Individual consciousness is not individual: it is (neurally) crowd-sourced.
Imagine a primitive life form with just two photsensitive cells, a distance apart from each other, but in communication (via dendrites). Photosensitive cell #1 experiences a stimulus (an obscuration) and via its dendrites shoots off an electric message to its neighbor, cell #2. Cell #2, having been notified of a stimulus via a peripheral channel, responds as if it has actually already encountered the external stimulus before it actually encountered it. This kind of responding to a symbolic stimulus (from a neighboring cell (who is in the same business as you are, but just at a different location)) is the beginning of metazoan consciousness. Metazoan consciousness is based on trust, representation and symbolism. Contrast this with primordial, pre-metazoan, uni-cellular organization of life: the information-processing unit of the unicellular organism has no second-hand information to act upon. It is utterly concrete and... utterly Zen. We, on the other hand, having grouped ourselves into immense neural colonies run mostly on neural gossip. We are lost in abstraction.
Darwin: species is "purely a subjective invention of the taxonomist." If so, why not view neurons as a species? Species is but an arbitrary conceptual common denominator for organizing a group of individuals into a taxonomic rubric. Put differently, speciation is identification. Neural Tribe identifies along the dimension of neurally-enabled awareness. Wherever you find a neuron, there - as a species - you are.
Human (as a body) is a Trojan horse full of neural legionnaires, a vehicle administered by billions of competing and cooperating neural charioteers.
A neural colony is a We that acts as an I.
"Telepathic control of another person's body is a small step closer. By linking the technologies of two brain/computer interfaces, human volunteers were able to trigger movement in a rat's tail using their minds."
Interspecies encounter or intraspecies encounter? Depends on how you define who we are. As for me, it is neurons meeting neurons: a neural colony within a rat meets a neural colony within a primate. Neural Tribe unites!
Pavel Somov, PhD Licensed Psychologist www.drsomov.com
In a Moebiusque self-referential twist of events, a well-known Norwegian neuroethicist sentenced his own super mirror neuron to death for failure to inhibit imitative violence carried out by his classic mirror neurons while participating in a peace rally that violently went awry. Following the self-imposed death sentence, the neuroethicist carried out the sentence through surgical ablation by employing the services of an anonymous neurosurgeon.
mirror neurons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron
Valerie Harper (on today's Today show): "I say: listen, little guys, you can live if you don't kill me."
Savannah Guthrie: "You talk to your cancer cells?!"
Valerie Harper: "Why not?"
Indeed, why not? Why not engage in neural tribe dialogue - why not have the neurons that you are talk to the invading cellular tribe?Intuitive wisdom.
"Many people thought it could never happen," says Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Although monkeys have been able to control robots with their mind using brain-to-machine interfaces, work by Nicolelis's team has, for the first time, demonstrated a direct interface between two brains – with the rats able to share both motor and sensory information.
Brain-2-Brain interface has arrived! Neural Tribe will never be the same.
I read today in Scientific American (Jan 2013 issue) about the work of Kacy Cullen and Douglas Smith (with University of Pennsylvania): this brilliant duo has been working on devising a neural adapter for jacking into human peripheral nervous system (PNS) as an interface for next-generation prosthetics. In particular, Cullen and Smith have been able to “stretch-grow” neural axons in a lab as a kind of neural bio-wire, one end of which can grow around a polymer input of a prosthetic device and the other (axonal) end can branch into a host PNS.
Cullen and Smith mention the usual complications: potential immune rejection of a hybrid interface, coding issues (will the brain be able to read/utilize peripheral input from a prosthesis). As I read this it occurred to me that some of these complications might be less daunting in a brain-to-brain or PNS-to-PNS interface (as opposed to brain-to-machine or PNS-to-machine interfaces).
Here are some BBI (brain-to-brain) application possibilities (arguably, far-fetched and possibly technically impossible, yet potentially enticing) that occured to me, the possibilities of literally building bridges between people (and the neural colonies of the animal kingdom). (To clarify, these two scientists – Cullen and Douglas – focus on brain-to-machine interface applications of their lab-grown axons, not any of these potential brain-to-brain, human-to-animal applications that I talk about below).
