Permanent physical agglomeration
When computer hardware is developed, increase in function is achieved by gradually combining elemental parts together into sub-assemblies, then those sub-assemblies into larger assemblies, and so on in a gradually more complex arrangement of parts. Elemental parts have their own functionality, but combined they can be given additional functionality. Each time a combination is made, new function can be added. In effect we end up with a sort of hierarchy of parts, where at each level the sum total of the lower parts has opened up the possibility for function to be added.
Exactly the same principle applies to other forms of machine. A plane for example is formed from a huge number of assemblies and sub assemblies as well as small components. The plane can 'fly' – that is the gain in function achieved by assembly, but it is formed of a fuselage for the function of carrying goods or people, wings to give it the functions of lift and to keep it airborne, a cockpit for control and navigation, wheels for take-off and landing, a tail for direction and stability and so on. Each part of the overall assembly – each sub-assembly has its own set of functions which contribute to the whole. The fuselage itself consists of seats for the passengers to sit on, luggage racks to hold their luggage, windows for them to see out, a galley to provide them with food and drink. Each seat has a reclining back to provide adjustable support, a seat belt for safety and a life belt under the seat for the same reason. I hope you see the picture I am trying to present. Each of the 'assemblies' has its own functionality down to the very last rivet.
And as in man-made creations, so it is in natural creations. Physical assemblies add function. And function can be added at each 'level' of the assembly.
We may think that simple organisms cannot have gained much by aggregation, that the first steps of sub-assembly of life would have created little added function to the whole. We would be wrong. It would appear that the first steps added huge additions to function and furthermore those functions have stayed stable and have been built on. The cell is of course one of the most successful and one of the first sub-assemblies of life that springs to mind.
At every level of agglomeration, function can be added, as such although I have used the example of the cell and the human being, it is clear that function has been added to every agglomeration, whether it is an ant, an elephant or something as large as the earth, a planet, or the sun.
Furthermore, it is not just the big things that have achieved functionality by agglomeration. The very first assemblies of atoms into molecules also gained function and in this case the combined atoms gained function which very often bore absolutely no relation to the original properties of the atoms from which they were assembled.
Nothing in the physical structure of atoms, or molecules or compounds can explain why they take on the properties they do when combined. Water for example is formed of hydrogen and oxygen, both gases, but water is a liquid and has properties totally unlike its constituents elements and quite unique to itself.
Numbers and size
What tends to mark out the physical structures we have invented is that there are often hundreds of thousands of the basic component parts, but as you move up the hierarchy of the assembly, the number of sub-assemblies gradually diminishes until you need only one or two of each one.
Thus a plane needs hundreds of thousands of rivets say, but only one cockpit. A computer needs only one screen and one keyboard, but it is made of numerous chips and switches. A meccano set has hundreds of nuts and bolts.
Nature is the same. We, for example, have only two eyes and one liver, one gall bladder, two ears, one stomach and so on, but we have hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of tiny cells which go to form these organs.
The other noticeable rule that seems to apply is that the lower down the hierarchy of assembly, the smaller the components are.
In computing, one of the marked changes that has taken place is the gradual miniaturisation of component parts. But in other sorts of assemblies, the component parts are always very small. The rivets are small in a plane and anyone who has played with a Meccano set will testify that the nuts and bolts are pretty fiddly too.
And so it is in nature. Cells, for example, are extremely small.
At the most basic level of the sub-assembly, of course, nature and man-made objects share common components in the form of molecules. And the number of these in each final assembly is usually incalculable. At the same time, as we know, they are also infinitesimally tiny.
But why should they have to be so small? The most flippant answer would be to simply say, because we don't want the final aggregate to be too big. But this is not the true answer. It has to do with the laws of gravity, osmotic pressure, and so on which are in place. The size is adjusted to suit the laws, which rather implies these laws came first.
In computing, miniaturisation has not only reduced the size of the machine, but it has enabled it to become more powerful, simply because it has overcome the problems of heat generation and the resistance in computer wiring. The same principle applies to other machines. The plane mentioned above has to be built within the basic laws of flight and aerodynamics.
Thus the size and number of component parts, sub-assemblies and assemblies in ‘nature’ are dependent on the other laws of the universe which are in operation.
The problems of agglomeration -sacrifice
Physical aggregations have many advantages over co-operating aggregations. The unit can be protected as whole by a barrier [of skin in our case] against attack from other organisms. It can be provide with a permanent defence force, the 'loyalty' of each of its component parts is generally guaranteed and all the components can be certain to work towards whatever purpose the overall aggregation decides is right at that time.
Once part of an aggregate, the component may be asked to die for the aggregate or sacrifice itself. And if it sees the overall aggregate gradually destroying itself via abuse, it cannot jump ship and leave. If the 'commander of the ship' is inept, there is no leaving, although it is clear some cells and organs eventually 'mutiny'.
A human being, for example, may last as an aggregate for 80 even 90 years, but our cells have a very short life, some shorter than they need be. On the other hand, it is the existence of the grouping that gives each cell the chance of life.
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