Rational (and sometimes irrational) bacterial superconglomerates in clothes

Bacillus_subtilis_swarm

(Read it here in Spanish)

Reading eminent biologist Lynn Margulis, who was married to Carl Sagan, you experience a disturbing as well as fascinating vertigo. It’s inevitable to be filled with amazement at discovering that free bacteria that lived two thousand million years ago seem to be the ancestors of all our cells, that other independent photosynthetic bacteria dating back several hundred million years could be the ancestors of mitochondria hosted within our cellular bricks (as well as of chloroplasts within plant cells) and that  spirochetes (bacteria with flagellum) could be at the origin of all our muscle cells, sperm cells and neurons.

This goes far beyond that noting that our six-million-year-old grandparents are the same as those of current chimpanzees, that 60-million-year-old ones are the same as those of current lemurs, or that 600-million-year-old ones are the same as those of current plants and fungi. It’s a remote as well as intimate connection with a microscopic world that not only allows us to exist but it is also an active part of our life (I mean our own body, because symbiotic bacteria dwelling inside us – for example, in the large intestine- are an interesting chapter apart).

Human thoughts and feelings would therefore be the product of a neural network of bacterial origin (some scientific studies include symbiotic intestinal bacteria in the factory of our psyche, as they influence our state of mind), so the basic principles of functioning of human mind (of any animal intelligence) might not be very different from those of a bacterial community developed in a rotten apple or in a Petri dish in a laboratory. One difference is the type of information collected and processed by the network: for bacterial communities and plants, only chemical signals (pheromones) or electrical ones, and environmental rudimentary data (acidity, humidity, temperature, light, etc.); for animals, much more profuse sensory data with which to build vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, social intelligence… Another difference is a centralized model in our case (with brain as a control center) and a decentralized one for bacteria and plants. Of course, the most important thing is network’s level of complexity (the number of connections between our neurons is gigantic, which allows us to study stuff such as black holes or gravitational waves).

Science already tells us that language is not necessary to have a rational thought: human and non-human animals act rationally (for all our sakes, since natural selection is usually implacable) and sometimes also irrationally (in the same way that humans have religions, non-human also exhibit superstitious and absurd practices as long as they are functional -religion has been- or at least not dysfunctional for survival). What if bacteria also lead themselves rationally, like sort of computers that, according to a particular program, generate outputs from a series of inputs?… What if the whole biosphere (identified with self-regulated Lovelock’s Gaia) was a rational agent?… What if bacteria and Gaia could also behave irrationally?…

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“A dangerous idea”, a crude negationist pamphlet

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(Read it here in Spanish)

A few days ago, La 2 of Televisión Española (TVE) aired the documentary “A dangerous idea”, dubbed in Spanish under the title “Cuestión de genes” (you can see it here in Spanish until 24th May). This is a pamphlet intended to convince us that genes neither determine our traits nor have too much importance. And also to discredit scientists of the standing of James Watson (Nobel Prize in 1953, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA), Edward O. Wilson (father of Sociobiology), Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene) and even indirectly the very same Charles Darwin, establishing links between their findings and repugnant things such as racial supremacism, forced sterilizations or eugenic delusions. As if the Nazis had invented natural selection and genes! The documentary aims to sell the idea that heritability of intelligence or differences between men and women are “ridiculous”, that gender is a social construct without a biological basis (penises, testicles, and vaginas would have little to say about it), that molecular biology has become a dangerous religion with prophets who are blindly followed… Continue reading ““A dangerous idea”, a crude negationist pamphlet”

A journey toward perfection (maybe from nothing) thanks to natural selection

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Camellia flower, by trishhartmann

(Read it here in Spanish)

Everything that exists in the kingdom of living things has survived the sieve of natural selection, or it’s a maladjustment doomed to disappear in the short term. Good and evil, beautiful and ugly, adorable and hateful, compassionate and cruel, are all around us because they have been functional for the survival of their carriers (except in the case of maladjustments, ephemeral by their very nature, such as pointed before). That is, because they have made living organisms adapt to the evolution of the Universe, in turn determined by its initial state and laws. Emergent phenomena such as intelligence, consciousness, and morality are among the great works of a blind, unconscious and amoral natural selection that works simply by elimination: non-adaptive mutations are pruned without mercy. Continue reading “A journey toward perfection (maybe from nothing) thanks to natural selection”