From the SynEARTH Archives … The following is the fourth chapter from We Can All Win!
Three Classes of Life
Timothy Wilken, MD
In 1921, Alfred Korzybski (1), a mathematician and scientist, classified Life with precise and accurate operational definitions of plants, animals, and humans. He defined the plants as energy-binders, the animals as space-binders, and we humans as time-binders.
Korzybski explained that the plants adapt to their environment through their awareness and control of energy. The animals adapt to their environment through their awareness and control of space. And we humans adapt to our environment through our awareness and control of time.
Energy-binding – the power of plants
The power of energy-binding is transformation, growth, and organization.
Energy-binders have the ability to transform solar energy to organic chemical energy. The plant is a solar collector. It spreads its leaves and harvests the ultraviolet rays directly from the sun.
Energy-binders have the power of growth. The plant draws water and minerals from the soil organizes this energy and nutrients into growth through cell division. The growth of the energy-binder and its self-propagation through progeny are the resultant of cell division – if the cells remain together we have growth; if they split off into a separate entity we have progeny.
Energy-bindings have the power of organization. Organization possible through the ability to time the release and binding of energy. Timing based on knowledge – energy knowledge.
Life requires complexity. Take one of the simplest of energy-binders – a single celled bacteria.
We are looking at a simple rod-shaped one celled plant which can avoid dangers and seize opportunities. Inside this simple one celled plant – there are four “boss” molecules. These DNA molecules have a molecular weight of 2.5 billion each. Then we find 400,000 assistants to the bosses, RNA molecules of over 1000 types with an average molecular weight of 2 million each. Packed between all of these molecules are about 1 million protein molecules of over 2000 different types with an average molecular weight of 40,000 each. And to complete this simple cell we find 500 million smaller molecules of approximately 700 types with an average molecular weight of 300 each. All of these units working together to bind energy, making controlled choices, adapting to their environment, avoiding danger and embracing opportunity.
This description of a simple one celled energy-binder is mind boggling; but to keep our sense of proportion, we must recognize that life requires complexity. Energy-binders represent a much more complex order of organization that the most complex of nonliving molecules. If a molecule were likened to an automobile, then a cell is like an automotive factory – a vast organization of men, machines, and computers.
And so plants – the energy-binders are energy aware. They are aware and they process information about energy. They remember energy events and from that memory make controlled choices – energy choices. The plants think and decide.
This is not human thinking, not even animal thinking, but it is a form of intelligence – very powerful energy intelligence. The plants use their power to bind energy – to organize, to adapt to their environment. They must adapt by making controlled choices, which keep them within the narrow corridor of life or they will die. They must avoid the dangers threatening their survival and embrace the opportunities for growth and reproduction.
While the energy-binders have the power to collect and store energy, to make controlled choices of the use of that energy, they have limited adaptability. Limited because they cannot move. Plants are rooted to their environment. If a plant roots in the shade, it cannot move to a sunnier place. If it is dying for lack of water, it cannot move to a rainier spot. Plants lack the power of mobility.
Plant growth is movement, but movement towards an infinitely remote goal – the sun. Plant motion is in a constant direction, either away from gravity or towards the sun.
Neutrality – the natural law of plants
Neutral relationships originate in the plant world.
Sunlight provides unlimited energy for the plants. Each individual plant needs only the sun, and adequate water and minerals to survive. Plants are solar energy collectors. They use the sun’s radiant energy in photosynthesis to manufacture glucose, carbohydrate and other plant cells.
Individual plants do not relate to each other. They relate only to the earth and the sun.
Plant survival does not require any relationship with other. The plants unique ability to utilize sunlight directly to synthesize organic tissue frees them from the need for others. This fact makes plants the independent class of life – independent of other.
While no plant will deliberately hurt another plant, it will also never help another plant. A plant’s success or failure depends solely on its own efforts and talents. Individual plants have no relationship with each other. Plants have no awareness of each other, they ignore each other. To survive as a plant, you must be self-sufficient.
Plants are the only form of life that are truly independent.
If we analyze neutral relationships, we discover that individuals are unchanged by their relationship. They are neither less nor more after the relationship. They are the same. (1+1) = 2.
Choices which do not hurt or help are neutral. Actions which do not hurt or help are neutral. Relationships which do not hurt or help are neutral.
