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Chimeras and Consciousness

Chimeras and Consciousness: Evolution of the Sensory Self

Lynn Margulis
Celeste A. Asikainen
Wolfgang E. Krumbein
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Chimeras and Consciousness
    Book Description:

    Chimeras and Consciousness begins the inquiry into the evolution of the collective sensitivities of life. Scientist-scholars from a range of fields -- including biochemistry, cell biology, history of science, family therapy, genetics, microbial ecology, and primatology -- trace the emergence and evolution of consciousness. Complex behaviors and the social imperatives of bacteria and other life forms during 3,000 million years of Earth history gave rise to mammalian cognition. Awareness and sensation led to astounding activities; millions of species incessantly interacted to form our planet's complex conscious system. Our planetmates, all of them conscious to some degree, were joined only recently by us, the aggressive modern humans.From social bacteria to urban citizens, all living beings participate in community life. Nested inside families within communities inside ecosystems, each metabolizes, takes in matter, expends energy, and excretes. Each of the members of our own and other species, in groups with incessantly shifting alliances, receives and processes information. Mergers of radically different life forms with myriad purposes -- the "chimeras" of the title -- underlie dramatic metamorphosis and other positive evolutionary change. Since early bacteria avoided, produced, and eventually used oxygen, Earth's sensory systems have expanded and complexified. The provocative essays in this book, going far beyond science but undergirded by the finest science, serve to put sensitive, sensible life in its cosmic context.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31246-2
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Developmental & Cell Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John B. Cobb Jr.

    I am honored to write the foreword for this book. This invitation indicates that at least at some points the exclusion of humanistic concerns from the sciences is breaking down. Here even a theologian has been invited. I look forward to the day when it will be widely recognized both that theology is too important to be left to professional theologians and that science is too important to be left to professional scientists. We need an inclusive vision that makes sense of our experience of the world and of all that science has taught us about it.

    I am a...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Lynn Margulis
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Life’s Sensibilities
    (pp. 1-14)

    Life on Earth is composed of myriad interacting elements, which sense one another and the environment. We humans represent only a tiny part of this colossus. The flying birds, the polarized-light-oriented bees, the bacteria that biomineralize, the gene-trading and fossil-fuel-trading humans, the recycling fungi, the cooling rainforest ecosystem, the oxygen-excreting cyanobacteria, the plankton-raining oceans—that is, geography-changing, energy-transforming, and consciousness-raising activities of life—continue to expand. Life continues to evolve as it has done for more than 3,000 million years. Life differs strikingly from inanimate matter in its possession of sensation, its complex behavior, and its awareness of self. Whether...

  7. I Selves

    • 1 Valuable Viruses
      (pp. 17-22)
      Frank P. Ryan

      Wherever they have been sought, either in prokaryotes or in eukaryotic life forms, viruses have been found. They are insensitive. Unlike bacterial or nucleated cells, viruses alone cannot reproduce, metabolize, or grow. Nonetheless, the role of viruses in evolution has been grossly underestimated. Their dismissal as “dangerous germs” is more a reflection of our ignorance than of our understanding of their deep involvement in group living arrangements. Viruses have one or another type, not both types, of long chain nucleic acid molecules (DNA or RNA). They enclose themselves in protein coats called capsids. They contain genes for some enzymes, such...

    • 2 More Like a Waterfall
      (pp. 23-34)
      William Day

      Life, both in origin and in evolution, is more a process than a thing. We need to understand what life is—a natural biochemical “growth” process—to interpret and design experiments. Identifying life as a sustained growth process greatly simplifies deciphering how it originated and evolved. Although many origins-of-life experiments have produced complex organic compounds such as amino acids from gas mixtures taken to be representative of Earth’s early, Archean atmosphere, such chemical products represent only a small piece of the puzzle. I argue that light induced the emergence of the cell’s constituent systems and stabilized its dynamic states. The...

    • 3 Alarmones
      (pp. 35-44)
      Antonio Lazcano, Arturo Becerra and Luis Delaye

      Living beings do not live in blissful isolation. They incessantly exchange matter and energy with other organisms and with their surroundings, in which a wide array of sensory and signal chemical systems intervene. Comparisons of organisms’ genomes suggests that a number of the components found in plant and animal sensory systems, including cell-to-cell signal transmission, originated in our bacterial ancestors.

      Bacteria traditionally have been depicted as passive “mere infectious agents” that lack an ability to perceive their surroundings. This is a human prejudice. In view of their vast metabolic diversity and broad geographical distribution, their perception may surpass our own....

