Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The organism grows; it is not assembled

The parts of a clock are put together in a certain way; the parts of an organism grow within an integral unity from the very start. They do not add themselves together to form a whole, but rather progressively differentiate themselves out of the prior wholeness of seed or germ. They are growing even as they begin functioning, and their functioning is a contribution toward their growing. The parts never were and never are completely separate, never are assembled. A specific bit of food taken in from outside never becomes some new, recognizable part, added to the rest; rather, it is metabolically transformed and assimilated by the ruling unity that is already there. The structures performing this work, such as they are, are themselves being formed out of the work. Does any of this sound remotely like a machine?

When, on the other hand, we do build machines, we impose our designs upon them from without, articulating the parts together so that by means of their external relations they can perform the functions or achieve the purposes we intended for them. Those same relations give us our explanation of the machine’s physical performance. If the behavior of one of the parts depends on internal workings, and if we cannot yet analyze those workings in terms of subparts and their external relations, then we regard the part as a temporarily unexplained “black box.”

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