"Could woodlice have personalities?" - Neural Tribe Take

[Neural Tribe Take take on this] Why not?  Wherever you find info-processing cells (neurons), you will find differences in experience (which ought to crystallize into pattern-traits over time). 

"Put before a predator, one of the defensive behavior terrestrial crustaceans like the Common rough woodlouse can exercise is feigning death. Personality is argued to influence the duration and repetitiveness of the reaction. This is why a team of researchers observed three types of external impact and the variables in the individual woodlouses' responses. Their findings showed there is in fact a significant individual pattern."

Source: "The bold and the shy one: Could woodlice have personalities?"



Cecil - Neural Tribe Perspective

By now we’ve all seen the captions: “An American dentist kills Cecil the Lion.”  The relevant facts are: a man pays $55k for the right to kill a lion; his assistants lure a lion named Cecil off its preserve, the hunter – I am not sure the term really applies here – wounds the lion with a bow, stalks him for a while, and finishes him off with a rifle shot.  PR #$@!-storm results.  The man defends his course of action by saying that he didn’t know that this was Cecil, that the lion had a name.

The irrelevant facts are that the “hunter” is an American, that the hunter is a dentist, and that the lion’s name is Cecil.


Why do I see these facts as irrelevant?  I think it’s pretty self-explanatory why the nationality and the profession of this pseudo-hunter are irrelevant.  Let me explain why the lion’s name is irrelevant.

All that lives on this planet – from an ant to a sequoia tree – is nameless.  Names are given.  This man’s defense against the public condemnation is that he didn’t know the name.  I guess if he had known that this lion’s name was Cecil, he would not have killed and, since he had already paid $55k to kill a lion, he – logic goes – would have looked for a nameless lion to kill.

And that – my fellow minds – is the crux of this curious matter: apparently we have to name a fellow creature (that poses no threat to us in this context) so as to recognize his sovereign right to exist.  (When I wrote the previous sentence, I first wrote “its” sovereign right to exist – and then I caught myself: this lion is not an “it” name or no name, in this case this lion is a he).

We, modern apes ourselves, are so blinded by our self-appointed halos that we have to know the formality of a name before we decide if our desire to kill a fellow sentient being is justifiable or not.  Of course, many of us do not think along these lines and would see this man’s PR damage control tactic as sophomoric sophism.

If you are a reader of mine then you know that one of my soap boxes is that “a neuron is a neuron is a neuron.”  What I mean by this is fourfold:

– brain is not an organ but an organization (of neurons)


– a neuron is a type of cell (that accounts for the consciousness that we experience as ourselves)

– a neuron is a neuron is a neuron regardless of the body-form it inhabits (a lion’s neuron is pretty much the same as the neurons reading this sentence; same hardware, difference is essentially in software, in the language of survival, so to say)

– neurality is humanity: wherever you find a neuron, there as a species you are

Recognize: whether you are looking at a lion’s mane or dreadlocks, what you are looking with and what you are relating to isn’t the hair style or the body-form but the neurons inside.  It has long become obvious to me that each and everyone of us is a member of a larger neural diaspora that is disseminated across a great variety of animal body-forms.  I see a body as a cellular house that neurons live in.  Whether this house has the architecture of a human or the architecture of a lion, the neural inhabitants are fundamentally the same – self-aware info-processing cells.  Furthermore, whether these neural inhabitants are organized into a cranium-based cephalized congregation (that we call a brain) or are dispersed through the body like ganglion tents across a campsite or are equidistantly arranged in an anemone-style neural net is also irrelevant.  A neuron is a neuron is a neuron regardless of the animal house it lives in, and regardless of how many cellular room-mates, and regardless of how it bunk-beds in a given body-form habitat.

I realize that this is probably a bit too thick, a bit too academic.  It is all too easy to dismiss this neural tribe perspective as extreme.  But guess what – there was a time in your life when this kind of thinking made intuitive sense, when the conclusion was self-evident even if the reasoning behind it was yet unknown.

