Wednesday, July 14, 2010


BBC 7/14/10:

"Plants 'can think and remember'"

"Plants are able to 'remember' and 'react' to information contained in light, according to researchers.

Plants, scientists say, transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems.

These 'electro-chemical signals' are carried by cells that act as 'nerves' of the plants.

In their experiment, the scientists showed that light shone on to one leaf caused the whole plant to respond.

And the response, which took the form of light-induced chemical reactions in the leaves, continued in the dark.

This showed, they said, that the plant 'remembered' the information encoded in light."


Okay. Now we know something about plants, but how about something about animals, like “US.” Recent research suggests that if plants operate on light, receiving only, then the human brain operates on a different wave/chemical reaction section of the possible vibrations and weaves them together in immense complexity, a symphony in electromagnetic molecular relationships. The following ideas are from a “New Scientist” article called “Alpha, Beta, Gamma: the language of brainwaves.”

1. They really are waves, based on the ion excitement of cells, which build and exchange among them.

2. There are four kinds, defined by the segment of the frequencies they are: alpha, beta, theta, and gamma. Each segment does different tasks.

3. “Signal synchronization” is the key to thought. Sense organs pick up info that is separate depending on the info (color, sound, shape, temperature, taste) and then it is assembled in the brain into the actual concept and its uses or attributes. The messages must arrive at the same time and the same frequency to “make sense.” If those characteristics are not present, the whatchamacallit will be invisible, imperceptible. If you’re “out of sync” you’re “out of touch.”

4. Gamma brainwaves control memory. The hippocampus “plays” three kinds from two of its parts: CA3 plays memories from the past; the medial entorhinal cortex (MEG) monitors right now. They send this info to CA3 which coordinates and sorts.

5. Malfunctions of the above brain waves may account for one of our definitions of schizophrenia, which is the misattribution of information -- too important, disconnected, too vague or whatever. (“Schizophrenia” is a junk category and we need a new word. Anyway, there are malfunctions of other little bits of the brain.)

6. Stuff called GABA is a neurotransmitter enhancer that might help. Experiments are proceeding.

7. Transcranial magnetic stimulation might also help. It’s a short burst of magnetic waves -- NOT the electrical shock of horrific legend.

8. It is possible for a person to train their own brain waves if they can see them. With a hookup that translates them to a screen, this has been done and seems promising.

The bottom line is that a symphony is only music when it’s in sync. Otherwise it becomes a jumbled cacophony with no patterning to it: no melody, no recurring motifs, no grand chords, and so on. But it can be restored to synchrony, re-patterned.

It follows that all education is patterning: becoming adept at patterns of thought, memory, inspiration, and dreaming. The patterns of history, math, art, dance, are disciplines of entrainment and performance that nearly define what human is. “Behavioral modernity” is the formal “term of art” for the point when humans began to do such things, which was about 40,000 years ago. That’s when the anthros and paleos begin to see decorations, signs of religion, tools, fishing, long trade routes, wild grain processing
In this magificently thoughtful piece, Kim Sterelny suggests four factors in human cognitive evolution:

1. Cultural inheritance like the “natural history competences of foragers:” knowing what’s good to eat, how to recognize it and where it grows in season.

2. Cultural learning, so you don’t have to figure out things yourself -- you can learn from watching or hearing from others.

3. Human cognition, like the rest of human bodies, is plastic, so it is shaped by environment.

4. Part of culture is learning how to “suck information out of the parent generation” and “pump it into the offspring.” But it is important to protect it from distortion, so thus “school.” This is what Kim believes is the key to “behavioral modernity” and it is no doubt also what is provoking the re-thinking by Cinematheque, charter schools, home schooling and so on. Their “curriculum” is basically the four things above.

Previously, so far as I know, the idea has been that there was a mutation in the human genome (like the one in Africa 250,000 years ago), or some kind of cultural development, possibly in response to weather, that triggered “behavioral modernity.” The pattern has been the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago that was evidently a response to the withdrawal of the northern glaciations combined with rising seas and population pressure in the Mediterranean. On the high prairie of Montana the pre-horse peoples were using “behavioral modernity” to sustain their lives, but had no necessity or opportunity, except in pockets, for agriculture to replace foraging and hunting. It was a rich environment. The first signs of “behavioral modernity,” ornament and ochre paint, however, were present and still persist.

What were the critical intellectual capacities that had to be present before the spread of these cultures: some say the ability to abstract and the ability to work with others to plan and coordinate efforts, for instance, maritime technology so that a small group could operate and benefit from the management of a larger boat and longer voyages. Mastering the technology of fire means not just cooking and some protection, but also an ability to manage the environment as the Blackfeet did when they burned off the old grass of the prairie. The technology of Cinematheque is twofold: the internet and the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Kim wants to think of symbolic activity as a way of defining and coordinating groups, so here’s the payoff for my “poetics of liturgy” line of thought: the poetics of liturgy are ways of synchronizing the group. The “symphonic” brain is the prerequisite for the “symphonic” culture we call “civilization.” Kim goes on talking about these things in potently meaningful ways, but this post is supposed to be a thousand words, more or less, so more later.

The central point, the axis, is that everything is pulse, pattern, waves and there is power in synchronizing them. They conserve and innovate our identities, our cultures, our future welfare, and -- eventually -- the state of the planet. Right now we’re out of sync.

They say that there is a wave signature of the planet itself -- it is a giant gong, still ringing from its creation. We must learn to hear it, dance to it. If plants can do it, so can we.

1 comment:

Barrus and Scriver said...

Kim Sterelny is an Australian philosopher of biology, a man as hairy as Robert Sapolsky. I'm feeling better about being Hairy Mary.

He seems to think in terms of the tribe rather than the individual. this is neglected ground and I look forward to reading his books.

Prairie Mary