Guy Murchie:
SEVEN MYSTERIES OF LIFE (Houghton Mifflin, 1978)

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(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Guy Murchie wrote a vast survey of hundreds of themes related to life, each filled with cunning and often provocative observations (may there be degrees of sex, rather than just the two opposite extremes?) He even came up with a list of 32 senses, way beyond the regular five, including sense of time and sense of fear.
But his greater contribution was in the discussion of super-organisms. Murchie starts out by showing that groups sometimes behaves like individual organisms: who runs an ant colony? how do ants decide to move their nest somewhere else? It is the interaction among the individuals: some ants carry eggs and food to the new nest, some ants carry them back, and eventually one of the two competing population prevails; bees of a beehive communicate (at least as far as directing their fellow bees to food) with a language which is made of dance steps (including sounds and smells). An ant colony or a beehive behaves like an organism with its own mind: a beehive metabolizes, has a cognitive life (makes decisions), acts (it can move, attack) and so forth.
In this scenario, language can be viewed from a different perspective, as the mechanism that allows the organism to be one. Where does language come from is a question that does not only apply to humans, but to all species, each species having its own "language".
Borrowing from Lovelock, Murchie envisions the entire Earth as an organism which uses as food the heat of the sun, breathes, metabolizes and its cognition is made of many tiny parts (organisms) that communicate, exchange energy, interact. All living organisms, along with all the minerals on the surface of the Earth, compose one giant integrated system that, as a whole, controls its behavior so as to survive. And so do galaxies. After all, we are made of star dust. Life is inherent in nature. Murchie describes sand dunes, glaciers, fires, etc as living organisms, the life of metals and crystals. The question is not whether there is life outside our planet, but whether it is possible to have "nonlife".
Then Murchie turns to properties of mind. Memory is ubiquitous in nature. For example, energy conservation is a form of memory (an elastic band remembers how much energy was put into stretching it and eventually goes back to the original position). The laws of Physics describe the social life of particles. Electrons obey social laws that we decided are physical laws instead of biological laws thereby granting their behavior a different status from the behavior of bees. But this is an arbitrary decision. Mind is a universal aspect of life and energy. Murchie believes there is one huge mind, the "thinking layer" around the Earth, which corresponds to the "noosphere", a concept introduced by Teilhard de Chardin in "The Phenomenon of Man".
Individual consciousnesses are absorbed into the superconsciousness of a social group, which is part of a superconsciousness of the world. In Murchie's opinion, the world has a soul, an analogous of the Pythagoreans' "anima mundi" and of the Hindus' Atman.
Murchie also speculates on the origin of death. Death is an evolutionary advantage: immortal beings that simply split would be immutable and easy prey to environment changes. Death allows for regeneration of the race and for creation of new species. Death is a tool for change and progress. It is not a coincidence that immortality increases as creatures get more elementary (one-celled creatures simply divide in two instead of dying).

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