My bodymind may not be what I think it is. My body contains trillions upon trillions of cells. Many, perhaps most, are bacteria. A large number live in my gut.
According to Johns Hopkins University, a colony of microscopic “folks” that inhabit my gut make up a sort of “brain” that affects my thinking, behaviors, and a lot more.
This link between gut and head got me to wondering about my bodymind. What if the brain in my gut is the primary brain that controls the secondary brain inside my cranium? Hmmm…
Let’s say that a community of bacteria got together billions of years ago when the atmosphere of the earth was quite different from that we experience today. As the atmosphere changed over eons, they began to realize they were in danger of extinction. They had to do something radical to survive.
The bacterial community came up with a novel idea. They would build a sort of mobile habitat – a “spacecraft” that would protect the community from the increasingly deadly atmosphere. This mobile habitat might also help them get nourishment and protect them from predators. Brilliant!
What if today I experience this mobile habitat as my bodymind – that houses a very smart community of bacteria? They could control their spaceship using the enteric nervous system (ENS) in a process of quorum sensing and communication like that presented on the TED stage by Bonnie Bassler.
A secondary brain created in the cranium made the ship smarter – Tardis-style. The ship became more effective in its mission to sustain the lives of its passengers. The ruling class gets to take it easy while the ship takes on more of the work to make that happen. Even more brilliant!
Macro Mimicking Micro
In the starship me hypothesis, the bodymind I think of as “me” behaves according to instructions given it by the bacterial colony. For example, when the bacterial community wants to communicate with others of their kind outside their starship, they use ship-to-ship communication by means of the “vessel” – body language, speech, and etc.
Just as in Star Trek, the Starship Enterprise does not have to think about or even be aware of the communications its human inhabitants have with other ships – it merely provides the means.
This might appear to me, the smart starship, as simply what I do. I talk, love, feel, fight, defend, laugh, cogitate, and much more. Meanwhile, the crew may be experiencing warmth, safety, plenty of food, and etc. The experience of the smart starship may be entirely different than that of the crew that controls it.
An Illusion of Me
In this scenario, the element I think of as “me” and “I” would be an artifact or characteristic of the smart starship – an illusion that serves the core purpose of providing shelter, communication, protection, and other important objectives of its bacterial passengers.
Through a system of rewards and punishments not unlike the Mafia, my bacterial community has trained its “smart starship” to more effectively behave in what it believes are its best interests.
I wonder what might happen were the smart mobile habitat to become self-aware, Lieutenant Commander Data-style… What then?
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