- using “neural bridges” to attempt to jumpstart comatose brains (a proof-of-principle experiment would involve a PNS-to-PNS experiment where a non-comatose/normal subject has his/her hand motor neurons jacked into a wrist of a comatose subject via a neural bridge; imagine a volunteer relative with guarding mandate have a neural bridge spliced into his, say, right hand motor neurons with the other end of the neural bridge spliced into the severed hand nerves of a comatose relative; following the neural adaptation phase of the neural bridge growing into the PNS of each respective host, a a normal subject could attempt to manipulate the hand of a comatose relative; etc, etc; up and up the spinal cord with the eventual CNS-to-CNS linkup)
- using “neural bridges” for empathy building and relational breakthroughs (that would allow a relational duality of “You” and “I” to become – if only temporarily – a shared “We,” with a shared sense of “am-ness”)
- using “neural bridges” to unite the neural colonies of the neural tribe across what we nowadays call “species” (i.e. linking up a ”human” to a “non-human” - recall the Neural Tribe meme that a neuron is a neuron regardless of the animal form that it inhabits; see my discussion of a potential Brain-to-Brain Interface for additional context).
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1:27am. Baby has been crying so I am awake. Downstairs I sit down to read. I see a stink bug on the floor. Correction: I see afellow neural colony inside a stink bug body-form. (I am relating to it: the neurons inside this insect are same as mine, just fewer, it’s a neural namastemoment). I evaluate my choices: for the last several years I have been using a Bugzooka to patiently remove these fellow minds out of my house. But it’s late in the season. I haven’t seen one of these in my house in a while. And it’s 1:30am and cold outside: I am neither willing to mess with this right now nor do I feel good about kicking out this fellow neural colony into a certain death by freezing.
I open up the browser and type in: “What do stink bugs like?” Yes, for a chance, I am considering doing something nice for this fellow neural colony however stinky it might be. Google doesn’t seem to support the vector of my inquiry: it tries to refer me to the Orkin man with his shirt-and-tie hard-hatted matter-of-factness of a corporate pest control mercenary.
Professor Orkin instructs: “Most stink bugs are plant feeders. The first generation of the spring often feed on weeds or grasses. As they develop into adults, they often migrate into fields, orchards, and residential landscapes. In these environments, stink bugs feed on apples, peaches, berries, peppers, beans, and pecans. They also feed on field crops like sorghum and cotton. Around homes, stink bugs have been found feeding on ornamental plants.”
I don’t have any ornamental plants and I am out of fruit. But I do have some pecans. I look at the stink bug: when I came downstairs it sat motionless next to my red IJoy massage chair (that I am now sitting in and typing). Right around the time I found out that it, like me, likes pecans, the stink bug began to crawl out of sight: I am sure it’s been hard at work processing information about my entry into the dining room, analyzing the vibration data, smell data, visual data of my mid-night arrival into its field of awareness.
I watch it crawl away and I know: in addition to liking pecans, it – just like me – doesn’t like to be disturbed, yet another human quality I can too identify with. Frankly, I feel relieved. I am glad I didn’t have to actually do anything nice for it: it seems a mere thought-gesture was somehow enough: it bought me time, it bought it time and life – as it often does – somehow moved on.
As I finished the paragraph above, the stink bug in question ambushed me from behind and with Model T style purring flew over my right shoulder and landed on my right arm ruining the convenient closure of this midnight neural anecdote. It stayed just long enough for me to think about reaching for my iPhone to snap a picture of this encounter. But once again it beat me to the punch: it flitted off and away with that comical muffled purring sound.
The bug is gone. I won’t miss it but there is an element of emotional significance to this. Next time I’ll see it I’ll probably find it with my Dyson vacuum all dead and dried up somewhere in the corner. I’m glad we met.
