What triggers an organism to divide and replicate itself? Is it hunger, confusion, instinct? Is division involved in the process, or is it more a matter of double instead of halve? Imagine an ugly yellow and green toadstool sitting in the forest. It yearns for love. What can it do? Stick out a stubby stem in hopes of tripping up a passing toadstool? It could wait for eternity. Worse, the ugly yellow and green toadstool might die out as a species, leaving no one to take over its duty of sitting poised and poisonous in the forest. If the toadstool had a brain– though there’s no assurance that those organisms with brains will outlast those that lack them– it might exercise its mind and devise another way of attracting a girlfriend, or a boyfriend. But wait… that takes us into a nest of social fungi, so it may be best if the toadstool remain neutral, if not neutered.
So there sits the toadstool, so agitated in its worry that it begins to shake. ‘Oh, look,’ it says after a moment, ‘I’ve wiggled loose a spore and it’s fallen to the forest floor and – WOW, I’ve replicated!’ Overcome by its own smell, and swollen with pride in having solved such an essential problem, it dies a happy death.
Like the toadstool, we also need a trigger to drive us out of isolation and into social situations where things happen that eventually lead to the production of replicates. Our triggers mostly live in a cocktail of hormones whose powerful stench attracts one ‘whoever’ to another ‘whatever’ and between the two they call forth three. Sometimes we replicate indiscriminately and unadvisedly. There is no intelligent Eye shining out from a cell that says, ‘what I’m about to do may be dangerous to my health, my infant replicant or the world-at-large’. The consequences are folded into the neighborhood, whether it happens in a dark forest or in a soup kitchen in the city.
But wait… our trigger is also located in memory. Even in the absence of replication it can jump a generation! Look at solitary Uncle Horace who never replicated anything except bad breath. We’ve all met him, and his three nephews whose halitosis is legendary. Still, memory is fallible, which is probably why we replicate less as we get older; either we can’t remember how or our spores have all dried up.
The idea that we might choose, or not, to replicate is a notion we wear like jewellery. In the end, the diamond bracelet or the woolen bobble tied to a cord and worn around the wrist may satisfy for a time, but if they don’t replicate they too might reach a dead end.
Wait… better to say they might reach a cul-de-sac, a cuddly pocket humming with triggers, an ideal spot for replicating.