By Bruce Lipton
It shouldn’t be surprising that cells are so smart. Single-celled organisms were the first life forms on this planet. Fossil evidence reveals they were here within 600 million years after the Earth was first formed. For the next 2.75 billion years of the Earth’s history, only free-living, single-celled organisms—bacteria, algae, and amoeba-like protozoans—populated the world.
Around 750 million years ago, these smart cells figured out how to get smarter when the first multicellular organisms (plants and animals) appeared. Multicellular life forms were initially loose communities or “colonies” of single-celled organisms. At first, cellular communities consisted of from tens to hundreds of cells. But the evolutionary advantage of living in a community soon led to organizations comprised of millions, billions, and even trillions of socially interactive single cells. Though each individual cell is of microscopic dimensions, the size of multicellular communities may range from the barely visible to the monolithic. Biologists have classified these organized communities based on their structure as observed by the human eye. While the cellular communities appear as single entities to the naked eye—a mouse, a dog, a human—they are, in fact, highly organized associations of millions and trillions of cells.
The evolutionary push for ever-bigger communities is simply a reflection of the biological imperative to survive.
The more awareness an organism has of its environment, the better its chances for survival.
When cells band together they increase their awareness exponentially. If each cell were to be arbitrarily assigned an awareness value of X, then each colonial organism would collectively have a potential awareness value of at least X times the number of cells in the colony.
In order to survive at such high densities, the cells created structured environments. These sophisticated communities subdivided the workload with more precision and effectiveness than the ever-changing organizational charts that are a fact of life in big corporations. It proved more efficient for the community to have individual cells assigned to specialized tasks. In the development of animals and plants, cells begin to acquire these specialized functions in the embryo. A process of cytological specialization enables the cells to form the specific tissues and organs of the body. Over time, this pattern of differentiation, i.e., the distribution of the workload among the members of the community, became embedded in the genes of every cell in the community, significantly increasing the organism’s efficiency and its ability to survive.
In larger organisms, for example, only a small percentage of cells are concerned with reading and responding to environmental stimuli. That is the role of groups of specialized cells that form the tissues and organs of the nervous system. The function of the nervous system is to perceive the environment and coordinate the behavior of all the other cells in the vast cellular community.
Division of labor among the cells in the community offered an additional survival advantage.
The efficiency it offered enabled more cells to live on less. Consider the old adage: “Two can live as cheaply as one.” Or consider the construction costs of building a two-bedroom single home versus the cost of building a two-bedroom apartment in a hundred-apartment complex. To survive, each cell is required to expend a certain amount of energy. The amount of energy conserved by individuals living in a community contributes to both an increased survival advantage and a better quality of life.
In American capitalism, Henry Ford saw the tactical advantage in the differentiated form of communal effort and employed it in creating his assembly line system of manufacturing cars.
Before Ford, a small team of multiskilled workers would require a week or two to build a single automobile. Ford organized his shop so that every worker was responsible for only one specialized job. He stationed a large number of these differentiated workers along a single row, the assembly line, and passed the developing car from one specialist to the next. The efficiency of job specialization enabled Ford to produce a new automobile in ninety minutes rather than weeks.
Unfortunately, we conveniently “forgot” about the cooperation necessary for evolution when Charles Darwin emphasized a radically different theory about the emergence of life. He concluded 150 years ago that living organisms are perpetually embroiled in a “struggle for existence.” For Darwin, struggle and violence are not only a part of animal (human) nature but the principal “forces” behind evolutionary advancement. In the final chapter of The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection, Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, Darwin wrote of an inevitable “struggle for life” and that evolution was driven by “the war of nature, from famine and death.” Couple that with Darwin’s notion that evolution is random and you have a world, as poetically described by Tennyson, that can be characterized as “red in tooth and claw,” a series of meaningless, bloody battles for survival.
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from The Biology of Belief, 10th Anniversary Edition by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. It was published by Hay House in October 2015 and is available in bookstores and online at www.hayhouse.com.
Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D., a pioneer in the new biology, is an internationally recognized leader in bridging science and spirit. A cell biologist by training, Bruce was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and later performed groundbreaking stem-cell research at Stanford University. He is the best-selling author of The Biology of Belief and received the 2009 prestigious Goi Peace Award (Japan) in honor of his scientific contribution to world harmony. Visit him online at www.brucelipton.com.