    • 4 Early Sensibilities
      (pp. 45-52)
      Kenneth H. Nealson

      The ability to sense the environment and to respond to it by measurable movement is the essence of behavior. There is a general sense that the responses of life forms became more complex with time. But what do organisms sense? How and why do they sense their surroundings? How do they respond to their sensations? Without attempting to be encyclopedic, I attempt here to stimulate thought about the earliest chemistryand gene-modulated appearance of sensations in our cellular ancestors.

      The smallest, morphologically simplest cells, the bacteria in the broad sense, were unified under the term “prokaryote” in the early 1960s. Since...

  8. II Groups

    • 5 Smart Bacteria
      (pp. 55-62)
      Eshel Ben-Jacob, Yoash Shapira and Alfred I. Tauber

      Eons before humans, bacteria inhabited a very different Earth. As the earliest life form, they countered spontaneously increasing entropy. They converted high-entropy inorganic substances into low-entropy organic molecules (Ben-Jacob et al. 2004, 2006). They paved the way for other life forms by changing harsh physical and chemical conditions on Earth’s surface and its atmosphere into a life-sustaining environment. They enriched the atmosphere with oxygen and loaded water and soil with minerals and organic nutrients, enabling their descendants to flourish. Bacteria are, simply, indispensable to all other life on Earth.

      Bacteria are not simple, solitary creatures of limited abilities, as was...

    • 6 Ancient Architects
      (pp. 63-70)
      Wolfgang E. Krumbein and Celeste A. Asikainen

      Conscious human architecture is considered one of the high points of human civilization. Arches are also built by termites, however, and microbes work manganese and other metals, as well as limestone and other minerals, into functional and beautiful dwellings. Microbial mats from flat, laminatedMicrocoleus chthonoplastes-dominated communities on the shore of the North Sea in northern Germany were grown in the laboratory. They spontaneously generated balloon-shaped protein-lipid exudates 1–5 millimeters in diameter. When these were subjected to ordinary periodic light and temperature alterations with wet-dry cycles, at first they formed balloon-shaped scums that most ambient bacteria were unable to...

    • 7 Others
      (pp. 71-90)
      Laurie Lassiter

      The notion that individuals (or their genes) are the only bona fide objects of natural selection is deeply entrenched in neo-Darwinism. It is obvious, however, that human beings live, prosper, reproduce, and die in group settings—families, tribes, nations—that crucially affect the chances of an individual’s survival. Moreover, the importance of the group to which the individual belongs, and in which he or she survives, is pan-biological: group membership matters not only to humans, but also to other animals and even microbes. Attempts to understand ourselves as individuals are doomed if we fail to take account of the overwhelming...

    • 8 Nested Communities
      (pp. 91-106)
      James MacAllister

      Western, institutional science has given either no reception or a negative reception to crucial information showing that evolution results from individual, social, and communal interactions at scales ranging from the microscopic to the planetary. Here I briefly review two recently developed ideas. The first is Gaia, the second symbiogenesis in the context of community. Over time, community ecology becomes evolution, and organisms internalize their external environment (Margulis et al. 2000). I begin with powerful, anthropocentric cultural metaphors in which, unawares, you and I are steeped: “Spaceship Earth” and “selfish genes.”

      James E. Lovelock (b. 1919), the British atmospheric chemist who...

  9. III Earth

    • 9 Cosmic Rhythms of Life
      (pp. 109-122)
      Bruce Scofield

      From the origin of life as bacteria to the sexual cycles of plants and fungi, the activities of all organisms occur in the constantly changing temporal environment created by the geophysical and astronomical cycles of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. Life has sensed and responded to this environment for perhaps 3,800 million years and has used these geophysical and astronomical influences as a structural framework. Life’s processes respond to environmental constraints (Scofield and Margulis 2011). Sensitivity to temporal cycles augments survival and reproduction. Biological rhythms based on geo-celestial timing alert the living to changes in the environment. They cue...

    • 10 Life’s Tectonics
      (pp. 123-128)
      Paul D. Lowman Jr. and Nathan Currier

      In 1924, Alfred Wegener, a German meteorologist, published a revolutionary theory in a book titledThe Origin of Continents and Oceans. This theory, or concept, soon became better known as “continental drift.” It triggered several years of intense debate among geologists, most of whom, including Walter Bucher, an eminent Columbia University geologist, rejected it (Bucher 1933). However, many years later Wegener’s theory was resuscitated as part of the theory of plate tectonics.

