Chapter 6


But it is time to take a closer look at what to me is the most mysterious difference between inanimate and living bodies: living bodies reproduce. That is, they produce bodies which have the same form of unifying energy but which have different biological equilibria, and so exist at different energy-levels.

Why is this mysterious? Because there is no benefit for the body in producing another body of the same type. One can argue that nutrition, growth, and repair are reasonable, because they preserve the organism; and this is just a kind of extension of the natural tendency we saw in the inanimate realm to preserve the body by returning in accidental change to the ground state if possible. But there is no gain for the parent's body or preservation of it in its offspring.

This needs a little expansion. People sometimes talk as if their children were an extension of themselves and a kind of self-preservation after they die. But this is nonsense. My son may have been caused by me, but he is not me; he is a completely different, and now independent, person, as can be seen from parents whose children are taken away and adopted when they are very young. After a few years, the parents cannot recognize the children for theirs, and relate to them exactly as they would any other person. How, then, is the child the "preservation" of the parent? And of course if this is the case, then you are the "preservation" of your own parents, and their survival; you are not someone in your own right. Try that on for size.

And this is also verified in the realm of living bodies below humans. True, higher animals do tend to nurture their offspring for a while, as long as they need it; but once the young can do well on their own, their parents will have nothing to do with them, and regard them in fact as competitors and a threat. In lower forms of life, the parents not only have nothing to do with their offspring from the beginning, they even eat them when they encounter them. Anyone who has guppies in his aquarium can testify to this; and the practice is rather more common among living things than otherwise.

So while on the one hand there is among all living things a drive to produce offspring, there is on the other hand no very strong drive to see to it that the offspring are preserved, and a good deal of evidence that tends in the opposite direction.

What then is going on? Reproduction in itself looks as if the form of the unifying energy is trying to preserve itself in the face of the fact that the body it is organizing is ultimately doomed because of its counter-tendency as a body. This would give credence to the view we have been hinting at, that the form of the living body is a kind of spirit that gets into the body and directs it while being a "something" independent of it.

But at the same time, reproduction indicates that this form of existence (the form of the living body's unifying energy) apparently can't exist without organizing a body, or why wouldn't it just preserve itself by leaving the body and going into the land of the dead, as Plato's Phaedo says in part? The problem with Plato's view is, of course, that if the "soul" is once freed from its bodily encumbrance, why would it wait around to be stuck into another one--unless it was a "bad" soul, somehow? But it is difficult to see what this could mean for a disembodied soul on Plato's view.

But if (as is most reasonable) the form of the unifying energy is a form of energy, even if a peculiar one, this means that its quantity is intrinsic to it, which implies that bodies which are of the same species but have different biological equilibria do not have the same form of unifying energy, any more than different forms of existence have the same existence. Just as the form of existence is the difference of one existence from another, so the different quantities of a given form of existence are the differences of these forms from each other. So "identical" forms of living bodies are not identical at all; they are similar (or more properly analogous, as we saw in Section 2 Chapter 7 of the first part). 1.2.7

So the "preservation of the form of unification" is preservation in a strange sense, since the form as such is an abstraction. It would "preserve itself" in the sense that a fire preserves itself by igniting different logs, or that light preserves itself by making different objects different colors. Still, something like this is going on, since there is an active tendency toward reproduction (leading, as I said, to the equilibrium of maintaining the population), so that it is obvious that the species is actively trying to preserve itself; but since in each case, the form of organization has a different quantity, it is only the form and not its concrete existence (which is modified by its quantity) that continues.

I suppose this implies the following:

Conclusion 17: The form of the unifying energy of a living body has a certain independence from its own quantity, as well as a certain independence from the body it is organizing.

The first clause of this is consistent with what we have seen so far of the implications of nutrition and growth: the activity of the unifying energy is not controlled by its quantity, and in fact controls the quantity it is to have. Here, we have the additional datum that seems to indicate that the form of unification is to some extent indifferent to what quantity it is to have, because in reproduction a given form (with its own quantity) produces a body organized with a form that is limited differently in quantity. In inanimate bodies that have the same form, there is a tendency to have the same quantity also: that is, the "ground state" for each body is the same, which makes changes predictable.

The second clause is also something we saw indications of in nutrition, where the body maintains itself by rebuilding parts that don't work, using chemicals taken into the body. And, as we can see from surgery, the body will even, under certain conditions, accept parts that never belonged to any living body, as long as they do the job.(1) Hence, what it is that makes up the body is to some extent a matter of indifference to the unifying energy, as long as there are parts that work right in the right places. Here in reproduction, we find the form of unifying energy making a different body unified in more or less the same way.