What can I say about all of this? That I have it good if I have a red iJoy massage chair and an iPhone and a Bugzooka (for humane extraction and removal of bugs), and if this is the kind of silliness that I busy myself with in the middle of the night? Correct: I certainly do have it good – my Dyson hasn’t lost suction in nearly 10 years (truly, the best invention since sliced bread!). But snark aside, there is a long history here that primes this moment – a history of learning to identify and relate with life’s essence regardless of its form. I haven’t always been this sentimentally attuned: it was a conscious choice, a pain-in-the-ass kind of growth project, a hassle of compassion. Life was much easier when thoughts like this didn’t occur to me but also far less fulfilling.
Expand your radius of identification to the radius of Reality: all is one, one is all.
Make no mistake: this is not an extreme case of rosy glasses. I know: life is a jungle. I’ve seen a bit of it myself firsthand. Which is why the doors are locked, and the security system is on, and there is a loaded .45 in the gun safe. I’ve said this before and I always find myself compelled to annotate my writings on compassion. Compassion doesn’t have to be foolhardy and naïve. There is a balance to be struck here: if you bust through my door uninvited in the middle of the night I’ll do my best to mess you up and yet, whenever I can existentially afford to, I will do my best to extend a Namaste of compassionate recognition to as much of this Universe as I can (stink bugs and sociopaths included).
Compassion and Safety are not mutually exclusive. In fact these two are one. Locked doors and open hearts are both forms of security. The former (locked doors, loaded guns) offers you the security of separation, the security of self-other duality, the security of a boundary. The latter (open hearts, open minds) offers you the security of identification, the security of nonduality, the security of feeling one with the Universe. Use either means of safety as appropriate.
Good night (or good morning).
There is a video today on CNN about Einstein’s brain, about howneurologically convoluted Einstein’s brain was…
This framing of the issue (“Einstein’s brain”) is the lingo of the old paradigm.
Here’s the NT lingo (Neural Tribe perspective) on this gray matter:
- Einstein didn’t have a brain: Einstein was the brain.
- A brain isn’t an organ to be had, to be owned, to be possessed; a brain is an organization of neurons that we ourselves are; we don’t have our neural selves, we are our neural selves.
- Einstein wasn’t a guy with a big, highly convoluted brain: “Einstein” is the name of a well-developed, large-surface neural colony.
- There was no one Einstein: there were a hundred billion or so stand-alone Einsteinian neurons (each separated from its fellow neurons by a synaptic gap, yet working collectively as one ”Einstein” that we came to know).
- There was nothing special about these Einsteinian neurons: a neuron is a neuron is a neuron (be it in a human or in a hamster); but there was something special about the size and topology of the neural colony called “Einstein.”
- Genius = neural size (of a given neural colony) + its connectivity +myelination (info-processing speed).
- Neurally speaking, all is one, one is all.
See the difference?
See the difference this difference makes?
Talking Heads (1984) said: "Civilization is religion." I have no clue what they exactly meant by this but here's my interpretation: civilization is a belief in the idea of Man. Man believes himself/herself to be a stand-alone species, a life-form of supreme intelligence, thus, possessing a special status in the animal kingdom - being above the animal kingdom.
Viewed as such, human civilization is human self-worship, a form of self-congratulatory Darwinian narcissism, well on par (in its narcissism) with religious views of man's divine origin. Man is a man-made idea, fundamentally, a creation of insecurity.
The NT perspective - in contrast - is a form of "neural atheism," a form of non-culturalism, a form of philosophical wilderness designed to broaden the radius of neural identification to transcend the cheap shine of body-based differences.
The Neural Tribe perspective worships no one body-form. The Neural Tribe perspective says: neuron is a neuron is a neuron, regardless of the metazoan or animal body-form it inhabits (be it a cnidarian anemone or a whale or a bumble bee).
The NT point is simple: we are not our bodily forms, we are our neural essence. A civilization that is built on form is a civilization of separative idolatry. A civilization that is built on essence is a civilization of unifying identification and compassion.
Wherever you find a neuron, there - as a species - you are.
