Where does life come from? How does life emerge from simple chemicals – or complex chemicals, for that matter. It seems totally mysterious. There is nothing in physics or chemistry that can create life. Where does it come from? What’s the secret ingredient of life? Community. The force of community is an invisible force that pervades the hierarchy of life, pushing life forward and upwards.
Yesterday, I found something completely new – the astonishing power of life that community provides throughout the entire hierarchy.
The hierarchy of healthicine began with a simple hierarchy of life, from genetics and nutrients to cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, body, minds, spirits. When I created the diagram below, I saw the missing entity, community, at the top of the hierarchy.
Every human lives in many communities. We create communities that live many times longer than individual humans. Our communities can even create communities of communities.
Every mammal lives in a community, a family. Many live in extended families. Predators live in a community with other predators, and with their prey. Their prey live in a community with their predators. Both communities, predators and prey can benefit from the presence of the others over the long term. Migrating birds live in one type of community while they migrate, like socialists, and then convert to territorial, property claiming capitalists when they arrive in the north, or the south.
The primary elements of the hierarchy represent significant studies of life: genetics, nutrition, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, minds, spirits, and communities. I mapped the elements in the hierarchy against each other, and saw the secondary disciplines of healthicine; cellular- nutrition, body-mind, and more.
Here we see the representation of the disciplines, the studies of cells. The science of cells includes sub-sciences of cellular genetics, cellular nutrition, cellular tissues, organ cells, system cells, body cells, mind cells, spirit cells, and community cells. Studies of cells, related to genetics, nutrition, tissues, organs, organ systems, and body, are well known disciplines, each having a scientific name in studies of biology and medicine.
Each of the secondary disciplines can be viewed from two perspectives. We might study the effects of spirits on cells – spiritual studies, and we might also study the spirits, the feelings, of a single cell – cellular spirits. The health of our spirits affects the health of our cells, directly and indirectly. The health of our communities, likewise. Today, biology and medicine ignore some of the disciplines revealed in the hierarchy. I knew that some disciplines warranted more thought, but at the time, I was busy creating and studying the overall structure. I put many ideas into the back of my mind to let them incubate.
Several years later, I printed the disciplines diagram and tried to fold it in different ways. I was certain there was another way of looking at this hierarchy – and another viewpoint might give valuable insight. I tried to stretch the diagram, to fold it onto itself, to see more. I knew here were secrets to be found, but could not see them. I continued to write about healthicine, in blog posts, drafts, and two books based on the concepts of healthicine and the hierarchy. But I could not see farther.
As I wrote many posts, and explored many ideas about healthicine, I gradually came to a new discovery, a new point of view. A new way to fold the above diagram – to gain further insight into life and health. Today, it seems obvious, although it was invisible to me for more than 5 years.
The key is community. Not just ‘communities’, the concept of community. Communities are not just at the top of the hierarchy, they reside throughout, and are a key to the rise in complexity.
Genes, nutrients, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, and body are all individual physical things. Minds, spirits, and communities, are not physical things.
When we look again at the hierarchy, we see that cells can cooperate resulting in a cellular community that we call a tissue. From the perspective of a cell, a tissue does not exist, even though every cell benefits from the properties of the tissue, from the consequences of the community of cells. Tissues work in communities to create limbs and organs. The tissue is not aware of the limb or organ – even though it benefits from it. We can easily see the effects of community on all of the physical elements of the hierarchy, as in this diagram, a Hierarchy of Community.
Individual cells, living in communities, lead to tissues. Individual tissues, living in communities, lead to organs. Individual organs, living in communities in a body, lead to organ systems. Cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems, living in a community, make up the body. A cell has a body, a collection of cells can create a body, a collection of cells and tissues can create a body, and so on. How does this happen? Why does this happen? It happens as a result of success. When cells that cooperate become more successful, they reproduce more effectively. When tissues are more successful, they prevail. Those that fail, fade away. Success prevails.
What if we scan down the hierarchy. Does the community effect still apply? Let’s start at the very bottom. Genetic chemicals, like RNA, are chemicals that can replicate. In theory they can replicate, but not ‘reproduce’. What’s the difference? Replication is a perfect reproduction, like a perfect clone. When a cell reproduces, the result is not a perfect reproduction.