A word should be said about the implications for the difference between biology and philosophy that are contained in the phrase "preservation of the species." The biological species is not the same as the form of the unifying energy, or even the same as "a body unified with this form of unifying energy." The reason I say this is that a caterpillar and a butterfly are the same biological species, but they are organized with two different forms of unifying energy.

Obviously, biological species is related to the form of the unifying energy, in that the species is a "kind" of living body. In fact, the word "species" is the Latin translation of the Greek eidos, which is the Platonic-Aristotelian word I translate as "aspect" or "manifestation," but which has frequently been translated "form," and in its use by Aristotle refers pretty closely to what I have been calling the form of existence.

Notwithstanding this, the different focus of biology from that of philosophy leads to a different way of looking at bodies. Biology wants to classify bodies, and so is interested in the kind of body, and when a body is a given kind of body, not in what it is about the body that accounts for its being this kind of body. Hence, biology is interested in what observable data you can use to indicate that Body A is or is not the same kind of body as Body B. One of these criteria is that if the Body A is one and the same body as Body B, then it must be the same kind, however different it may be in appearance ("species," by the way, originally meant "appearance" in Latin). Another criterion is that if Body A can mate with Body B and produce fertile offspring, then the two must be the same kind of body; and if no offspring ever results, they must be different kinds. The case of the horse and the donkey producing a mule, which is infertile, is one of those disputed ones, but the science has said that the two parents are different species because of the infertility.(2)

The reasoning makes sense, and serves biology quite well. From our point of view that properties reveal the nature of the substance as well as that of the body, we can see, however, that the caterpillar and butterfly are not just different degrees of the same kind of activity, but imply different forms of unification, even though the individual body is the same one. Hence, the caterpillar and the butterfly are one biological species, but two different kinds of bodies. Both views of the issue are legitimate; and so I will try to use the term "species" when I am speaking as the biologists do, and "form" or "kind" of body when I am speaking philosophically.

Now then, the other mysterious thing about reproduction is that of sexuality. Most cells (and even one-celled organisms) do not reproduce sexually; the cells within our body reproduce by dividing, even when they are differentiating themselves from each other, and so do simply one-celled organisms, even though they can and sometimes do reproduce sexually (I heard once that paramecia have six different sexes, which must make life interesting for them--or maybe it is why they don't use sexuality when reproducing except occasionally.)

Now I realize that sexual reproduction means that the offspring has genes from two different sources, and that this can lead to its being more adaptable to a new situation than if the parent just passed on a clone of itself. But this argument is pretty weak. Of any given pair of genes, one is dominant and one is recessive, and apparently the dominant one prevails willy-nilly. That is, the offspring cannot use this extra richness it has, because it is stuck with expressing the gene that is dominant, even if the recessive one would work better in the situation it happens to be in. This is to some extent taken care of by the chance that an organism will get two recessive genes, and then, if better adapted, have more offspring. This will increase the number of organisms with this recessive gene and hence provide more opportunities for organisms with two of them, while those with the dominant gene will gradually die off. Eventually, the recessive gene will either replace the dominant one, or it will itself become dominant.

In spite of all of this, it is hard to see how this cumbersome method of adaptation, which would take hundreds of generations to work, is more efficient at preserving the species than asexual reproduction (especially if the organism could somehow affect the genes it passes on to its offspring). After all, in sexual reproduction, the organism must meet with another of the same species but opposite in sex (except for those fortunate few that are hermaphrodites)--which is obviously a serious difficulty for plants, which can't go anywhere to find the partner. Of course, in most plants, both sexes are in the same flower, but separated, and insects do the job of uniting them. Still, if they are in the same plant, then this defeats the function of sexual reproduction I spoke of just above, because only one parent organism produces the offspring when pollen from the same plant fertilizes the flower. True, insects going from flower to flower and plant to plant carry pollen from different plants to the flower sometimes; and of course the wind carries pollen from one plant to the flowers of another, and so on. Still, most flowers of a plant the size of a tree must be fertilized by pollen from the same plant, and so the sexual reproduction of the plant works as a way of introducing variety only very rarely, relatively speaking.

It would seem to me, at least, that asexual reproduction would be much more efficient as a way of preserving the species, and adaptation to changing situations could be taken care of by chance modifications of the genes (which is the real mechanism in evolution, after all; but evolution itself, as I said, is a kind of preservation in the face of changing environments). It would certainly seem that the development of a modifiable asexual reproduction would be a simpler and more direct route to preservation of the species than this very cumbersome and roundabout way of seeking the opposite sex of the same species in order to reproduce.

