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Sentient Cell

“The body knows who you are,
even if you don’t.”
An Interview with

Dr. Allan Shapiro is a fictional cognitive psychologist. The following
“interview” is a character study. Writers will often draft biographies
of their key characters as a means of understanding who they are and
why they are. For Dr. Shapiro, who is a principle character in my
novel CLONE, I have tried to accomplish this by conducting an
interview with him. Although the points illustrated in this interview
are based on actual research, the conclusions are for creative and
entertainment purposes only.

Dr. Shapiro believes that it might be time for

science to rethink its model of Intelligent Life.
His proposition, though simple, isn’t exactly
easy to swallow: he believes that the human
body is as conscious of its own existence as the
brain itself. Furthermore, he contends that the
body has a master plan. In his own words,
“the natural goal of the body is to evolve to a state
of not needing one.” In other words, a human
body isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to the
human being. According to Allan, evolution
has an end-goal in sight.
This is the master plan of...

the Before we start this interview, maybe you can summarize
for the readers – in a few words if that is possible – the basis of your theory.

ALLAN: Hmmm... that’s always a tall order. But I guess it would be that
evolution is actually an entelechy. What that means is that the body is
directing itself towards a final goal. A destination. To do that the body itself
must have some form of memory and intelligence. Wouldn’t this imply though that cells themselves are

programmed with these properties?

ALLAN: I’m suggesting that these properties pervade the entire body.
I’m not just talking about human beings. This would be true for all living
things, even single cellular entities like bacteria, which uses phase variation
-- a microbial stealth strategy -- where it hides proteins and sugars from the
body’s immune system. It waits patiently until it builds a large enough army
to cause infection. Bacteria does this?

ALLAN: Yes. You need some kind of mnemonic capacity to carry out such
a sophisticated infection strategy. Flatworms are another example. Thinking
requires a brain – or, at least, that’s what we think. Flatworms, however, are
without either a brain or a nervous system. They are, essentially, just bodies.
So it is very surprising then that Flatworms have the wherewithal to selectively
alter its diet according to its immediate survival needs. Changing one’s
mind about what’s on the menu may not seem all that impressive, but when
the Flatworm changes its diet it is quite astonishing. When a Flatform chooses
to switch its food source to the Hydra, it does this to appropriate the Hydra’s
defense system. After it has ingested the Hydra, it steals the Hydra’s sting cells
and turns them into weapons to ward of enemies. When the Flatworm has
stocked up on enough “hydra rockets” to protect itself, it reverts back to its
normal diet. All this without a brain?

ALLAN: Yes! See I think our key problem in accepting this is that humans
have a very limited definition of life, intelligence and memory. We tend to use
ourselves as the rigid standard for what is possible. The other problem is that
we tend to think only in terms of hierarchy, putting ourselves at the top.
This tendency to create hierarchies is everywhere: in government, in business
and our models for biology and evolution.

But I don’t think somatic intelligence is something we should look at as a

hierarchy, or even as a straight line, because then we think of the body’s
intelligence as somehow a separate thing from ourselves. In reality the brain’s
intelligence is an expression or extension of the intelligence of the entire body.
To put it another way, macrosentience is an extension of microsentience. So there is no hierarchy? No placing one mode of intelligence

above the other. So if there’s no hierarchy, is there another way of visualizing or
illustrating what you are suggesting?
ALLAN: I visualize the body’s
consciousness as a circle. At any point
on the circle you find some part of
the body that is thinking and acting
on memory. But I don’t think it is
a rote, chemical or electrical memory.
As the Flatworm demonstrates for us,
it is not involuntary. The body knows
what it is doing, even if we don’t.
The body knows who you are, even
if you don’t. If you don’t believe me,
check back with me the next time you
catch a cold. Yeah, viruses are the masters of subterfuge.

They have to be, otherwise, the body says “whoa, wait a minute.
He’s not one of us.”

ALLAN: The entire body, from the tiniest cell to the big brain in our skulls,
is a thinking body. Even at a microscopic level we find memory and decisions.
Those two characteristics alone result in behavior that is very close to what we
tend to define as intelligence. Do we need to expand our definition of “intelligence”?

ALLAN: Yes. Just as elephants and dolphins challenge
our definition of communication, we must consider that
sentience and cognition are not exclusive to the brain. You said before that the

“Thinking Body” is working its way towards
something. Some kind of end goal.
What goal exactly?

ALLAN: The word for that is “entelechy” and we

get the word from Aristotle. It implies an evolution
that has an end in sight. It means that the body
knows where it wants to go, but it just needs to figure
out how to get there. So it tries this and that, until in
a few more million years it arrives at this destination. Which is?

“We must consider

that sentience is not
exclusive to the brain.”
ALLAN: Dualism. That’s it? Just dualism?

ALLAN: I should have said that dualism is the next

destination, not the destination. After dualism, could
come a state of being that is “threeness” and “fourness”.
But right now I believe the body is trying to complete
its division of being -- where brain and mind are two
and not one.

