There are certainly examples of unmistakable metamorphosis in the organic world, for example the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The action of a specific hormone sets into motion that series of actions and transformations which cause a crawling being to become the sylph of our woods, through a process which has something of the miraculous about it. But we are dealing here with an infraspecific transformation, within the same morphic field, as the American Rupert Sheldrake would say. The caterpillar without the butterfly has no meaning, and the butterfly without the caterpillar has no origin. Everything is within the egg; we are speaking ever of one and the same being. The metamorphosis of the caterpillar is a good example, so long as it remains an allusive analogy – a very evocative, almost fabulous way of speaking about metamorphosis; in reality, a specialized being like a caterpillar in nature will never generate another specialized being like a butterfly; this can occur only within the same species, and these two realities are two faces of the same biological unity. The caterpillar is often the metabolic aspect, and the butterfly the reproductive aspect, of the same being.
But what do molecular biology and genetics have to tell us regarding these things? Do they confirm evolution, understood Darwinistically, or do they belie it? And what can they say regarding Morphology?
These disciplines, notwithstanding the sensational progress made in the most recent years, provide the sword to cut the proverbial Gordian knot of Darwinistic evolutionism and of the science of Morphology.
The first point which must be treated regards natural selection. We have seen how from a strictly logical point of view, and yet more from a biological point of view, the doctrine of natural selection cannot stand, and we have found the reasons in Darwin himself; it is unnecessary to say more. Nonetheless the neo-Darwinistic chorus remains undaunted, and in both specialistic and non-specialistic presentations, it continues to propose, mantra-like, the evolutionist credo founded on natural selection.
But the science of the infinitely small, the science which penetrates the living nucleus of the cell, tells a different story. Natural selection exists, but performs a task contrary to that which orthodox Darwinism assigns to it: it eliminates novelty, it eliminates those errors which might occur in the replication of the DNA or in the copying of RNA or in the translation of proteins. Very complex molecular processes hinge on the various polymerases of DNA and RNA, which, scanning the text and transcript, read, translate, copy, and transcribe the information, eliminating foreign elements, in particular erroneous pairings (by eliminating erroneous bases or nucleotides which have paired in an incorrect way) or foreign factors like alkylating elements (methyl or acetyl groups, free radicals, heavy metals, etc, which could compromise the functioning of the cell and of the organism), sealing the whole (in the case of transcription of protein-binding RNA) with a hood of guanosine triphosphate at the 5’ end and a polyadenylic tail at the 3’ end, after having eliminated (splicing) the non-codifying traits (introns).1
However, without entering into molecular details which presuppose knowledge of advanced organic Chemistry, we can say that DNA actively combats entropy, that disorder which tends to devour all ordered and coherent structures. It would therefore seem that natural selection can find no way of escape. Yet the ‘specialists’ have found a loophole. According to them, natural selection engages in a race, a struggle for life at the microscopic level, with mechanisms of correction of the DNA-RNA – a race based on speed. When efficiency and thus speed in correction declines, selection intervenes and works its marvels. Thus a causal process, founded on a flaw in the active defense of the cell, is the basis of an innovative process which unfolds on an often higher level, a level richer in information. To produce new organs, new genes are necessary, or else an innovative manner of disposing and utilizing existent genes – not their deterioration.
