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Religion for Infidels, Part 3 
Intelligence, Power, & Problem Solving in Nature

1,511 words

carnivorous-pitcher-plantPart 3 of 5

(f) The sixth conclusion to which a steady and careful study of Nature inevitably leads us is that wherever there is living matter, whether in the human brain or in a blade of grass, there also shall we find intelligence. Every particle of live matter is, we know, composed of cells which, individually and by the simple fact that they are alive, give evidence of intelligent activity. In fact, we are compelled to look on life and intelligence as so inextricably welded together as to be thought of only as coextensive.

At this moment of history, with everyone steeped in the dualistic doctrine that views the living world as consisting of matter and mind, it is difficult to imagine and to affirm the indissoluble unity of these two aspects of life. Willy-nilly, however, unable as we may feel to separate living matter from intelligence, we nevertheless find ourselves insensibly inclining to the view that it is twofold. So long have we been inured to the false dichotomy, ‘body and soul’, that we see it mirrored everywhere, despite our knowledge of the fact that it implies a separateness of which we have not the slightest evidence . . .

To speak of the life of even the simplest protozoan, or of the lowliest cell in any animal or vegetable body, is therefore tantamount to asserting both its vitality and intelligence. For it turns out that there is no knowledge of the two ever being asunder. No matter what comfort this may incidentally afford to morons, it cannot be too emphatically stated that to assume any dualism here, as even the most distinguished scientists and philosophers are wont to do, is to commit oneself to endless confusions and to inferences for which there are no incontestable grounds. To return for the moment to the moron, it therefore seems probable that whilst perhaps his highest rational faculties may be defective, his individual body cells, of which he is alleged to possess about 60 billion, must certainly retain their intelligence, otherwise he would cease to live.

The sixteenth-century wizard, Giordano Bruno, knew this intuitively. He was so deeply convinced that intelligence was ubiquitous throughout the whole structure of the universe that in 1587 he declared it the property even of ‘stones and the most imperfect things’ . . . Nor, if we accept the evolutionary theory, is it possible to doubt what must four centuries ago have appeared the most extravagant nonsense. For if, as all evolutionists agree, at some time or other organic must have sprung from inorganic matter, and if the former is in every sense con­terminous with intelligence, a primordial and rudimentary form of in­telligence must have been latent and inherent in ‘stones and the most imperfect things’ . . .

Even if we deny these body-cells intelligence, we must at least grant them memory—the remembrance of the work which for eons they have been called upon to perform, whether for constant maintenance, repair or the construction of whole organs. It was evidently some such thought that led Dr Ewald Hering, the eminent German physiologist, to postulate ‘memory as a general function of organic matter’ . . .

(g) The seventh conclusion to which, by innumerable signs, Nature eventually directs us is that, as far as we are able to judge, the forces governing life’s processes are omnipotent and inexhaustible in their resourcefulness. From the infinite variety of their expedients and inventions we are bound to infer that nothing is impossible to them. The unfailing brilliance of their solutions of the most baffling problems partakes in our eyes of the quality of magic . . .

There is in fact no problem, however abstruse and apparently insoluble, which we do not see the forces of Nature solve with the utmost virtuosity, and in contemplating the infallibility of their methods we are driven willy-nilly to the conviction that an intelligence very much higher than any we know must be a pervasive quality of living matter.

From the smallest mammal—the English Lesser Shrew (Sorex pygmacus), hardly two inches in length and a little over an ounce in weight—to the largest of all—the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), which may be 89 feet long, whose liver alone weighs a ton, whose heart weighs 1000 lb and whose total weight is 136 tons (i.e., the total weight of twenty-seven elephants)—we find in the animal world alone so much at which to stare in speechless wonder, and so many conun­drums brilliantly solved, that we abandon all doubt concerning the un­canny omnipotence of Nature’s life-forces . . .

venusflytrap3(h) We now come to the seventh major conclusion concerning the attributes of the life-forces deduced from a study of living beings, and, as this conclusion is the outcome of a narrow scrutiny of the factors of organic evolution, we are here probably on the trail of the most secret methods by which the life-forces achieve their ends.

