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Home » Biology Articles » Evolutionary Biology » An Effort to Explain the Process of Body Formation » Chapter 1

Chapter 1
- An Effort to Explain the Process of Body Formation

Sometimes it can happen that one suddenly is able to see a solution to an old problem that may have existed latent within the consciousness for a long time. That occurred to me, as I some years ago read ‘The Informed Heart’ by Bruno Bettelheim [1].

The problem at hand was: Which are the necessary preconditions for cells to form a body? In the book he describes among others [2] an episode in a concentration camp, where the author himself was imprisoned. It was that description which for me became the starting point to the association chain that momentarily created a new coherence within the problem, I had earlier only occasionally been studying, though without any result.

The episode Bettelheim decribes was about a nocturnal formation of prisoners during severe cold. After twenty prisoners having got frozen to death, the order disrupted. Open resistance was impossible and it was even impossible to protect oneself. The prisoner regarded as an individual was unable to treat this problem successfully. Therefore the individual had to disappear within the mass. The threats by the guards became increasingly ineffective, as the mental attitude of the prisoners hade changed. Instead of protecting themselves they became depersonalized. It appeared that the abandonment of all individual existence, thus becoming a part of the mass, in some way offered better opportunities to survival, though not for the individual, at least for the group.

In spite of the disastrous situation, the prisoners on an individual basis felt free from fear, but powerful on a mass basis. Therefore they were even happier. They did not bother, if the guards shot them. The reign of death and terror was broken. As that stage had been achieved, an almost orgiastic feeling of happiness was spreading among the prisoners. When they finally abandoned the hope for their further survival, it became easier to act heroically and help others.

After fifty prisoners had died, the torture was interrupted. The almost orgiastic feeling of happiness they have felt disappeared and accordingly their fear returned. Every individual prisoner was now in a relatively more secure state, but he had lost the feeling of security he felt while merged in the mass.

- * -

The decisive observation I made was that the prisoners accidentally lost their individual fear of death and felt invulnerable. But to be mentioned is also the helpfulness and loyalty that accidentally put the community higher than the individual person. They belonged for a while to a community and acted as one “body”.

It was when I had proceeded that far in my reflexions, I recalled a review in Swedish daily ‘Dagens Nyheter’ (i.e. ‘Today’s News’) a long time ago and the related debate in the newspapers. The book was ‘The last enemy’ by Richard Hillary [3].

I had not read the book myself, it was about ‘the Blitz’ over London, but through the review I got an impression about the fellowship of the pilots and their experience of constituting an inseparable unity. The few, who finally survived were unable to return to their daily life and felt still being a part of the dissolved fellowship. The reason why the following newspaper debate remained in my memory after such a long time was that nobody of the debaters wanted to understand, or were just unable to understand the statements in the book.

Perhaps they had neither imagination nor sufficient experience in order to profit by the connections, or else it was in conflict with their psychological or philosophical ideas at that time. Just in that way I remember it. That memory accordingly constituted a kind of contrast to the description by Bettelheim concerning a quite similar situation.

The final association followed thereafter. Many years ago I had read the book ‘Territorial imperative, a personal inquiry into the animals’ origin of property and nations’ by Robert Ardray [4]. One detail had apparently remained in my memory. That was about a kind of unicellular organisms that during favourable circumstances was uniting into some kind of body. What thereafter happened to that body I am unable to recall.

By these three elements; the prisoners, the pilots and the unicellular organisms, was for me momentarily created a whole new perspective concerning the evolution.

In order to better imagine how the body formation would work, and within a body as well, I made an intellectual experiment by assuming that the cells were equipped with human feelings and reactions.

Imagine, how the cells must have to feel in order to be able to cooperate with each others and form a body, or on the whole constitute a part of a body. They must feel as either the prisoners or the pilots. In order to together be able to build a superior organism with an identity of their own, it will be required that their own respective organism and individual aspirations disappear and are substituted by a total focus upon the superior body. Their lives are now a part of the life of that body, and its life and fate is in turn inaccessible for observation by the individual cell. Hence, I imagine, a total altruism is a prerequisite to a body formation. The individual cell in a body is exposed to the forces, which is regulating the life and development of the compound body. The world of the cell was earlier open in the process of reacting with the environment, now it is confined to its position within the body, and the cell ‘knows’ principally nothing about the outer world. The messages from the body to the cell may by that be conceived as instincts, incomprehensible but absolutely imperative.

- * -

Those were my first spontaneous reactions within the subject. During the work and especially after I had got access to the description by Ardray, I was impelled to revise my apprehension. I understood that Ardray was treating a special case of body formation, but due to that matter of fact very usable. The whole body formation namely takes place openly.

The concept altruism is usually being used about our conscious reactions. Here it is a matter of almost molecular chemical reactions and energy transformations.

- * -

Organisms, also cells, have a fundamental property – selfishness. That property is a prerequisite for surviving in the struggle for existence. One can rarely imagine selfish beings to function altruistically, and the very concept of altruism is therefore in conflict with the doctrine of evolution. In order to allow selfish beings to form a body it is therefore required a “change of mind”, or a change of attitude. That was the basic thought in the idea, whose origin I have described above and it appeared to be the necessary innovation, which enabled the development of new perspectives upon the defined problem. Altruism does not exist within the doctrine of evolution. But that does neither describe the formation of a body. Hence, it may not be excluded that altruism nevertheless exists in connection with the formation of a body.

Hence, altruism - according to the definition of mine - includes that, as far as I can conceive it, it has its definite position in the development.

It arises in situations, when a development is moving towards cohesion of cells to a body, an organism of higher order, and with an identity of its own.

- * -

The prerequisite for the genesis of my idea, i.e. my way of judging the description by Bettelheim, consisting of my memory of the pilots and the cells respectively, may very well be more or less misjudged by me, but that doesn’t matter. The main issue is that these judgements worked catalytically. They forced me to conceive a whole new context.

What I thus far have described was only the startling point for my thoughts. The new trains of thought put my fantasy into work, which in turn led to a further development of the idea in different directions.

Concerning my method of description I must emphasize that, as I am not a biologist, less an amateur, I neither can nor want to use terms and concepts I can not master. That means an inevitable limitation. For me the main thing is to give an account of my trains of thought, as clearly as possible.

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