Another serious problem which we have already treated at the macroscopic level and which at the microscopic level becomes insurmountable for the evolutionists, at least in our view, is that of the transcription of DNA. This occurs thanks to the contest of the so-called transcription factors,2 particular molecules which act in synergy with RNA polymerases. These molecules wedge in between the spirals of the already unrolled molecule of DNA, ‘open’ it, ‘read’ it, and translate it into RNA to then convert it into protein by a process mentioned in note 11 of the first part of this essay. This process is assisted by no fewer than fifty other factors amidst enzymes, coenzymes, etc. These transcription factors and their annexes are naturally also transcribed beginning from the DNA and following the same procedure: thus to transcribe the transcription factors other transcription factors are necessary, meaning that to translate or transcribe DNA, DNA is necessary. This amounts to saying that DNA and its biochemistry are a self-supporting system which require all elements to function in full efficiency, like a round arch which bears its weight so long as all the stones are in their proper place, and which cannot be built one stone at a time, but only by putting all the stones up all at once, by means of an underlying support. Evolution has no such support. Moreover, if one considers all the other functions and organic systems which can activate or deactivate genes, like the endocrin system, in its turn activated by the nervous system, stimulated by environmental stresses, internal and external, one understands that the passage from organic to inorganic is impossible: organism can come only from organisms, DNA only from DNA!3
But here too the evolutionists have thought up an antidote: the RNA world. At the dawn of the organic world, DNA did not exist, and all processes were executed via RNA, which served as text, copy, and catalyst of the process of life. The various types of RNA (mRNA, tRNA, rRNA, hnRNA, snRNA, iRNA) are the proof of the existence of that world. However we are dealing here only with suppositions, and in any case this does not resolve the problem of the origins of this complexity. The complexity that we observe in living things, from the bacterium up to Man, cannot derive from the simple, by a progressive ‘patchwork’. There is moreover another problem that not even RNA can resolve, and that is the problem of form: DNA and its biochemistry furnish the blocks, the material which makes up the organism, the activation and the deactivation of certain genes, calibrated to begin from the nervous and endocrine systems; it regulates the time-frames and the moment at which one group of proteins is arranged rather than another, in one part of the organism rather than in another4 – but the form of a hand, that of an organ, the profile of a flowering corolla, the logarithmic spiral of the Nautilus’ shell, the physiognomy of a face, are written nowhere in the genes, and are the fruit of invisible forces which mold these forms, starting from the material furnished by the complex molecular mechanisms of the genome.
But at this point, after having demonstrated that evolution as gradual adaptation by mutation and selection is impossible, the key question arises: how does variety originate, or how has it originated? Our response will clearly be: thanks to metamorphosis guided by the laws of Type, as discovered by Goethe, which act within the limits and in the sphere of the principles discovered by von Baer, and of other principles still which are the fruit of the discoveries of the last century. But concretely speaking, how is a new Class, a new Order or Family or Genus or Species born? Drawing a parallel with Mathematical Analysis, we ask ourselves what happens when a concave curve becomes convex – that is, what happens at the ‘inflection point’ of the taxa, when a form, let us say a reptilian form, sets off down the mammalian or avian road, and above all how such profound modifications occur which might make us ascribe a species to the mammals rather than to the reptiles? Evidently the answer can be neither unambiguous nor lapidary; we are seeking to touch upon the mystery of form and of its source. We can at most make certain suppositions, but let us not repeat the error of many evolutionists, namely, of proposing pure conjecture as if it were something highly probable.
Well enough; we have excluded the possibility that a particular species, perfectly adapted to a certain ecological niche, might generate from itself another species equally specialized: a lion cannot generate a giraffe, nor a lizard a bat, nor a salmon a whale. Moreover, not even a regression of more general stages of organization is possible once specialization has occurred; at most, an involution and atrophy of higher functions is possible. Turning points might come, logically speaking, only when specialization has not yet occurred. The conclusion is that only generic forms can give life to specific forms, and therefore either the differentiations are given at the start, immediately after or contemporaneously with the birth of the Phylum,5 or else one might hypothesize an arrest in the development of the embryonic state, accompanied by a remodelling of the genetic structure in a non-local manner, thus along the entire front or along a very extended front, thereby producing adult forms which have been remapped in a different way.6
The first hypothesis might seem improbable because the radiations (it would be better to call them explosions, because this is how they present themselves in stratigraphy) of the classes of vertebrates, for example, follow each other and are followed by those of the Orders, etc; but the possibility should not be excluded that the ‘successive’ classes were already present in previous ages in non-hyperspecialized forms. However, even these forms are bad candidates for being the ‘trampoline’ for a leap, insofar as they are already adapted to some environment or other, although they conserve a certain versatility.
The second hypothesis is more plausible, even if it should be proposed in a ‘finalistic’ sense, since a mutation of the kind, so radical, so circumstantial, as for example the hypothetical mutation from Reptile to Bird, could not hang on Chance, but must have an internal vis teleologically directed toward an end; for a foot to be transformed almost suddenly into a wing, even though it be facilitated by various internal and external factors, a truly prodigious and intelligent event is necessary. Without planning, it is difficult to imagine an airplane: how much more complex is a seagull gliding in the wind!
