Several billion years ago, it appears a group of prokaryotes (primitive cells) were colonized by proteobacteria. Each one of them apparently benefited from the relationship. We do not know exactly how this took place, but eventually the bacteria became so closely linked to the functions of the cells they lived in that they became a part of the cell, rather than a separate entity.
Biologists call these sections of the cell mitochondria. They have their own DNA, which is inherited only from the mother's gene line.
Mutually interdependent relationships of this kind abound on the planet. Sometimes, symbiotic relationships become so close that it is difficult to distinguish whether the two completely different organisms are actually a separate entity, or whether, because of their absolute dependence on each other, they should for all intents and purposes be considered a single creature. One good example are the various species of tropical rain forest ants that live in Acacia trees. The trees have hollow stems for the ants to live in, and produce sugars for the ants to eat. in exchange, the ants keep the tree almost entirely free of parasites. Take the ants away from the tree, and the tree cannot survive--insects eat it up just like that. Take the tree away from the ants, and the colony is helpless -- it expires.
The analogy consistently holds true on larger scales. For example, it is nearly impossible to entertain the idea of flowering plants without considering their pollinators, the majority of which are insects of one kind or another. The evolutionary paths of the bee and the sunflower diverged billions of years ago, but they are connected. Both carry DNA, and if it's inspected in enough detail, we'll be certain to find some strands that are all but identical. (Read Richard Dawkin's The Ancestor's tale. Despite his rigid defense of atheism, the book is of great value--proving even narrow-minded people aren't all bad.)
In another example, we could consider the symbiosis between fungi and blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, which give class to the entire and spectacular range of organisms called lichens, which specialize in inhabiting environments that are inimical to other life forms.
So why the biology lesson? It's simple enough. Everything on this planet -- in fact, everything everywhere -- is built on relationships. Everything needs everything else. It's all part of one single thing (Lovelock's "Gaia.")
This concept offers the possibility of investigating our understanding of consciousness and experience differently.
For example, I am staring at a mineral specimen on my desk right now. It consists of mica with plates of aquamarine beryl. This specimen is an absolute lawful result of the way our universe is arranged, just as I am.
Are we actually different entities? The response to that is not anywhere near so obvious as it appears to be.
If we shrank ourselves down to the atomic level, we would not see any clear-cut lines of demarcation between my body and the minerals. True, the density of the atoms would vary as one moved out of my body into the gaseous medium of the air, and back into the mineral specimen--but that's about it. From the atomic perspective, everything that arises exists within a kind of "quantum soup." It is indeed all part of one thing-- literally, an ocean of energy.
This concept probably bugs people who don't like all that "new age" energy stuff, but there it is, inescapable from the point of view of physics.
It is in the nature of our own consciousness, at this level, to perceive divisions, but perceived divisions are always a consequence of levels and of scale. We might have a bit more sympathy for both ourselves and everything around us if we realized that we are all part of one creation.
Everything depends on everything else for its arising and its existence. Mr. Gurdjieff attempted to refer to this by explaining it through the "law of reciprocal feeding," where everything feeds everything else.
We all search for meaning in life. Meaning is acquired only through relationship. As we live our lives, if we consistently investigate the meaning of relationship with in life, we find that all the food that creates what we are lies within this single vast sea of exchange.
I find that the deepest path to understanding what we are and what our place is lies in inhabiting the environment that we find ourselves within. By this, I mean attempting to stay connected to the organic sense of our own being, that is, the understanding that we inhabit these organs called bodies, and are in relationship with other organisms. In order to do that, it is necessary to develop a certain kind of new, and larger, connection to sensation.
It may not be everything, but it is a place to begin. Once we know, through sensation, that we inhabit this life, or we can begin to seek meaning within relationship.
We need each other, we need the struggle that arises between us. We need the effort that we make to overcome our differences. This is true in both an inner and an outer sense.
I'm off this weekend for a five day retreat. ZYG blog postings will resume next Thursday or thereabouts.