Case in point: as I am writing this, my 3 year old daughter comes into the room and asks me: “What are you doing?” My answer: “I am writing a story about a lion named Cecil.”  Her follow up question is: “Who is Cecil?”  Notice – who, not what.  When we enter this world, when we are minimally verbal, we intuitively anthropomorphize everything we see.  And then we get educated on all of these arbitrary distinctions – nature is divided into animate and inanimate, and the animate nature is divided into those we shall not kill and those we can kill – with the proper name being a kind of rule of thumb.

Nature knows itself except for when obscured by name: there are no lions or humans or flatworms.  There is life.  Life wants to live.  For heterotrophic life-forms (such as humans and lions, to be contrasted with autotrophs such as plants), there is an inevitable moral conflict: to survive, to eat, we have to kill something.  That’s understood.  Had this man been attacked by a lion, named or nameless, he would have been perfectly within his existential prerogative to do what it takes to survive.  This story, however, is of a totally different kind – it’s a story of ego, a story of how much we are willing to pay and how much we are willing to ignore, just to feel a tad better about ourselves.  (And any argument in favor of an expert archer needing practice is spurious: if you like archery and want to show off your skills, tac a paper target to a trunk of a tree.)

In closing this rambling blog, let me reiterate my key point: we need not to have a name to recognize the humanity – the living sovereignty – of our fellow beings.

Whatever this dentist’s name is, I – as a member of public – forgive him: he too is doing his sh#$$y best trying to transcend the human predicament of specialness.  I feel bad for the lion and for the man who killed him.  Something died in all of us again.

Neurons "Slept In"

When you go (meditatively) inside your own skull, what you find there is - no, not the brain - but neurons thinking about themselves. That's right: a brain isn't an organ, it's an organization, an organization of neurons that you experience as you. So, when "I" go (meditatively) inside my own skull, here's the question that my neurons keep asking me/themselves about: "Why don't we (neurons) recognize neurons as life-forms?"

A few years ago I started writing about the idea of a "neural tribe." The notion is pretty straightforward: a neuron is a neuron is a neuron regardless of the body-form it's in. Your dog's neurons are essentially the same as your own. My point is: it's time we redefine what it means to be a human. Humanity is neurality: wherever you find a neuron, there - as a species - you are.

This is a tough taxonomical pill to swallow. But if you swallow this pill, it cures you of many misconceptions about our specialness in the jungle of life. Suddenly your jaw drops in awe as you begin to marvel at the sentience of a simple neural cell.

This paradigm shift (of starting to look at neurons not just as brain cells but as life-forms) is under way: I see glimpses of this here and there. For example, in recent research on sleep, scientists from Washington State University (James Krueger and Kathryn Jewett) cultured neurons in a petri dish and studied their sleep behavior. When disembodied neurons - not inside anyone's skull but in a petri dish! - were experimentally stressed out by electric stimulation, they "slept in" the next morning. The "slept in" phrase - in quotation marks - is straight from the mouth of the researchers. As fascinating as this sleep research is in its own right, what fascinates me even more is the insidious anthropomorphizing of neurons.

We need not fear this anthropomorphizing of neurons - after all, we are anthropomorphizing ourselves. Anthropos - after all - is just Greek for human. By anthropomorphizing neurons, we are humanizing the very cells that makes us - and many other life-forms - human.

It's time we - neurons - wake up from this curious reductionistic slumber, from this curious nightmare of objectifying ourselves as nothing but cells. The neurons in a petri dish - in my humble opinion - don't just sleep but dream too. After all we - neurons - do, don't we?!

My neurons dream of a day when we start recognizing the sentience of any neurons regardless of the bodyform/bio-house they inhabit - all across the living kingdom - from a "primitive" non-cephalized neural net of a jellyfish to a cat on your lap with its triune mammalian brain.

big minds, big egos, one tribe

Big Bang theorists keep trying to explain the entire Universe… without factoring their own minds into their so-called “theories of everything.”

Does that make sense to you?


I know I am barking at a nameless tree.

Do you?


Reality is neither right nor wrong.

It just is.


Mental health and epistemological sobriety are not-two.
Present is perfect and beyond description.


Good luck to all who seek.

And peace to all who don’t.

If We Can Now Talk to Bacteria Directly, Why Not Engage Stand-Alone Neurons?