The brain is just a monist extension of the thinking

body -- where mind and brain are wholly one. But I believe
human consciousness – this thing that allows us to be self-aware
and aware that we are self-aware – is a process similar to mytosis
where the brain and mind become separate and separable. Wait a minute. You said a few things that

I want to come back to. But lets start with the last thing
you said -- the brain and mind being separable.
You’re saying the body is a thinking thing.
But now you’re saying that “thinking” and
“body” are separable.
ALLAN: Not that they are separable, but that they
will be. Right now we need a body to exist, but maybe
that won’t always be the case. The most tantalizing
quality of the human condition is the duality of
human being versus human body. It’s the difference
between the Self and the Somatic. One of the simplest
yet fascinating experiments that demonstrates just
how disconnected the Mind is from the Body is the
rubber arm trick.

I call it “trick”, but it’s a scientific

study that involves placing a rubber
arm near a person’s real arm, and
then simultaneously stroking both
arms. Eventually the person feels a
sensation from the Rubber Arm.
If the Self is linked to the Body, why
would it accept sensory stimulation
from something that is not a part
of it? Sure, we can explain what is
happening in the brain when such
tactile illusions take place, but that’s
not sufficient to explain away the
phenomenon of a mind that can think
beyond its own moving parts. Do we
need a body to exist? Maybe not.
“Do we need a body
to exist? Maybe not.” That reminds me of the phantom limb phenomenon.
I’ve read that people who have missing limbs will still think that the limb
is there.

ALLAN: They don’t “think” that the limb is still there, per se. They know
the limb is not there, but they feel the limb as if it were there. In other
words, despite logically knowing that an arm has been amputated, they
still have tactile sensations or stimuli of a limb that has long since been
absent. The explanation for phantom limb is a relatively simple one:
memory. Once the mind remembers sensory information from the body,
it can self-generate that sensory information without a body. Cells are
memory storage houses and the brain in particular turns cellular memory
into nucleo-codes that messages to other cells what it remembers about
the “Sensorial World” around it. So the mind uses the body to collect sensory information

about the material world so that it can eventually...uh...

ALLAN: eventually break free of the material-based logic of the body.
ALLAN: No. My crazy idea is that maybe the genome, as a form of intelligence,
is trying to figure out how to continue being a living, intelligent being without the burden of hav-
ing Is this
body. The real obstacle philosophy
of survival or itself.
is the body science?

(silence) All science begins with philosophy. But you can’t use that word
“philosophy” with any dignity in the world of science because of what
ALLAN: I told you that you would think I was crazy. But do you at least know why?
philosophers have done to it. Philosophy became idyll once it became
more preoccupied (Laughing)with
I thinklogical
I do. Mygames
trouble and conundrums.
is...not my trouble... It used to run
my challenge...
in place with such games, now it is barely walking in place. So scientists
ALLAN: -- isthat
your label.
body. They don’t “philosophize”. They “theorize”. But I’m okay
yourlabel of philosophy.
“challenge”. (Laughs)
The Chinese philosopher (Laughing) You’reChaung
the genome is a thinking thing, and that
Tzu, who lived from 399-295BC,
it wants to abandon its body. Doesn’t it
spoke about
need a body non-identification
to exist? Don’t we need a
body tothe body when he wrote: “If
one recognizes his identity with unity,
ALLAN: At the moment, yes we do. But
maybethe parts
that won’tofalways
his body mean
be the no
One mostthan so much
tantalizing dirt.” of
the human condition is the duality of The
Human Being and the Human Body. It’s Yeah, that sounds
the difference between the Self and The
like philosophy
Somatic. One of the(laughs).
simplest yet fasci-
nating experiments that demonstrates
just how disconnected
ALLAN: theinteresting
I find it very Min
the similarities of the Greek words
for “Body” and “Tomb”, which are,
“Soma” and “Sema”, respectively.
In fact, it is from the Greek word
“Soma” that we arrive at the word “Somatic” which refers to the Body.
The close relationship to the word “Sema”, would suggest that the Body is little
more than a tomb. The Greeks would have appreciated Chaung Tzu’s observation. Maybe that’s why it’s so appropriate that some of our

scientific terminology is rooted in Greek. Is it important to stay in touch with

ALLAN: That’s a good question,

because we’re not in touch with those
ideas anymore. We remember them,
in so much that we have their ideas
stored in our libraries, but that’s about it.
Philolaus, a Greek philosopher who
emerged not long after the death of
Pythagoras, said that “The soul cherishes
its body because without it the soul
cannot feel.” So he’s saying that
the soul uses the body
merely as an instrument
for feeling the world of
matter. Memory would
then be the only way for
the Soul to enjoy all of
these Sensorial benefits of
the Body without actually having to have one. That word “Soul” presents a lot of problems, though.

Are you talking about a Soul or are you talking about a disembodied

ALLAN: Does it matter? Or maybe I should ask this: if the mind does
figure out how to disembody itself, will it matter
what we call it? It matters what we call it now,

because of the preconceptions of what we think
a soul is. If it is a soul as we typically think about
it, then to “disembody” itself all it has to do is
wait for the body to die. But if what we’re really
talking about is an embodied intelligence that
wants to someday be disembodied...well...

