Life, Cells,the US Constitution, and Trees
is an odd combination of concepts. At first glance the title of the blog reveals a wide discrepancy of ideas, but in fact there are unifying concepts that bring them together.
The United States is one of the advanced cultures of the modern world. Its magnificent constitution states “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The wisdom rests firstly in the notion that “we the people” is the focus of all subsequent intentions resolutions and actions. Secondly it provides hope and promise of a happy and safe society. This statement of the constitution is satisfied in the biology of the cell, but not to the same extent in the dynamics of society. We do not fully appreciate what perfection has been accomplished in the microcosm of our bodies nor how apt the opening statement is to the cells that make up living organisms. The cells in truth realise all the promises of the preamble, including a perfect union, justice, tranquility, defence, general welfare, liberty, and posterity.
Living structures are characterized by their ability to move, grow, reproduce, acquire and transport metabolic products, and protect themselves — all so they can function and contribute to the bigger community. The cell as the basic building block of life and living organisms performs all the described functions effortlessly, innately and automatically. For the cell, life happens without struggle or effort. People perform the same characteristics of life, but many individuals struggle to fulfil basic needs to satisfaction.
The AiA art piece puts the cell in the centre of the body. The cells, acting in combination with other cells, give life to their person in accordance with the preamble of the constitution. People in combination with other people give life to their society.
From a physical perspective, biology has worked out a mechanism to keep all the 3.7 trillion cells of a single human being satisfied, fed, protected and fully functioning in their specific capacity. The liver cell is fulfilled in its capacity as a liver cell, and the same for the myocardial and brain cell. In fact all animal cells live and do what they were born to do, and are fulfilled until disease or death. The world of botany has accomplished similar magnificence.
Tree cells in combination give life to the tree in accordance with the principles of the constitution.
The 7.1 billion humans of the earth are still stuttering along, despite the lofty aspirations of the US Constitution. Many citizens go hungry, innumerable are homeless and countless die in war. The particular focus of this blog is to observe and appreciate the success of cells in the body, and try to understand and apply the processes that make them so successful to our society at large.
Branching Patterns in Nature – Success Story of Delivery and Waste Removal
The AiA rendering amplifies the arborising pattern of the roots and the branches in a background of the environment fuelled by the sun, air- filled atmosphere, and the earth. The tree unit consists of two opposing forces just like the negative and positive forces of the atom. The bare roots represent one force and the leaf filled flowering branches the other. They need each other and both need the environment (and the environment needs them) to develop, flourish and contribute. They use a branching system at both ends to move nutrients and water efficiently .
What Do We as A Society Have to Learn from from the Yin-Yang Tree?
Opposing forces, when working together, enable both to flourish as individuals and as a new unit. We need the man with the woman, the roots with the wings, the roots with the branches, the winter with the summer, the past with the future, the positive with the negative. In the realm of tubes and flow we need a difference in pressure – a relative positive and a relative negative in order for the contents of the tube to flow.
The geometric arborising pattern is universal and is shown in veins of the ivy leaf
The dried flower reveals a delicate capillary-like infrastructure which is the transport mechanism for the petals. The flower enfolds and defends a barely appreciated, delicate fruit buried within its husk. The need to protect its fruit manifests parental love which it can only do because it has an efficient transport mechanism to maintain itself.
Branching Patterns in the Body –The Vascular System
Supply and Removal of Metabolites and Waste
The transport systems of biology are exemplified by phenomenal branching tube morphology that is efficient. The delivery and removal system in the form of arteries, capillaries and veins is 60,000 miles long (2.5 X the distance around the earth) – and with a pump that beats on the average of 72 times per minute, 3.7 trillion cells are continually fed and cleared of waste, and as a result can be productive and fulfilled. Food is delivered and is waste removed from the front door of every cell constantly. Each cell understands and applies the Goldilocks principle – “Take Not too much , nor too little, but what is just right for your needs.”
The Gastrointestinal Tract
Note that the abdomen has been turned upside down in order to appreciate the tree like formation of the portal vein and small bowel.
The liver is seen at bottom left in purple and the spleen (right) in orange
Organs and Other Structures with Tree Like Shapes
Tree -Like Purkinje Cells
Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cells (B) from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899; Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain. Public Domain
Drawing by Camillo Golgi of a hippocampus stained using the silver nitrate method and digitally rendered by the artist
This treelike branching pattern of neurons responsible for consciousness seems to be a structural feature of the universe itself.
Realising “We the People” – First Step – Efficient Supply and Removal of Metabolites and Waste for the People of the World
Without adequate food and water, the promise of “We the people” of the preamble of the constitution cannot be fulfilled. Currently 1 in 9 people in the world do not have enough food. Without this basic need they are unable to lead an active and healthy life. Is it because there is not enough food in the world? Is it because the 3rd world starving countries are too far away from the excess food of the farms of abundance? The skin cell at the tip of the most remote toe or the most remote cell at the top of the head are equally supplied according to their need. In a healthy individual no cell gets left behind. Yet many people get left behind in the world.
How to do it?
To some extent we have built and continue to build an arborising network for water supply and waste removal. In the US 86% of the population have clean water delivered. In developing countries efficient water supply and sewerage facilities are lacking. One in 10 people lack safe access to clean water, and 1 in 3 lack access to a toilet (water.org). Building a similar network that spans the world and delivers food to the front door of all the people of the world is the obvious first step. Yet it seems like a pipe dream. The network of information provided by the internet was also a pipe dream for people like Nikola Tesla who had a vision for a “world wireless system” in the early 1900s. The ability to deliver real time information to the front door via the world wide web is only 30 years old. Could anybody prior to 20th century imagine such a technological accomplishment? If only we could deliver food via an innate arborising pattern. What if, for example, a high calorie liquid energy food could be delivered alongside the arborising water system? It may not be a classical meal but it is certainly more than nothing. The practical intent of this blog is to draw parallels between biology and society, which can learn from an almost perfect delivery and removal system, most commonly in the form of tree-like branching.
The universe has evolved over about 13.7 billion years and in so doing has the wisdom of time on its side. Over this time, it has developed systems that optimise energy and efficiency. We as thinking biological beings have evolved highly developed biological processes over the last 2.4 billion years. We have developed a mind and free choice. The mind for us has been a double edged sword – both a gift and a curse. A gift because it has given us an ego, individuality, tribalism, heterogeneous cultures, poetry, literature, art, theater, science, dance, athletics, religion, and organization, but a curse that has brought ego, selfishness, pride, religion, jealousy, murder, bigotry, prejudice, and tribalism. The desire to live in “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” requires that basic biological requirements are available and met. The cells of the healthy body have acquired the aspirations of the US Constitution.
The cell has no mind nor ego and is therefore waiting only for evolutionary changes. We as thinking beings want it all now, and continue to try and improve our lot in a lifetime and are too impatient to be happy with our lot. We therefore push the double-edged envelope with our ego and in so doing while we are social beings we are competitive individuals at the same time. This creates an internal conflict and conflict with others making perfect union a dream rather than reality. The start for the world should be an efficient low energy, arborising delivery system, for food and water system for all people. Without this the US Constitutional aspirations are only a dream.
Hillel recognized the conflict. “If I am not for myself,” he said, “who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I. And if not now when then?” It is the balance of “I” and “they” that we have to find. The cells have done it – Why can’t we?