The fact that all species of plants and animals, from the lowest to the highest, have in the course of ages evolved from some kind of primordial matter which must have come into existence—how, we do not know—via an assumed series of transformations, from dust, through crystals, enzymes and filterable viruses, is now admitted by all investi­gators. Also undisputed . . . is the fact that the living matter composing all plants and animals consists of myriads of cells, all of which are able to perform the functions necessary for the nourishment, growth, repair and adaptation to environment of the vegetable or animal bodies which they compose.

Less general agreement, however, prevails regarding the capacity inherent in each cell which enables it to perform these vital functions and to regulate its actions so as to execute, or work out, what has been called its ‘blueprint’ or ‘template’—that is to say, the plan of its individual being. As we have seen, the ineluctable conclusion to which this inherent capacity of the cell leads us is that it has a psychological property, recognized by a number of authorities as ‘memory’, but which in final analysis is seen to be equivalent to intelligence. For, where memory prompts purposive action, we cannot deny it intelli­gence, and we are driven to a belief in the unexceptional association of all living matter with intelligence. Indeed, the two appear to be everywhere coextensive and indissoluble, and to infer a dualism from their coexistence can lead only to confusion and incoherence . . .

Thus, only can we understand purposeful adaptation, whether in plant or animal, as a process in which memory and intelligence cooperate, and when Dr Erasmus Darwin (in Botanical Garden, ‘Vegetable animation’, 1791) declared that, ‘The individuals of the vegetable world may be considered as inferior or less perfect animals’, he hinted at this idea. 143 years later, Sir J. Arthur Thomson merely echoed the doctor-poet when he said: ‘There is something of the animal in many a plant, and something of the plant in many an animal’ . . . The Venus flytrap, which quickly closes its toothed bilobed blade when an insect touches its sensitive hairs, abundantly confirms this claim . . .

The fundamental problems of adaptation to ambient conditions, variation and natural selection—or the survival of the fittest, as these processes occur in Nature to effect the evolutionary march of life—are insoluble if we approach them without always assuming some sort of intelligence in living matter, and here it seems to me that biologists like Darwin, Haeckel and their followers, and philosophers like Spencer, unnecessarily hampered themselves and invited the justifiable attack of lay thinkers like Nietzsche and Samuel Butler. Hence the justice of Professor McDougall’s description of Darwin’s theory of evolution as ‘a theory denying by implication all other agency and influence than the mechanical’ . . .

In the 1876 edition of Origin of Species Darwin said: ‘We are profoundly ignorant of the cause of each variation or individual difference’. Again, in the 1883 edition of The Descent of Man . . . he said: ‘With respect to the causes of variability, we are in all cases very igno­rant’. This means that up to the moment of the actual appearance in any organism of features differentiating it, however slightly, from its ancestors, the Darwinian biologists know nothing concerning the history of such features. As Alfred Tylor observed: ‘The great difficulty in Mr Darwin’s works is the fact that he starts with variations ready-made, without trying as a rule to account for them, and then shows that if these varieties are beneficial the possessor has a better chance in the great struggle for existence, and the accumulation of such variations will give rise to a new species’ . . .

The earlier evolutionists did at least try to account for the origin of new features, and Lamarck . . . suggested a theory of their origin which, if true, implied the cooperation of the following important fac­tors:

(a) A constructive and organizing power in the living organism, which in response to appropriate stimulation, even of an emotional or merely imaginative kind, could initiate structural changes and concentrations of energy, with corresponding modifications in the germ-plasm.

(b) A capacity in the soma and germ-plasm to respond to such stimulation, provided always that it is given with adequate intensity and in strict accordance with the only conditions under which such stimulation can work . . .


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