(This is the fourth post —- a revised version in 9/2019 of original — in the series on Freedom. A dramatic contention is made about the closeness of human interconnection. Warning to our readers: This series is not an easy read, but this post tries to tell an amazing story! The series, in general, is a clarification of The Connection’s intellectual foundations. The ideas in this series will be presented again in future posts, hopefully in a more accessible form. Please feel free to skim and obtain a sense of its content. I would love to hear your comments!
In the initial post in the series , each person, or “self”, was thought to be like a ‘soul’, a ‘thing’ beyond the normal world and totally responsible for its actions; but this idea was then rejected. In great contrast to ‘souls’, “Humans as Machines”, considered our brains (and selves) to be computers that make decisions as programmed, but this calls for some added explanation of our innovative abilities. In the third post, “Persons Large and Small,” we discussed “persons” as forming a system of points of view and an exchange of stories. It is from within this system that persons are able to shift their vantage point and consider a part of the world “objectively” — from the ‘outside’ — and potentially ratchet in some change. Here, we will consider the biological and sociological foundations of Personhood, and then some startling implications!)
We, persons, have a unique position. We are one of Nature’s evolved creatures but more than as, simply, human beings, animals. We are responsible, socialized humans. The other persons around us hold us to standards, as we do they. We communicate. These standards of behavior are set and sometimes revised on a daily basis, but they also contain themes that have evolved through our history.
Responsible, socialized humans have common experiences and seek to tell, and hear, what is different in the experience of others. They seek to gain additional perspective. Each person has a story to tell and our individual stories explain our individual “person-alities.” The overwhelming bulk of our story—the story of modern human persons, in general *— is held, more or less, in common and is generally not spoken about but simply assumed. In that sense,“we are all on the same page” and mostly just share our varied individual perspectives on what is common.
When humans work and live with this kind of intimacy and cooperation, we become different and eventually call ourselves “Persons”; it is an acknowledgement that we have become functioning components in a new social order. In some ways, we are like ants in a colony or bees in a hive. And our advanced form of sociability does create a new thing; literally, like the solar system is a thing, composed of its component planets. Persons are a part of a new, enlarged organism: The Human Social Organism.
*Our goal at The naturereligionconnection.org is to help make clear and more reasonable this “story of modern human persons, in general.” That is the topic of this post, specifically. It is a self-reflection on our story which is currently cluttered with non-sense and antiquated ideas. A very interesting and profoundly revolutionary tale is starting to emerge. The innovative philosopher, Wilfred Sellars, called this story we hold in common, “our manifest image.” Persons need a “manifest image” to function.
The Human Social Organism Evolved in Nature
This kind of social organism is not unknown in nature, though ours is, maybe, the latest. Many of the greatest milestones in evolutionary history are of this character: Formerly independently living creatures come together and (as if by agreement, like The Constitution of the United States) live together in such close cooperation, for their mutual benefit, that they are now necessarily social, and no longer individually independent.
Nucleated cells (“good yoked” cells) formed when a single-celled creature consumed another but, in this case, did not disassemble it and use it up. The one now lived inside the other (it gained a new environment) and each provided the parts for the new, more complex creature that now had enhanced abilities: The Eukaryotic Cell. These enhanced abilities are additional forms of freedom.
Other such leaps of cooperation are the presence in each animal cell of mitochondria: formerly independent single-celled creatures that now dedicate themselves to extracting energy for the new, more complex cell but still retain their own DNA!. So, in each of our cells live the remnants of a separate creature; it is totally dedicated to our welfare, but still reproduces separately and has its own genes. Interestingly, it is only passed from generation to generation through the mother; each mother provides the mitochondria for the baby. In plant cells, chloroplasts are much like mitochondria: they, too, extract energy for the new unit and retain their own genes.
Another closely related case of necessary sociability is the development of the multicellular organism from a single cell, the fertilized embryo. From an undifferentiated medium, the role of DNA is to differentiate the parts of a whole in a ‘top-down’, instructive, and ‘organic’ manner. In this role, DNA
foretells the use of language in the Human Social Organism where individual, immature ‘units’ —children— grow to become functioning parts of the social complex. In the multi-cellular organism each cell is surrounded by other cells, but they are not formerly independently living; their origin, interaction and physical structures are now coordinated by a universal code, the genetic code. This form of necessary living-together is more tightly coordinated than the previous examples and more tightly coordinated than the Human Social Organism.
Another example and, surely, one of the most commonly recognized forms of necessary sociability is sexual reproduction.
Formerly independently reproducing creatures (asexuals) now discovered the advantage of reproducing with the use of a partner. How this evolved is one of the toughest questions in modern biology. Seemingly it started with the evolution of different kinds of sex cells (first, all sex cells were same size and moved with a tail, then some were different sized but still motile, finally, some larger and not motile —egg— and some small and motile — sperm; of course, at all these points sex cells had only half the number of chromosomes necessary to create an individual). From this initial differentiation in sex cells, the process continued into further variation in the bodies of those —males and females— that produced the different kinds.
From the “gene’s-eye point of view,” (biologist Richard Dawkin’s famous phrase) sex seems an incredible long shot. If passing your genes into the next generation is the basic motivation of all biologic creatures, how would passing merely 50% of yours to your offspring be an advantage in comparison to the 100% passage in asexual reproduction? Yet, a huge advantage there was and is in sex. Biology is full of amazing “emergence”!
All these great evolutionary advances—nucleated cells, chloroplasts and mitochondria, multi-cellular organisms, sexual reproduction — were probably necessary for the development of our form of Necessary, Designed-In Sociability. The role of herds,
packs, schools, flocks, colonies and hives will make for additional discussion (and research) in the future! Some readers may be objecting: ‘But is modern, large-scale society really a necessity for persons?’
No, but some minimal form of group is, and it would need to be larger than the family. Whether pack — as in small-scale hunter and gatherers — or larger scale ‘tribes’, A PERSON CANNOT COME INTO EXISTENCE ALONE! Initially in history, Personhood was a state achieved by a group of humans, together, bootstrapped in stages. Today, this flame of culture must be tended and children must be brought into the fold through socialization.
A person, once achieving the state of personhood, can choose to live alone, or can be forced into isolation. But, no individual human can become socialized —learn a language or invent one, understand gesture and facial expression, or even point at an object— without the help of other persons or incipient persons.
What can This Connection offer Us?
A huge leap forward was attempted in this post. One of the founding hypotheses for the naturereligionconnection is that humans are part of ‘Some Thing Larger’ and this participation can help guide us, explain us, maybe even console us. That assertion has now taken a more concrete form; the larger something is The Human Social Organism. Often, religions have asserted some form of more basic or higher unity and found, or sought, great solace there; whether Buddhism’s Nirvana, Christianity’s “God’s Plan,” and especially the ‘mystical’ and ‘fundamentalist’ movements of various religions—-Pentecostalism and its “speaking in tongues,” The Dervishes of Islam with their whirling or the followers of the Kabbalah in Judaism. This idea of a scientifically based “Large SomeThing” — The Social Organism — needs further exploration and clarification. Is it true? What does it demand of us, offer us? Is it the basis for freedom? These will be topics for the following posts in this series on “Freedom.”