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!
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!
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.
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)
New Scientist: "One tiny spider has even had to let its brain spill into its legs, because its head is too small to accommodate it."
"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.
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.
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.
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
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.