Whatever the mechanism behind the leap may be, it might occur commencing from forms which are massively transvariant7 toward the destination group. Thus in the case of Mammals and of Birds, whose nearest group is constituted by Reptiles, we are dealing with creatures which in the circle of reptilian variability had touched on those potentialities, amongst all the potentialities innate in the Class, standing nearest to the Mammals on the one hand or to the Birds on the other, while conserving the traits characterizing Reptiles.8 Evidently, to give form to any given species, for example, to a Mammal, the Typical Mammal or the archetypal or generic Mammal is necessary; but this typical mammal cannot be any concrete mammal, otherwise it would already be specialized in one way or another (H. Frieling). Thus these archetypes are not effective forms, but rather ideal forms – models that are incarnated in one ‘place’ rather than in another. These archetypes are like force fields which expand through morphogenetic space in concentric circles9 and which act so soon as opportune or proximate conditions are present; in our example, the archetype of the Reptiles, by expanding itself and thus generating all possible reptilian forms (Kleinschmidt-Dacquè),10 amongst which are also those most mammalian and avian, has ‘trespassed’ into the fields of the Mammals and the Birds, and has activated those archetypes; and these then serve as syntropic attractors11 or final causes which are employed in an intelligent manner by available genes, or generating new sequences to create the forms most consonant with such manifestation. This manifestation develops itself on various levels which follow the taxonomic levels: thus, once activated, the model of Class would follow the activation of the Orders. And, after some millions of years, the levels of family, etc. Thus, once again, from the general to the particular. There therefore exists a kind of morphic pouring-over amongst groups, but one cannot speak in any way of derivation – also because, as we must repeat, there exist no forms of transition between known taxa, living or fossilized, but only almost sudden explosions and extinctions. We are dealing with a kind of ‘dialogue’ and non-local, biunivocal exchange of ‘information,’ a holographical weaving between hierarchically ordered archetypes.
Let us return to Goethe after this stroll along the steps of the double helix of the DNA.
What are the guidelines, the heuristic instruments, proposed by Goethe? In primis it is necessary to say a word on Goethean method. We can speak of a faith on the part of Goethe in the rationality of the real. Thought is not an abstraction, but an organ of perception of archetypal realities that manifest themselves in the concrete real, which it is the task of Man to explain and bring to clarity. As Rudolf Steiner notes in the Introduction to the Scientific Writings of Goethe,12 there are three levels of comprehension: scientific law, type, and concept. In the law of nature the Idea manifests itself separately from its phenomena: for instance, the law of gravity regulates its phenomena but remains separate from them, to the point that it is necessary to execute experiments, according to the postulate of Galileo, in ‘ideal conditions’, to deduce the law. There is then the level of type, in which the Idea, the Spiritual, acts from within the phenomenon as its ‘operating essence,’ which however still needs to be seen through the senses if it is to be glimpsed in its action. Finally, the concept – obviously not the concept as image of a class of objects, but the concept in itself; in this case phenomenon and law are one, the law itself is the phenomenon and the phenomenon reveals itself immediately as law. ‘In human consciousness, the concept itself is perceptible. Observation and idea coincide; we actually perceive the idea. This also allows us to see the inner principles of the lower levels of nature. Human consciousness allows us to perceive the fully manifested reality of what only exists – but does not appear – at lower levels’;13 thus, paraphrasing the theory of colours, thought is not the cause of the concept, thought is the condition of its manifestation: in human consciousness ‘Nature is interpreted to itself’;14 in the consciousness of the investigator, Nature acquires consciousness of itself. However natural research cannot be other than Typological research of the archetypes which govern the visible world and of the laws that determine their manifestation. Before any given methodological or experimental instrument, it is absolutely the most precise instrument which should first be developed: Thought on the one hand, which must learn objectivity from perception, and on the other hand, the capacity to penetrate whatever surrounds us. Plastic Thought (thus, Thought trained to ‘look at’ the living concept, the Ideal world) and perception educated to objectivity, are the instruments of the scientist and the philosopher of Nature.
But what are the four cornerstones of the Goethean method of Type?
