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by Jan Sand
2006-11-27 10:11:31
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This all began at the inception of life itself wherein the first membrane was formed to assure that everything within that primary enclosure was a functioning part of the mechanism of maintaining the living processes.

Things were simple then before the automatic machineries of energy capture and procreation had specialized into the DNA nucleus and mitochondrion interactions that are characteristic of the eukaryotic cells today. Those prokaryotes which still exist as bacteria today set down that basic principle that all within the membrane was congenial and useful and all outside was foreign threatening.

Doubtless, at that first beginning in the primal soup, much activity was random accident. The living bubbles had much to learn in the way of seeking out nourishment and protecting themselves from each other that would no doubt prosper from engulfing the right stuff contained within. Differences between bubbles started the race for survival, which accelerated to the velocities. This produced the frantic inter-bubble aggression that has persisted to this day.

Reality had arisen to create threats, not only from the more or less random effects of a universe insensitive to life, but also from the aggressive and more pointed competition of each of the little life bubbles for the same elements of energy and food.

People tend to view the world as mirroring their own processes. In puzzling out how the universe works early philosophers supposed that there were invisible creatures much like themselves inhabiting rocks, trees, animals, the sky and the stars which controlled things with strange powers. As humanity matured thinkers realized that these strange powers existed as part of the normal interaction of the components of the universe and needed no manlike directors to enforce natural processes.

Even today, there is a feeling that somehow living individuals at the mercy of the environment evolve and modify themselves in major ways to maintain their existence and prosper. The mental flexibility which humanity possesses permits this kind of behavior to a limited extent, but, throughout the overwhelming bulk of history, evolution has not been so considerate. Either living things survived with what capabilities they possessed or they died when these capabilities proved insufficient to meet the demands of random events. Evolution is quite merciless.

Since environments continuously changed in an unpredictable fashion there was not necessarily an increase in general competence for successive organisms. Evolution is not necessarily progressive. But time and circumstance is a process of filtration. If an organism survives one assault of random circumstance, it has the opportunity to survive successive attacks. If these onslaughts are relatively mild, the surviving individuals begin to retain and develop a general flexibility which is retained in their genetic makeup and species lines begin to develop that can confront a wider and wider variety of circumstances. But there is a real danger in the development of universally successful species.

When I was a kid, back in the 1930s, the population of the USA was around one hundred and twenty million people. In about three quarters of a century, this population has more than doubled to about three hundred million.

A regularly observed phenomenon by biologists is that certain species, such as rabbits, deer, certain birds, and so forth, find themselves in an environment so congenial that their numbers increase precipitously. In short order, the ancient principles of competition of life with life encourages predator species to exploit this plenteous resource and the original abundance of one particular species is swiftly cut back to the benefit of the competitors, which in turn are controlled by their success. These cycles of abundance and depletion are a regular occurrence in networks of living systems.

Ever since radio broadcasting began in the 1920s and TV broadcasting began about ten years later, the human race has been advertising its presence to the universe. Our recent astronomical observations have confirmed that planetary systems are common and, with the abundance of these systems, there is a reasonable possibility of life. Interstellar travel is probably centuries away for mankind, but we are a young species and the universe is old.

We have, of course, local species, viruses and others who are continuously on the lookout for local meals. Woody Allen has indicated that we live in a restaurant and we are all on the menu.

There are things out there and they are hungry.

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