The First Cambrian Explosion
The Global Cellular Meta-System-Transition

This is part of the Systems Analysis of Organisation, Ego, Control and Authoritarianism.

A major implication of system theory is what it can say about the nature of organisms, it relates to an aspect of evolution that is little considered by many. An outcome of cells creating beyond themselves is a phenomenon called the Cambrian Explosion which is an example of a global Meta System Transition (MST, see Interaction and Organisation). It was a systemic event that occurred around 550 million years ago whereby the ecosystem of single cellular organism underwent a change, giving certain cells (eukaryotes) enhanced communication capacity. Their subsequent interactions and systems of dependencies self-organised into vast collectives of cells that we call multi-cellular organisms. All plants and animals including ourselves are such organisms and we are self-organising civilisations of trillions of cells with emergent phenomena such as mind and ego. Understanding this is vital for understanding the true systemic nature of ourselves and ultimately of civilisation.

Think back to about 550 million years ago (about the time of the First Cambrian Explosion), the earth had been dominated for billions of years by single celled organisms we call prokaryotes. They are individual beings that encounter their world on their own terms, they are formed simply of a cell membrane that divides their world into inner and outer and they maintain a DNA-RNA-Protein cycle within that is their mechanism of creation, sustenance, perception, response and dynamical existence.

Their internal biochemical process is perturbed by chemical agents flowing from the exterior through the channels in the membrane and producing a cascade of internal responses, which cause chemical agents to be produced and which flow outward into the exterior. This gives them a perceptual apparatus that informs them of their environment and allows them to perceive and interact with it in small scale biochemical ways thus giving them a degree of individual power. Their sphere of physical awareness and control was on the scale of millimetres.

Then came along an innovation that produced what we call the eukaryotes, which are essentially a prokaryotic cell membrane that contains several prokaryotes, which are the organelles (cellular organs) of the eukaryote. Thus there is an inner membrane that gives them a nucleus with a DNA-RNA-Protein cycle and an outer buffer zone with various specialised organs. This allowed them to develop more intricate and abstract chemical communication idioms and allowed them to form chains of communication, autocatalytic loops [FR], dependencies, specialisations, etc.

Initially these interactions occurred between free, individual, single cells; they were loose organisations of single cells that benefited the individual cells due to the collective power that the organisation wielded. Thus the eukaryotes could act collectively and thereby wield greater power and influence than the prokaryotes. This phase lasted only a few million years and their sphere of physical awareness and control was on the scale of centimetres.

Over time these organisations had an effect on the eukaryotes and caused them to become dependent on these organisations. They adapted to their organisational niches and became specialised. They became limited and constrained by the collective contingencies and the specialised perspectives that they occupied; being only parts of a whole rather than whole individuals. Rather than being single cells in an environment they were increasingly cells occupying a specialised niche within a larger organisation. They lived and operated within the context of that organisation which became an artificial environment that both protected them and constrained them.

They no longer encountered the world on their own terms but perceived it via the agency of the organisation; all of their necessities of life were delivered by the organisation, all of their information regarding the world was filtered and delivered by the organisation, all of their actions were increasingly harnessed into being actions as a part of the organisation and on behalf of the organisation. Increasingly they lost sight of the world as it appeared on their own terms and came to experience the world that the organisation informed them of and that was increasingly only what the organisation needed them to know in order for them to assist the organisation in pursuing its agendas. They underwent a meta-system transition (MST, see Interaction and Organisation).

These organisations eventually evolved, individuated and became the primitive ancestors of what we now call multi-cellular organisms. Initially these were remarkably crude, there was a period of massive innovation when all kinds of crude multi-cellular organisations were formed and engaged with the environment and each other, most of which died out. There are fossil records of about 50 distinguishable types or phyla (organisational structures) and about 26 of these still exist today.

During this time of innovation much of the existing environment was devastated; rapid change, competing influences and a proliferation of new and bizarre organisms were in the process of irrevocably altering the face of the earth. The original atmosphere was polluted with toxic oxygen and in countless ways the previous web of life was destroyed. The comparative peace and serenity of the single cellular world was lost forever and the world was thrown into a period of creation, innovation, devastation and imbalance. The multi-cellular organisms, over hundreds of millions of years, formed a new ecosystem, which became tightly integrated and delicately balanced and their web of interactions and dependencies brought a new harmony to the world.

One of the innovative multi-cellular organisational patterns (or phyla) that arose from the First Cambrian Explosion was a small inch long worm-like formation that we call Pikaia. It survived in an obscure ecological niche whilst others dominated the world with their claws and eyes. However, this worm had the potential to later develop a spine and over time this small worm gave rise to descendants that evolved into mammals, which have come to dominate most of the earth, especially in the form of humans. Their sphere of physical awareness and control is on the scale of metres to kilometres. This history of life on Earth is continued in the later discussion: The Second Cambrian Explosion but first many other issues need to be addressed.

The next section is: Memes and Memeplexes.
Or return to: Systems Analysis of Organisation, Ego, Control and Authoritarianism.