Can cells think? | Michael Levin | Summary and Q&A

July 31, 2023
The Well
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Can cells think? | Michael Levin


All intelligence is collective intelligence, including the intelligence of cells in our body, and developmental biology explores the journey of constructing ourselves from a single cell to complex organisms.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How does developmental biology explain the journey from a single cell to a complex organism?

Developmental biology studies the process of how an unfertilized oocyte gradually develops into a mature organism, showing the progressive steps by which cells construct our bodies and minds.

Q: What is the concept of "Multi-scale competency architecture" in biology?

The concept refers to the idea that different levels within organisms, from cells to tissues and organs, have their own problem-solving competencies, contributing to the overall intelligence and behavior of the organism.

Q: Why is it challenging for humans to recognize intelligence in unconventional embodiments?

Humans tend to have limited capacity in recognizing intelligence in objects or organisms that don't fit our expectations of medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds; unconventional embodiments, such as extremely small or large entities, may not be easily recognized as intelligent.

Q: How does evolution allow cells to navigate novel physiological stressors, like the example of Planaria and barium?

Evolution has enabled cells to pivot problem-solving strategies from simple metabolic systems to physiological and transcriptional problems; cells can activate specific genes in response to novel stressors, allowing them to adapt and survive.

Q: Is intelligence in biology a binary distinction between physics/chemistry and cognition?

No, intelligence in biology exists on a spectrum and involves different levels of cognition. The question is not about "either/or," but rather about understanding the type and extent of cognition in different organisms and systems.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Developmental biology allows us to observe the journey from single cells to complex organisms, exploring the profound question of how we construct ourselves.

  • The concept of a "Multi-scale competency architecture" in biology highlights that each level of organization in our bodies has problem-solving competencies, from cells to tissues, organs, and beyond.

  • Evolution has allowed different levels within our bodies to shape the behavior and problem-solving abilities of lower levels, creating a remarkable architecture.

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