What prompts all living things to procreate?
Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz
I’m going to take your question literally — that it is not about love and sex, but the urge to perpetuate life which infects every thing that lives. Yet I’m going to allow one metaphysical principle, because I must, as otherwise there is no answer at all.
Let’s start with biology and acknowledge that organisms collecting their surplus nutrients in a seed is a good way of ensuring that an organism will not die completely, but can gift its life to an offspring. Evidently different life forms evolved different ways of implementing this strategy; and sometime down the track they also contrived a means of encapsulating the information required for the offspring to make good any deficit from its own resources — a device we call ‘genes’.
Now you should take particular note of the word ‘strategy’, as it indicates the intrusion of the aforesaid metaphysical principle. To explain this I will bring up a dictum of Anaximander, one of the very first philosophers, who said that existence is a tremendous privilege. Evidently even more so for living things, which bring some form of consciousness of their existence with them, no matter how crude or primitive. And so it transpires, that in the animate partition of existence, even the most rudimentary bearers of life show signs of intentionality, and an indefeasible desire to cling to life, for whose endurance they will sacrifice everything to keep that tiny flame burning a little longer. Self-reproduction seems indeed to have been initiated from the very moment that the first microbes succeeded in stabilising their form of existence. And so it is this desire, the single most powerful spur on every specimen of fauna and flora, which engendered the immense variety of procreative strategies we meet, wherever we look.
I’m prepared for the two objections nearest to hand. The first, concerning consciousness as a default condition of life, doesn’t trouble me. To deny it, is merely unexamined prejudice. No-one can convince me that e.g. creatures ‘playing dead’ in order to fool predators, are enacting a purely mechanochemical response. Moreover evidence (let alone proof) for such assertions there is none. The other, concerning the animate partition, is harder to nail down. But I can easily conceive of 3D space accommodating (under certain ambient conditions) a constant analogous to gravitation that precipitates the potential of carbonaceous structures towards the emergence of intentionality. It is certainly a more plausible version of evolution than presupposing that a piece of dead crystal emerged accidentally with a data base capable of evolving chemical machines that behave as if they were conscious.
But this I shall leave in your court — whether you prefer a plausible metaphysical supposition with billion-fold probability behind it or the actualisation of billion-fold improbabilities.