When a genetic chemical replicates, there are two. When those replicate, there are four. A community of genetic chemicals develops. Is it a community, or just a complex mass of chemicals? At first, maybe, it’s just a mass of chemicals, some of them replicating. But gradually, things change.
Genetic chemicals do not replicate perfectly every time. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes, the mistakes cannot replicate – and they fade away. Sometimes, mistakes in replication lead to new genetic chemicals, that can also replicate. This results in a mass of different types of genetic chemicals, replicating together. Genetic chemicals are able to replicate, as individuals, but when we look at a mass of genetic chemicals, we see that it is not just able to replicate, it is also evolving. This evolution can is fostered by genetic chemicals that are more likely to make mistakes in replication. Even though these errors are more likely to result in chemicals that cannot replicate – sometimes, they result in chemicals that have more replication options.
At what point might we recognize a ‘community’? When these genetic chemicals somehow begin to cooperate, to assist each other? Actually, we can find evidence of community before this happens. We can find evidence of community when genetic chemicals compete. Competition within the mass of chemicals leads to success for some, resulting in a community of successful and less successful genetic chemicals, a community of haves, and have-nots, or perhaps of ‘can’ and ‘can not’ chemicals. Cooperation need not be intentional. No cell cooperates with intention to create a tissue, but it succeeds when the tissue succeeds.
Community also happens in other ways. New genetic chemicals appear, sometimes different than their ‘parents’. They survive for a while, and maybe – after some time – they decay. When they decay, the provide nutrients for new genetic chemicals. The replication and death of genetic chemicals lead to more nutrients in the community. These nutrients might be preferred, because they have ready made chemical structures that are important to replication. A community of genetic chemicals leads to increased nutritional chemicals, to support and feed the development of the genetic chemicals. It has become a community, that feeds on its own. Some genetic chemicals might even arise, through mistakes in replication, that can replicate by consuming other genetic chemicals. We might call these geneticX, or cannibal chemicals. Over time, this gives rise to an genetic chemical ecosystem, a complex community of chemicals. Community does not just arise from cooperation, sometimes it arises from conflict. These genetic chemicals do not have a ‘drive to replicate’, but a drive emerges because some have more ability to replicate than others. Those with more ability, consume more food.
At this point, the nutrient mass is not ‘alive’. There are no cells. But some of the chemicals in the mass benefit from the presence of other chemicals. Some might be parasites, like geneticX chemicals, and others might evolve as scavengers, surviving mainly by consuming the remains of genetic chemicals consumed by geneticX.
There is no intent to produce a community, no intent to cooperate, but a community emerges. How does it emerge? Through failure, and through success. When an genetic molecule fails to replicate exactly, it contributes a potential new member to the community. When a new member survives, it adds new physical attributes to the community. The community arises naturally through failures and successes. Of course the genetic molecules do not see failure, nor success, they just continue to replicate, for better or for worse. But the community rewards success with growth. It rewards failures in replication by making total failures into nutrients – and by making failures that can replicate into new community members.
The community is not a physical entity. It is a metaphysical force that encourages successful diversity, and rewards cooperation and competition with growth, with success.
When there are a lot of masses of genetic chemicals, reproducing and evolving, eventually some of them will form powerful sub-communities. These sub-communities already have some of the core attribute of a life form. They can grow. If they are split in two, by physical forces like winds and waves, both halves might continue to grow: they reproduce. They might also develop homeostasis, the ability to stabilize their internal environments. These developments lead to the development of cells. Genetic and nutrient communities that succeed, become cells. Single chemicals cannot evolve into cells, only communities of chemicals can evolve into a cell.
At this point, we enter the well studied hierarchy of modern biological science. Cells cooperate to produce tissues. Tissues in cooperation produce limbs, organs, and a body. Organs cooperate to produce organ systems, raising the complexity of the body. Nervous systems cooperate to create the brain organ.
The brain system is more than a single organ, it encompasses sensory and nervous organs and systems that sense, record, and maintain conscious awareness of internal and external environments.
It develops memories and thought processes. These memories and thought processes also cooperate and compete for attention. Emotional states develop. Thought processes and emotional states are not physical. They cannot be touched or observed physically, but no-one doubts their existence. The various nervous and sensory systems began to cooperate and compete as soon as they started to develop. As they cooperate and compete, two new entities emerge: minds and spirits. Note: you have one body, but are of many minds, and often experience mixed spirits.
