Monday, April 25, 2022

The Doll As Metaphor - 5

Which came first?
Some readers have wondered, I suppose, about this doll business put forth in this series.

Ok, fair enough, so let me explain that basically it is the analysis of the notions of attributing intelligence to abiotic and/or inanimate objects on the part of microbiologists and virologists. 

Scientists have spent considerable time on studying it, but have you watched your children, or children in general, indicating that their doll is saying something to another doll, which evolves into conversation and all manner of imagination?

Well, the point I was making is that some scientists do that with animals and microbes in the sense of those 'dolls' contemplating their surroundings and then making decisions to change their composition as a result of various environmental events.

My addressing of the issue is not imaginative:

"Examples of Intelligence


When ice cubes are heated up, they melt, lose their cube form and don’t regain it after lowering the temperature below 0ºC. The transition from order to disorder is irreversible. The water molecules do not retain a memory of the state of order from their previous organization. Although this is true, it is not an absolute truth. Before a gas is cooled down to absolute zero -0K- and thus becomes a Bose-Einstein Condensate, first an intermediate state, called the prethermalized state, occurs. For a remarkably long time, the atoms keep some ‘memory’ of their previous quantum mechanical origin.

In 2012, Jörg Schmiedmayer of the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VSQT) described the background of that memory: “If we split the atom cloud into two parts and recombine them after some time, a wave pattern forms. That is proof that the atom clouds still contain information about having emerged from a highly ordered quantum physical state.” The so-called correlation length of the period of ‘memory’ does depend on the density of the gas cloud but not on its temperature. This dependence is supposed to indicate that the prethermalized state is a fundamental property of quantum physics.


Researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University (LMU) connected one end of a synthetic polymer gently to an atomic force microscope (AFM), and the other end to a gold surface. When the salinity of the medium was increased, the molecule gradually folded together. After the salt content of the medium had been lowered, the molecule unfolded again. These, what are called ‘intelligent molecules,’ are designed to function as nano switches, nano sensors, and chromatography procedures or to recognize diseased cells, while leaving healthy cells untouched.

Edwin Oviedo, from Carabobo University in Venezuela, designed a particular procedure to synthesize an appropriate new catalyst and assumed the resulting procedure to be specific to the source (a chosen commercial catalyst). After the outcome had been observed, the same experiment was repeated with two additional samples. To the surprise of the whole team, the results were not identical but had doubled. Each step was scrutinized to assure that the same chemicals had been used, and all steps of the concerned procedure had the same condition. What had happened? No explanation seemed to fit. Some mysterious traveler is hiding in the background.


Viruses can choose their victims and if necessary wait a long time inside the body of their choice before they strike. They can infect a victim as a prophage, and integrate into the chromosome of their victim until the most appropriate moment to come out of the box and replicate. They are predators, biological killing machines and unfit to cooperate. Not entirely true! They are killing machines, but also capable of co-operating, although they lack feelings of empathy. Helen Leggets work at the University of Exeter showed that they only cooperate if it serves their interest to kill as many cells as possible. When a virus works with related viruses, it kills slower, because by doing so it can replicate more. Conversely, when a virus cooperates with unrelated viruses, it kills faster to dominate the other viruses. Who can deny that this practice is smart and efficient? Only one little problem is worth mentioning here: neither viruses, nor organelles, nor cells, have brains and neurons.


In the late 1980’s, a severe drought occurred in South Africa. People, plants and animals suffered. The Greater Kudus, big South African antelopes that are herbivores, sought their hope in the still green Acacias. Then, thousands of Kudus started to die. The mortality rate appeared to be related to the number of Kudus on a farm. On small farms, there were even no deaths at all. Post-mortem investigation of the Kudus showed that the rate of fermentation in the stomachs of the animals on the big farms was much lower than the ones on the small farms. Not only that, all dead kudus had unusually high doses of tannin in their stomach. Big animals can easily absorb the small amounts of tannin that plants produce to kill parasites and insects. The extremely high amounts of tannin in the Kudus stopped the fermentation in their stomachs and they died of starvation.

