Mankind and the Planet

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Mankind and the Planet, past, present and future Philosophical Speculations

Page 4


A possibility that belongs to a whole together with other possibilities will, if it is a conspicuous possibility, i.e., differing from the rest, become a pre-eminent characteristic of that whole. Everything that is implied or contained in a whole characterises the whole and is an attribute of it. If something implied is conspicuous for its exceptionality, this exceptional feature becomes a feature of the whole in a pre-eminent way. Applying this principle, we can say: if life is implied as a possibility

in the universe, life is an attribute of the universe as a whole. That does not mean that the non-living is living, but that it has the disposition that gives rise to life.  The disposition that gives rise to life is a characteristic of the whole 'anorganic' matter. The disposition that gives rise to life is co-incident with (its) non-living character, in the empirical sense of non-living; at the same time, that disposition indicates a sense of the term 'living', to be attributed to the rest of matter, i.e., it is co-incident with 'living' in the cosmological sense. Thus, the universe is no 'organism' in the empirical sense of the word; but, since it is structured so as to give rise to organisms, this extreme possibility belongs to its pre-eminent characteristics.

Here,again, a quantitative aspect may be noted: 'life' entails the organisation of a vast number of elements within a small space.  The relation of the number of elements to the space they occupy may be seen as a measure of the level of that organisation. 'Life', in general is, in a way, a quantitative phenomenon in the sense that the range of spatial and temporal conditions that enable the right elements to combine is, in itself, a measure of different levels  of life. In other words:

  1. the level of life of a whole body is 'higher' than the level of life of any of its component parts.

  2. The level of life brought into existence by bringing together a multitude of elements, normally scattered, into one organisation, in a structure held by a small space is, of course, higher than the level or the amount of 'life' that all those elements represent in their scattered and dispersed state; usually, only the former is properly called 'living', while the scattered elements are not called 'living' at all.  This, however, is not quite correct. Just as the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle thrown down at random still contain the picture they compose when rightly put together, so the dispersed elements of life are imbued with 'life' when rightly put together; in this way they imply life, although in a sense that differs from 'actual' life.  If the range, i.e., the playground of the disparate elements narrows in such a way that the probability of their meeting and combining  correctly for actual life increases, the state of 'living' or the potential of (coming to) life increases accordingly.

Thus, compared with the state of dispersal of a number of elements, life is a concentration-phenomenon; life increases as space diminishes. And, compared with the actual life of an organised whole, the level of life of a part of such an organised whole is lower than the life of the whole.