Sunday, March 1, 2009

We Earth Neurons

Daniel Dennett:
Some years ago a friend of mine in the Peace Corps told me about his efforts on behalf of a tribe of gentle Indians deep in the Brazilian forest. I asked him if he had been required to tell them about the conflict between the USA and the USSR. Not at all, he replied. There would be no point in it. They had not only never heard of either America or the Soviet Union, they had never even heard of Brazil! Who would have guessed that it is still possible to be a human being living in, and subject to the laws of, a nation without the slightest knowledge of that fact? If we find this astonishing, it is because we human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the ones–the only ones–who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we are even beginning to figure out how we got here.

These quite recent discoveries are unnerving, to say the least. What you are–what each of us is–is an assemblage of roughly a trillion cells, of thousands of different sorts. Most of these cells are “daughters” of the egg and sperm cell whose union started you (there are also millions of hitchhikers from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body), but each cell is a mindless mechanism, a largely autonomous micro-robot, no more conscious than a bacterium, and not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.

No comments: