An afterthought…

Following up the analogy of individual to cell, species to organ, and biome to organism, and probably taking the metaphor to a place where it should never, never be allowed:

We might wonder what the functions of the human “organ” are in the system. If indeed the entire planet can be thought of as a single biome, the only way it could ever reproduce itself would involve seeding its particular biota onto other planets; so it could be that the urge for space travel is really a reproductive urge.

That’s right, we may well be the Earth’s gonads.

(This is not meant to detract from the actual serious intent of the previous post, and I am actually interested in comments and discussion on that one – this is just something that came up during a conversation last night)

Published in: on July 16, 2004 at 09:47  Comments (18)  


  1. Not so much the gonads as the sperm.

  2. Well, that assumes that what we seed the universe with will be humans. But it may well be that the microbes and fungi living on the sides of satellites are the things we’re really sending out into the void, and our purpose is just to propel them there…

  3. Interesting.

  4. Does that mean beating each other up is like punching Earth in the nuts? Or killing each other is like castrating Earth? Or getting a haircut is like circumcising the Earth?

    More broadly, I’m inclined to think, maybe yes. I mean, at *some* point there was a first cell on Earth, right? Gotta figure it was sort of lonely. Now, as we still haven’t contacted life on other planets, it might be that pre-species life (or even pre-cell) life is very common on other planets, but we (for whatever freaky, unknown reason) are, as far as we know, uniquely organized (biologically/societally).
    If the urge to reproduce is so fundamental to successful life as we know it, it’s just one more item on the stack of “where the hell are the rest of the sentient species?”

  5. Fascinating…I am a part of a grand Earthy pussy. God I love biology

  6. Or that we aren’t. Our EM sensing ability, especially in the frequencies around which most carbon-based life would be likely to transmit (since hard X-rays are a bit impractical for anyone whose planet isn’t already awash therein), is pretty much ass at this point; Alpha Centauri could be at the same technological level as Earth and we wouldn’t be able to spot it.

  7. Really? So, if there was an Earth-clone only a couple lightyears away kicking out as much EM as we do, we couldn’t detect it?
    That makes a lot of the terrestial SETI stuff seem kind of foolish. We don’t have any proactive signal that we are generating for others to see us, do we?

  8. As far as I can tell, the hope of SETI is that someone happens to be broadcasting a hell of a lot louder than we are, and at a frequency that doesn’t happen to match any of the bands currently in use on Earth for cell phones, TV, etc., because there’s so much noise in those bands that SETI doesn’t even bother to scan there.
    As far as proactive signals, well, we did send out that little metal disc on Voyager 1…

  9. An actual human organ, the moment it physically detaches itself from the human, begins to die. Lacks the consciousness and will. Just can’t think for itself.
    Thus the analogy is suspect because the functions, scope, and capabilities of the separate cells/organs/creatures vary. Humans are not physically connected to every other living thing in the ecosystem as cells and organs are in the human body.
    Self-sufficiency and independent function weighs heavily in the determination of species.

  10. I disagree. Remove a human’s gastrointestinal flora and they would be dead within days. Do any large-scale removal of plant or animal species, and we’d be dead not long afterwards – since even though we have redundancy in the means by which we get energy, we’re ultimately dependent on being able to get it from various other species.
    In the same manner, an organ isn’t directly connected to every other organ in the body, but it has some network of them on which it depends, and disconnected from the rest, it fails.
    I would argue that no species is self-sufficient or independently functioning; individuals perhaps (to the same extent that cells are) and systems of connected species are, but no species can be meaningfully disconnected from the whole.

  11. Yes the road map to our home world, let’s hope whatever finds it is friendly…*cue ominious music*

  12. Hell, it might be very friendly. For all we know, planets may reproduce sexually…

  13. Hmmmm
    *Cue baumm shikka shikka bom pow Porn Music*
    I have an intergalactic pizza here for the Planet Earth…errrr…why are you all naked……well when on Earth do as the Earthlings do….
    *zipper sound*

  14. I tend to agree with you. I think we need to grow up and “leave the nest” as it were.

  15. lol…
    my first thought was not PUSSY…despite how much i love it….IT WAS massive-man-meaT…..shine through personal perspective…..
    ps(again i say!)….i am too drunk… :P….ok,so this is the third time i have said this…deal if you please….:)
    matt “the no longer blue” gallaer

  16. The difference between an organ and a human is that an organ is physically attached to the body. An organ does not and cannot adapt should it’s particular niche or function fail.
    The point being that the analogy drawn from organ-body and human-biome comparison neatly ignores behaviour and functions. Animal struggle between niche competitors, against their predators, with their prey. The ecosystem is, by nature adversarial. To consider the biome a single living “entity” is to ignore that fact.
    Your final comment is valid to a point. Species are not connected to each other. There are relationships, to be sure, dependent upon where they sit on the food chain. But the destruction of a species rarely means the destruction of the ecosystem. The same cannot be said for organs.