Space-binding – the power of animals
The power of space-binding is mobility – the ability to move about in space. This is not the simple motion of plants. This is mobility – running, jumping, leaping, swinging, swimming, creeping, stalking, crawling, diving, and flying.
The space-binder moves towards a specific and attainable goal – water, food, a mate, shelter – and in any direction. The mobility of the space-binder is not just motion, it is controlled motion. The space-binder moves in search of food. For grazing animals the quest is continuous; for predators, occasional but more strenuous. And all animals are under constant threat from natural enemies. The animal, therefore, requires sense awareness – awareness of the space in which he lives. The space-binder uses his awareness to find food and to warn him of the approach of enemies. A deer may be motivated by thirst to go to a waterhole, but if it senses a lion, it will refrain. It must continuously evaluate conflicting stimuli and choose between alternatives, alternatives of pleasure or pain, alternatives of good space or bad space. Space-binders are aware of space, they are aware and they think, they think and they decide – constantly making controlled choices as to where and when to move.
Thinking for the space-binder is wholistic. The animals base their decisions on the whole situation. When the rabbit hears a sound in the thicket, he must react instantly, “fight or flight” and the decision must be made now, based on the whole situation. There is no time for analysis. Only wholistic thinking has the rapidity and flexibility to allow survival in the adversary world of space-binders.
Spacial intelligence allows the animal to move instantly towards good space – space that enables one to survive, and away from bad space – space that produces injury or death.
But the animals are not only space-binders, they also have some of the power of energy-binders. While they cannot transform solar energy directly into organic chemical energy, they can transform the tissues from the plants and animals they eat into organic chemical energy, they can also grow, and they can also organize energy.
To the fox who sees the rabbit, success at seizing this opportunity for a meal depends not just on his ability to know when and where to move, but also on his ability to control the energy which he will need to power his movement. He must have adequate energy stored so that he can release it at the proper moment to catch the rabbit. And the rabbit can only escape if it uses its knowledge of both space and energy effectively.
Adversity – the natural law of animals
Adversary relationship originates on earth in the animal world. Earth supplies limited space for the animals. Space is finite. Good space is even more finite. It is very limited. There is only so much good water, so much good grazing land, so much good shelter, and so much good potential food. There is not enough to go around. The space-binders must compete for this limited amount of good space. They compete adversarialy. They compete by fighting and flighting. They compete by attacking and killing other space-binders. They compete by devouring the energy-binders.
Animal survival depends entirely on finding others to eat. The herbivores depend on finding plants to eat. The carnivores depend on finding other animals to eat. The animals inability to utilize sunlight to synthesize organic tissue means they must eat organic tissue. Animals survive by eating either plants or animals. Animals are completely dependent on other for survival. This fact makes animals the dependent class of life – dependent on other.
Imagine a fox chasing a rabbit, if the fox is quick enough, it will win a meal, at the expense of the rabbit who loses its life. On the other hand, if the rabbit is quicker, the fox loses a meal, and the rabbit wins its life. The animals live in an adversary world of losers and winners. This is a world of fighting and flighting – of pain and dying. To win in this world someone must lose. Winning is always at the cost of another.All animals, from the smallest insect to the largest whale are struggling to avoid losing – struggling to avoid being hurt.
CONFLICT –def–> The struggle to avoid loss – the struggle to avoid being hurt.
The animals must fight and flee to stay alive, and they do. Always ready at a moments notice to go tooth and nail to avoid losing – to avoid death. Losers/winners is the harshest of games. Winning is always at the cost of another’s life.
The loser tends to resist with all of its might occasionally prevailing by killing or wounding its attacker. So both parties can lose, turning the game – losers/winners into losers/losers.
If we analyze adversary relationships, we discover that individuals are less after the relationship. (1+1) < 2. In the animal world where the loser forfeits its life (1+1) = 1. Or in the end game of losers/losers, both adversaries may die in battle, then (1+1) = 0.
Adversity is completely natural in the animal world. It is the law of Nature for dependent live forms. It is the way of all animal life. The adversary way is not bad for the animals, it is Nature’s way.
The animals have acquired the ability to move voluntarily, but they lack the ability to understand their environment. Their inability to understand locks them into the adversary world.
