Toward a Unified Metaphysical Understanding: Cambrian Explosion - Cells to Organisms    
 Cambrian Explosion - Cells to Organisms
2007-06-27, by John Ringland

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The First Cambrian Explosion
The Global Cellular Meta-System-Transition

This is an excerpt from the e-book The Gaian-Ego Hypothesis. A major implication of system theory is what it can say about the nature of organisms, it relates to an aspect of evolution that is little considered by many. An outcome of cells creating beyond themselves is a phenomenon called the Cambrian Explosion which is an example of a global Meta System Transition (MST) [FR]. It was a systemic event that occurred around 550 million years ago whereby the ecosystem of single cellular organism underwent a change, giving certain cells (eukaryotes) enhanced communication capacity. Their subsequent interactions and systems of dependencies self-organised into vast collectives of cells that we call multi-cellular organisms. All animals including ourselves are such organisms and we are self-organising civilisations of trillions of cells with emergent phenomena such as mind and ego. Understanding this is vital for understanding the true systemic nature of ourselves and ultimately of civilisation.

An MST is the apparent transition from an ensemble of sub systems into a single higher-level system; it is a perceptual phenomenon. All events are mediated by the flow of information so imagine a vast cosmic information network; asymmetries in interaction bandwidth (or communication energy) within this network mean that some regions are more closely interacting and tightly integrated than others.

Via an entropic perceptual process (entropy is the loss of information) the high bandwidth interactions seemingly bind systems into single high-level objects whilst low bandwidth interactions are perceived as the space between these separate objects. When sub systems are tightly interacting then when an incident signal impinges upon one it is distributed amongst many of the sub systems, which respond to that signal and thereby produce collective behaviour. When sub systems are loosely interacting then the incident signal will dissipate or be deflected without impinging upon most of the sub systems so they will be perceived to be independent. During the entropic perceptual process most of the information is lost; pixelated surfaces seem smooth, quantised systems seem classical and collectives of many sub systems seem to form into higher-level systems.

Now think back to about 550 million years ago (about the time of the First Cambrian Explosion), the earth had been dominated for billions of years by single celled organisms we call prokaryotes. They were individual beings that encountered their world on their own terms, they were formed simply of a cell membrane that divides their world into inner and outer and they maintained a DNA-RNA-Protein cycle within that was their mechanism of creation, sustenance, perception, response and dynamical existence.

Their internal biochemical process is perturbed by chemical agents flowing from the exterior through the channels in the membrane and producing responses within that cause chemical agents to be produced and which flow outward into the exterior. This gives them a basic form of perceptual apparatus that informed them of their environment and allowed them to perceive and interact with it in small scale biochemical ways thus giving them a degree of individual power. Their sphere of physical awareness and control was on the scale of millimetres.

Then came along an innovation that produced what we call the eukaryotes, which are essentially a cell membrane that contains several prokaryotes, which are the organelles (cellular organs) of the eukaryote. Thus there is an inner membrane that gives them a nucleus with a DNA-RNA-Protein cycle and an outer buffer zone with various specialised organs. This allowed them to develop more intricate and abstract chemical communication idioms and allowed them to form chains of communication, autocatalytic loops, dependencies, specialisations, etc.

Initially these all occurred between free individual single cells that would be accumulated in natural cavities in rocks etc; they were loose organisations of single cells that benefited the individual cells due to the collective power that the organisation wielded, thus the eukaryotes could act collectively and thereby wield greater power and influence than the prokaryotes. This phase lasted only a few million years and their sphere of physical awareness and control was on the scale of centimetres.

Over time these organisations had an effect on the eukaryotes and caused them to become dependent on these organisations. They adapted to their organisational niches and became specialised. They became limited and constrained by the collective contingencies and the specialised perspectives that they occupied, being only parts of a whole. Rather than being single cells in an environment they were increasingly cells occupying a specialised niche within a larger organisation, they lived and operated within the context of that organisation which became an artificial environment that both protected them and constrained them.

They no longer encountered the world on their own terms but perceived it via the agency of the organisation; all of their necessities of life were delivered by the organisation, all of their information regarding the world was filtered and delivered by the organisation, all of their actions were increasingly harnessed into being actions as a part of the organisation and on behalf of the organisation. Increasingly they lost sight of the outside world and came to know only of what the organisation informed them of and that was increasingly only what the organisation needed them to know in order for them to assist the organisation in pursuing its agendas. They underwent a meta-system transition.

These organisations eventually evolved, individuated and became the primitive ancestors of what we now call multi-cellular organisms. Initially these were remarkably crude, there was a period of massive innovation when all kinds of crude multi-cellular organisations were formed and engaged with the environment and each other, most of which died out. There are fossil records of about 50 distinguishable types or phyla (organisational structures) and about 26 of these still exist today.

During this time of innovation much of the existing environment would have been devastated; rapid change, competing influences and a proliferation of new and bizarre organisms were in the process of irrevocably altering the face of the earth. The comparative peace and serenity of the single cellular world would be lost forever and the world was thrown into a period of creation, innovation, devastation and imbalance. These organisms, over hundreds of millions of years, formed a new ecosystem, tightly integrated and delicately balanced. Their web of interactions and dependencies brought a new harmony to the world.

One of the innovative multi-cellular organisational patterns (or phyla) that arose from the First Cambrian Explosion was a small inch long worm-like formation that we call Pikaia. It survived in an obscure ecological niche whilst others dominated the world, but this worm had the potential to later develop a spine and over time this small worm gave rise to descendants that evolved into mammals and have come to dominate most of the earth, especially in the form of humans. Their sphere of physical awareness and control is on the scale of metres to kilometres. This history of life on Earth is continued in the discussion: The Man Machine - Organisms to Organisation.

Best wishes : )
John Ringland

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