Organism — Organ — Organic — What a wonderful root word. A system of many parts, functioning together as one for purposes any individual component could simply not achieve. I first started thinking about this as I began reading Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon,” in which the protagonist’s childhood is filled with work involving a large church organ.
Any individual pipe played one note, in one timbre. Alone, the parts were minimally useful, and limited in function.
I thought a bit more about “organs” in the context of work relations, and the “organism” that any company is: A bunch of individuals coming together, applying their individual skillsets to the common goal, raising the organism of their company to heights and achievements unattainable by any of the individuals. What an organism built the pyramids?
When it falls to his father to maintain the organ, the mystery of the beautiful sounds is revealed in the mechanisms that allow it all to happen… hundreds of elements strung together, mechanically, systematically, so that an infinite variety of sounds could be achieved.
Then I got thinking, how do you make an organism? How do you get individual parts to bind together for a common function?
Seems to me there are machines, and organisms. Machines have been constructed from a bunch of discrete parts thrown together by someone who sees a novel use in their combination. An organism, on the other hand, is a voluntary, or evolved, association of organs and systems and components. How about an organic machine? What if someone sees that forcibly combining the functions of a variety of organic systems can achieve amazing results? That sounds like a company, if each organism participates voluntarily, and a machinery of slavery if not — visualize a French slave Galley ship, oarsmen shackled to their seats, bound to fulfill their role until they die.
Is it any different in the human organism? We are an evolved amalgam of symbiotic, parasitic, and co-dependent “organisms” acting as a single unit. We are FULL of specialized organs performing narrow tasks, ALL working to keep this mass of protoplasm alive and replicating.
I like to say, “You can’t help what you’re born into, but it need not determine who you are or what you do.” But it is not so for all of the organisms in our body. Did the eye get to choose to join? Can it change function for a while? Can the eye decide it wants to be an anus for a week? Why is it so different for individual humans? Perhaps an individual’s choice to change and leave the organism into which he or she is born is not so easy, either? We may be unaware of an organism in which we participate. Does the liver “know” that it is required to produce bile, or be kicked to the curb?
The lines between discrete and dependent organisms is quite difficult to draw. When a cell decides it will no longer replicate and divide the way 4 billion ancestral generations of its kin have done, it is called a cancer. It is excised or killed. What if a cancer could leave the organism, so that the organism wasn’t affected? Could such apostate cell structures live alone? What if such a change “snuck past the goalie” (in a hockey metaphor) didn’t upset the organism, and the change had beneficial results for the organism as a whole. We’ll call this deviation a beneficial mutation.
Which subcomponent of the human organism got the best role? I’d vote for eyes… or any sub-organ contributing to sensations. Yeah, alimentary canal, I know you got a bum deal… Day after day, same shit.
And then, how do you keep an organ or organism healthy? It’s all the same, I suppose: Align the parts; assure each is playing its role; cut out the cancers, replace the cracked pipes. Grease one, oil another, be sure the next is sliding freely. Tightly restrain this one, balance that one against another’s force. Make the organ sing.
But where does the organism go, what does it do, what is it “for?”… who leads it to achieve its intended result? On a pipe organ — all mechanical stops and whistles– the organ player manipulates the internal organs of the Organ to achieve beautiful results. What is the leader of each individual human organism? Where is the organ player, pressing our keys, playing our pedals…. Is there one? Is there an “I” driving this beautiful hunk of protoplasm? And in a company, what force aligns the voluntarily assembled components to pull together? What of a religion? What of a societal organism? Who’s saying where society should go… other than the mad tumbling of all the independent sub-components inside it, acting according to the principles they choose as guides to action.
Whether we get a harmony or a cacophony… who’s to say how it is “supposed to be. It’s organic. It “is what it is.” And then one day, some part of your organ rebels and you leap up and say, “‘It is what it is!’ my ass! You traitorous bit of flesh. I’m the driver of this organism, and you’re going to get tuned up!! I’m in control!!”
All of the other systems leap to the defense of the organism, and the battle to preserve the organ is on! Eventually we all join some “Organ” preservation society…