We have seen the child arising as an origination, a ‘novelty’, out of the functional re-orientation of two individuals into a family; arising not by a process of reproduction as the analytic and classificatory phase of biology has represented it, but as a true creation. Indeed the man in the street has been wiser than the scientist, for he has always said that genius [Genius—’ ‘The tutelary god or attendant spirit allotted to every person at his birth to preside over his destiny in life”.  Shorter Oxford Dictionary.] is “born not made”. Here he has grasped a truth, for the essence of birth, unlike the repetition of mechanism, is individuality—that uniqueness of the living entity which is the hall mark of function.

How little concern do we give to this great and outstanding characteristic of livingness. How little, for instance, do we account it as strange that we and everyone else can recognise as distinct the fifty Mr. Smiths who live in our town, or that no two individuals have identical finger prints. Stranger still, the dog can tell not merely the sound of the approach of his master’s car, but can recognise that it is his master who is driving that car. Not only are a man’s features individual, but so all pervading is his individuality that it gives uniqueness even to the pattern of his action which, like the pebble in the pond, according to its quality sends forth its ripple into the environment, or pool of cosmos.

Surely here is a mystery, something to be enquired into: the functional behaviour of the individual demonstrating uniqueness, the signature of which is so indelibly imprinted both upon his anatomy and upon his action-pattern. What then, we must ask, is the craft by which man fashions his individuality ; what the method by which Nature achieves this marvel of diversification in cosmos ?Not by studying the machine and its mechanism—even man’s own machine, his body—can the secrets of birth with its power to generate novelty be disclosed. While in the chemico-physical realm analysis is the way to understanding, in function it is through synthesis. In other words to see how a machine works you take it to pieces ; but to see how a living entity functions it must be seen in its organismal unity and in its living environment. [‘We cannot possibly examine separately the parts involved in. life as we examine separately the parts of a machine. In particular we cannot separate the influence of the environment since environment belongs to the unity which we perceive as life”. The Sciences and Philosophy,  3.   S.  Haldane.  (Hodder &  Stoughton, 1927-28), p. 81-82]

Baby’s first steps

It is then not to the individual but to the family as we have defined it, that we must turn our attention in order to study function. Only in the study of family can the ‘how’ of living process show itself; can the ‘how’ of birth and differentiation with the production of infinite diversity be declared.

If we survey man’s actions and behaviour we see that they are directed by two types of wisdom; voluntary wisdom and involuntary or autonomic wisdom. It is this latter which for example guides the heart beat, the respiration, the processes of alimentary digestion and takes over control of the body in sleep. In the use of his voluntary wisdom, man is as it were ‘given his head’ to find his own way and effect a synthesis with the maze of new circumstances that continually arise before him. But in the use of his involuntary wisdom he treads the great highway of organismal experience established by the use of countless generations of living entities before him and sealed by Nature as valid for the furtherance of function. Thus if we wish to find out how Nature works in the field of human function, we must first examine functional action guided by involuntary wisdom unconfused by man’s voluntary control.

Perhaps the clearest picture Nature offers of the procedure of function under the guidance of the autonomic wisdom of the organism, is to be found in the development of the embryo in. its maternal environment. Let us then turn our attention to the ovum and follow its course of development through pregnancy.

The ovum arises from the cells of the ovary. It first becomes recognisable as an individuality as it lies free in the fluid of an ovarian follicle which forms about it as it separates off from the surrounding ovarian cells. We know that the tissue-fluids of the ovary have qualities of preponderating feminine bias secreted from the woman’s blood by the glandular mechanism of the ovary, for extracts of this tissue yield powerful and specific effects when administered by the mouth or by other routes. It.is in the influence of these fluids that at its outset the ovum lies bathed. Here it is reared until it is ready for adventure, preparing itself, by a process called ‘maturation’ for its coming union with the sperm.

