Rational (and sometimes irrational) bacterial superconglomerates in clothes

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(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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Superconsciousness, a pending emergence?

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(Read it here in Spanish)

Consciousness, kind of so intimate and familiar as well as mysterious thing, is – or rather seems to be- an emergent property of matter that dwells in ethereal realms. Immaterial and inalienable, it cannot be perceived beyond the confines of its owner and it’s even impossible to know with certainty if he or she really possesses it or not (we cannot rule out that everybody but you are zombies, mere automatons without inner life). In addition, we don’t know at what point we are in the presence of it: Is there any consciousness in an embryo, in a bacterial community, in a tree? And why not in a thermostat or in self-regulated biosphere (the Gaia hypothesis by James Lovelock)?…

Space and time are also probably emergent properties, whose foundations are still unknown (we know now that mass is the result of a coupling with a Higgs field). So are life, economy, a hurricane, a flock of birds, or a traffic jam. The unsuspected higher order emerging phenomena that could be waiting for us in the future, if we continue on our evolutionary line and exponential scientific and technological development is not truncated, would fill us with amazement. Why not consciousness, brought to a certain critical point (similar to 0º C when ice becomes liquid water or to 100º when it becomes gaseous), could generate other fields or autonomous realms?

A network connection between human brains and artificial intelligence, in a kind of bionic Superinternet, could bring about a technological singularity as envisaged by Ray Kurzweil. The brain’s reducing valve, which according to Henri Bergson limits the amount of reality that enters into consciousness, would widen in such an unimaginable way. After Singularity nothing would be the same. It’s even very likely that our human – and, therefore, animal- motivations be no longer the same.

Perhaps the future of intelligent life is an amorphous self aware cloud (as that novelized by Fred Hoyle in The black cloud), able to dwell in idyllic virtual recreations where there is no suffering or evil, where everything is love and compassion: in nooks of the flowery Multiverse that we could identify with Heaven or Paradise, far from Hell (which must exist out there in all its forms), vulgar defective universes such as ours, and mere Nothing* (which, according to Robert Nozick, would also have its room in the Multiverse).

*Nothing in the strict sense, not in the sense of quantum vacuum that permeates our entire universe.

“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”

Artificial Intelligence (AI): A non-intelligent intelligence?

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(Read it here in Spanish)

Every time someone gets a computer or a robot to play or solve a new task or problem, a lot of people come out to remind us that the activity of the machine is not a genuine intelligence (that is, supposedly like ours): it would be a simple computation carried out thanks to the human capacity to program something that does not cease to be a piece of silicon, sheet metal, and wires. This is called “Artificial Intelligence effect” and is widely extended. No matter the feat achieved by the machine: if it defeats the chess world champion, it is taken as a mere computation (remarkable, yes, but nothing to do with real intelligence). We do not accept that there is a genuine intelligence as far as we can understand how the machine works to do something or give an answer to a problem. Not to talk about attributing consciousness to a supercomputer or assuming that it could suffer from mental illnesses (this would be the case if having a mind). Continue reading “Artificial Intelligence (AI): A non-intelligent intelligence?”