Function and Purpose
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Some cells are independent and are not part of a multiple-level structure, stopping at level one. Some organisms are independent, stopping at level two. Fully-developed superorganisms are independent, stopping at level three. The purpose of these independent living systems is to live and reproduce so their species can evolve through natural selection.
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Lower-level living systems that exist within a two- or three-level hierarchy are dependent to varying degrees, determined by the maturity of their higher-level living system. As their higher-level living system becomes more fully-developed, their own level of dependency increases, and their purpose in life becomes increasingly subservient to their superorganism's life function requirements.


Living System Functional Operation
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From an evolutionary point of view, the primary purpose of an individual living system entity is to live and reproduce, thereby helping to perpetuate the design code of its species. In its simplest terms, to live means to sustain a consistent set of internal conditions, while interacting with an often harsh and changing environment to obtain necessary energy and nourishment. The homeostasis required to sustain life is maintained through its control of actions by its component living systems, who collectively carry out the detailed life function work. Performing key life functions to maintain homeostasis is the foundation of a living system's existence throughout the operation portion of its life cycle.
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Within the three-level hierarchy, the concepts of function and purpose become more complicated. To the extent that a lower-level living system becomes dependent, it becomes subject to control by its higher-level living system. In return for receiving nourishment, energy, and protection from a harsher external world, it must perform life-function work as required by that higher-level system. The following chart compares the two endpoints of this spectrum, contrasting the characteristics of a fully-independent living system with those of a fully-dependent system.
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Fully-Independent
Living System
Fully-Dependent
Living System
Control of Actions:
self-controlled
externally controlled
Interaction with Environment:
immediate and direct
most are insulated
Source of Nourishment:
environment
higher-level living system
Protection from Environment:
its own structure and actions
higher-level living system
Specialization Required:
none
complete
Peer Relationship:
competition
cooperation
Examples:
bacterium, worm, ant colony
human cell, ant
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Note that these descriptions apply to most fully-dependent living systems. In forming the structure of a higher-level living system, specialization will always require some dependent living systems to be exposed directly to the harsh world environment. Even so, by being dependent, their species will be protected from harm.
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Dependency Spectrum
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Within the three-level hierarchy, many cells and organisms do not fall neatly into either end of the spectrum. The following chart shows some examples of where various kinds of living system might appear across the spectrum:
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Within a given species, the characteristics of individual cells and organisms may sometimes vary widely, depending on circumstances and time. A fungus may exist as a fully-independent entity, or may merge with others. A male lion may live alone for a time, and then join a social pride of lions.
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Dependency Determines Purpose
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When a living system exists independently, its whole purpose is to live and reproduce, thereby contributing to the gene pool of its species. But when it exists dependently within the three-level hierarchy, its individual purpose becomes subordinated to that of its higher-level living system. To the extent that it is dependent, its primary purpose is to perform specialized work as required by the higher-level living system. Its own individual existence then becomes a means to that end.
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For a living system that falls between these two extremes, its function/purpose is split. Its life involves some aspects of independent self-centered living and reproducing, but a major portion is focused on selfless contribution to the life functions of its higher-level living system. For example, a typical human citizen's existence is split between personal "home life" activities with his family and friends, and the "work life" of his job within an organization.
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The typical human organism is oriented strongly toward his own independent existence, and often perceives the organization that pays him for his work as the end recipient of his efforts. He seldom thinks of his work within an organization as a contribution to a life function of his nation-state, except when taxes are due, or in emergencies such as war or natural disaster. Most of the time there is little awareness of his nation's aggregate object structure and how widely it imposes constraints on his own behavior.
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A human citizen usually sees the purpose of his day-to-day existence in terms of his own independent living and surviving. He views the work he performs in terms of fulfilling his own interests, as a means of satisfying his own needs. In contrast, the nation-state superorganism sees the purpose of his existence mainly as a dependent working component that contributes to its higher-level life function work within its organizations. Both views are valid, and will be used here to help define development requirements.
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Purpose Defines Development Requirements
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Dependency and purpose are operational characteristics that can be used to help explain a living system's development requirements. For example, will the living system be structured to interact directly with a competitive world environment, or is it intended to function cooperatively within the internal environment of a higher-level living system?
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Whether used or not, all operational capabilities for action by a living system consume resources and energy. Over time, those living systems that are streamlined and tailored for their particular environment will perform more effectively and survive better than those that carry the excess baggage of unnecessary faculties. Over time, natural selection compels the development of just those capabilities that are required for a living system's intended operation under a particular dependency/purpose framework.


Development Requirements applies this dependency/purpose concept to identify the additional development that is required for dependent living systems.


©1995-2012 Ackley Associates   Last revised: 7/20/11
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