Manifestation, Metamorphosis, Polarity and Intensification. First, Type manifests itself, and its various taxa are so many levels of its manifestation. Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, and Birds are, for example, so many levels of the appearance of the Type ‘Vertebrate’. How does this Type manifest itself? Through the metamorphosis of forms and structures. This metamorphosis, though traceable and reconstructible in a continuous manner in thought, comes, as we have shown, dramatically, by ‘quantum leaps’. Polarity and intensification are the instruments of metamorphosis. Now these two forces, as D. Nani rightly noted,15 should be read in light of the concept of Syncronicity, which amounts to saying the concept of the non-local and non-mechanical, but rather the symbolic and syntropic, connection between phenomena. This, seen clearly, is also Steiner’s suggestion in the conferences on Medicine, which evidently anticipate Jungian themes. In polarity and in intensification the principles of Saint-Hilaire are clearly condensed and perfected. The organs and the structures can have a bond of affinity, and thus they perfect themselves and regress either in parallel or else in polar opposition, and in the latter case intensification emerges, so that the more one intensifies, the more the other regresses. However, one must not forget that ‘symbolic’ connections of this sort often have no element of mechanical causation, and more often than not there exists no direct causal nexus between two phenomena, or at least no evident connection; for example, the metamorphosis of the bones of the cranium beginning from the cervical vertebrae. This metamorphosis has probably never occurred temporally speaking, but this does not indicate that it does not ‘occur’ syncronically, that there is not a relation of polarity and intensification between a given single vertebra and one specific bone of the Cranium. The strongest and firmest vertebra (the 7th cervical), with the widest body and the least emphasized apophysis, corresponds to the most delicate bone, the richest in laminae (e.g. the sphenoid). Nani for example reads the four Classes of tetrapods (excluding the Birds) through four archetypical gestures, connecting them, following the indications of Steiner, to four organs and to four cardinal elements of life (Nitrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen). Fish express continuous motion, they are connected to the Kidney, thus to the osmotic pressure of the liquids and solutes in which they move, and also to the element of Nitrogen. Amphibians express discontinuous motion, the Lung and the metabolism of Carbon (thus the structuring of aerial life, which is not sustained by external elements: dark Coal becomes transparent Diamond, the hardest, purest, and most structured mineral formation). Reptiles express the delimiting of internal spaces (and thus isolation from the external world); they are connected to the liver and to oxygen, and thus to the oxidizing metabolism of organic substances. Finally the mammals are connected to circulation, which in them becomes dual and complete; thus the Heart and the element Hydrogen. Moreover, he divides these four organs into dynamic organs on the one hand, the Kidney and the Heart (one continuous and the other rhythmic), and metabolic organs on the other, Liver and Lungs (here, too, one rhythmic and the other metabolic).
For Birds, the question appears more complicated. Their symbolic gesture is the opening of a wing adapted to flight; Birds are wing, they are Flight and articulated song. In birds free passage from Cosmos to interiority occurs, the latter of which reverberates through melody. Birds are connected to Sky and to Light and to that which permits light to pass freely – thus not to Phosphorous, which attempts to hold light back, but to Silicon, and also to Antimony which, in its subtle ‘interiority’ tends to flee from the Earth. Let us moreover not forget nocturnal navigation amidst the stars, and that which makes use of the terrestrial magnetic field thanks to magnetized crystals (which is Iron, sideron). The most characteristic organic system of the Birds is that of the bone, different from all the other Classes.16
In the end, a clarion example of the use of Goethean method is found in the polarity between the Pineal Gland and the Pituitary Gland. Considering the animals from Fish to Mammals, one witnesses the regression of the Pineal Gland and the development of the Pituitary Gland. The Fish are obviously still connected to their environment in a crucial way, and we know that the Pineal Gland is assigned to the connection of the organism with the cosmic rhythms, through the metabolism of Melatonin (light-dark; seasonal cycles). The Pituitary Gland, on the contrary, is strongly centred on the internal environment, and inheres in the internal reaction to stresses, both internal and external, through its extremely tight link with the Hypothalamus. Indeed, the Pituitary Gland, divided into the Adenohypophysis and the Neurohypophysis (it is indeed connected directly to the Hypothalamus, which is constituted by nerve cells), controls all the endocrine glands of the organism through the Tropins (Gonadotropin, Thyrotropin, etc.), thereby regulating above all the internal homeostasis of the organism, implying closure-interaction with respect to the external world. These are only some examples of the fecundity which morphological studies might yield, and the serious philosophical implications that they might bring to the cultural debate, and to the battle for values which today more than ever has taken on vital importance.
1Cf. Molecular Biology of the Gene.
2There are principally three types of factors with three different forms, called: helix-turn-helix, zinc fingers, leucine zippers. Cf. Molecular Biology of the Gene.
3Jacques Monod in his celebrated Chance and Necessity, expresses the concept in this way: ‘The genetic code can therefore be translated only by the products of translation themselves. This is the modern expression of omne vivum ex vivo.’
