would seem, as demanding the super-high energy level of biological equilibrium, it is greater than that out of which it arose.

One thing does seem to be becoming clearer and clearer: living bodies are not just complicated inanimate ones.



1. I realize that it can be argued that, even though the fetus is a human being, he is not a human person, and only persons have rights. Answering this will have to wait until considerably later, when we discuss what a person is, and what makes something a person. It turns out, however, that, unless you want to say that sleeping people have lost their personhood, you must logically admit that as long as something is a human being, he is a person. Whether there are persons other than human beings is a different story (there is at least one: God).