Humanity is a whole, single organism, and may be likened unto the body of a human being, also a whole and single organism. Likewise, the embryological processes that led to the development of the human being are therefore the same processes in the body of humankind. What are these processes?
Humanity was not always a whole and single organism in its social, outward form. Of course, on an ontological level, humanity is one – has always been, and always will be. The last thousands of years have been the gradual manifestation into reality of this latent truth. However, there have been stages: “History has thus far recorded principally the experience of tribes, cultures, classes, and nations. With the physical unification of the planet in this century and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all who live on it, the history of humanity as one people is now beginning.”
We may say, then, that we are witnessing humanity’s embryological phase. Roughly a century old, compared to the hundreds of millennia during which Homo sapiens existed, and the tens of millennia of civilization, humanity as one organism is very much an embryo.
What are the main embryological processes? Immediately, the processes of cell division and growth and of differentiation and specialization come to mind. This is how the organism increases in size and complexity, and other fundamental processes of gastrulation, somitogenesis, and organogenesis result from these first two foundational processes.
There is a third process, less discussed and yet now recognized as equally important, that it makes up the third of the three main processes of embryology: apoptosis. A highly ordered and natural process, apoptosis is a series of biochemical events that leads to cell death. WIthout apoptosis, for instance, fingers and toes wouldn’t be formed, as the hands and feet are massive paws until the cells in-between fingers and toes apoptose. Similarly, organs are sculpted to their desired structure through apoptosis. The chambers of the heart hollow out as structure responds to anticipated function. The nervous system forms first as an overproduced mass of cells with potential, and those through which synaptic connections don’t arise aren’t chemically confirmed, and simply apoptose to allow for a well-functioning, descriptive neural network based on interactions that happened; and not a prescribed or predetermined system. Apoptosis is not a passive processes, but active and highly-regulated, necessary for organic health and to maintain homeostasis – ironically, some degenerative diseases result from ineffective apoptosis.
This is not the only way cells die. There is also the biological phenomenon of necrosis, which is the death of cells due to damage, toxins, trauma, infection, lack of blood flow or oxygen, a poisonous chemical environment – factors all extrinsic to the cell itself. Necrosis is an unnatural and unhealthy occurrence, while apoptosis is a natural and healthy process. And the differences are clinically perceptible; apoptosis is completely unnoticeable while necrosis results in pain, redness, heat, swelling, etc.
So what parallels can be drawn between the three processes of proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis?
– These processes are analogous to the dialectic through which civilization advances – crisis and victory. The victory is often in terms of growth and decentralization – two movements that are inseparable. They are both in terms of numbers and complexity, quantity and quality. The crisis comes in the form of apoptosis – a decline in numbers, momentary set-backs and breaches in bonds, decreased efficacy when new complexities occur.
– Crisis is not a result of failure on the part of the protagonists, nor is it a passive occurrence; rather, it is an active and healthy phenomenon, necessary to provide organic conditions for new victories. As progress is dynamic, so are the processes involved.
– It is important to distinguish between natural and healthy crisis and disruptive crisis. Two factors predominate – perspective and the environment. As apoptosis is a result of inner conditions, whereas necrosis is a result of external environmental factors, we must be alert to extraneous complications that result from the environment, and are not intrinsic to the process itself. Crisis can be a smooth, seamless, and non-disruptive process when occurring in an environment imbued with love, patience, forbearance, and enthusiasm, one in which a humble posture of learning is the mode of operation. Furthermore, if one has a negative perspective on events, then likely it will be seen as a crisis in negative connotation of the word; whereas if one perceives the same events as natural, it can be seen as an opportunity for progress. How can we prevent unhealthy crisis – necrosis – before it becomes clinically manifest, and create environments and facilitate perspectives toward apoptosis, or healthy crisis?
– These three processes, growth, decentralization, and crisis, are all necessary for healthy progress, and they exist in a dynamic equilibrium. An excess of any one becomes unhealthy. Growth by itself leads to a congregation of functionless cells, losing touch with the purpose of increasing numbers; decentralization by itself is a premature distancing from the community, resulting in unsustainable activities or complacent stance; and crisis by itself is usually an indicator that focus is not on the process as a whole, but instead is on certain cells (individuals).
There is, of course, much more insight that can be drawn from how a human being embryologically develops and its application to the processes by which humanity advances. It is important to always keep in mind that all these multiple interacting processes are fundamentally organic in nature.