  17. What about the DNA…
    What’s bothering me about this extension of your metaphor and most of the discussion on the previous thread is that you seem to have (perhaps intentionally?) ignored the DNA; Reproduction of an organism does not really make sense without the transmittal/communication of an encoding of that organism (i.e. its DNA.) More importantly, the way I look at it, an analogy to an “organism” does not make sense without a correponding analogy to the single DNA from which the entire organism can be reproduced, so in that sense the biome/organism analogy is seriously flawed, and so is the concept of reproduction for a biome via the transportation of some of its members (primitive or complex) onto other planets.
    In any case I can see how your analogies make sense (and provoke thought) from a functional perspective so perhaps I’m just missing the point. Sorry 🙂
    Actually the main reason I was tempted to comment on your post is that it turns out that I have recently given (unreasonably) many hours of thinking to life, evolution, species, organisms, cells, cellular automata, self-reproduction cellular automata, etc, and most of what I think I got out of the whole thing (and I will not claim that I got any novel ideas out of it 😦 ) is that the fundamental concept that ties all of them together is the DNA…
    At some point in time, somewhere in the universe (say the Earth), a particular arrangement of atoms happened to correspond to an instance of “genetic matter”; matter that could interact with its enviroment in a way that allowed it to produce an imperfect replica of itself. That is, it would react with its environment to produce other similar (but not always identical) genetic matter. Unless none of the eventual variations of the genetic matter prove meaningful or something goes terribly wrong and at some point all instances of this genetic matter and its imperfect replicas happen to react with each other in a way that destroys all of them, this process could concievably continue for a very long time…
    Now, at any point in time, what you would expect to see is instances of this genetic matter that happened to perform well over time wrt its interaction with (i.e. its survival in) its environment, which will likely include other instances of (different) genetic matter. People who work on evolutionary algorithms/programming view this as a random search procedure in the (infinite) space of all variations of the first genetic matter. Different “species” are different branches of the search tree that happened to lead to genetic matter that is fairly different, with different sets of strengths and weaknesses, with the key invariant in the search procedure being the fact that the whole population is able to coexist in a delicate balance with their environment.
    So, if things work out, over time you get the first cellular genetic matter, which is special because it can physically protect itself from its environment, then the first multi-cellular genetic matter, which is great because it has redundancy and (later) functional specialization, and as the process continues you will get multi-cellular organisms of increasing complexity. Of course over time the reproduction mechanism also evolves; for example at some point some species will get organisms with robust and powerful robust sexual reproduction capabilities. Regardless of the complexity, however, each organism will be encoded entirely in its own genetic material and will transmit this material imperfectly to its offspring. Thus, the only thing that really “survives” in any way (or lives, for that matter) is the genetic matter…
    It is likely that you will have different “species” at any stage of this process because there will likely be many different ways in which genetic matter can survive in your environment (i.e. planet), so you will end up with different organisms that compete for a sufficiently different set of resources that they can coexist in the same environment and you get the whole “delicate balance” thing going…
    … continued on next post due to the 4000 char limit …

  18. What about the DNA (part 2)…
    Anyways, wrt to your earlier post, the strongest couplings that you mention are genetic (e.g. cells and organs.) They are strong because they are part of the same organism and are part of the same genetic matter, and over time strong couplings (which are essential to the survival of the organism and its genetic matter) become stronger and the weak ones get weaker or basically fade away. Above the organism level, any couplings that you have are purely functional (vs. genetic,) and the strength is based entirely on the relationship of the two organisms (or groups of organisms.) It makes sense for these to be stronger between different specifies (than within) since organisms of the same specifies tend to have the same inputs and outputs and thus are less likely to be essential for each others’ survival.
    I guess the last thing I can say is that a system of many organisms that are (largely) genetically independent is a system that has established a delicate balance with its environment, so in that sense it is similar to the individual organisms that it contains, but it can not be reproduced (unless all genetically independent members of that system are reproduced) because the system itself is not encoded in a single genetic matter, so in that sense it is very different from the organisms that it contains.
    BTW, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that anti-procreative behavior such as the nonzero occurrence of homosexuality can be easily explained by random mutation in reproduction and the fact that homosexuality does not necessarily prevent reproduction of the organism. More specifically, random mutation will produce (with nonzero probability) homosexual organisms from sexual ones and since you also have the nonzero probability that a homosexual organism will reproduce, it seems understandable that there would be a nonzero occurrence of homosexual organisms in the population.
    Clearly, I have been thinking way too much about this stuff. I really need to go back to my linear dynamic systems homework…

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