Mind Self and Society
Section 32 Organism, Community and Environment
I want to take up next the relationship of the organism to the environment as this gets expression in the relation of the community and its environment.
We have seen that the individual organism determines in some sense its own environment by its sensitivity. The only environment to which the organism can react is one that its sensitivity reveals. The sort of environment that can exist for the organism, then, is one that the organism in some sense determines. If in the development of the form there is an increase in the diversity of sensitivity there will be an increase in the responses of the organism to its environment, that is, the organism will have a correspondingly larger environment. There is a direct reaction of the organism upon the environment which leads to some measure of control. In the matter of food, in the matter of protection against the rain and cold and against enemies, the form does in some sense directly control the environment through its response. Such direct control, however, is very slight as compared with the determination of the environment dependent upon the sensitivity of the form. There may be, of course, influences which affect the form as a whole which do not answer to this type of determination, such as great cataclysms like earthquakes, events which lift the organism into different environments without the sensitivity of the form being itself immediately involved. Great geological changes, such as the gradual advance and disappearance of the glacial epoch, are just superinduced on the organism. The organism cannot control them; they just take place. In that sense the environment controls the form rather than being controlled by it. Nevertheless, in so far as the form does respond it does so in virtue of its sensitivity. In this sense it selects and picks out what constitutes its environment. It selects that to which it responds and makes use of it for its own purposes purposes involved in its life-processes. It utilizes the earth on which it treads and through which it burrows, and the trees that it climbs; but only when it is sensitive to them. There must be a relation of stimu-
(246) -lus and response; the environment must lie in some sense inside of the act if the form is to respond to it.
This intimate relationship of environment and form is something that we need to impress on ourselves, for we are apt to approach the situation from the standpoint of a preexistent environment just there, into which the living form enters or within which it happens, and then to think of this environment affecting the form, setting the conditions under which the form can live. In that way there is set up the problem of an environment within which adjustment is supposed to take place. This is a natural enough approach from the scientific point of view Of the history of life on the earth. The earth was there before life appeared, and it remains while different forms pass away and others come on. We regard the forms that appear in the geological record as incidents, and more or less accidental. We can point to a number of critical periods in the history of the earth in which the appearance of life is dependent upon things that happen, or appear. The forms seem to be quite at the mercy of the environment. So we state the environment not in terms Of the form but the form in terms of the environment.
Nevertheless, the only environment to which the form responds is the environment which is predetermined by the sensitivity of the form and its response to it. It is true that the response may be one which is unfavorable to the form, but the changes that we are interested in are those changes of the form in an environment which it itself does select and which it itself organizes in terms of its own conduct. It exists at a distance from objects which are favorable or unfavorable to it, and it measures the distance in terms of its own movements toward or away from the objects. That which affects it in its distant experience is a promise of what will happen after contact takes place. It may be favorable contact with food, or contact with the jaws of its enemies. It is such resultants which the distant experience is indicating; this is the way in which an environment exists.
The things we see at a distance are the contacts that we shall
(247) get after we move toward the thing. Our environment exists in a certain sense as hypotheses. "The wall is over there," means "We have certain visual experiences which promise to us certain contacts of hardness, roughness, coolness." Everything that exists about us exists for us in this hypothetical fashion. Of course, the hypotheses are supported by conduct, by experiment, if you like. We put our feet down with an assurance born out of past experience, and we expect the customary result. We are occasionally subject to illusions, and then we realize that the world that exists about us does exist in a hypothetical fashion. What comes to us through distant experience is a sort of language which reveals to us the probable experience we should get if we were actually to traverse the distance between us and those objects. The form which has no distant experience, such as an amoeba, or which has such distant experience involved only functionally, has not the sort of environment that other forms have. I want to bring this out to emphasize the fact that the environment is in a very real sense determined by the character of the form. It is possible for us, from the standpoint of our scientific account of the world, to get outside of these environments of the different forms and relate them to each other. We there have a study of environments in their relationship to the forms themselves, and we state our environments first and then relate them to the form. But as far as environments exist for the form itself they exist in this selected character and as constructed in terms of possible responses.