The mind receives a continual stream of data from the senses. It extends to the sensory organs, including the skin, and processes input in many physical layers. It operates on that data, calculating, extrapolating, planning. Each of the sensory organs, and each of the components of the brain cooperates and competes for attention. Coordinating components of the brain work to bring this competing information together, to make sense of it. This community leads to the mind. The community of sensory organs does not cooperate with intent – but the community emerges because it generates success for the body. Communities of minds and spirits that fail, lead to failure of the body, of the life entity.
Sensory systems also anticipate. Anticipation is a valuable tool to a living organism. Sometimes, by the time the facts are clear, it’s too late to win or lose. The prey runs, before it can be captured. The lion attacks, before it can be seen. Anticipation happens in each individual sensory unit, and also through cooperation of sensory system components. The ears hear something, not clear, but the mind knows there is danger from tigers – and fear surges. The body sends blood to the legs, and holds the breath for a moment, to listen better. Feelings, spirits, rise from community of sensory organs and systems. As an organism becomes more complex, it develops more sensory systems, more brain components, and as these components cooperate to anticipate – spirits arise and rise in complexity.
Minds and spirits are complicated. Our mind can control our spirits, quell our fear. At other times, our spirits, our anger, can overtake rational thought. Spirits are not a physical component of health, but they are a very real component, arising from communities of organs, organ systems, and even from the rational and not so rational calculations and planning of the mind.
Bodies, minds, and spirits, can attain higher levels of cooperation. Bodies, minds, and spirits can form communities of individuals. In lower animals, this begins with families and extended families.
Humans are conscious, and conscious of our consciousness. Conscious of our minds, and of our spirits. We are also often conscious of many of our communities. We can create communities, fostering deliberate competition and cooperation. They might be communities of bodies – to accomplish a physical task. They might be communities of mind, to plan activities or think about problems and opportunities more effectively. They might be communities of spirit, to foster healthy spirits and healthy spirit behavior in a community.
Humans take this much farther. We create communities of communities of communities. We can deliberately create a community to plan to create a community to create a plan for an activity. Our use of language enhances our bodies, our minds, our spirits and our communities. It enhances our abilities and our healthiness. Humans even take community to political extremes, fighting for the rights of individuals, while also arguing for and recognizing the rights of individual communities – which are legally recognized as ‘persons’. When we look to the hierarchy for ‘rights’, we might notice that, if they could think, the genetic chemicals might claim that cells are ‘oppressing’ their freedoms; cells might claim that tissues have no sense of reality, and are not doing what is best for the freedoms and health of cells; tissues might tell jokes about the stupidity of organs and limbs; while organs might think they could do their job better without the pressures of submitting to whims of the body. We don’t need to be surprised that humans live in constant conflict between individual and community. Both are necessary for the advancement of life and health. But individual and community are naturally in conflict, sometimes even with the best of intentions from both, sometimes even when this conflict is necessary to move forward.
Life emerges not from chemicals, not from physical attributes of life’s chemicals, it emerges from success, the success of individual communities, from competition and cooperation, throughout the entire hierarchy. Life emerges from communities that become individuals. Individual communities of chemicals lead to cells. Individual communities of cells become tissues. Communities of tissues become limbs and organs, leading to plants and animals.
In every layer, the individual is important. The individual gets things done. The community fosters and rewards the success of specific individuals. It judges and punishes failures. Individual entities, existing in communities, become higher level individual entities, leading to higher levels of communities. Communities don’t just create environments for success, they also create barriers to individual action – because some individual actions detract from the community.Tissues encourage actions that enhance the tissue, and discourage cellular actions that detract from the community. Cancerous cells and cancerous communities need to be recognized, discouraged, and even punished by the tissue, because they are dangerous to the community, and to higher level communities. Individuals and communities are in constant competition and in constant cooperation for the health of the higher entity. When it dies – the individual dies. The community of entities, the class of entities persists through reproduction and evolution.
The community of life, persists and progresses, unaware of the individuals that comprise and contribute to the whole, even as some of those individuals are becoming more aware of Gaia, the ultimate community of earth.
to your health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine, and working on the third: The Healthicine Creed.