      The essentials of plate tectonic theory, widely known, so they can be are summarized in the maps reproduced in this volume as color plates V and VI. These...

    • 11 Evolutionary Illumination
      (pp. 129-150)
      Peter Warshall

      The Sun showers the solar system with electromagnetic energy, including cosmic rays and radio waves. One segment of the electromagnetic spectrum contains the signals for life’s photosensory systems (Endler 1992). The photosensory segment of the electromagnetic spectrum extends beyond the visible range (that is, the range, between about 400 and 740 nanometers, that we can see in the right conditions). Various prokaryote strains and eukaryote species have evolved photoreceptors that utilize near-ultraviolet, near infrared, and polarized light, which humans cannot see without technology. I refer to the broader segment of the electromagnetic spectrum sensed by life as “biospheric light.” It...

  10. IV Chimeras

    • 12 Symbiogenesis in Russia
      (pp. 153-158)
      Victor Fet

      Russian scientists pioneered the now-accepted notion that free-swimming amoebae and the cells of animals and plants derived from permanent symbiosis among separate forms—partnerships that had major consequences for evolutionary history. The word “symbiogenesis”—meaning origin (genesis) through living together (symbio)—was coined in Russia by Konstantin Sergeyevich Mereschkovsky (figure 12.1) in the early twentieth century. That co-evolved symbionts are crucial to biotic innovations in the evolutionary process is taken for granted in certain specialized fields of Russian biology. Although the early symbiogeneticists (Mereschkovsky, Famintsyn, and others) held an evolutionary view of the living world, all except Boris Mikhailovich Kozo-Polyansky...

    • 13 From Movement to Sensation
      (pp. 159-166)
      John L. Hall and Lynn Margulis

      A huge difference between prokaryotes (eubacteria and archaebacteria) and other organisms (plants, fungi, animals) is “intracellular transport,” the transportation system that animates the insides of cells. Vigorous sudden or slow movement, universal in eukaryotes, is entirely absent from bacterial cells, even large ones. Cell movement in prokaryotes appears to occur below a light microscope’s limit of visibility. Cell eating (phagocytosis), drinking (pinocytosis), and reproduction (including the kind that reduces the chromosome numbers in the formation of sperm and eggs) all involve intracellular movement. And most eukaryotic cell movement requires microtubules and enzymes.

      In plants, microtubule-based movements influence how the new...

    • 14 Packaging DNA
      (pp. 167-172)
      Andrew Maniotis

      While mountain ranges, volcanoes and their craters and lakes, coralbivalve-algal carbonate reef complexes, and tropical forests come and go, oxygenic blue-green bacteria (cyanobacteria) look, act, and probably taste just as they did 2,000 million years ago. Of course, mutation and other heritable changes are both selected against and selected for, with consequences that perpetuate genomes. But I suggest that the contiguous chromosome-chromolinker genetic system that is characteristic of nucleated organisms—protoctists, animals, fungi, and plants—evolved from the expansion and folding of early prokaryotic genophores. Especially after eukaryotic chromosomal genomes replaced the prokaryotic chromonemal ones, life overcame a continuous harsh...

    • 15 Lemurs and Split Chromosomes
      (pp. 173-182)
      Robin Kolnicki

      Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world, is located in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. It is home to a biota that is unique in all of life’s kingdoms. Many of its animals, chronicled in fables, are indeed fabulous. These include many species of lemurs that are found nowhere else in the world. They share characteristics not found among the other primates, such as female dominance and greater dependence on olfaction (sense of smell) over sight. Unlike nearly all other primates, lemurs display cathemerality (see chapter 22). It distinguishes them from nocturnal and diurnal mammals. Lemurs...

    • 16 Interspecies Hybrids
      (pp. 183-198)
      Sonya E. Vickers and Donald I. Williamson

      Here we outline an idea that could radically alter the way we understand animal evolution. Fertile sex—egg-sperm fertilization—occurred (and still does) between members of entirely different species, even different phyla. The rare but fertile hybrids generated striking new animal life forms in a geological instant.

      Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory ascribes gradual changes to mutations (alterations in genetic material). The forms of larvae and their distribution in the animal kingdom suggest a radically different mode of evolution that involves sudden changes beyond the gradual accumulation of mutations. We call this “larval transfer” or “origin of larvae by hybridogenesis.” The hypothesis...