What I am trying to do here is to counter the tendency to say, "Of course sexual reproduction is better, because it is the one that happens." It does not follow that what goes on is what is the "best" (in the sense of most efficient) way of doing things. In fact, it seems pretty generally true in living bodies that there is a certain prodigality about them where things "just happen," and are neither necessary or more efficient or useful for any particular purpose. We see this in our own play, for instance, which we regard as something very desirable, even though when we are playing we are precisely not doing something for a purpose (that would make it work, not play), but just for its own sake. Scoring more points than your opponent is in the last analysis a way of motivating you to play well; and playing (and playing well) is what the game is about. But not only do we play, so do animals.

I think this discovery about living bodies deserves a formal conclusion:

Conclusion 18: There seems to be a certain superfluity in living bodies, which do things, not because they are necessary or particularly advantageous, but simply because they can do them.

If this is the case, then reproduction begins to make sense. It is not necessary that the species be preserved in the face of the death of the individual, and it is not beneficial to the individual that the species be preserved; but still, it is nice in the long run. Further, it is not necessary that reproduction be sexual, nor is it particular beneficial to have reproduction be sexual; but still, sex is nice, isn't it? It is also "fitting," in a way. In order to preserve the species, the individual must establish a kind of solidarity with another of the same species, neither of which benefit from the reproductive act; but they do produce another member of the species.

It is not surprising, in this connection, that sex has been thought of as the act of love, which is basically an unselfish act. True, the urge, like all urges, seeks its gratification; but the urge in itself is toward an act which does not benefit the agent, but some other being. And I should say that in humans, who can consciously choose the motive for their acts, the sex act is an act of love only when the satisfaction of the other party and/or the desire that there be a new human whom one is willing to nurture and care for is the main goal, and the self-satisfaction is secondary to this.

Animals, by the way, do not engage in sex for the gratification of the urge, as if the gratification were a kind of motive. The feeling the animal gets is just the conscious epiphenomenon of the program's operation, and is not the reason why it operates. For the animal, both the reproduction and the feeling "just happen." We will see more of this later.

But the presence of superfluity in life, which becomes greater (as we will also see) the higher one goes in the scale of living bodies, indicates something with respect to evolution and God's role in it. Let us formulate this as a hypothesis rather than a conclusion, but first let us draw a conclusion about God's relation to the universe:

Conclusion 19: God creates the universe out of perfect love.

If love is an act that is beneficial to others rather than the agent, this conclusion must necessarily be true of God as creator of the universe. We saw in Conclusion 22 of Chapter 7 of Section 4 of the first part 1.4.7 that God cannot be affected in any way by what he creates; and hence the act of creating (and the existence of the creature) does not benefit him or harm him or affect him in any way at all; he would be exactly as he is if he had not created. Hence, the act benefits only the creatures he creates.

But since we have seen in this part (in Conclusion 12 of this chapter) that God knows the creatures he creates, then it is obvious that God in some sense consciously causes them to exist as they exist, and this must be for their sake and not for any purpose or benefit to himself. Hence, the act of creating is an act of absolute love on God's part.

With that said, then, here is the hypothesis for the universe:

Hypothesis: God, who eternally creates the world out of perfect love, has created a world that evolves. The direction of the evolution will be (a) toward a more obvious manifestation of God's love for the world, in that he leaves it on its own insofar as it is capable and gradually bestows more and more unnecessary gifts on his creatures; and (b) toward a greater and greater reflection of his love for the world by having the creatures themselves act in a way that benefits others as much as themselves.

I will try to give hints of this as the book progresses; and if I have the strength, I will also devote a section or possibly even a part (probably at the very end of all of the parts) to a kind of sketch of how I think this hypothesis is verified, from the Big Bang up until now. I have made a tentative attempt at this, and it seems to work. Evolution, as I see it, is a dialectic of love, not reason as Hegel thought. Since it is a dialectic of love, then what comes after does not, as in Hegel, follow necessarily from what precedes; but with hindsight we can see that (as Genesis says) it is good; it is good; it is very good. But since it is a dialectic (as it must be because any change involves instability which is the active presence of difference within the same being, working itself out to make the same different), then the process will have its dark side, which dark side will grow more prominent and more active the higher one goes on the scale of evolution also. Satan will more and more masquerade as an angel of light.

But let us let that ride as enough for our purposes now.



1. It seems, however, that one who has had an organ transplant must take medicine to ensure that the rejection mechanism is blocked. I don't know whether and to what extent this is true in all cases, or if sometimes, the organism gets used to the foreign body and accepts it as part of itself. But the point is that, once this mechanism is blocked, the body uses the part as if it were its natural part.

2. All this, of course, is due to the fact that you can't observe the unifying energy from outside, as I mentioned in the previous part, and have to infer it from the object's behavior (properties).