Over against this control which the form exercises on its environment (expressible in terms of selection and organization), there is a further control which I have referred to in a form which does actually determine by its responses the objects that exist about it. In so far as an animal digs a hole or builds a nest, it does get things together so that it makes a house for itself. These actual constructions are of a different character from that sort of control to which I previously referred. The
(248) ants, for example, actually keep certain forms of vegetation in their galleries upon which they feed. This gives a control of the environment that goes beyond those to which we have yet referred, since it necessitates active responses by the animals determining what the vegetable growth will be. Such actions make up a very slight part of the lives of these insects, but they do occur. That sort of control goes beyond the building of the burrow or the nest, since there is an actual construction of the environment within which the animal carries on its life-process. The striking thing about the human organism is the elaborate extension of control of the type I have just referred to in the case of the insects.
The environment, I have said, is our environment. We see what we can reach, what we can manipulate, and then deal with it as we come in contact with it. I have emphasized the importance of the hand in the building-up of this environment. The acts of the living form are those which lead up to consummations such as that of eating food. The hand comes in between the beginning and the end of this process. We get hold of the food, we handle it, and so far as our statement of the environment is concerned, we can say that we present it to ourselves in terms of the manipulated object. The fruit that we can have is a thing that we can handle. It may be fruit which we can eat or a representation of it in wax. The object, however, is a physical thing. The world of physical things we have about us is not simply the goal of our movement but a world which permits the consummation of the act. A dog can, of course, pick up sticks and bring them back. He can utilize his jaws for carrying, but that is the only extension possible beyond their actual utilization for the process of devouring. The act is quickly carried through to its consummation. The human animal, however, has this implemental stage that comes between the actual consummation and the beginning of the act, and the thing appears in that phase of the act. Our environment as such is made up out of physical things. Our conduct translates the objects to which we respond over into physical things which lie beyond our
(249) actual consummation of the immediate act. The things that we can get hold of, that we can break up into minute parts, are the things which we reach short of the consummation of the act, and which we can in some sense manipulate with reference to further activity. If we speak now of the animal as constituting its environment by its sensitivity, by its movements toward the objects, by its reactions, we can see that the human form constitutes its environment in terms of these physical things which are in a real sense the products of our own hands. They, of course, have the further advantage from the point of view of intelligence that they are implements, things we can use. They come betwixt and between the beginning of the act and its consummation, so that we have objects in terms of which we can express the relation of means to ends. We can analyze our ends in terms of the means at our disposal. The human hand, backed up, of course, by the indefinite number of actions which the central nervous system makes possible, is of critical importance in the development of human intelligence. It is important that a man should be able to descend from a tree (providing his ancestors lived in a tree), but it is of greater importance that he should have a thumb opposite the fingers to grasp and utilize the objects that he needs. We thus break up our world into physical objects, into an environment of things that we can manipulate and can utilize for our final ends and purposes.
Beyond this individual function lies the uses to which we put such physical objects in facilitating the control which the organized group gets over its world. Reduce this group to its lowest terms-such as we find in our romances about the cave man-and the things with which it operates are hardly anything more than clubs or stones. Its environment is not so different from the environment of the animals. But the development of human society on a larger scale has lea to a very complete control of its environment. The human form establishes its own home where it wishes; builds cities; brings its water from great distances; establishes the vegetation which shall grow about it; determines the animals that will exist; gets into that struggle
(250) which is going on now with insect life, determining what insects shall continue to live; is attempting to determine what microorganisms shall remain in its environment. It determines, by means of its clothing and housing, what the temperature shall be about it; it regulates the extent of its environment by means of its methods of locomotion. The whole onward struggle of mankind on the face of the earth is such a determination of the life that shall exist about it and such a control of physical objects as determine and affect its own life. The community as such creates its environment by being sensitive to it.