In its nucleus lie the chromosomes carrying the genes that are to play so important a part in the transference of certain characteristics to the new individual. These chromosomes of its nucleus divide, half their number only remaining in readiness for the completion, qualification and enrichment that is to come through fertilisation. The mechanism of this division and re-assemblage in preparation for the male contribution is well known, much work having been done on the subject.But what of the other half of the chromosomes? Together with a small part of the cell protoplasm of the ovum they are cast off in the form of what are called ‘polar bodies’. This chromosome moiety, the other half of which contains the genes of such peculiar importance to the embryo, is returned to and absorbed by the maternal body. Since these polar bodies disappear, they have until recently been considered to be of little importance in development. In view, however, of the general principle of mutual action as a characteristic of function, it is possible that the polar bodies are in fact in the nature of a potent (endocrine) secretion of the ovum. It is at any rate clear that the ovum’s excretion has become the mother’s incretion. The ovum has in fact left a moiety of very important substance—a bit of itself—in the ovary as a memento of its origin, before setting out on its journey of development. Thus, as it proceeds with its own individualisation it has a means of informing the mother of its achievement and so of maintaining the functional organisation of their unity.

Already now an individual, this ovum, like its mother, has its own secretory process. So it is no surprise to find evidence within the ovum itself of the concurrent accumulation of an incretion, upon which it is to draw for sustenance during the next stage of its journey from the ovary to its nidus in the womb. We are very familiar with this incretion in the egg of birds, for it is represented by the yolk, or yellow, contributed to the egg by the ovum itself.

Wholly untutored and inexperienced though it is usually supposed to be, the ovum thus does not set out on its journey either unprepared or unprovided for. This yolk stored away beside it—like the dowry of the bride taken from the old home to form the basis of a new one—is to serve for building its first born cells in the womb. The ovum has provided itself with a ‘knapsack’ filled from the home larder, which is to serve for its period of initiation into a new environment. The ration provided varies in bulk according to the length and nature of the next stage of the journey. In the human ovum the stage between rupture of the ovarian follicle and nidation[Nidation: A technical term used for the implantation of the ovum in the wall of the womb: literally-‘nesting’.] is a relatively short one in which no great increase in size occurs, and the material provided for the journey is a small one—small, but still indispensable to development. [It has not so far been possible to induce growth in any ovum robbed of its cytoplasm. The reverse, an ovum depleted of its chromosome elements, can be induced to subdivide to some extent. Both are necessary and must be attuned one to the other or development ultimately fails. “The main thing to keep in mind is that the cytoplasm of the egg does contain specific developmental properties. Consequently, neither the nucleus alone nor the plasmatic cell body alone can be considered the primor-dium of a new organism ; only the egg as a whole deserves this title”. Principles of Development, Paul Weigs. (Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1939), p. 185.]

We can better appreciate the significance of this provision in some of the lower species where the ovum, early cast out of the maternal body into its new environment, is destined to lead a more independent existence. In the hen’s egg, for example, the relative sizes of the embryo and the knapsack are reversed, for here the embryo is no more than a small streak lying on the back of its comparatively huge knapsack—the yolk of the egg.

In the hen’s egg we see that a further interesting thing happens. As the ovum passes on its journey from ovary to nest, the mother hen (from the excretions of the oviduct) also makes her contribution to its knapsack of food. This contribution is the white of the egg and the enveloping shell. The knapsack is now complete and the ovum, sealed up with its ration of food within the shell, is laid in the nest, It is out of this ration provided by ovum and mother together that the shapeless ovum is to fashion its own body and emerge, an organised individual—in the case of the bird’s egg so far as is known with the minimum of further help. Thus the embryo cries—”give me the materials and I will both fashion the tools and finish the job—of producing a unique individuality!” It takes to the work like a duck to water, lacking no essential wisdom from the earliest moment.

At this point a question arises that has not to our knowledge been either asked or answered. Can it be that the most important factor about the provision in the knapsack is not so much the quantity of the food so cunningly provided for the traveller as the quality it represents? It is clear that this knapsack of provender is something of which the inexperienced ovum already has knowledge, something to which it has already been attuned or ‘sensitised’ in the maternal body. When the egg with its yolk prepared in the ovary, leaves the ovarian follicle and, acquiring white and shell in passage from the oviduct, reaches the nest, there is ready for the traveller a carry-over of specific nutriment from one environment to the next. And this is no isolated instance, but represents a principle at work throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Even in the plant world we find a similar knapsack of food within the seed provided for the developing germ when it reaches the soil and begins to germinate.It is as though the developing embryo takes with it and has at hand at each new stage a sampler of the work it effected in the previous one—a specimen of the digest of its last experience —to serve as a pattern or indication of the new processes to be evolved. So it goes forth on its journey of development, not wholly without guidance as is usually supposed, but informed by knowledge derived from its nurture.

