Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Can we say "everything" has a purpose, or a goal? This notion raises shouts of high heresy amongst the scientific party-liners. But I keep thinking, and have thought for years: every multi-part population that crawls the earth has some purpose, no matter how dull or uninspiring. The ants' nest is an organism that somehow maintains its integrity and multiplies and defends itself against others.

And for all living living systems, in Claude Bernard's perception, "the architecture of physiological function is directed towards the maintenance of the internal environment." Learned scientists rammed that mantra into my mind over sixty years ago. By the internal environment, they meant that in mammals, blood temperature, acidity, various and complex bundles of measurable factors were kept within quite strict bounds throughout the organism's lifetime.And, mutatis mutantis, this type of activity appears in all life from trees to beetles.

Around 1929, when I was one year old, Walter Cannon gave Bernard's criterion of internal stability the name "homeostasis" and generalized the idea to all systems, even engineering devices such as thermostats, and automatic pilots for ships and airplanes.

Every living thing seeks constancy within itself. Even though there are a only very few measurable properties that have to remain steady, life must cease when temperature rises beyond bounds or blood sugar crashes.

Could it be correct to extend this seemingly magical quality to all things, apparently living or not? Does the seemingly inert scree on a mountainside have a "wish" to remain as it is. Is there any tendency for a set of causally unconnected objects (I'll call it a mere nexus of oddments) to act in one mode, as if intentionally?

I wonder if a some notion of a final purpose enlivens even the most disorganized events to evolve, in time, towards a unity of feeling; or at best a harmony of action.