Part 1

Part 2
 § ch3
 § ch4, 4.1
 § ch4, 4.2
 § ch4, 4.3
 § ch4, 4.4
 § ch4, 4.5
 § ch4, 4.6

Part 3
Part 2: The New Biocentric Image of the World
Chapter 4: On the Origins of Life

4.2  The Empirical and Cosmic Aspects of Living Forms

We must assume that there was an era of the world when organisms took form. Also, that the living forms that we see before us have neither been in existence for ever nor that they were ever replaced by other forms that were on some analogous or even faintly similar rung of development of form. We must not think that all that ever happened was a mere transformation on one and the same qualitative level of formation or that that which currently happens, namely a change of form that affects only the surface of potential modalities and structures of life was what has always taken place. Rather, the transformation must be seen as reaching into every conceivable depth of life structures such that the living forms extant under current provisions are affected by vital features of life extant earlier. No one denies that modified and unmodified forms are to be found and that the phenomena of life occur in accordance with the laws of the development of life. The question is only how far one needs to go to 'set' the limits when determining that something is unmodified; in other words, something that has long since become the norm should perhaps be seen as a norm as a result of specific conditions and not as a norm that obtains under all circumstances. We need to continue to distinguish between features that can conceivably not survive and those that cannot be thought of as absent from the regulation of life.

We consider that the apparatus of reason can only satisfactorily be explained as 'having come into being' at some stage and that this has to be an important indication about the nature of that which is living. We find unsatisfying the statement that, on principle, everything has always been as it is now; this actually cuts off any line of questioning on the subject. What we mean to say here is that, since thinking about a world-all, about an extended reality, exists, it can only be with reference to trends and tendencies provided by that world-all. Reason cannot put its apparatus into question in order to gain some new content of reality. It cannot imagine something because it appears attractive - unless that is, it follows from the nature of thinking and is not emotionally conditioned. However, at the crossroads of certain possibilities as, for example, a phenomenon coming into being or not; at crossroads where the meaning of cognition and its continuation are themselves put to the test, reason may, indeed must opt for the possibility that does allow cognition to continue.

This principle has methodological consequences; it makes us 1. take the assumption of a 'coming into being' as far as conceivably possible and 2. reject the notion that empirical laws are part of an eternal given in reality. We need, here too, to envisage the possibility of things being otherwise, albeit always in accordance with factors that are empirically conceivable. In terms of our considerations on living beings, this means that we need to trace the coming into existence of organic forms back as far as possible, to organisms that may be different although within the parameters of the laws of nature. We need, therefore, as already said, to assume a world epoch in which there came into being far more basic factors of living than those which now constitute the underlying basis of variability.

Measurements of organic forms, differentiation between life forms, the age of living forms, the format of reproduction, all of these must have been different in the 'Ur' world of life. The further back one goes in time, the greater the increase in differences from contemporary states. The reality of time is, in one sense, nothing but the necessity to transform.

The size of the living form must, in the end, have attained cosmic dimensions. The variety of species in the present world epoch must have lain together, undifferentiated, in a single organism. Length of life must have been subject to a corresponding modification. The format of reproduction, even if, as now and at all times, it was conditioned by the need to choose the path of self preservation, must yet be thought of as clearly influenced and modified by phenomena pertaining to a state where 'higher' and 'lower' life were largely undifferentiated. We cannot here enter into the details of this natural philosophy. But we must not lose sight of the fact that almost none of the characteristics of living: feeding, metabolism, growth, length of life, reproduction etc., can be the same as in a specialized form of life. In specialized forms, all these processes depend on the degree of individualization reached by a particular form. Even now, the way a cell feeds is different from that used by an organism that communicates directly with the outside world; 'consuming itself' can be understood as a kind of 'feeding from inside'; its duration is not regulated by any absolute law of nature.

Reproduction does not depend on the processes of sexual reproduction; specifically, the emergence of life forms that are roughly similar to the parent forms seems to indicate a stabilising of the life substance acquired in later phases and to reflect a clear defining of shapes of organisms also attained in later stages. The breadth of range of variant forms, on the other hand, the 'release' of increasingly unlike forms would seem to characterize the earliest stages of life. One might even take on board the thought that a division into unlike parts is the principle underlying individualization. All in all, we find an era in the world history of life in which conditions for taking form differ from those familiar to us in the highly developed life forms around us. We find an era during which living substance is at an early stage, having properties that call to mind the pliability of embryonic life substance; the difference being that this feature which, in our experience, is reserved to the first stage of an individual life, was then that life itself; it must have been a feature of the developed form, too, a general characteristic of the 'cosmic youth' of life.

It follows that our search for the origins of all forms of life will take us to the frontiers of that era and its almighty revolutions, to before 'Ur' living matter. Capacity for movement and form, driven by life itself, must even have surpassed the fluid morphology of the embryonic era that was to follow. The drives that we have understood as ideas, as the original impulses on the part of life to realize its life forms, must have come into play as effective capacities of a consciousness-like drive. In that live 'Ur' matter, to which they must have been closely bound, they must have encountered little more resistance than does our own consciousness when it moves our body; only that then, every movement meant form and the progressive realization of an impulse.

The process of living substance taking form is not something that we still find in the sphere of our experience, confined to the bounds of living matter that already has form. We can only envision it as an end point, a cosmic event beyond the empirical asymptote of the growth of developing form, beyond our cognitive experience. However, we are not speaking of something 'beyond the senses', something metaphysical derived from concepts that cannot be envisioned. Space, time, causality, matter and the properties of life are all in the picture here, albeit with such modifications as derive from the conditions that obtain in the sphere of the whole of cosmic reality.