Then the acacia trees were investigated. On the big ranches, the level of tannin in the trees was four times larger than on the small farms. It was obvious; something caused the acacias to overproduce tannin. The air around the branches was researched and appeared to contain Ethylene, CH2=CH2, a very light and odorless gas. When it gets to the branches of acacia trees, it causes the mitochondria in their cells to produce enzymes that catalyze the production of more tannin. This was a chemical chain reaction of the trees, to prevent a certain death of their identity in already difficult circumstances. How could the trees think of this practical solution and implement it?

Plants may have intelligence, but are they also able to learn? To find out about this, a team from the University of Florence designed a test in which mimosa pudica plants (touch-me-nots) were dropped 15 cm. Definitely a significant shock, but not life threatening. The plants were variously grown in low light (LL) and high light (HL) environments. The team expected the LL plants to learn more quickly. The first test clearly showed the fright of the plants; they closed their leaves. Eight hours later the test was repeated, with the same result. Then a large group was trained by dropping them 60 times with an interval of some seconds, and this was repeated seven times a day. Gradually the plants stopped closing their leaves. However, when a different shock was performed, the plants closed their leaves again. Remarkably, the plants remembered their training. Six days later the plants that were subjected to the lengthy testing did not close their leaves at all. When both HL and LL groups were tested again after 28 days, both groups were shown to have learned that the drop was harmless and even opened their leaves wider than before.

How do plants transmit their intelligence, learn and remember, since they don’t have brains and a neural system? According to Dr. Gagliano: “Calcium based cellular signaling is one possible explanation, as is the processing of information by cells via ion flows – plants have well-established pathways to transmit information via electrical signals.”


Cooperation is a widely spread phenomenon in the course of evolution. However, it is mixed with various forms of the opposite strategy: cheating. Cheaters do not cooperate with the overall group but still gain the advantages of the cooperation within their group. Nevertheless, they may co-operate with other cheaters or in some instances they may cheat, while in others they do not. To go with the flow may be a sign of intelligence, but the conscious choice to sometimes cheat and sometimes cooperate hints at intelligence, as well as a feeling of identity.


According to Linnaeus, Insecta had no brains. Now we know by research, that both human beings and insects have brains and are smart, but does this also mean that intelligence depends on the quantity of neurons? The content of whale brains is about 30 dm3, of human beings about three dm3, and of honeybees 1mm3. We can memorize places and have a sense of time. We can learn, collect and interpret information and cooperate for targeted action, but honeybees can also do this. Our brains are one million times bigger than the brains of a honeybee. Are we one million times smarter? It could very well be that the intelligence of insects per mm3 will outsmart our brains. More efficient or not, the presence of their intellect and intelligence is not a point of discussion."

(Evolving Intelligence: From atoms to higher organisms). Some may consider this to be outside of the range of "the believable" in western thought, but if we look carefully we can see that it is part and parcel of modern western science too.

The Big Bang to Human Intelligence narrative is substantially the same story as the quote above asserts (If Cosmology Is "Off," How Can Biology Be "On?", 2; The Rise Of Intelligent Matter).

But the scientists who disagree with those hypotheses do not always disagree with them because they deny the evolution from atoms to cognition, they just point out that either way it is of no lasting import:

"I'LL BEGIN with an interesting debate that took place some years ago between Carl Sagan, the well-known astrophysicist, and Ernst Mayr, the grand old man of American biology. They were debating the possibility of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And Sagan, speaking from the point of view of an astrophysicist, pointed out that there are innumerable planets just like ours. There is no reason they shouldn't have developed intelligent life. Mayr, from the point of view of a biologist, argued that it's very unlikely that we'll find any. And his reason was, he said, we have exactly one example: Earth. So let's take a look at Earth. And what he basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation ... you're just not going to find intelligent life elsewhere, and you probably won't find it here for very long either because it's just a lethal mutation ... With the environmental crisis, we're now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right or not. If nothing significant is done about it, and pretty quickly, then he will have been correct: human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we'll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us."

(What Kind of Intelligence Is A Lethal Mutation?). If the condition of current civilization is filtered through the lens of the tenets of Ecocosmology then Ernst Mayr gets my vote for being more accurate than those who grasp onto biotic or abiotic intelligence as the highway to heaven.

So, considering the shape and arrangement of atoms to be the footprints of an intelligence that equates to "there must be some way out of here" is playing with sophisticated dolls IMO (are sophisticated machine-dolls a.k.a. 'robots' an example?).

The previous post in this series is here.

No comments:

Post a Comment