"Manuel Porcar at the University of Valencia in Spain and his colleagues are developing a way for bacteria and humans to talk [with the help of light signals] to each other, by converting light waves into speech. So far the bacteria have told the team how suitable their surroundings are."

If we can talk to bacteria directly, why not try engaging stand-alone neurons?

Source: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25490-the-bacteria-that-chat-back-and-tell-you-how-they-are.html

What a Phenomenal Case of Phenomenological Blindsight!

The amazing thing about this whole issue is that we - the neurons - look at ourselves (through microscopes) and we fail to see ourselves: instead of seeing our selves, we see our cells.  But we are these cells.  These cells are our selves.  What a phenomenal case of phenomenological blindsight!

Anthropomorphizing a Neuron, Finally (Through "Population Analysis")

Today, in Science Daily I read: "This is a relatively new technique for neuroscience, called a population and dimensionality analysis. Its goal is to understand how neurons work together in entire regions of the brain." (my italics, from Researchers Discover How Brain Neurons Work Together, or Alone).

What stands out for me here is language.  You see, each of us is a "we" - a neural colony (of a Greater Neural Tribe).  A brain, as I have written before, is not an organ but an organization!  An organization of billions of stand-alone sentient cells - neurons.  Each neuron is its own mind. Once again, each of us is a "we." And this "we" (that each of us is) is composed of neural networks.  At least that's what we used to call them - networks.

The new technique of "population analysis" finally somewhat anthropomorphizes neurons - a population of entities sounds more humanistic than a network of... neural processors. That's right: a population, not a network! We seem to be - in our analysis of ourselves - to be finally shifting away from a computer view of self to a view of self that recognizes neurons as sentient.  After all, if they (neurons) aren't, then how can we be?

The amazing thing about this whole issue is that we – the neurons – look at ourselves (through microscopes) and we fail to see ourselves: instead of seeing our selves, we see our cells. But we are these cells. These cells are our selves. What a phenomenal case of phenomenological blindsight!

"Feathered Primates"

An article about the intelligence of crows (the so-called "feathered primates") ends with:

Crows and primates have different brains, but the cells regulating decision-making are very similar. They represent a general principle which has re-emerged throughout the history of evolution. "Just as we can draw valid conclusions on aerodynamics from a comparison of the very differently constructed wings of birds and bats, here we are able to draw conclusions about how the brain works by investigating the functional similarities and differences of the relevant brain areas in avian and mammalian brains," says Professor Andreas Nieder.

We keep acting with surprise, we keep investigating our fellow human beings (birds, animals, fish, insects - the members of our Neural Tribe), we keep finding the same. Isn't it historically time to just assume that wherever we find a neuron, we will also find consciousness, intelligence, subjectivity - i.e. humanity?! 

There is a saying in Russia: "not everything that shines is gold."  It's a reference to presumed stupidity of crows that are attracted to shiny objects.  Let me rephrase this: "not everything that doesn't look human isn't human."  Neural Tribe meme is this: neurality is humanity.  Like crows we are apparently mesmerized by the glistening, shiny differences of Form that blind us to the similarity of our shared Neural Essence.

ref: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131128103835.htm

Each Neuron is Its Own Mind

Science Daily — "When you look at the hands of a clock or the streets on a map, your brain is effortlessly performing computations that tell you about the orientation of these objects. New research by UCL scientists has shown that these computations can be carried out by the microscopic branches of neurons known as dendrites, which are the receiving elements of neurons. [...] results challenge the widely held view that this kind of computation is achieved only by large numbers of neurons working together, and demonstrate how the basic components of the brain are exceptionally powerful computing devices in their own right." (my bold)


Mini-Brains/Cerebral Organoids from Skin Cells

CNN reports:

"Researchers used human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells) [to produce cerebral organdies or mini-brains]. Both embryonic stem cells and IPS cells have the ability to turn into any part of the body. But embryonic stem cells are very controversial because in the process of retrieving them for research, the 4- or 5-day-old embryo they are taken from is destroyed. IPS cells don't come with the same controversy because scientists take a cell -- typically a skin cell -- then coax it using a chemical bath to revert to a state that resembles a developing embryo."