To be complete, some plants do not have chlorophyll. They cannot convert radiant energy to chemical energy. They lack the full power of energy-binding. They are dependent life forms like the animals and survive through adversary relationships with other forms of life. This includes pathological bacteria and parasitic plants. This also includes the carnivorous plants which possess a primitive form of mobility.
Time-binding – the power of humans
We humans are time-binders. We possess the power to understand and through that understanding to control and dominate planet earth.
The power of time-binding is to understand – to observe and remember change over time. Understanding comes from the awareness of time – an awareness that allows humans to experience time as sequential or linear.
Tomorrow follows today as today followed yesterday. Time always moves from the past to the present, from the present to the future. Change is bound in time. And time-binders can understand change in space because of their awareness of time.
Time-binding is a new way of thinking – analytical thinking. The time-binder can make decisions based on understanding changes in his environment over time. Time-binding analysis is sequential analysis – linear analysis – focused on the parts rather than the whole.
Analytical thinking recognizes cause and effect. Time-binders are the masters of cause and effect. When humans understand cause and effect, they make scientific discovery. They make knowledge. When humans make choices based on knowledge, they make inventions. They make technology. Time-binders are the creators of knowledge and technology. When knowledge is incorporated into matter-energy, it becomes a tool.
Humans are above all else toolmakers. Most of our knowledge is embedded in our tools. Human knowledge grows continuously and without limit. As we incorporate our evermore powerful knowledge into tools. We produce evermore powerful tools.
Time-binding’s head start
Time-binding is also that unique human ability to pass that ‘knowing’ from one generation to the next generation. Both animal and human offspring begin their lives in nearly total ignorance. The differences that exist between them are small, but what advantage in ‘knowing’ that does exist belongs clearly to the animal. While the animal seems to begin life with a greater store of inherited ‘knowing’, it possesses little ability to learn from its parents. The animal is condemned to rediscover over and over, every generation must discover anew the ‘knowings’ of its parents. The wise old owl may know a great deal, but he has no way to pass what he knows to his offspring and they have no way to receive it. We humans are very different in that respect. We can and do pass our knowing from one generation to the next.
My grandmother was born in a house without telephone, radio, television, electricity, or running water. My mother was born in the same house, but with the addition of electricity, running water, and radio. I was born in a modern hospital, my mother was put to sleep for the delivery and I grew up in a house with electricity, running water, flush toilets, radios, and telephone, and when I was eight, we got a television.
My daughters were born in a hospital home birth center with my wife awake and participating. My daughters have grown up in a house with three televisions, two stereos, three radios, several telephones, two video recorders, and three personal computers.
We humans do not start our ‘knowing’ over every generation. My paternal grandfather had a 3rd grade education; my maternal grandfather had an 8th grade education.
My parents were high school graduates. I have 26 years of formal education and a doctorate. My wife’s mother has a grade school education; her father finished high school. My wife completed 23 years of formal education and has a graduate degree.
Our two daughters are now teenagers attending college, but both were involved in organized and systematic educational programs since their births. I am not smarter than my grandparents or my parents, I am simply later. Present humanity is not smarter than past humanity, they are simply later. As Alfred Korzybski explained in 1921:
“Human beings possess a most remarkable capacity which is entirely peculiar to them – I mean the capacity to summarize, digest and appropriate the labors and experiences of the past; I mean the capacity to use the fruits of past labors and experiences as intellectual or spiritual capital for developments in the present; I mean the capacity to employ as instruments of increasing power the accumulated achievements of the all-previous lives of the past generations spent in trial and error, trial and success; I mean the capacity of human beings to conduct their lives in the ever increasing light of inherited wisdom; I mean the capacity in virtue of which man is at once the inheritor of the bygone ages and the trustee of posterity. And because humanity is just this magnificent natural agency by which the past lives in the present and the present for the future, I define humanity, in the universal tongue of mathematics and mechanics, to be the time-binding class of life.” (2)
We humans bind time and are bound together in time. The record of our time-binding is everywhere. It is in all that activity that we so innocently call progress. It is the very motor of obsolescence. It is embedded in just about everything associated with humans and yet most humans are unaware of the very power that makes them human. We humans catalogue and store our various knowings in libraries, universities, colleges, data banks, and information services. We store our knowing in many formats – books, tapes, films, movies, newspapers, magazines, video, microfilm, photos, computer files, etc., etc., etc..