We must now go back for a moment to the maternal ovary from which the ovum came. As a result of the departure of the ovum from the follicle a new ovarian secretion—’progesterone’ —has begun to pour out from the vacated bed of the ruptured ovarian follicle. This floods the mother’s blood, inducing fulfilment of her next cycle, and at the same time preparing a soft and succulent lining in the womb for the reception of the ovum as it arrives there from the Fallopian tube. So, stage by stage, mother and ovum work in complete mutuality.

But what now? Is all this careful preparation of the ovum for nidation and of the uterine membrane for the reception of the ovum to go forwards, or to go backwards? That hangs in the balance. Alone and isolated, woman and ovum can proceed no further. Some other factor, one of different polarity, must collaborate. The ovum must await its partner, the sperm. While the woman is working in contiguous periods in maturing ova, the man works continuously in maturing the sperm, the secretion of which is stored for use as required, reabsorption occurring from this storehouse just as from any gland—a kidney, a liver or a thyroid. The sperm is thus kept as up-to-date as are the ova. The sperm has no visible yolk or food store; what then is the endowment that it brings to the wedding? Apart from its important chromosome content, we do not know. Perhaps its dowry is biophysical (e.g. radiants of energy), rather than biochemical, as in the ovum—being as the spark is to the petrol in a motor. Certainly the sperm is motile and not passive, as is the ovum; it is not swept along by external forces as is the ovum in its passage to the nuptial site, but is highly virile in its active motility. It appears and acts like a dynamic unit of the bio-physics of the body; like the heat spark consumed or developed in an explosive process of growth, differentiation and development.

The male parent produces many potential bridegrooms for the ovum. While the single bride represents the specificity of its source of origin, each individual sperm no doubt has its own aspect of the specificity of its origin. Thus, though but one of the millions of spermatozoa is eclective to the bride, the others are not wasted ; all bring a gift to the wedding, for they are absorbed by the woman and we must suppose that their effect is as potent for her as is that of the chosen one for the ovum. All those unabsorbed by the ovum being absorbed by the mother must add the specificity of the male to the woman’s biological and physiological economy. Thus, while the specificity of the ovum is directly met by the chosen sperm, absorption of the mass of sperm as an incretion by the woman renders them also environmental to the fertilised ovum and so part of the unity—foetus and mother—’the pregnancy’.

In the living world, Nature’s usual method is to work, not by chance or luck, but by specificity. Thus the bride—the human ovum—is no doubt approached by the sperm as the male bee approaches the queen, i.e., by the exclusive electivity of its dynamic specificity. Autonomic wisdom in the bee has decreed a nuptial flight, and it may turn out that the human differs from the spectacular flight of the bee only hi the closeness of the confines of its excursion. We do know that this ‘nuptial flight’ must take place within a certain critical period of the maturation of the ovum. The ovum is said to leave the follicle and descend into the tubes between the eighth and sixteenth or eighteenth day following cessation of the last period, and it is while in transit that fertilisation is thought to occur. In the present state of our knowledge, it seems therefore that fertilisation must be initiated by the woman’s physiology on behalf of the ovum, her periodicity acting as switch to the process.

And so we come to the subject of wooing. This is not by any means the preserve of primary courtship. Wooing is no single incident in the life history of the pair but, so far as the electively monogamous are concerned, is a cyclical recurrent event. We see this clearly in many animals in the wild state and especially in birds, where the times for billing and cooing are well defined and coincide more precisely with the seasons than in the human species. The wooing process, by which the mutualising of specificities demanded by ova and sperm is achieved, is likely to be contributory to the progressive maturation of the parental unity.

