If you like the ideas presented in this post, consider purchasing a copy of my book, Organumics: An Epigenetic Re-framing of Consciousness, Life, and Evolution at Everything Goes Media or pre-order on Amazon. This blog post about organum and organumics can only scratch the surface of the ideas covered in the book.
Organum is a medieval word for a polyphonic plainchant melody (you can hear some examples of them here). But in my book, Organumics, I re-purpose the word “organum” to redefine life as a harmonic composition of interdependent units occupying the same space and time, but on different levels. Much like the original usage of the word, an organum is a unit (like a song) that is composed of many smaller, self-similar units (individual plainchants). But, in terms of Biology, an organum is a self-directed, self-contained, and self-referential replicator that undergoes natural selection.
Organa (the plural of organum) are very similar to organisms in the sense that they are units of life. However, one key feature differentiates organa from organisms: an organum is always composed of smaller organa. This is an important distinction that clarifies almost all of the confusion about how to define life. The definition of an organism gets hazy when we talk about things like individual cells or viruses–is a thing an organism if it can’t survive outside of our body? For example, is one of your skin cells an organism? Or is something without a cell membrane (like a virus) an organism? These questions have no definite answers. But when we redefine living things from organisms to organa, then we can say with certainty that the answers to these questions is yes.
A cell dependent on your body for survival is certainly an organum. We question whether a skin cell is an organism because it depends on trillions of other cells for survival–without the entirety of our body, the skin cell will die. While this concept confuses the definition of organisms, it is a vital element of organa, because every organum exists embedded within a vast web of similar organa. For example, humans also exists as interdependent units within families, organizations, and societies. We feel independent and self-contained, but (just like the skin cell) we cannot survive without these larger structures.
While biologists and philosophers fight about the status of a virus as an organism, we can definitively say that a virus is an organum. As a self-contained unit that undergoes natural selection, a virus doesn’t need a cell membrane to be an organum. In fact, there is no specific bodily morphology required to be considered an organum–any body will do as long as the principles of natural selection apply to you. So, because viruses replicate with heredity and variability they are all organa! As an extension of this logic, some very interesting things can be considered organa that cannot be considered organisms.
One fascinating example of organum emerges when we think about the organizations that we compose as human beings. Just like a cell exists embedded within a body, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Within the framework of Organumics (the study of organa), our families, friend groups, and social structures suddenly become organa of their own! The rules of natural selection apply to these organizations just as they apply to a single human, a single cell, or a single virus. A family unit reproduces, passing on its heritable characteristics in the process, but spawning new and variable versions of itself. And, unfortunately, just like individual humans, cells, or viruses, these larger organa can die–whether the organum is a family, a company, or a country, it won’t last forever. But, organa have the brilliant capacity to reproduce. So, even if an individual organum will someday die, it’s template will live on in it’s offspring. And if it dies without reproducing, then that same template will live on in the offspring of its relatives.
As organa, we are connected to each other and to every other organum in an indeterminably vast and miraculous web of life. In this way, the entire universe can be described as infinitely embedded series of organa surviving, multiplying, changing, and interacting.
As Charles Darwin once wrote:
“Each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm—a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in heaven.”
And I can think of no better way to describe Organumics than that.
Disclaimer: Organumics will be officially published on August 1st, 2019. But you can use this link to get a pre-release copy. As an aside, the last time I posted about the book was exactly one year prior to it’s release date. And the first draft of Organumics was completed almost exactly a year before that in July of 2017. Synchronicity is real…