We are time-binders and the mark of our human power is everywhere.
But, humans are more than just time-binders with the power to understand. We also have the power of space-binding – mobility and the ability to think wholistically, and the power of energy-binding – conversion of plant and animal tissue to organic chemical energy, growth and organization of energy.
Human success depends not just on understanding, but also on knowing when, where and how to be mobile. And also on the ability to control the energy which we will need to power our movement. We must have adequate energy stored so that we can release it at the proper moment to adapt to our environment.
Synergy – the natural law of humans
The synergic relationship originates in the human world. As Korzybski foresaw:
“The human class of life is a part and a product of nature, therefore, there must be fundamental laws which are natural for this class of life. A stone obeys the natural laws of stones; a liquid conforms to the natural law of liquids; a plant, to the natural laws of plants; an animal, to the natural laws of animals; it follows inevitably that there must be natural laws for humans.” (3)
Universe provides unlimited time for humans. This is in the sense of time-binding. Human lives are finite, but human knowing is not. Humans discovered control of fire ~1.5 million years ago, and it has been in daily use since then.
Humans invented the wheel ~5500 years ago and its use is everywhere today. Because humans pass their knowing to their descendants, in a sense, collective human life is not limited. Understanding is not limited. Knowing is not limited. Technology is not limited. Quality of human life based on knowing and technology is not limited.
We first discover synergic relationship in the microscopic universe. It is the basis of human cellular organization. Each of us has approximately 40 trillion cells organized within our bodies. These cells are related synergically, each acting in a highly co-Operative way.
Synergic relationship becomes available to human individuals because of time-binding. Our ability to invent and to understand new ways of doing things creates a new possibility for co-Operation which does not exist in the world of the plants and animals.
Co-OPERATION –def–> Operating together to insure that both parties win, and that neither party loses. The negotiation to insure that both parties are helped, and that neither party is hurt.
Cooperation is an old word with lots of different meanings and feelings attached to it. Similar words are uniting, banding, combining, concurring, conjoining, and leaguing. Individuals who cooperate are affiliates, allies, associates, or confederates.
To some cooperation seems a losing word associated with socialism and communism. This is not what I mean. Co-Operation in synergic relationship means operating together to insure a win-win outcome.
Co-Operation is the mechanism of action necessary whenever an individual desires to accomplish a task beyond his individual abilities.
Imagine, you and a friend are moving a heavy piece of furniture. Neither of you are strong enough to move the furniture by yourself. You decide to co-operate. You decide to operate together during the lifting. You would negotiate to insure that both of you win – to insure that both of you are helped.
The conversation might go like this, “Are you ready?” “OK.” “Ready, 1.. 2.. 3.. lift!”, and if things are going well that is fine, but if one end gets too heavy then synergic co-Operation requires that you also protect each other from loss. “Whoops! Set it down.”
This is the synergic veto. This is the true meaning of co-Operation. The negotiation to insure that both parties win, and the synergic veto to stop the action if either party is losing.
A very limited form of cooperation exists among some animals. We see it the hunting pride of lions and within the hyena pack. Human co-Operation is a much more powerful mechanism. Animals have no voice with which to negotiate an action in which they win. They have no voice to veto an action in which they lose. Their primitive cooperation is guided by instinct, and it is quick to breakdown into the fighting and flighting of the adversary way.
We humans share the animal body, to survive we must also eat. We are omnivores. We meet our basic needs and survive by eating both plants and animals. Physiologically, we humans are also a dependent class of life. So adversary behavior comes to humans legitimately. But we humans are much more intelligent than the animals and that intelligence gives us the synergic option to avoid fighting or flighting.
True co-Operation – working together, teamwork, joint effort, alliances – these are only possible to a life form with symbolic intelligence – to a life form with a voice and with language – to a life form able to negotiate and veto. On earth, synergic relationships are only available only to humans.
Synergic relationship means sometimes I depend on other and sometimes other depends on me.
Synergic relationship makes humans the interdependent class of life – interdependent on each other. Today, synergic relationship exists only within small groups of humans.
Today, we find synergic relationships within families, occasionally within small businesses. But, there are no examples of institutionalized Synergy. Today, there are no synergic governments.
