Does Noosphere Evolution relieve the Forthcoming Biosphere Crisis?

- Humitake Seki, D. Sci.
Institute of Biological Sciences,
University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City 305, JAPAN

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 44-46.

I think my presentation entitled "Does Noosphere Evolution relieve the Forthcoming Biosphere Crisis?" is appropriate for the general theme of the 9th Japan Association of Bioethics Meeting, "Bioethics for the Global Community: Anthropology, Philosophy and Social Justice". Here I mean the Biosphere Crisis as such an immediate social problem of the shortage of food resources and the environmental deterioration (Seki, 1996) caused by global increase of anthropogenic perturbations upon the Biosphere (evolution phase "future II" in Fig. 1).

This kind of large-scale anthropogenic perturbation is commonly believed to be the first crisis brought about by creatures in the history of our planet. However, geological evidence indicates a previous catastrophic phenomenon of a greater scale: i.e., It was about 2 billion years ago when the rise of oxygen from the primordial atmosphere was brought about by photosynthetic activity of newly evolved autotrophic cyanobacters such as stromatolites. One reason for the emergence of these photosynthetic organisms is speculated to have been a nutrient shortage because the enzyme-mediated consumption rate of organic nutrients by primitive microorganisms is much higher than their physico-chemical production rate. Hence, at this period of the biosphere history, primitive organisms inhabiting the anoxic biosphere faced a great crisis of nutrient shortage, but found the solution by producing nutrients by themselves through the biological evolution at the hands of God.

Although the nutrient shortage was relieved by the photosynthetic activity, the activity caused the rise of oxygen in the primordial atmosphere above the Pasteur point (0.01 PAL), which is the lethal threshold for anaerobic primitive microorganisms . Just as God rained burning sulfur on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed all the people there, except the survivors Lot and his two daughters, these microorganisms that had become tolerant to oxygen eventually acquired respiratory metabolism. Then, for example, the total amount of energy available from the complete oxidation of glucose through catabolism is 38 ATP by respiratory aerobic organisms, although it is only 2 ATP by fermentative anaerobic organisms.

Thereafter with O2 available as an electron acceptor in the electron transport of energy generation, aerobic organisms acquired the capability to obtain much more energy from the oxidation of organic compounds than anaerobic organisms. More energy had become available that could lead to higher population densities, which eventually increased the chance for the appearance of new type of organisms (evolution phase "past" in Fig. 1). This phenomenon is evident from the fossil record showing that there was an enormous burst in the rate of evolution at the time when the earth's atmosphere became oxidizing, leading to the appearance of eukaryotic microorganisms and from them to higher animals and plants. This catastrophic phenomenon at about 2 billion years ago, thus, had a favorable role as a great trigger to accelerate biological evolution, leading the eukaryotes to subsequent development up to Homo sapiens.

In their paper entitled "Energy utilization and evolution", Parsons and Harrison (1981) have shown ingeniusly (Fig. 2) that human social evolution extends the evolutionary trend established by genetic responses of biological life forms to changing selection pressure so that higher biological life forms have gained independence at the expense of increasing amounts of weight-specific energy. Hence the authors had to conclude that what appears to be excessive energy consumption by technological nations is in fact only part of an evolutionary trend towards greater independence of life forms; and, then stated perspectively, the harnessing of much larger amounts of energy may be regarded as necessary for human evolution of in the future. Based on this hypothesis, therefore, we cannot avoid and have to expect a Biosphere Crisis of food shortage and the environmental deterioration caused by anthropogenic perturbations above the capacity of the Biosphere.

Can this crisis be another desirable equivalent to the first great crisis in biological phenomenon at about 2 billion years that eventually permitted evolution of high diversity of living organisms in the history of our planet? It seems that the falling into food shortage and environmental deterioration caused by anthropogenic perturbations is much faster than its remedy of new organisms developing naturally to replace older ones through evolution. In addition to this phenomenon, it has been demonstrated by quite a number of experimental instances on the marine pollution, that more evolved organisms are more susceptible to pollutants. At the final stage of an experimental ecosystem, the most evolved organisms are removed due to their greater susceptibility to the pollutant. This favours establishment of the food chain among the most primitive organisms in the ecosystem, i.e., from cyanobacter to jellyfish and finally to turtle (evolution phase "future II" in Fig. 1).

A most promising resolution for the present crisis must be the introduction of genetic engineering with the ethical doctrine of human nature as fundamentally good at the level of ultra-hominisation, by harmonizing the natural rule of evolution as referring to what happened since eukaryotic aerobic organisms evolved, and by only speeding up the evolutionary rate to be in time for the resolution of the present crisis.

In this situation of highly evolved system of our Biosphere, how is the most reasonable justification of human phenomenon in the Universe? As distinguished theologian and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin and Sir Julian Huxley (Teilhard de Chardin, 1959) commented eminent remarks to this problem, by using convergence to denote the tendency of mankind during its evolution. The human convergence is first manifested on the genetic or biological level; i.e., after Homo sapiens began to differentiate into distinct races, migration and intermarriage prevented the pioneers from going further, and led to increasing interbreeding between all human variants.

In human evolution, convergence has led to increased complexity. The increase of human numbers, additionally, combined with the improvement of human communications has fused all the parts of the Noosphere together, has increased the tension within it, and has caused it to become "infolded" upon itself, and therefore more highly organized. In the process of convergence and coalescence, the psychosocial temperature rises. Mankind as a whole, will accordingly achieve more intense, more complex, and more integrated mental activity, which can guide the human species up to the path of progress to higher level of hominisation.

Thus, it must be one of few choices that human acceleration of the Noosphere evolution (evolution phase "future I" in Fig. 1) relieves this forthcoming Biosphere crisis with Great Will , as Sir Alister Hardy (1975) has described as "it is God working through men". There, upon anthropogenic acts beyond any purely scientific reflections in the Domain of God, none can deny the apparent need for interventions of the philosopher and theologian in our immediate crisis.

Figure 1: Evolution and destruction of the Biosphere and the Noosphere

Figure 2: Weight Specific Energy Consumption plotted against the distance travelled by different biologically and socially evolved classes of organisms


Figure 1 was redrawn from previously published figures in Parsons and Harrison (1981), with a painting in hermetic manuscript by anonymous person in 12th century. We were not able to include 3 cartoons by Gary Larsen in the Far Side Gallery published from Andrews and McMeel,A Universal Press Syndicate Company.

Hardy, A. Sir (1975): The Biology of God. Jonathan Cape. London. 238pp.
Parsons, T. R. (1979): Some ecological, experimental and evolutionary aspects of the upwelling ecosystem. South African J. Sci., 75, 536-540.
Parsons, T. R. and B. Harrison (1981): Energy utilization and evolution. J. Social Biol. Struct., 4, 1-5.
Seki, H. (1996): Environmental ethics of water pollution. EJAIB 6,163-164.
Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1959): The Phenomenon of Man. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York. 320pp.

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