Temporary co-operation of organisms
Initially, the only aggregation present on earth was the temporary co-operation between simple forms with relatively minor functionality individually. Thus this was the first form of aggregation used.
As evolution proceeded, however, co-operation between gradually more complex permanent physical aggregations also took place. In effect the strategies were combined.
Temporary co-operation is achieved by clustering and not physical bonding. Organisms form temporary groups or aggregates which can be dissolved as and when the need for added function ceases, or new function requires new groupings or the organisms needs to split to reproduce, for example.
Loose clusters such as this, co-operating together can be given considerable added function. Even algae can cluster together and perform functions which are largely chemical in nature. Co-operating simple cellular organisms in large numbers were needed at the early stage of evolution to change the atmosphere and they still play an essential part in controlling the atmosphere, algal blooms for example are often visible in the sea absorbing gases which would otherwise upset the balance of atmospheric constituents.
Thus, even now such co-operating clusters of organisms, sometimes in the thousands sometimes in the trillions can achieve high levels of added function.
But we can also see now some highly sophisticated forms of co-operation between much higher levels of agglomeration. Flocks, herds, crowds, tribes, companies, swarms, colonies and so on are all forms of co-operating groups.
Give them a name, give them a purpose and you have effectively given them extra functions. You have created an entity around which functions can be clustered. Once named, the thing acquires function.
Humans form any number of co-operating groups and we can belong to several groups at the same time. We can work for a company, belong to a youth club, work for a charity, belong to a pressure group, and also work for our family. In each case, the group acquires a set of functions all its own, as anyone in a crowd will testify. Groups of people seem to have a life almost like an organism. Go to any football match and you will see the individuals' personalities submerge and the person take on the identity of the crowd.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the co-operative approach is that individuals within the group take on specialised roles within the group, mimicking physical aggregations in the way they are structured. Thus whilst physical agglomerations have specialised sub-assemblies that achieve certain functional groupings, a co-operating group will also have functionally specific roles. A colony of bees has workers, drones and a queen. In any company, you get people in finance, computing, personnel, sales and delivery, along with the production workers, and it is co-ordinated by a board of directors, a managing director and a chairman – the brains of the organisation on whose decisions the organism succeeds or fails. Potters pot, drivers drive, bankers bank, accountants count [!], builders build and politicians …. well who knows. Countries have defenders, producers of wealth and service workers.
In effect, where physical agglomeration has ceased, loose agglomeration – the co-operating group [or the symbiotic group or the synergistic group] continues towards greater levels of agglomeration and as a consequence greater functionality. What cannot be achieved by the individual can often be achieved by a group.
So, coupled with some [non aggressive and constructive] competition as a spur to improvement it seems to be a most effective approach to increase functionality.
As an aside, it also seems to come with its own reward. It does appear that co-operating societies do far better than those torn by selfishness, individualism or dishonesty. The idea that evolution is somehow driven by individuals fighting for supremacy in a dog eat dog world is not only a bleak view, but is not born out by observation. In general the species that do well are those that co-operate.
One key advantage of co-operation is that the apparent weaknesses of one individual can be compensated for by others, and this then leaves the person free to use his strengths. So, for example, a woman may be crippled by arthritis. In the dog eat dog world envisioned by some biologists, this woman would be a weakling destined to be weeded out if only 'Nature had been left to take its course'. But the woman may be fantastic at strategic thinking and capable of being the managing director of a company. Compensate for the weakness, help her with pain killers and search for cures for the problem and you have a potential leader on your hands. Everyone and I repeat everyone has something which is being tested out. All that is needed is to find what it is that is being tested. Co-operation is the means by which this can be achieved.
Co-operation is dependent for its success on 'moral frameworks'. In other words, where communities and groups are formed then some of the functions invented are going to be related to the moral framework around which they will work. Morals are an invention of people, they are not a feature of creation, but moral frameworks along with an effective system of monitoring and punishment are key to ensuring the group functions as a unit. Without such frameworks, society breaks down. As a rule, it appears that the society with the most effective moral framework and system of monitoring and punishment of transgression is the most prosperous as a whole [I emphasise the ‘as a whole’]. There is thus no benefit to be had by any society adopting within its framework the rules of a less effective society.
What we tend to forget is that exactly the same sort of systems to ensure reward and punishment of acceptable behaviour are present in animal co-operating groups as well, the meerkat group, the lion pride, the pack of wolves or even pack of dogs, has its own rules of 'moral conduct'. And they too thrive or succumb according to how well the rules are implemented.
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- Dawkins, Professor Richard - Unweaving the Rainbow - Symbiosis #011832
- Kipling, Rudyard - Jungle Book - The Law of the Jungle #001462
- McKenna, Terence - A moment of insight #002883
- Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert - On aggregation #002879
- Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre - Phenomenon of Man - Co-operation #000185
- Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre - Phenomenon of Man - The Microscopic #000175