Dancing in Peckham

But what happens to the ovum if no sperm arrives? Passing the zenith of its maturity it soon shows signs of ageing; its cytoplasmic substance decreasing in dispersion passes into a more consolidated or fixed form—a ‘gel’ phase—which toughens the egg, reducing its plasticity. Meanwhile, deturgescence of the lining of the womb is taking place; that is to say, it shrinks and consolidates again, shedding in the menstrual fluid the membrane which had been prepared to receive the ovum.

If, on the other hand, entry of the fertilising sperm does take place, the whole scene is instantly changed. Now the mutual process once more goes forward. In the substance of the ovum fertilisation brings about a phase of maximum dispersion—the ‘sol’ phase—which gives to it a high degree of fluidity and plasticity. As a result of fertilisation it reaches a state as long ago as 1876 figuratively described by Butschli as one of ‘rejuvenation’ —a view now meeting with confirmation in terms of coloidal physics.Unfortunately, we cannot follow by observation the course the most highly developed species of which Man is the supreme example.

By the time the placenta is formed, the tissues of the maternal body have already passed over into a more fluid or ‘reversible’ phase, similar to that found in the plasticity of the tissues in the childhood state. This increasing fluidity enables the essence of every organ in the mother’s body, now richly bathed in her circulating fluids, to seep out into her blood which flows through the placenta. In this fashion the experience—physical, biochemical and functional—of the mother already well versed in body building [ Not only has her own body been brought to adult state, but all its cells are constantly being replaced to make up for wear and tear.] is placed at the disposal of the developing foetus, whose contact with that experience is tempered by the intervening mechanism acting as a zone of mutuality linking the two into one functioning unity. It is through this zone of mutuality that the foetus comes now to be nurtured on a new and rich store of substances hitherto unencountered. But, as we have seen, it meets these in a form already familiarised and thus rendered acceptable.

The foetus, too, has its contribution to make to the pregnancy. Through the glandular activity of the placenta its own specific secretions flow back into the maternal blood pools, there to stir new developments in the maternal body. It is, for instance, as a result of this process that at quite an early date in the pregnancy the maternal breast begins to change and develop, and the mother to acquire a further stage of maturity which will later enable her to carry on lactation. So foetal excretions once again become maternal incretions which stir the maternal endocrine processes.

Many stories are abroad of the effects of pregnancy and of labour on the father, but nothing is known of this matter nor has any experimental investigation been made on the human subject. [Experiments were under way at the Centre, before war brought our work to a close, to find bio-chemical evidence in the father of parenthood occurring in the family.] But in other species there is already a considerable body of facts concerning the physical changes in the male coincident upon mating and parenthood. At this point it might be helpful to digress and state at some length something of what is known about this subject.

Some interesting observations have been made in the case of doves. [See especially the work of O. Riddle and colleagues. Carnegie Institute Station for Experimental Evolution, Washington.] Incubation of the egg takes eighteen days, during which period both birds sit in turn upon the nest. It appears that about four days before the eggs are due to hatch, there develops in the crop of both female and male bird a ‘crop’ gland. This gland secretes ‘crop milk’, an enzymotic fluid which pre-digests, or, as we should say, ‘familiarises’, the food regurgitated for the newly-hatched chicks. Once the eggs are laid, the male bird thus not only seems to take an equal part in parenthood but, as a result, to undergo in his body similar physical changes to , those induced in that of his mate. Important, too, in this connec­tion is the fact that the chick deprived of crop milk in the early days after hatching cannot be reared on non-pre-digested grain. It, too, is dependent for its existence on the full functioning of parenthood. Here, then, in the doves there seems to be evidence of actual physical change induced not only in the mother and the embryo but in the whole family-organism—male, female and offspring—through parenthood.

