It’s Sunday. The ‘News Channels’ are pulling their puds and revisiting old ground (the thing they do best) in lieu of digging deeper into the Most Important Story of Anyone’s Lifetime. Their collective lack of insightful analytical skills is beyond depressing.
Ironically, it got me thinking about an article I caught a few months ago that I cannot get out of my mind. More irony…
It’s about THIS THING — A PLASMODIUM — a slime mold — an amoeba-like organism that has no brain, no neurons —
As Ed Yong wrote in the Atlantic (December 21, 2016), “Each consists of just a single, giant cell. And yet, they’re capable of surprisingly complicated and almost intelligent behaviors. ”
But it gets even more intriguing…
“The plasmodium is essentially a flat, liquid-filled sac… [that] behaves like a colony. Every part rhythmically expands and contracts, pushing around the fluid inside. If one part of the plasmodium touches something attractive, like food, it pulses more quickly and widens. If another part meets something repulsive, like light, it pulses more slowly and shrinks. By adding up all of these effects, the plasmodium flows in the best possible direction without a single conscious thought. It is the ultimate in crowdsourcing.”
This simple behavior can produce extraordinary results. The slime mold can make effective decisions, comparing different options and selecting the best one. It can balance its diet, solve mazes, and escape from traps. It can be integrated into microchips and machines and used to drive robots—not quite a driverless car, but certainly a vehicle with no brain behind the wheel.”
Human beings seem preternaturally disposed toward total chauvinism where being sentient is concerned. We acknowledge tacitly that other animate creatures have ‘feelings’ though we disregard their feelings almost completely. By ‘animate’, most humans mean ‘things with a face’. They don’t think of coral, say, as being an animal (rather than an exotic underwater plant) — though it absolutely is an animal.
Even if we did ‘accept’ coral as being more like US than a tomato plant, we’d never ‘think’ coral could ‘think’. Except it does. Turns out LOTS OF THINGS ‘think’ very much like we do — except without the same ‘machinery’. Want to have your mind completely blown? Read this article.
It will change the way you think about ‘conscious thought’, how we ‘achieve’ conscious thought and how ‘conscious thought’ can be achieved by other creatures using different means. The planet is far more ‘woke’ than humans understand.
If slime molds have a kind of collective ‘sense’ then ‘collective sense’ can potentially be achieved by any number of other ‘things’ we humans don’t think of as having that potential. It follows then that if slime molds and other ‘things’ have consciousness, religions like Buddhism that sense a deeper collective consciousness are, in fact, recognizing and accommodating that ‘Fact of Life’.
It would follow also — if other ‘things’ have consciousness — that other things ‘perceive the world’. They have an experience of living that is uniquely theirs because of their place in the ‘food chain’ — and we all have a place in the food chain — even humans (ask the microbes that will feast on us when we’re dead). That would mean they have an understanding (complete or incomplete) of how ‘Life’ works albeit from their perspective.
And that would mean — if it’s so — that all other sentient creatures (could trees, in their way be sentient?) ‘view humans’ in their way just like humans view them in theirs. If Ed Yong is right — and slime molds experience a kind of ‘thought’ — then we kinda need to seriously re-evaluate the whole notion of what we mean by ‘sentient being’.
I’m all about trying to get at the deepest, MOST ‘core’ Truths about this collective experience we’re all having a/k/a LIFE.
I start from the premise that any creature experiencing any kind of ‘life’ whatsoever has beaten exceptional odds to ‘acquire’ the spark of life.
Where any of us is concerned, had a different sperm gotten to the egg that became us first? We would be a completely different person. Don’t think so? Compare yourself to your siblings. Are you an exact copy? Of course not.
There are similar genetics and dissimilar genetics contained inside each sperm. And then there’s the chemistry between the sperm that succeeds and the egg whose defenses it successfully breached. It is far from certain that sperm and egg get on well. When their fusion fails either the egg never gets fertilized or the ‘thing’ that gets fertilized started out too flawed to last more than a few weeks or months. It gets ‘miscarried’. Our system has ‘designed itself’ to seek out bad copies and destroy them. It ain’t flawless unfortunately.
The overwhelming majority — by a lot — of attempts by creatures (animate or otherwise — trees, for instance) to reproduce on this planet fail. Completely.
Flip that over. It is exceptionally RARE that reproduction occurs (even among insects and rodents — think about that!) Which means that getting here makes you special.
Being human makes us special in a different way than most other creatures. We ‘seem’ to have more options in how we pass through this ‘Life thing’. One of those options should be in how we look at and TREAT the other creatures with whom we share this remarkable space…