Sidis Archives Menu
of Contents Next Chapter
THE LAW OF INDIVIDUALITY AND EVOLUTION
IF we examine more closely the representatives of the lower forms of organic life, we find that the development consists in a mere multiplication of similar parts; in other words, organic evolution in the lower stages of life is purely quantitative in nature; it is only in the higher forms that the ganglia become differentiated both as to structure and function, and their organization becomes qualitative in character.
In the lower forms the function of each ganglion does not differ in nature from those of the other ganglia in the chain. The functioning activity of the organism is not a synthesis of differentiated, intimately interrelated and functionally dependent ganglia, but simply a conglomeration of ganglia whose only union is their spatial interconnection, and whose only relationship is a sum of many similar actions occurring simultaneously. Proximity in space and functional simultaneity in time constitute the bonds of union.
Since the ganglia are in reality functionally independent, in order to insure simultaneity of function, the bond is an organic one. The neurons of the different ganglia become organically connected—in other words, they become concrescent. Thus the findings of Apathy, Bethe, and others have shown concrescence of neurons in the lower forms of life, such as the leech, for instance, as well as in the lower ganglionic structures of the higher forms life.
It is only when we reach the higher and more complex stages of life that we leave the level of quantitative relations and enter that of qualitative interrelations. In the higher forms of life the ganglia become so differentiated and interrelated that they cannot work without the co-operation of other ganglia.
A similar state we find in the stages of social grouping. The individual in the primitive community is practically independent and economically self-sufficient. What binds him to his small village community is intimate organic ties, blood-relationship. The same holds true of the community. What connects the small communities as belonging to the tribe, to the nation, is once more organic blood-relationship. It is only when society becomes more diversified in structure, when the division of labor and differentiation of occupation and profession increase, when the individual becomes so economically dependent that his food supply, the satisfaction of his requirements and his functioning life activity are impossible without social co-operation, it is only then that the individual becomes freed from the bondage of blood-relationship. In other words, with the growth and development of social organization organic bondage is replaced by functional relationship.
The same law holds good of organic evolution. In the lower stages of organic life nothing short of actual structural relationship and organic interconnection can insure co-operation into a whole of the similarly functioning and really independent ganglia. If one arm of the starfish is cut off with its corresponding ganglion, the arm reacts and functions like a complete healthy starfish. The same is true of the Echinus. The Nereis, and even the leech may be regarded as a fair illustration of our point of view. The leech we know consists of a dorsal, or what may be termed cerebral ganglion, and of an oesophageal ganglion with a series of ganglia arranged in a chain. Now it is found that the different portions when cut off the main body behave like the complete individual leech. The adjustments and adaptations of the separated portions of the leech are found not to differ from those observed in the healthy individual of the species. In the rainworm and in the individuals of other species of the Annelids we meet with similar conditions. Segments act like complete individuals. The complete individual is really nothing but a composite of many segments which may, in a certain sense, be regarded as inferior, but still more or less independent individuals. The organic unity of the complete healthy individual is brought about by structural relationship, by the actual concrescence of the many independent inferior ganglia or segment-individualities.
The concrescence of inferior individualities or of ganglia is all the more possible, nay, even inevitable, because the conditions to which the individual reacts are uniform and simple. The requisite mode of reaction or of function is simple, unvaried, and unmodified, a condition also found to be true of the lower forms of consciousness.
With the advance of organic evolution the ganglia become more integrated, and at the same time more qualitatively differentiated. Each ganglion or system of neurons assumes a different position and a definite stage of the function as a whole. This very differentiation or qualitative development makes it impossible for separate neurons or ganglia to manifest their activity, unless they participate in one systemic whole; in other words, they always function in aggregates. The bond that keeps neurons and ganglia is not any more of a purely external character, but it is of an internal nature, it is one of functional life activity. In the higher forms of life the interrelation of neuron-systems especially in those belonging to the most complex and most highly developed aggregates, is entirely of a functional nature. There is no actual structural connection, no organic bond except that of function. This functional bond is all the more necessary, as with the ascent of organic evolution adaptations to external environment become more and more complex and varied, the same elements and groups being requisite to enter into functional relations with various aggregates. The diversity of functional life activity is conditioned by the independence and freedom of individual elements and aggregates.
In the lower stages of mental evolution, where social life is more or less simple, uniform, and there is little more to communicate beyond some simple incidents occurring in life, a whole narrative can be incorporated in one visual symbol, such as picture-writing or hieroglyphics. With the advance of culture and development of mental life, sentences, phrases, and finally syllables become independently represented by different symbols, which enter into functional relations with one another, such as the syllabic writing of Babylonic civilization. The rise of civilization and the rapid growth of mental activity in all its phases bring about such a wealth of mental products that the former modes of symbolic representation in whole blocks become too rigid. The last bonds have to be broken, the individual symbolic elements become liberated, become free and independent. The economy in symbols is most marvellous. With some twenty-four or twenty-five symbols the infinite wealth of thought can be easily represented, and the ease with which it can be effected is almost miraculous. The individual elemental symbols are no longer indissolubly combined; their relations become purely functional in character. The independence of the individual element brings about the great ease and elasticity of combinations and the possibility of infinite progress in the representation of newly formed mental relations.
The law of economy reigns supreme not only in social development, but also in organic evolution. The lower an organization is, the more organic, the more fixed are the relations of the elementary individual neurons and their groups; the higher an organization is, the more scope is given to smaller and more restricted aggregates of neurons; and finally in the highest spheres of the highest organic forms the individual element, the neuron, attains complete independence and obtains full freedom in entering as an element into any neuron aggregate. The economy is here of the utmost importance. The possible groupings, permutations, and combinations by means of associations dissociations of individual elements and their groups are incalculable, and progress is practically infinite. From structural to functional relationship, from organic bondage to individual freedom of the whole scale of organizations, from the lowest to the highest, from the simplest medusa to the highest state of society,—this is the law of evolution. We may say that this law of evolution has not only a biological, but also a psychological, sociological, and even ethical significance. The general tendency of evolution is from structure to function, from bondage to freedom of the individual elements.