    • 17 Origins of the Immune System
      (pp. 199-206)
      Margaret J. McFall-Ngai

      Over the eons, animals, plants, and all other multicellular eukaryotes diversified within the context of a bacteria-rich environment. (See plate XII.) Evolutionary selection pressure was exerted by prokaryotic and other microbes on larger organisms, especially animals. These organisms had to sense and respond to biotic cues and stimuli in marine settings steeped with life. In animals, a complicated reaction to the biotic world involves the activation of a multifaceted immune system. The vertebrate immune system evolved in the presence of bacteria that were sensed, responded to, and integrated into it. As most animals are digestive tubes—from mouths through stomachs...

    • 18 Medical Symbiotics
      (pp. 207-218)
      Jessica Hope Whiteside and Dorion Sagan

      Because of the difficulty of isolating variables in a human being, one of the most complex systems in the universe, medicine remains an art as well as a science. The introduction of complementary and alternative medicine into traditional Western medicine, derided by some, has the potential to broaden and make more subtle an imperfect Western tradition whose history includes medieval barber surgeons and the misrecognition of mercury poisoning as a major symptom of the syphilis that mercury was administered to treat (Fleck 1935).

      Western medicine tends to favor a largely unexamined metaphor of illness as a battle or war with...

  11. V Consciousness

    • 19 Animal Consciousness
      (pp. 221-232)
      Gerhard Roth

      The question of animal consciousness is as old and difficult as the mind–body problem. While some philosophers, psychologists and even neurobiologists deny the existence of consciousness in other animals, others are convinced that some taxa of animals probably have at least some of the states of consciousness found in humans. Human consciousness includes states, ranging from simple awareness to self-reflection, that appear to be correlated with interactions of cortical and subcortical brain centers. Inside the human brain, processes that take place in the sixlayered isocortex are the only ones accompanied by consciousness. Most human brain centers involved in consciousness...

    • 20 Brains and Symbols
      (pp. 233-240)
      John Skoyles

      A chimp cannot read this book, but you can. Nor can that chimp divide 7 into 20, promise to meet a friend, tell a joke, or deceive with words (lie). We humans are unlike any other mammals in certain ways. Why? It is not because chimps lack rudimentary math, a sense of friendship, humor, or an ability to deceive. Research finds that they are capable of these skills. But somehow we humans have expanded these beginnings of communication into entirely different abilities and affects—and then invent and keep reinventing them with fresh innovations. Reading, writing, and arithmetic all appeared...

    • 21 Thermodynamics and Thought
      (pp. 241-250)
      Dorion Sagan

      Consciousness is a subjective datum whose existence in other subjects cannot be experienced directly. The inability to perceive the consciousness of others directly is a skeleton in the closet of philosophy, and is the phenomenological basis of solipsism and various forms of paranoia. It is also a source of profound reflection in the works of the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. In these works, empathy, which allows the individual to connect in consciousness with another, is the defining mark of being human—a state which is, however, not confined to humans but may also be a property of “humanoid...

    • 22 “I Know Who You Are; I Know Where You Live”
      (pp. 251-258)
      Judith Masters

      Living primates are classified into two suborders: the Haplorhini (literally, simple nostrils), which includes tarsiers, monkeys, and apes, and the Strepsirhini (twisted nostrils), which includes the lemurs of Madagascar (see chapter 15) and the lorises and galagos of Africa and Asia. All haplorhine primates, with the exception of Southeast Asian tarsiers and South American owl monkeys, are diurnal and gregarious. They have well-developed visual systems with binocular (stereoscopic) vision and notable visual acuity. The foveas in their retinas have a high percentage of cones (modified cilia, see chapter 13), which allow color discrimination. All African and Asian monkeys and some...

    • 23 Cultural Networks
      (pp. 259-266)
      Luis Rico

      Art, science, and other modes of knowledge interact in the emergent paradigm of the “network society” that Manuel Castells (1996) described as a social system powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies. Current artistic, scientific, technological, and even commercial designs share tools and practices of mutual influence. Their strategies co-evolve in ways, largely undescribed, that extend beyond the language, religious, national, political, and disciplinary boundaries that arbitrarily, and often unconsciously, restrict knowledge.

      Culture arises out of biology as interactive webs and networks. Systems of communication in the microbial world were already robust in the Archean eon. Networks, and even complex...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-280)
  13. Appendix A: Major Groups of Living Organisms
    (pp. 281-288)
  14. Appendix B: The International Geological Time Scale (Time-Rock Divisions)
    (pp. 289-290)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 291-308)
  16. About the Authors
    (pp. 309-314)
  17. Index
    (pp. 315-322)
  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 323-330)