If you think my previous post wasn’t trippy enough, maybe this one is more to your satisfaction. The concepts I talk about here were inspired by Robert M. Pirsig’s wonderful book Lila, as well as Richard Dawkins’s TED talk The universe is queerer than we can suppose. And as a disclaimer, don’t take these things seriously word-for-word, but instead stay open minded and focus on feeling what kind of thoughts they might provoke in you.
Let’s look at you. What you are made of. We can start from atoms, move up to molecules and further zoom out to see the individual cells. There are trillions of them, and cells are considered as a basic form of life. There is life in you. You are not just alive as a person, but there are individual lifeforms within you, performing different functions without which you wouldn’t survive.
You might not see the wondrous reality I’m trying to convey by saying these things. It can be difficult to grasp the concept of cells having a precious life of their own. But what about bacteria, clearly a form of life? Most of them are single-celled organisms that eat, procreate and evolve. And there are dozens of different species of bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract alone. Do you consider them being part of you?
If you said “no, they are freeloaders or parasites,” would your mind change if I told you that without those bacteria you wouldn’t be able to convert nutrients into usable forms, synthesize vitamins, or eliminate toxins? You would probably die without the bacteria that is living inside you.
Your life is made possible by the lives of trillions of smaller creatures within you. And those creatures have intelligence. Not the same form as we – the more complex organisms – have developed, but intelligence nonetheless. The cells are sensing their surroundings and react to it. Think of a white blood cell destroying harmful bacteria: It has to be able to tell the harmful ones from the beneficial ones, and it has to know how to eliminate the threat. It learns and remembers. This is why we can have an immunity to a disease, and why we get vaccinated. Our cells learn to recognize a harmful pathogen and how to get rid of it.
Now imagine for a moment that you are a cell; a simple form of life living inside the body of a human being, performing your function, reacting to your surroundings, procreating and evolving. Would you be aware that you are just a tiny part of a larger and indefinitely more complex living organism? Your surroundings, the world in which you operate, is completely different from the one in which humans operate. Your sensory equipment would not be able to comprehend the world of humans, as that world has no significance for a single-cell organism like yourself.
The lifeforms you, as a human, are made of are in most likelihood unaware of your existence. They are aware of lifeforms and constructs that are more related to their own size and have meaning to them. Similar to us being aware of buildings, mountains and other people. We do not sense the bacteria in our food or on our bed sheets, but the living organisms inside us do.
Our brains have evolved in a way that helps us navigate the world in which we operate. We sense our surroundings three dimensionally because it allows us to comprehend and navigate a reality that holds meaning for us. This, however, makes it difficult for us to imagine and understand that there can be millions of variations on how different lifeforms sense their environment, including those operating in the world consisting of cell-sized constructs.
A dog, for example, may sense smells in a completely different way from how our brains interpret them. Maybe their brains convert the smells into three dimensional images the same way our brains convert the light that hits our eyes into shapes and colors. Have you considered that before? We do not “see” in a direct sense of the word. Our brains decode the signals from our optic nerves and project the interpreted and decoded reality outwards. In other words, what you see is an image created by your brain using the light that hits your retinas as a reference.
Now, I think this post has enough food for thought already as it is, so I’ll leave it at that. However, this was meant as more of an introduction to another, perhaps even more trippy topic which I’ll try to cover in my next post. And as always, your comments and thoughts are highly appreciated!