The metaphor to which I devote this chapter is one in which the organism is seen as message. Organism is opposed to chaos, to disintegration, to death, as message is to noise. To describe an organism, we do not try to specify each molecule in it, and catalogue it bit by bit, but rather to answer certain questions about it which reveal its pattern: a pattern which is more significant and less probable as the organism becomes, so to speak, more fully an organism.
We have already seen that certain organisms, such as man, tend for a time to maintain and often even to increase the level of their organization, as a local enclave in the general stream of increasing entropy, of increasing chaos and de-differentiation. Life is an island here and now in a dying world. The process by which we living beings resist the general stream of corruption and decay is known as homeostasis.
We can continue to live in the very special environment which we carry forward with us only until we begin to decay more quickly than we can reconstitute ourselves. Then we die. If our bodily temperature rises or sinks one degree from its normal level of 98.6° Fahrenheit, we begin to take notice of it, and if it rises or sinks ten degrees, we are all but sure to die. The
oxygen and carbon dioxide and salt in our blood, the hormones flowing from our ductless glands, are all regulated by mechanisms which tend to resist any untoward changes in their levels. These mechanisms constitute what is known as homeostasis, and are negative feedback mechanisms of a type that we may find exemplified in mechanical automata.
It is the pattern maintained by this homeostasis, which is the touchstone of our personal identity. Our tissues change as we live: the food we eat and the air we breathe become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, and the momentary elements of our flesh and bone pass out of our body every day with our excreta. We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.
A pattern is a message, and may be transmitted as a message. How else do we employ our radio than to transmit patterns of sound, and our television set than to transmit patterns of light? It is amusing as well as instructive to consider what would happen if we were to transmit the whole pattern of the human body, of the human brain with its memories and cross connections, so that a hypothetical receiving instrument could re-embody these messages in appropriate matter, capable of continuing the processes already in the body and the mind, and of maintaining the integrity needed for this continuation by a process of homeostasis.
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