“If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life.” Charles Bukowski
Scott Turner is a biologist and physiologist and with efforts to scratch his own itch he has written this book to answer the question that he believes that modern Darwinism has put to bed – What is life?
Turner tackles this question by reviewing various theories and sub-theories of evolution including that of Darwin and more closely that of Claude Bernard and his view that the nature of life that is based on an idea of homeostasis.
Now, before I get myself into too much trouble let me just clear a few things up. Firstly, I never studied biology at school. And although nowadays I find it absolutely fascinating I often find myself more confused than I began.
In part, it could be a lack of experience and education or perhaps the theories the author shares are obscure by design. I don’t suggest that Turner has done a poor job explaining his interpretations, but maybe it is that this topic is a tricky landscape to navigate and interpret.
Let’s face it – to answer the question “what is life” is not an easy feat. Science can help explain theories of evolution but in most parts much of the answers we seek still seem so far from reach. At least this is my uneducated perspective. One such example is how life has been able to form out of non-life, a subject that Turner touches on in this book.
In saying all that, this is my reflection, and the quality of this thought is therefore subject to the facts mentioned above. Back to the book.
The argument behind Turner’s work is that perhaps there is more to life than the noticeable and systematically structures of life, based on biological and chemical processes.
Darwin explains that all life is based on a biological evolution. That is all living organisms arise and develop through natural selection. A process which is fit for the sole purpose of survival and reproduction. A topic that consumes my thoughts recently.
This theory is broader than I can share, however, natural selection has life adapting in favour of traits and characteristics that will more likely meet life’s “innate” need to survive. This type of evolution depends on varying factors to the specific species or organism and its population notably the adaptation to the environment and mutations to the genome. I guess these are two characteristics determining an ability to survive. And via natural selection these mutations or adaptations are not only favoured but further developed.
This brings us to homeostasis. The argument that Turner uses to suggest that there is more to life than natural selection but one driven by purpose and desire. Homeostasis is the system of the organism that seeks to maintain balance as consistently and as best it can. A natural physiological regulator to preserve harmony and life.
The example that Turner uses is body temperature. The biological thermostat is our natural mechanism to keep our body heat maintained. Without balance in temperature, we are less able to function, including the functioning of vital organs to keep us alive. Of course, this is a threat to the fundamental need of all life – survival.
If there is an imbalance this homeostasis has organisms move towards bringing balance. This idea made a lot of sense to me. I believe it’s actually the reason for many of our feelings. We feel so that we can become aware and then, with hope, seek balance.
The problem is with the human species is that our consciousness and evolution into the modern world can produce misinterpretations of these feelings. For example, the sense of hunger to move us towards food. It usually works but does it drive us necessarily towards the right food?
This same hunger feeling may cause agitation, making us feel annoyed or angry but blaming on something else other than hunger. Another condition of our current situation when all it is is just a kick from our system telling us we should eat and very little to do with the current situation at all.
This nature of homeostasis has us filled with purpose. A purpose to survive by keeping the body that carries life in a good state of order. That base purpose leads to other purpose like the purpose to seek out food. But what about desires?
It is clear that if I am hungry I could say I desire pizza, no doubt delicious but perhaps not the best choice. Or if I am tired I could confuse that with something else that based on experience has me craving a beer – thinking that will help solve the problem but most likely exacerbate it.
Turner takes you through theories and thought to help us explore why purpose and desire may exist beyond this innate need to survive. In my view, purpose and desire are born from this requirement, and perhaps this is where I stand confused.
Perhaps the message that Turner wishes to share is that it is this purpose and desire that leads evolution beyond natural selection. Pushing us into new environments, forcing mutations and adaptations in our physiological and biological traits.
The advancements of life create new ways of behaviour and how we do things that have come to be due to purpose and desire. This leading to our evolution and ideally an increased chance of survival. It leaves me wondering – how will the age of technology that is fast approaching us going to mutate us further. More to the point, will we be able to keep up with it? Evolution takes time whereas technology is rushing ahead.
Looking to expand your mind on the theories of life? This book by Scott Turner can assist you with that.
If this book sounds of interest you can purchase Purpose and Desire here.
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Peace, passion and purpose…
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