Mini-brains out of skin.  Skinthink is now fact.

ref: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/health/stem-cell-brain/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

Throw a Banana at Me Anytime!

I am surrounded by information. Each day I see, hear, smell, taste, touch and read, read, read as much as life allows. On my bedside table this week: Nick Humprhey’s Soul Dust and Douglas Hofstadter’s Surfaces & Essences.  Stockpiled on my kitchen counter, this weekend: National Geographic, New York Times, Popular Science.  In my browser, this moment: CNN – “Bananas Thrown at Italy’s First Black Minister.”

Bananas have been thrown at Italy’s first black minister… What does that mean? Politically, sociologically, psychologically, culturally it means unacceptable racism. But what does this mean in a larger, say, evolutionary sense?  It means (as I see it) that many of us are still pitifully blind to our own origins. I am a modern day ape and knowing this has helped me cultivate my “zen” more so than any Buddhist teaching.

Not all of us are so blind to our origins: the Neural Tribe is expanding. Just recently India has made a ground-breaking decision to ban captive dolphin shows positing that dolphins are non-human persons. The radius of identification (and, thus, compassion) has been finally expanded! It makes sense that this kind of wisdom would emerge from India, which is home to the ancient Jainist doctrine of ahimsa - a nonviolent stance towards all sentient life.

So, here we are, at our paradoxical best: de-humanizing and re-humanizing. Some – intoxicated with ignorance  about their own origins – are throwing bananas at each other. Others – evolutionarily sober about their shared kinship – are expanding the radius of planetary personhood.

I want to close this Sunday morning blog with an excerpt from Nick Humphrey’s excellent (albeit not easy) book Soul Dust in which he cites the findings from the Gombe Stream Research Centre in Tanzania:

“Gombe scientists have [...] observed examples of [...] Byronicsensation seeking [among chimps], as when a chimpanzee emerges into the open in a thunderstorm and dances and stamps and screams as torrents of rain run from his back and lightning forks the sky.” (1)

Throw a banana at me anytime: the modern-day ape that I am, I love bananas. Particularly, when they are free.

Related: Neural Tribe https://neuraltribe.squarespace.com

Reference 1: N. Humphrey, Soul Dust, 2011, p. 84.

New Essence-Based Gestalt

We are human only in form (in body). In essence, we are neural, regardless of the (bodily) form we are. We were neural when we were pre-human in form (when we were apes, when we were tree-dwelling, insect-eating, squirel-like creatures. We have been neural (in essence) much longer than we have been human (in form). Neurality is the humanity. Neural is human. Whatever is neural is human. Wherever you find a neuron, there, as a species, you are (in essence, not in form). We are used to noticing the form-figure of who we aren't. We need to learn to notice the essence-ground of who we are. Neural Tribe (NT) perspective is a new Gestalt about who we are and who we aren't.

Urine-based Epithelial Cells Made Into Neurons

Mind begins as skin. Skin separates “this” from “that” and so does mind. I’ve been writing about this line of thought now for a few years but this morning I am not going to burden you with these seemingly philosophical ideas. This morning I want to tell you about something that I recently learned from a brief article in the June issue of Popular Science. Apparently, mind can also begin as… urine. Duanqing Pei, a Chinese researcher, has figured out a way to “make neurons from an unlikely source: human urine.” You see, human urine (which is by the way sterile) is full of epithelial (skin) cells and these skin cells can be directed to develop into “precursor brain cells” (neurons) with “a piece of DNA.” Pei says: “We could turn [our] own urine cells into the neural cells,” and we can use this method to fight neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s! He tried this out with lab mice: epithelial cells (harvested from urine) and tweaked with “a piece of DNA” were transplanted into mice brains where they successfully matured as neural cells.If you had told me that we could learn to make mind out of piss, I’d say: “You are out of your mind! That’s a piss-poor idea!” Apparently not quite so. Apparently, it’s a piss-rich idea.Reference: The Equation, Amber Williams, Popular Science, June 2013, p. 40

Metazoan Consciousness & Neural Gossip

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.

Neural Species

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.