The sequence of events in the doves is, however, even more interesting as an illustration of the family significance of parent­hood. If, during the course of incubation, the eggs should chance to become addled, both birds still sit for the full 18 days (for that seems to be determined by copulation), but in this case no crop gland develops in the neck of either bird. The impetus to ‘sit’ is, therefore, independent of the quality of the egg once laid, but further development in. the parents does seem to depend , upon the viability of the egg, for death of the embryo interrupts the progressive mutual synthesis in the parents. It looks as: though something—perhaps change in temperature, perhaps passage of some at present unknown substance of an endocrine f order—is transmitted from inside the live egg to the parents, ‘ promoting their development. One last point. It is now known that a male bird which has ‘ never been in contact with either a female or a nest of eggs can be made to become a sitting bird and to develop a crop-gland after injection of the buccal secretions, (i.e., saliva), of a sitting female. From this we can see that mutual synthesis of the organism is not only affected through the developing egg but also by direct male and female contacts—the natural process of ‘billing’ and ‘cooing’. We have evidence, then, of something which we can call a ‘functional organisation’, shared by the dove family—even if there is here no tangible organ like the placenta shared by the mammalian mother and foetus.

Subtle indeed are the influences that promote function in the organism! We can but presume that where humans are concerned, we are as yet only on the fringe of a most profound subject. It is not then without any basis for doing so, that we shall expect, given suitable circumstances, to find evidence of spontaneous development in the whole human family—father, mother and children alike—as a result of parenthood.

The closely co-ordinated process of nurture carried on under autonomic guidance does not end with foetal life. During pregnancy the mother is already preparing for the next stage of transition at birth. How does she ensure that the next food shall be familiarised for the child to be born into so strange a worldShe provides a new food—breast milk. This milk is made from the same blood that fed the embryo, and which thus is allied in all the intricacies of its composition and in the uniqueness of its basic design to food which the learner already knows. Once again we see clearly the principle of familiar nurture in the carry­over of specific elements from an already familiarised environment—the womb—to one of a wider familiarity—the nest or family ‘hearth’ at birth. That unique individual, the child, under Nature’s guidance is thus not only born of a specific family but also consistently nurtured in the uniqueness of both substance and quality of the family of its origin. With the birth of the child into the family circle or nest, mutual synthesis does not cease. Even lactation is no one-sided transaction as between mother and infant. It is a process through which the mother casts off her transitory provision for the preg­nancy and, conditioning her organs to a more matured state, [Lactation is known materially to assist in the process of involution of the uterus after childbirth.] acquires a new and maternal configuration. [It would appear that it might take more than one pregnancy fully to confirm the maternal configuration.   In the common parlance of the farmer, the dairy cow remains a ‘heifer’  until her second calving.] It is the union of the pair that has set in motion this truly phenomenal train of events in the family organism. Is it likely, considering the compulsive behaviour seen in animals and the subtleties of close physical association in parenthood, that the male influence ceases with the birth of the child ? Perhaps the old wives’ tale that the man’s anger, or his non-cooperation, can sour the milk is not so utterly unlikely! When we recall the fact that a functional unity can be maintained in the face of a dispartite organism—as in the ant heap—there can be no difficulty in envisaging the continuation of potent functional influences in the family, operating on all its members alike.

In this clear-cut procession of events in the early development of the individual which we see unfold under the autonomic guidance of the organism, the significance of parenthood becomes explicit. Three features appear as crucial :—

(1) that mutual synthesis in the family leads all its individual members, parents and children alike, to move together towards further development;

(2) that development of the offspring is brought about through familiar nurture, the new individual being led, coincidently with the parents’ own development, from one familiarised environment to the next within an ever-widening family idiom;

(3) that development proceeds through mutual synthesis carried on through a functional zone of mutuality.

We have watched Nature at work in realms beyond man’s power of intervention. We have seen that in the course of the parents’ own development after mating, through a continuous process of mutual synthesis the offspring is provided with the environmental circumstances and the nutriment that it needs. We have seen too that the particular significance of parenthood lies in the power to sensitise or ‘familiarise’ this nutriment for the offspring for each new stage in its journey.

It is with no uncertainty that Nature has indicated to us that not only is it parenthood which creates the new and unique individuality, but that the father and the mother are specialists for the specific nurture of their child. Parenthood is in fact the biological process evolved by Nature for the rearing of the young as well as for their initial creation.

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