Structuralism and the Plant Kingdom

My photo
Frodsham (Chester), Cheshire, United Kingdom
Interests: Philosophy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Buddhism, Psychosynthesis, Hypnotherapy and R.E.B.T.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The hierarchy of existence

Tree of Life - A Hiearchicial Representation
Hierarchies just seem to turn up everywhere.  Once you start looking for them you just cant stop seeing them.  There appears to be a proliferation of hierarchies in every direction.  Lets start with one of the biggest and well documented hierarchies - the tree of life, and the plant kingdom in particular.

The plant kingdom itself is a part of the, bigger more expansive picture, the tree of life,  since all living things are included in the tree of life.  Looking in the other direction, towards the components of the plant kingdom itself we observe a massive diversity of life forms that are all 'plant-like'.  These forms are grouped by genetic similarity into groups known as orders, and these orders are themselves grouped into families.

So as we look at the parts of the plant kingdom in more detail we find plant families whose members all have some genetic similarity. These genetic similarities impart some special evolutionary advantage to each family which allows this family to proliferate. We are all well aware of the differences between an onion (Monocots::Liliaceae) and a lemon (Dicots::Rutaceae) but both families are still members of the larger group - the plantae.

When we look closely at samples from any plant family under the microscope we see tissues, which themselves are comprised of parts such as vessels, leaf parenchyma, chloroplasts.  At higher magnification we just see  cells, which themselves contain further structures called organelles, which themselves are made up of proteins, fats and so on.  At this level of investigation all plant material looks pretty much the same!
So, just to recap, looking at the smaller parts we have structural hierarchies within the tissues of the plants. Looking at the tree of life as a whole we larger groups of hierarchies based on structures and tissues which share certain genetic specialisations and adaptations.

This whole explanation seems rather verbose and unwieldy.  We just don't have the vocabulary to describe the intermediate nodes on this hierarchical structure succinctly.  Arthur Koestler coined the term 'holon' ... from the Greek holos, meaning whole, with the suffix 'on' indicating its particulate nature.

As I said, hierarchies spring to mind whenever we look at any structure or object. Even an apparently innocent object such a table, which at first glance appears to exist naturally, without any parts, is in fact dependent on the legs, the wood, and even the carpenter, his tools and so on. Any functioning thing, from an insect colony to the pentagon (to use Koestler's examples), arises in dependence upon its holons.
Can you find anything that does not arise in dependence on its parts?  Anything that does not contribute towards the construction of some larger 'entity' in some way? Anything at all?

But does this view of holonic existence change our view of how the universe is constructed?  What seemed to be 'real' and 'solid' is revealed for what it is ... an inconceivably complex interaction of dependent relationships.  Our natural perception of the solidity of our world is threatened!  Yet out of this holonic complexity an apparent perceptual singularity arises - the World we live and function in.

Because of this complexity this is a fragile world and things are inclined to break down and fall apart at the seams.   It is a wonder that anything functions at all!   Because we naturally feel that the word is a whole, a singularity,  we are surprised and upset when something, somewhere (inevitably) breaks down.

If our happiness depends on the expectation that consumer products arising from a perfectly functioning whole will always be available we are likely to be deeply disappointed sooner or later. Is continual upgrading of car, computer  and appliance the only answer? If consumerism has its limits, where can we look for a more lasting source of happiness?

Perhaps the answer is to celebrate the wonder of it all every morning when we open our eyes to a brand new day. Our nearest Red Dwarf, Betelgeuse may indeed go Super-Nova tomorrow ... and Earth may soon have a second Sun!

No comments:

Post a Comment