4Toward the end of the latest century, the study of genetics discovered the so-called ‘homebox’, the packet of homeotic genes or hox genes, which are a group of genes regulating the succession of bodily segments in almost all animal organisms, regulated by a particular histone code which imprints, during embryonic development, beginning from the head, the rhythm of the articulation of the segments—a rhythm recurring multiple times in successive specifications, also for individual segments. Cf. Molecular Biology of the Gene.
But also in this case, to continue our construction metaphor, hox genes are a kind of ‘prefabricated building’ which is bent to the morphogenetic exigencies of the egg, beginning from primary induction (that is the ‘signal’ that gives the go-ahead to the formation of the primitive streak and the neural canal) but the plan, the form, acts from elsewhere, through the hormonal system of the mother, from an implicit world of information, of ideal forms which it explicates in effective forms through this modular system.
5Practically all of these appeared, contemporaneously, at the beginning of the Phanerozoic Eon (ancient or inferior Cambrian), about 600 million years ago, and with the addition of three other Phyla, amongst which the Hemichordates, ancestors of the Vertebrates, some thirty million years later. This clamorous explosion, after the period immediately preceding it, which showed no trace of life, is perhaps the greatest mystery of all Biology.
6This is, for instance, the idea of the ‘saltationist’ Otto Schindewolf, who adopts and develops the ideas of R. Goldschmidt (systemic mutations) and those of A.M. Dalcq (ontomutations).
7To use the terminology of the systematic Italian biologist Alfredo Sacchetti, who, following the classical morphology of Types, thinks that the systematic thinker should classify living things by calculating the probability of transvariation or of typological adherence, that is, in what percentage a living form approaches or diverges from the typological model of his group.
8We know for example that many Pterosaurs had hollow bones, certain Squamata were probably already warm-blooded, and some, probably, had feathers (even if we must add that many of the findings of ‘feathered dinosaurs’ have been revealed as Chinese fakes!).
9The idea of concentric circles is Roberto Fondi’s (Sermenti-Fondi; Dopo Darwin [After Darwin]; Rusconi, 1980, p. 331), developed through the elaborations of Fantappiè on one hand and Kleinschmidt and Sacchetti on the other. The Taxa are statistically determined concentric circles (formenkreis), more or less transvariant, which interact amongst themselves in a ‘cybernetic’ way – we would say a Holographic way, or an informational and not mechanical way. The idea of the Field in morphogenetic space is our own.
10Kleinschmidt speaks of formenkreis, the circle of forms, in which all the possible concrete forms of an ideal type are present, and its temporal progress (a kind of chronotype or spacio-temporal continuum of biology, developed successively by the Italian Fantappiè, who adopts the chronotype of De Sitter); Dacquè, along the same lines, speaks of Urtypus or Irgestalt in a plainly Goethean way.
11Syntropy is a term coined by the Italian mathematician Luigi Fantappiè in the 40s, to distinguish it from Entropy. Entropic phenomena are those ordinary phenomena regulated by mechanical causality in which effect follows cause in time (divergent waves, increase of disorder); syntropic phenomena are those in which the cause is found after the effect in the sense that it acts as an attractor, posited in the ‘future’, of effects in the past (thence convergent, increase in order). In philosophical jargon these are the final causes. Time, too, in this optic, has two directions, not only from the past to the future but also from the future to the past (as certain quantum-mechanical phenomena of entanglement demonstrate). Biological and spiritual phenomena are typical of such a type of causality: Luigi Fantappiè, Principi di una teoria unitaria del mondo fisico e biologico (Principles of a Unitary Theory of the Physical and Biological World), published by Di Renzo, Roma 1993; Giuseppe and Salvatore Arcidiacono Sintropia, Entropia, Informazione, Una nuova teoria unitaria della fisica, chimica e biologia, (Syntropy, Entropy, Information; A New Unity Theory of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology), published by Di Renzo, Roma 2006.
12Published by Antroposofica, Milan, 2008, p. 234–235.
13R. Steiner, Nature’s Open Secret: Introduction to Goethe’s Scientific Writings, Anthroposophic Press, 2000.
14R. Steiner, Goethe’s Theory of Knowledge: An Outline if the Epistemology of His Worldview, Steiner Books, 2008, p. 83.
15D. Nani; Sincronicità e dinamica della forma, connessioni simboliche nell’anatomia dei Vertebrati (Synchronicity and Dynamics of Form: Symbolic Connections in the Anatomy of Vertebrates); Il Capitello del Sole; 2001; p. 39.
16This passage was intentionally italicized in the original. – Trans.