Friday, May 24, 2013

The Colonial Self

A.  The Subjective.

The official line holds that I am an individual, a one, a singularity, that which is incapable of division.  The official line is so ingrained and taken for granted that any other perspective is marginalized.  The promise of the official line is that no matter how fractured or self-contradictory I am, there is path or therapeutic response leading toward wholeness, integrity, a unity that synthesizes all inconsistencies into a coherent wholeness.

I have at long last come to doubt the official line.  I have abandoned hope that some "true self" will arise within me, as though I should suddenly be endowed with a skill like juggling, tight-rope walking or solving for f(x) I did not heretofore possess.  Without the promise of resolution, I am resigned to accept a condition of multiplicity, of tension unresolved, of simultaneously saving and losing my cake.  At one and the same time I feel obliged to work late and “catch-up" and also to leave early and relax at home, to find a buck or two to give the panhandler at the freeway exit and also to selfishly horde and preserve every dollar for my own use, to answer truthfully as questions arise and also to hide behind polite prevarication.

And it is not as though I was of two minds; it is as though I am cluster-minded, as though I am crowd-sourced, poll-driven, building an inner consensus, forming parliamentary coalitions, an insecurity council sometimes as random as a sample of YouTube comments.

B. The Objective.

The two prevailing theories that seek to explain the development of multi-celled organisms uses the symbiosis model or colony model 1.  In symbiosis two or more different organisms each helping and feeding off the other in some way develop an ever closer relationship until at some point they are treated as one organism.   Under the colony theory, clusters of identical cells combine into a single mass for some benefit such as protection or grazing.  Given enough time the different cells within the cluster develop or evolve specialization, differentiation and division of labor so that some cells become feet and some become hands and one day the cluster of cells can climb a tree.

At our biologic foundation we are not a single cell that grew up to be a complex humanoid.  We are formed from a mob, a collection, a committee, a conglomeration of identical and symbiotic cells.

There are nine times as many microbial organisms in and on the human body as there are human cells.2   Bacteria and fungus are much smaller than human cells and our human microbiome amounts to only 1-3% of a human body by weight.  The vast majority of the alien organisms inhabiting the human body are beneficial. Some are needed for digestion; they perform functions such as breaking down carbohydrates that would be otherwise indigestible.  Farts are not of our making.  They are the gaseous by-product of bacterial metabolism.

The human body has evolved to be inhabited, always was inhabited, infested, populated and colonized by the non-human.  Encapsulated within almost every human cell are one or more mitochondria: bladder shaped entities suspended in perfect symbiosis.3  From the human perspective mitochondria serve us by creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), molecular chemical energy,  usable by the cell.  Humans depend upon mitochondria.  From the mitochondrion point-of-view, they are served by humans who provide the oxygen and glucose upon which the mitochondria feed.  Humans have developed lungs, guts, hunger and a bacterial environment just so that the mitochondria can be supplied with nutrients.

That mitochondria, though co-dependent, are in the end different from humans seems clear when we consider:

1)         Mitochondria act as cells within cells dividing in self-replication;
2)         Mitochondria have their own genome;
3)         Mitochondria DNA resembles bacterial DNA, not human DNA; and
4)         Mitochondria are evolving independently from humans;

We are not infected with mitochondria as infants playing on a dirty floor.  Mitochondria are there at the beginning, providing the female egg with the energy necessary for reproduction.

C.  The Emergent.

Molecules are formed by combining atoms in a new relationship.  Molecular relationships are a level of complexity that emerge out of the lower level atomic complexity.  Just so, life emerges, arises, animates from the lower level molecular complexity.

Where does consciousness come from?  It emerges out of biologic complexity, but what biology.  Descartes put the seat of consciousness in the pineal gland, a small trans-hemispheric, endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain.  Some traditions seat consciousness in the gut or bowels.

Today most assume that consciousness is a transcendent pattern emerging out the neural activity in the brain.  Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging maps or correlates certain kinds of cognition with specific areas of the brain.   But beware the Post Hoc Egro Propter Hoc; correlation does not imply causation.

Does consciousness cause the brain to fire as it does, or does the brain cause experience as it is?  Some experiments suggest that brain is as much as seven seconds ahead of consciousness, 4 that consciousness is just awareness of activity, that consciousness records but is not the creative force we imagine.  According to these experiments we are simply along for the ride.

D.        The Communal.

I approach the synthesis of this reverie with reluctance, both because I find it to be a shock to my own self-importance and because I know the weight of my conclusion will alight as a feather on balance with the ponderous assumptions about our own existence.  The explanation for a reality that includes:

1.    A biological foundation rooted in a colony of members working with dissimilar life forms in a symbiotic relationship,
2.    A mental experience which presents more as a plurality than a unity, and
3.    A correlation between nerve cell activity and consciousness,

is, I am forced to conclude, that I do not experience human consciousness, I experience mitochondrial consciousness.  I am agnostic about whether humans are conscious or not. 

I suggest that -

1.    The multi-perspectival nature of consciousness is explained by the fact that there are trillions of mitochondria participating in the collective consciousness.5
2.    The source of the energy mapped by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging is the activity of the neuronal mitochondria.
3.    Mitochondria are captive passengers in the human organism and it would make sense than their consciousness would lag seven seconds behind host-made decision making.
4.    While we cannot help but to identify with the human host, we are essentially witnesses to the primary action and lack the agency to express much more than the Existential Response made central in the work of Viktor Frankl.6

The world we inhabit is a secondary world of the passive witnesses to the unfolding history of humanity.  The identification with the bi-pedal humanoid is an illusion.  We may scream and shout about absurdities and misdirection of human existence, but there is little evidence that our human hosts are listening.

Mike Mallory

5. (There are about 100,000,000 neurons in the brain.) (Neurons may contain thousands of mitochondria.)

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