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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Blessed (and also damned) order

CLIV
Angels and Devils (M. C. Escher)

(Read it here in Spanish)

Disorder is much more common than order. That’s why there are many more forms of noise than of music, that’s why texts lacking information -including random combinations of letters- are much more abundant than informational or consistent ones (applying Cantor method, the infinite number of the former would be higher than the infinite number of the latter). For the very same reason, messing up is easier than tidying up, destroying than building, damaging than curing, dirtying than cleaning, erring than hitting, making a botch than performing a good job, doing evil than doing good… Mediocrity is more likely than brilliance, ugliness than beauty, stupidity than intelligence, inert state than vital one.

Order, which is the result of physical laws (product of an eternal platonic reality?), is what allows life, individual consciousness, and intelligence to exist. There is neither will nor rationality without order, without a certain neural or brain organization either to caress or to torture (diabolical orders do exist, such as those of the extermination camp and the municipal slaughterhouse). Without order there is neither complexity nor evolution nor emergencies. Nor any possibility of interaction and communication. The world would be a huge unshaped hotchpotch in which you and I, dinosaurs and supercomputers, Villarrobledo and Vladivostok, large and small, up and down, in and out, before and after, would be all confused in an indescribable totum revolutum.

Maybe that maremagnum is the state of the world between each tick of Planck, between every collapse of the wave function that governs the evolution of the Universe or Multiverse. Only through a biased and consistent filtering of every possible thing, through a destruction ab toto as represented by the collapse of the wave function, it would be possible to take individualized consciousness -necessarily partial- from a cosmic order where everything happens simultaneously and at once. Only in that way, Brahman can be Atman and the sea can be wave. Only in that way, it would make sense to learn and even live.

How nature makes a brain?

brains

(Read it here in Spanish)

It is practically impossible for a complex phenomenon such as life or intelligence to arise without evolution and the consequent natural selection. The only way to dispense with evolution (by definition, a slow and gradual process) to obtain brains, cities, symphonies, or moral codes would be resorting to randomness, as Ludwig Boltzmann (the formula of entropy, S = k x log w, is written on his tombstone in a Vienna cemetery) hypothesised more than a century ago. According to the Austrian physicist, the universe will witness the spontaneous creation of brains, as a result of random fluctuations (after all, brains are only combinations of a large number of particles), if there is an infinite amount of time ahead of it: they are called Boltzmann’s brains, devoid of body but with all the information and memories of any human brain at some moment of its existence, that would be floating in the immensity of cosmos after his sudden and extremely improbable appearance out of the chaos.

To achieve life and intelligence without evolution would be much more improbable than to get Don Quixote written by entrusting an immortal monkey with the task of uninterruptedly touching at random the keys of a computer. Or by making correspond each letter of Cervantes’ novel, from the first to the last in a perfect order, to what is arranged by a gigantic roll of a non-biased 27 sided dice (one for each character). Since the Big Bang there has not been enough time in the universe for such things to happen… but they end up happening if time is not limited!

For evolution-selection to happen, time is also needed, though much less thanks to the self-organizing power of order (i.e., negative entropy or negentropy). I don’t remember who once said that time is what makes consciousness not instantly perceive – like sort of an omniscient mind- all the events of the universe. We would be God if we were omniscient, but our life as individuals would be devoid of any meaning or purpose: concepts that are not alien to anyone in a carnal suit like goodness, evil, beauty, art, love, learning, pleasure, suffering, hope, or happiness (all of them, of course, lodged in the brain) would completely vanish.

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”