And in the beginning…

At the initial stages of conception all human cells are similar and could, potentially, become any part in the organism they are forming. Yet they somehow (largely) differentiate, they multiply and specialize and gradually become heart and bone and brain and skin etc. This extremely useful differentiation is only possible if each cell knows not only its own destiny but also somehow is able to figure out how it fits into the overall scheme of the life-form that is being built.

To quote Steven Johnson in his book, Emergence

Indeed the code (i.e. DNA code) is utterly worthless without the cell’s ability to determine its place in the overall organism. (1)

In the same way, the development of each individual needs to happen simultaneously with a sense of his or her place in the overall scheme of things, otherwise, ironically, the proper development of each individual will be undermined.

We are often frightened that if we look outside ourselves it will result in a lessening of our individuality.  Equally we are, rightly, afraid of being wrongly defined and forced into places we don’t belong.  In modern times we have moved from seeing ourselves as insignificant drones in an all important world-order to overly-significant individuals who owe allegiance only to ourselves.  Neither of those extremes is true – or helpful – and both leave us without a workable concept of how we can be truly ourselves within a wider context of society.

The process must necessarily start within each individual, because knowing who you are will naturally point you in the direction of where you fit best into the overall picture.  Using the logic of cell differentiation, this sense of being part of a whole should, in fact, help to increase rather than decrease individuality.  Knowing and developing the self will also give confidence because if we have clearly defined our own boundaries we no long have to be afraid of being over-powered or subsumed by others.

(1) Steven Johnson, Emergence, p. 86

TomorrowSelf Knowledge and Selflessness

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