“We discount
anything that
is imaginary.”
ALLAN: I see what you mean. Giving a definition of “soul” is as elusive as
giving a definition to intelligence and consciousness. People have given up on defining the soul, haven’t they?

ALLAN: For the most part, yes. People who believe in such a thing don’t need
a definition because, as far as they’re concerned, believing is good enough.
People who don’t believe in such a thing obviously don’t need a definition either. It’s like trying to define the Easter Bunny.

ALLAN: Right, because we discount anything that is imaginary. Descartes did

the same thing when he pejoratively labelled the square root of a negative number
as being “imaginary.” He used the term as an insult – like telling someone
that they have a vivid imagination. To him, imaginary numbers weren’t “real”
because they had no spatial reality in the world of geometry. Today we not only
acknowledge imaginary numbers as having existence, but engineers apparently
have a practical use for them! So “Reality” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “Real”?

ALLAN: Well, the world certainly doesn’t need anymore philosophical pablum
about “what is real?” and “matter is mostly empty space” etcetera, etcetera.
Having said that, I do think we need to divorce the concept of “real and reality”
from the concept of “existence”. For instance, getting back to the imaginary
number in mathematics: it is not considered a “real” number – it’s considered an
imaginary number. It’s not “real”, but it exists. Imaginary entities aren’t real, nor
are real entities imaginary. But both exist. So the Easter Bunny actually does exist?

ALLAN: Of course! (laughs) Paracelsus, a 16th century physician and major

contributor to science, called this “IMAGINATIO VERA”...or,”True Imagining.”
He advocated the imagination as something of a sixth sensorial internal organ.
His ideas provided a natural framework for looking at human imagination
where it is not a figment of fantasy but a true sensorial contributor.

Human reasoning favors reality, but the human mind is ambivalent. It will take
it either way, real or imaginary – or a hodgepodge of the two. Psychologists still
wonder if consciousness and observed reality are one (monism) or two (dualism).
The same question has been asked about brain and mind: are they one thing or
two things. I say, they are one, evolving into two. I’m glad you said that because it brings us back to the question
of how a thinking body could – or if it even would – go about discarding itself.

ALLAN: Well, right now brain is mind and mind is brain. They are one.
If I’m right and this brain-mind is in the process of becoming brain and mind,
then one of the two eventually becomes unnecessary. I think memory will play
an important role in this, and I sometimes wonder if dreaming is the body’s way of
practicing this disembodiment. When we dream the sensorial body shuts down and
even the frontal areas of the brain that govern “reality” are shut down. So really all
that’s left is this imaginary playground of memories about reality. As many of
us have experienced in dreams, we have light, sound and tactile experiences –
an entire world of physics even in the absence of physical stimuli. We have a
Newtonian psychology that is pretty much useless in the world of dreaming. We need our “Newtonian Psychology” to describe and
understand the Three Dimensional world. What other kind of psychology
can there be for understanding the world you’re talking about?

ALLAN: A Mathematical psychology. A geometry based psychology. Plato

said that “Geometry is a dreaming about being.” Aristotle, the most empirical
of Greek philosophers, considered Geometry to be a “dreamlike world of the
imagination.” Ancient cultures in many parts of the world had a religious rever-
ence for geometry, and I think now we can appreciate why. Were the pyramids
really nothing more than tombs? Or were they a colossal tribute to the triangle? Geometry is dichotomous by its own virtue. It is corporeal in

its ability to describe and quantify space; and yet, nowhere in space do we find
pure geometry.

ALLAN: It’s a median point between the incorporeal mind and the corporeal body.
There is the exteroceptive space of the body and then there is the “space” that
exists in the Mind: the internal proprioception -- the cognitive sense of space
that comes from thinking about a circle, or a square. So dreams take us from one spatial mode to another?

A new world?

ALLAN: A world where, as Muslim mystics say, images are, not real, but actual.
From Autism to Synaesthesia and onward, we are finding that the Entelechial Mind
is finding its own way past the boundaries of reality; blurring
lines that were once hard and defined. Even reality is not so
sure of itself when it looks deep into its own quantum world
and discovers the uncertainty behind its own dogmatic
mass. Imagination is still an enigma of human
consciousness; a final frontier of the explorer.
No matter what our means of investigating and
interrogating reality, the mind does not inhibit
our investigation. A lot of people feel that the

invention of the soul is just man’s attempt to
escape the fear of death. Is the “disembodied
mind” your attempt to escape death?

ALLAN: No, this isn’t an attempt to escape death.

Whether we are deists or atheists all humans are
endowed with the same two curses: life and death.
We are cursed to live and cursed to die. When life
came to me I had no choice but to resign myself to it.
Likewise, when death comes, I will have no choice but
to resign myself to it. I have no grievance with death.

The End
S NI F Fc o d e. c o m