Wildly cosmopolitan, savagely civilized, don't you think?!
The ability to recognize yourself in the mirror is a behavioral index of self-awareness. As part of extending the radius of identification to all of our neural brothers and sisters (regardless of their animal form) we - as a Neural Tribe - have to redefine what constitutes self-awareness. Why? Because the current mirror-based criterion for self-awareness draws an arguably rigid delineation between those of us who are self-aware and those of us who are not. Most recently this delineation has been advocated on the basis of the so-called VEN neurons (or von Economo Neurons).
I propose a far more basic test of self-awareness: self-awareness is functionally synonymous to self-preservation: any life-form that exhibits self-preservation is obviously aware of itself as being separate from its environment. Poke an amoeba with a needle prick and it will react in defense by moving away. Place a few pellets of starch in its vicinity and it will move towards them licking its pseudo-lips in anticipation. Any functional pursuit of wellbeing - be it flight-or-fight or metabolic pursuits - is evidence that a given neural organization (that inhabits a given life-form) wants to continue to be what it currently is. Self-preservation is autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is self-awareness. All life runs on a basic self/non-self duality. And this self/non-self duality is the basis of self-awareness whether you can recognize yourself in the mirror or not.
Are neurons self-aware? Put differently, are neurons self-preserving? Of course, they are. Dendritic competition is evidence of single-neuron self-awareness. To compete, any life-form - whether it is multicellular or unicellular - any life-form has to distinguish self from its competition and pursue its metabolic (and arguably conscious) wellbeing in a zero-sum manner. Would a neuron recognize itself in a mirror? it does, doesn't it?! After all, when "you" look in the mirror who sees "you"? Your liver? Your ankle? Of course, not. Neurons see themselves. But even if they didn't, the very fact that they a) exist and b) try to continue to exist by leveraging their metabolic supply (as evidenced by dendritic competition) suggests that neurons are self-aware.
Reconceptualizing self-awareness in this autopoietic sense (rather than relying on the mirror test) allows us, the neurons that inhabit human bodies, to see ourselves in any mirror of neural manifestation.
Realize: you don't have to sport a single VEN (von Economo neuron) to be self-aware. To be self-aware you simply have to just be (alive).
Mirror or not, reflect on this, Human Dweller: wherever you find a neuron, there - as a species - you are.
"Man, that creature who believes his purpose is to control and conquer Nature, is just now beginning to remember the obvious - that he is a part of Nature himself. He has fought his way to the top of the planetary spinal cord, inflicting damage every step of the way. Now, bewildered, he looks around: What am I doing here?" (Paul Williams, Das Energi)
Sitting at the top of the planetary spinal cord, you are, all of you, man, not-man, the entire Neural Tribe...
One possible critique of the Neural Tribe perspective is that it… anthropomorphizes the lowly neurons.
Hell yeah! The Neural Tribe perspective is a purposeful attempt to humanize that which makes us human. The NT perspective sets out to anthropomorphize anthropos-the-essence, not anthropos-the-form, our neural presence, not the body-forms that we inhabit.
The NT perspective sees an anthropos (“man” in the connotation of “human”) in each and every neuron, whether this neuron is to be found in a human body-form or in a medusa or in a stink bug.
Bottom line: neural is personified human and human is personified neural.
What other part of our body should we identify with instead? With our bones? Of course, not: our skeleton is just a clothing hanger for the flesh that hangs on it. Should we identify with our own muscles or organs or tendons? Of course, not: all these parts – some now, and with time, all of them – can be swapped around/transplanted and/or prosthetically/artificially substituted. As such, these parts of our selves are too superfluous to the neural essence of what we are to count. So, when you strip away all of these inconsequential layers of the bodily onion, all that’s left is a colony of lowly neurons. So, what else is there to anthropomorphize?!
We are – paradoxically and recursively – self-anthropomorphizing neurons.
Eyeless, we see. Voiceless, we sing. Wingless, we flew to the moon. We are the Neural Tribe.