Lars Kulik: In the sixteenth century science as we know it was born and with it the idea that we could calculate the world and find the one formula to explain everything. This idea is still pushing a lot of researchers, but just a look at the number pi, makes it obvious that we will never reach the end. But we got lost in this unending search. In the face of infinity, it seems, our fear of the unknown was amplified even more. We tried to find a shortcut by using our formulas to build our own completely controlled machine world, which could be described as the technosphere. Only now are we starting to realize that the self-build crutches are destroying the world in which we are living.
Our construct of thought fools us here. With our thoughts, we construct a world in which some experiences are simply not allowed and others are exaggerated. Thus, a tremendous force falls into our thoughts. Constructs of ideas should therefore not be confined; they should be open and adaptable. These are precisely the qualities that characterize the living. Life is flexible and viable, it is built for growth and learning. It has the potency to react to new experiences and thereby preserve the known. It is not about the destruction of the old, but rather about a change that could lead to an integration of the old and the new.
To illustrate that a bit more and shed light upon the role of human beings in this world, I will take a short look at our biological history. About 3.5 billion years ago on the already 1 billion-year-old Earth developed a simply built unicellular organism, which was separated from the outer world through a cell membrane, and enclosed a complex biochemical apparatus together with the DNA. The survival of these cells was only possible by a well-coordinated cooperation of the parts. Several hundred million years later, some of these simple cells joined to become a more complex cell, the so-called eukaryote. This cell type was again several million years later the basis for multicellular organisms. Once developed, multicellularity was a flexible and viable construct. Almost all living creatures that are visible to humans without tools are multicellular organisms. The human being itself consists of trillions of cells, which in various specializations form all organs of the body.
The evolutionary history reduced to these three steps, clearly reveals a cooperative pattern. In each step, a harmonious interplay of parts forms a larger whole ‒ a new autonomous individual. The individual cells are still clearly recognizable and are connected directly or through communication. In this relational structure, the cells are differentiated for different tasks. The whole is endeavoring to harmonize these relations, given external and internal influences, so as to preserve the autonomy.
In this perspective, human beings differ very little from the countless other creatures of this Earth. The processes and the constituents are very similar, so we have hardly more genes than the fruit fly and differ only by a few percent in our DNA to that of the chimpanzee.
Humans or any other individual organisms are embedded in their environment and are in interrelation with it. Environment in the widest sense encompasses the entire world surrounding the organisms. On a small scale, their social environment is of particular importance. In this regard, it is very interesting to see how our view is gradually changing. Today, a social environment is no longer confined to social living animals; a tree also maintains social relationships within its forest. Trees share information and even resources. Trees care for each other and so a forest can even be considered as a social network.
Back to the fauna: the social interactions of bees, ants, and termites are particularly noteworthy. These insects form superorganisms in which the individual animal alone is not fully viable. Reproduction and nutrition are fully linked to the community. Within these superorganisms the single individuals are highly specialized, and undertake only certain tasks. Compared to multicellular organisms, a next level of socialization seems to be visible here. From the first multicellular organisms to these superorganisms, several million years passed again. Seemingly, plenty of time is necessary to develop well-coordinated relationships.
Modern biology is still challenged by these associations. Since Darwin, the principle of competition has been the prevailing concept. Currently more and more findings allow a different perspective. It seems much more likely that cooperative interaction determines the evolution and the life of animals and plants. Cooperative behavior is described in more and more species. In the wild and in numerous experiments, spontaneous helpfulness has been observed in our closest relatives. Cooperation seems to be a common basic principle of life. Through cooperation and the formation of relationships, new wholes are created and thereby an enormous variety of life unfolds.
This diversity does not appear to be loosely side by side; it also represents a relationship structure in which each part has a meaning for the whole. The observation of re-immigrated wolves is particularly impressive at this point. Wolves had been displaced by humans from many areas. Now, however, the wolves are coming back, which in itself is a good development, but additionally it was possible to observe in a national park in North America the influence of an animal species on the overall structure of the park. Since the Wolf population has been re-established, the biodiversity in the park has increased. Even some shore plants can be observed again. Who would have guessed that the presence of wolves would affect the flora? This makes it clear that the wolf is not to be reduced to a single function. Its effect is much more comprehensive than a simple predator‒prey scheme describes it. To see the wolf simply as a predator, and thus to perceive it rather as something dangerous does not do justice to its actual significance. He tends to be more a game warden who keeps the forest healthy. This example reveals a further aspect, namely, how our stories and thus our world view influences our actions.
And it is possible to rename something else with this example; entire ecosystems can be considered as a whole also, in which the parts equal to the cells of the body form a new being. We are thus in an organismic view of the world. This is not new, but it has a hard time in a world thought more as a machine. From my biological, of-the-living-shaped point of view, it promises to be closer to reality. Above all, it helps us to perceive our world differently and to recognize the importance of the whole and its parts and the importance of dealing carefully with them.
The whole appears like a puzzle, which makes only the harmonically formed complete picture visible. In this picture, however, distinct patterns are recognizable at all levels, true to the hermetic law: “As above so below and as below so above.” In science, it was called the fractal structure of nature.