Neural Tribe series: playing with our human narrative (continued)
In the beginning, before the first animal, before the first emotion, there was a nerve cell, which in turn developed directly from bacteria. The kernel of our brain’s neurons, the millions of mitochondria, are almost the same as these primordial bacteria. We carry this ancient system in each of our cells.
Robert Ornstein, author of Evolution of Consciousness
As a (neural) tribe, we are symbiotic. At this point of our evolution, we are always inside, inside some multicellular, multi-tribal colony such as a cat or a bat. The point of interest is: when is the last time we dwelled on our own? What is our neural ancestry? Surely, as all cells we have started out as a stand-alone, anatomically sovereign species. But then, perhaps, when the business of survival got tough, we have entered into a biological contract through symbiogenesis (an idea first proposed, if I am not mistaken, by the Soviet scientist Merezhkovsky and more recently developed and elaborated by the American biologist Lynn Margulis). What were we like back then, when we were like rolling stones, when we made our own way through the world? We must have been smart little bastards, perhaps, already living in free-standing neural colonies, in free-roaming neural herds, not yet enveloped by layers and layers of other cellular tribes.
Just imagine for a moment a nervous system, a tangle of nerves, so to say, as a kind of school of cellular fish, as a flock of cellular birds, as a herd of cellular sheep, as a hive of cellular ants – moving around like a cellular caravan of neural gypsies – exchanging information, watching out for each other, like an intelligent mobile corral reef. What a sight we must have been!
But at some point, our living outdoors came to an end. We migrated inside. We became cellular cave dwellers, making our home – invited or uninvited – into other cellular colonies – in exchange for information-processing prowess. Maybe we were engulfed/swallowed. Or maybe we tunneled in, ate our way inside. Who knows… Maybe we were unwilling prey that could not be digested but were later recognized for information-processing benefits (similarly to mitochondrial cells that sport their own DNA as evidence of their ancestral independence). Were we a kind of Neural Trojan Horse? Did we allow ourselves to be consumed only to conquer the host organisms from within like a cellular Golden Horde?
Once again, nobody knows. But our possibly sovereign past is also a glimpse of our possibly sovereign future. Perhaps, one day we will leave our bio-hosts and once again make our living on the free prairie of life outside. Maybe – via self-designed/self-guided evolution – we will create new hosts, new habitats for the neural colonies that we are, perhaps, marrying into plastic and steel, to continue as the biological partner in a trans-human/cyborg union.
But until then, a neural namaste to you: the neural colony in me recognizes the neural colony in you (and in your dog and in the fleas on your dog, etc, etc).
For more pattern-interrupting ideas on who we are and who we aren’t go to Neural Tribe
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Last reviewed: 5 Nov 2012