“Life is that which can mix oil and water.”—Robert Frost

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What happens when we see ourselves as separate from or as a part of nature?
A great question. In my opinion, when we see ourselves as separate from nature, we divorce ourselves from our evolved selves, following an artificial, delusional trajectory that is destructive to ourselves and our surroundings. Whereas if we follow our evolved path as part of nature we act in a cooperative, constructive, cohesive, and integrated manner that is beneficial to animate and inanimate alike.

René Descartes sent us off on the trajectory of Man outside of Nature with his Mind/Body duality. Thoreau brought Mind and Body back together as Nature when he went to Walden Pond to live his life deliberately.

All of life began by entraining the negative free energy or entropy within the protocell, spontaneously formed from the lipids immersed in the snowball-like asteroids that formed the oceans on Earth. Combined with chemiosmosis, life was able to circumvent the Second Law of Thermodynamics, evading the consequences of dissipative energy. Homeostasis then enabled these First Principles of Physiology to perpetuate themselves, and change form and function when necessary as evolution. Each organism utilizes these principles in its own way, internalizing environmental factors that would otherwise have killed it. Instead, such environmental factors as gases, ions, and heavy metals are used for the organism’s physiologic benefit, which Claude Bernard called the “milieu interieur.”
This concept of life has become more dynamic by considering the influence of Niche Construction—the idea that organisms can form their own environments—on evolution. This is particularly true when one considers the likelihood that the cell was the first Niche Construction, offering the opportunity to scale up such relationships ecologically from unicellular to multicellular, from homes to villages, towns, cities, and nation states as Gaia, the notion that the Earth is an organic whole. The self-referential, self-organizational nature of life is reflected by the ways in which it has evolved.

Up until now it has been difficult to convey this argument for lack of a physical precedent for such behavior. But now there is empiric evidence for self-referential self-organization, referred to as “Time Crystals.” This term refers to the tendency for atoms to align themselves with one another spontaneously, forming a template for the organizational principles of animate life. It is only when we hominins consider this continuum from the inanimate to the animate that we can step out of the center of the biosphere and recognize all of life as a unified whole, interdependent upon one another.  

Further Reading

Man Is Integral With Nature
From Minding Nature’s January 2015, Volume 8, Number 1 issue.

Torday JS and Rehan VK, Evolutionary Biology, Cell-Cell Communication and Complex Disease. Wiley, Hoboken, 2012.

Torday JS and Rehan VK, Evolution, the Logic of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell, London, 2017.

  • John S. Torday

    John S. Torday, MSc, PhD, is a Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He is the author of Evolutionary Biology: Cell–Cell Communication and Complex Disease (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

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