Co-Operation results when there are no losers and no one is ignored. When humans behave synergically, they seek their goals and needs as allies rather than as competitors. Human intelligence is most useful when we humans think of ways where all parties can win and where there is no need for losers. Synergic relationships can produce all-win scenarios. And when humans begin to co-Operate wonderful things can happen. When we analyze synergic relationships, we find that (1+1) > 2 , frequently it’s much greater (1+1) >>> 2.
Synergic mechanism is basic to Life. Synergy is present in the energy-binders. If we examine the plants microscopically, we find that every cell within a plant is organized to work together, each contributing to the integrity of the whole plant. The whole plant is more than an accumulation of vegetable cells. However at the macroscopic level the plant is neutral. It has no relationship with other plants.
Synergy is present in the space-binders as well. If we examine the animals we will find that microscopically they are synergically organized. Their organelles are synergized into cells, their cells are synergized into tissues, their tissues are synergized into organs, their organs are synergized into the organism-as-a-whole. Every cell interacting synergistically with every other cell. But for space-binders this is where synergy stops. The space-binder is behaviorally an adversary – the very opposite of synergy.
The intelligence of space-binding is inadequate to allow space-binders to organize themselves into a synergic community. The lion kills the zebra with no thought of the community of animals. The space-binder is not irresponsible he is aresponsible. His adversary behavior is the result of innocence. He sees himself as the only “whole”.
In the adversary world there is only good space or bad space. The animal lives the life of true dependence. If he is to eat, he must kill other.
We humans are also microscopic synergies. However, on the macroscopic or behavioral level we have a choice as how to behave. We can choose Adversity, Neutrality or Synergy. Today1999 most of us choose Adversity and Neutrality, and most of our relationships are adversary and neutral.
However, we humans do have the synergic option denied to the plants and animals. In synergic relationship, (1+1 ) > 2, (1+1) can be 25. In synergic relationship (1+1+1+1) can equal 100,000,000.
The Beatles – an example of synergy
Four young musicians named, John, Paul, George, and Ringo form a group in England in the 1960’s.
If we add up their separate individual musical abilities, (1+1+1+1), we would expect it would equal 4. But when The Beatles perform in synergy they break the rules of Newtonian logic with their joining, for The Beatles (1+1+1+1) equaled hundreds of MILLION$.
Synergy is in the “whole”. When the synergic relationship was broken, when The Beatles stopped performing together as a group in 1979, and began performing as individuals, their earnings dropped off dramatically despite high separate activity.
Forbes Magazine ranked The Beatles #5 on its list of the 40 top earners in the field of entertainment for period 1996-1997. The Beatles music royalties for this period totaled $98,000,000.00 eighteen years after they had disbanded.
What made the Beatles so very special cannot be found by analyzing John, Paul, George, or Ringo as separate musicians.
Synergy then is that something extra that exists in the whole that cannot be discovered by analyzing and summing the parts.
In summary then, Alfred Korzybski defined the three classes of life as energy-binders, space-binders, & time-binders.
Plants adapt through their awareness and control of energy. Animals adapt through their awareness and control of space, and. Humans adapt through their awareness and control of time.
Plants possess the power of energy-binding which is growth and organization. Animals possess the power of space-binding which is mobility and some of the power of energy-binding. Humans possess the power of time-binding which is understanding, and some of the power of space-binding and some of the power of energy-binding.
The natural law of plants is Neutrality – they ignore other.
The natural law of animals is Adversity – they hurt other.
The natural law of humans is Synergy – they help other.
Plants have no relationship with other. They are the independent class of life.
Animals depend on others as a source of food. They are the dependent class of life. Their lives are filled with conflict – the struggle to avoid being hurt.
Humans share the animal body and physiologically we depend on others as a source of food. However, psychologically and socially, sometimes we depend on others and sometimes others depend on us. We are the interdependent class of life.
Interdependence gives us humans the option for co-Operation.
We can choose to operate together to insure that both parties win, and neither party loses. We can negotiate to insure that both parties are helped, and that neither party is hurt. We can veto any action that would cause either party to lose or be hurt.
1 Alfred Korzybski, The Manhood of Humanity, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1921 2 Alfred Korzybski, The Manhood of Humanity, ibid
3 Alfred Korzybski, The Manhood of Humanity, ibid
2—A Limit to Knowing
4—What Do We Know
The Present — Crisis: Danger & Opportunity
The Future – A Synergic Future