We speak of Darwinian evolution, of the conflict of different forms with each other, as being the essential part of the problem of development; but if we leave out some of the insects and micro-organisms, there are no living forms with which the human form in its social capacity is in basic conflict. We determine what wild life we will keep; we can wipe out all the forms of animal or vegetable life that exist; we can sow what seed we want, and kill or breed what animals we want. There is no longer a biological environment in the Darwinian sense to set our problem. Of course, we cannot control the geological forces, the so-called "acts of God." They come in and wipe out what man has created. Changes in the solar system can simply annihilate the planet on which we live; such forces lie outside our control. But if we take those forces which we look upon as important in the development of this species on the face of the globe, they are to a great extent under the control of human society. The problem of the pressure of population has always played a large part in the selection of forms that survive. Nature has to select on the principle of overproduction in order that there may be, speaking in an anthropomorphic fashion, variations, some of which may possess advantages over the others. just as Burrows used numerous varieties in his plant experiments in the hope that some would be of advantage, so, speaking anthropomorphically, nature uses variety, producing more forms that can survive in the hope that some superior
(251) form will survive. The death-rate of a certain insect is 99.8, and those forms that survive are of a diminishing number. There remain problems of population for the human form, but man could determine the population which is to exist in terms of knowledge he already possesses. The problem is in the hands of the community as far as it reacts intelligently upon its problems. Thus, even those problems which come from within the community itself can be definitely controlled by the community. It is this control of its own evolution which is the goal of the development of human society.
It has been legitimately said that there is not any goal presented in biological evolution, that the theory of evolution is part of a mechanical theory of nature. Such evolution works, so to speak, from behind. The explanation is in terms of forces already there, and in this process the particular forms appear which do fit certain situations and so survive in the struggle for existence. Such a process of adaptation is not necessarily a process which picks out what we consider the more desirable form. The parasite is definitely a result of evolutionary process. It loses various organs because they are no longer necessary, but it has adapted itself to the life of feeding on the host. We can explain that from the point of view of evolution. From such a point of view we do not have to regard nature as producing more and more highly complicated, more perfect forms. The changes are simply explained by variations and adaptation to the situations that arise. There is no necessity of bringing in an end toward which all creation moves.
Nevertheless, the human situation which I have just presented does in a certain sense present an end, not, if you like, in the physiological sense, but as a determination of the process of life on the surface of the earth. The human society that can itself determine what the conditions are within which it lives is no longer in a situation of simply trying to meet the problems that the environment presents. If humanity can control its environment, it will in a certain sense stabilize itself and reach the end
(252) of a process of development, except in so far as the society goes on developing in this process of controlling its own environment. We do not have to develop a new form with hairy covering to live in cold climates; we can simply produce clothes which enable the explorers to go to the North Pole. We can determine the conditions under which the heat of the tropics shall be made endurable. We can, by putting a wire into the wall of a room, raise or lower the temperature. Even in the case of the microorganisms, if we can control these, as human society in part does, we have determined not only what the environment is in its immediate relation to us, but also what the physical environment is in its influence on the form; and that would produce a terminus as a goal of evolution.
We are so far away from any actual final adjustment of this sort that we correctly say that the evolution of the social organism has a long road ahead of it. But supposing it had attained this goal, had determined the conditions within which it could live and reproduce itself, then the further changes in the human form would no longer take place in terms of the principles that have determined biological evolution. The human situation is a development of the control which all living forms exercise over their environment in selection and in organization, but the human society has reached an end which no other form has reached, that of actually determining, within certain limits, what its inorganic environment will be. We cannot transport ourselves to other planets, or determine what the movements of the solar system will be (possible changes of that sort lie beyond any conceivable control of the human organism); but apart from such limits, those forces which affect the life of the form and can conceivably change it in the Darwinian sense have come under the control of the society itself, and, in so far as they come under the exercised control of the society, human society presents an end of the process of organic evolution. It is needless to add that, so far as the development of human society is concerned, the process itself is a long way from its goal.