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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.
Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.
BY BORIS SIDIS
THE question “What is an individual?” seems to be the easiest thing to answer. It is enough to point to some individual object as an example. The matter appears to be so simple. A closer examination reveals some difficulties. Suppose the individual object pointed out is a book. Do we not find that the book is made up of “individual” leaves, the leaves of individual sentences, the sentences of words, and the words of “individual” letters? Physically and chemically the book can be analyzed into masses of molecules, and the molecules in their turn can be further analyzed into infinity of “individual” atoms. The individual book, therefore, is made up of masses of subordinate “individuals.” In what sense then is the book an “individual”? The leaves are connected, the chapters, the sentences, the words, and the letters are so interrelated that they form a whole,—a compound system of subordinate individual systems. The unity or individuality of the book is purely relative. The book as an individual object is a system of systems.
If from objects we turn to organisms, we obtain the same result. If we ask what is an individual organism, we find on examination that the individual pointed out, apparently one and indivisible as a unit, can be resolved into systems of organs, the organs into tissues, and the tissues into individual cells. Modern biology goes even deeper and resolves the cell into complex structures and organizations, such as cytoplasm, cytolymph, cytoreticulum, microsomes, plastids, centrosomes and astrosphere, plasmosome or nucleolus, chromatin network, chromosomes, linin network, and so on. Recent research in biology makes more and more probable that the cells are built up of systems of simpler individuals. These individual elementary organic units are formed into complex systems giving rise to cells. The cells in their turn organized into multiple systems form the unity of the individual organism. The individual, therefore, is never something simple and indivisible; it is only relatively an “individual.” In reality, the individual is an aggregate of systems of simpler individuals.
The systemic structure of the organic individual is strikingly manifested in the lower animals. The Hydra fusca can be divided and subdivided, the portions becoming separate individuals leading an independent existence. (See Fig. 1.)
Fig. 1.—HYDRA FUSCA, a fresh-water polyp. (A), cut across at D; B and C, the two pieces which have become independent individuals. (After Verworn.)
Similarly the Eucorallium rubrum, the precious coral, is an individual consisting of elementary coral polyps, each one capable of living its own individual life.
In the Microgromia socialis the cells are loosely connected, and each can lead its own independent individual life. (Fig. 2.)
FIG. 2.—Micogromia socialis. (After R. Hertwig.)
In the Codonocladium umbellatum, a colonial, flagellate protozoon, the same relation obtains; the portions, when isolated, become independent individuals. (Fig. 3.)
The Eudorina elegans is an infusorian belonging to the Flagellata. (Fig. 4.) The individual organism of the infusorian consists of many subordinate individuals capable of an independent existence.
|FIG. 3.—Codonocladium umbellatum. (After R. Hertwig.)||FIG. 4.—Eudorina elegans. (After Verworn.)|
The Siphonophore is an apparently differentiated individual with many organs having different functions, such as movement, nutrition, reproduction. Now these organs are really single individuals arising by budding from the main stem, and when separated from the stem can lead an independent existence. (Fig. 5.)
FIG. 5—SIPHONOPHORE COLONY. A, longitudinal section; B, external view; sb, the float; sg, the swimming-bells, the nutritive, reproductive, and other “persons” beneath. (After Haeckel.)
Even individual infusorian cells can be divided and subdivided, and the cut portions can in their turn become independent beings with a life of their own. The Stentor Roeselii may be taken as an example. (Fig. 6.)
FIG. 6.—Stentor Roeselii. A, cut across at *; B and C, two pieces which have become regenerated into complete Stentors. (After Verworn.)
Unicellular organisms can be subdivided into many pieces, and provided some portion of the nucleus is preserved in each piece, the fraction of the cell regenerates the individual and lives an independent active life characteristic of the parent cell.
These facts, along with others drawn from the internal structure, from the process of karyokinesis or cell-reproduction, and from the various processes going on in the internal morphology and chemistry of the cell during the different stages of cell-reproduction, pointing to the constancy and individuality of the chromosomes and their constituent granules,—all these facts and many others go to show that even so apparently simple an individual as a cell is really a compound system of many subordinate systems of relatively simpler individuals. The individual is a composite,—a multiple individuality.
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