Human: Individuals or Organelles?


When I was in High School, I worked summers at a day camp.  Most days we went on a field trip of some sort.  On one particular day, we went to a local park.  We started to play kickball and all of the counselors participated.   It was a particularly hot day, so I kicked off my shoes, while we played in the grass.  The grass was freshly watered and it felt cool beneath my feet.

It was good to be out in the sun.  I was not aware of any one part of my body.  I just felt a sense of wholeness and wellbeing.

When it was my turn at the plate, I decided I was going to make the kids run for it.  I was going to send that soccer ball to the other end of the field.  The ball rolled towards me and I kicked with everything I had.  My foot connected, but not with the ball.  My bare foot connected with a sprinkler head that had not fully retracted.  My toe, of which I had been blissfully unaware, suddenly gained sentience. It communicated a singular thought: I hurt!

From being just one of many parts, for days my toe became the center of my being.

I bring up this story to illustrate a thought that has been churning in my head lately.

My toe is connected to my brain via a complex network of nerves and chemicals.  It operates fairly independently (though not consciously), until there is a problem.  Then it has the potential to be the center of my consciousness.  Well what if I extend the metaphor for a moment.  We human beings more or less operate individually.  But we are intricately connected to each other by a myriad of sound, smell and visual cues.

Here is my convoluted point.  The toe and the brain are indirectly connected and yet we consider them part of one organism.  But our connection to each other, to the environment and other living organisms is no less complex.  For that matter Jesus said that the church is his body.  If Jesus in Christian theology God and *we* are Christ’s body, then it is not a huge synergistic leap to say that we are part of a much larger organism called God.

Now let me be clear:  I find Christian theology to be way too confining.  I do not in any sense believe there is a bearded white guy in the clouds dispensing cosmic justice.  But the idea that living creatures are part of a greater whole is not a novel idea.  If there is a greater whole, does *it* have a personality?  Tough to say.  But if there is consciousness that extends beyond the individual, then certainly it would have a sense of self preservation.  When threatened by the actions of any particular part, then consciously or unconsciously *it* would act.  Those actions would impact our actions, changing our behavior.  We see this kind of group think on a small scale in everyday life.

This I think is the agnostic god.  It is the simple acceptance that there is some connection that all living creatures share and that the sum of life *might* be greater than the sum of the individual parts (of which I am one).

OK, my head hurts now.  I think I need a cookie.  If this thought survives the next couple of days, perhaps I will follow up on agnostic eternal life.  But let’s face it, I am a flake.

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4 comments on “Human: Individuals or Organelles?

  1. I notice a strategy common amongst ex-believers to come up with an alternative definition of “God”. It is a term they were so invested in that they seem to want to redeem it somehow even if they are giving up many particular beliefs of their past. I see people do this with other terms like “Socialism”, “Nature”, “Family” and other abstractions that include some notion of belonging which is part of one of the many functions that get rolled into “God”.

    We want to preserve belongingness deeply — it offers us security in a real sense and a psychological sense. But unfortunately, as we do with supposed friends, we are also will to deceive ourselves about your belonginess because if done well even with self-deceit comes the brain comfort.

    The notion of connectedness in terms of care is also deceptive. Our own body does not care for us as much as most of us would imagine — you know this deeply. The foot-to-eye connectedness being likened to the person-to-the-society-to-the-forest-to-the-supernova connectedness move is a very common move. Let’s call it the connection move (CM).

    CM is helpful because it can stimulate the brain into security with the illusion of connection. The brain seeks connection because in wants human allies in times of disaster. No Supernova will help us. No tree in the Gobi Desert will be there for us. So it is an illusion which, if we are lucky, we never have to face.

    CM is also helpful because it helps us to view many relations with deeper meaning and sometimes this helps us relate better to strangers, our environment, animals and such. It is an ideology which reminds us to be thoughtful. That can’t be bad.

    So I guess it all comes down to how serious we are about our delusions and what we are expecting of them. So we can treat your problem as a deep philosophical question (not my tendency) or as a sign of psychological patterns manifesting in the useful, but deceptive human discursive mind.

    Sorry, that was long, by this is what your post made me think about.

    • So a couple of thoughts…I totally agree with you that god is a loaded word. When I use the word god, I do not mean to ascribe connectedness as a conscious individual. But neither do I think we as individuals are completely self contained. While I am an individual, I am part of many communities. Those communities are part of even larger communities…and so on. When we act in community, we are not all things to everyone; we are but a part of the whole.
      If I gain psychological reinforcement by recognizing my part in a larger whole, then I think that is a good thing. I would not consider it delusional (sounds too dawkinish…it’s a word…look it up…OK, maybe not), but rather a metaphor. The danger is if I start to believe the metaphor is anything but an artificial construct. For instance, I still attend church. I would not at all be insulted if someone said that I was part of the body of Christ. I agree with a lot of the teachings of Christ. I still find kinship with others who believe to others that believe to a greater/lesser extent than me. But I see the body as a metaphor. I do not necessarily think (though I strongly suspect) that without individuals there is a body of Christ. But it is a somewhat comforting thought to be part something bigger than myself (it also comes with a hell of a lot of baggage…I could do without that).
      Now as to whether the body/whole “cares,” that is debatable. I am still in the throes of disorientation to nail down my thoughts (this is why I blog). I see instances when the whole seems to be more than the sum of its parts. But in other instances, like the Third Reich, where the whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts…even downright evil (another loaded word).
      But again, I am all over the map at this point in my life. I am nothing if not a bundle of contradictions. Thanks for reading/responding.
      Ben

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