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Chimeras and Consciousness

Evolution of the Sensory Self

Edited by Lynn Margulis, Celeste A. Asikainen, and Wolfgang E. Krumbein

Publication Year: 2011

Scientists elucidate the astounding collective sensory capacity of Earth and its evolution through time.

Published by: The MIT Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I am honored to write the foreword for this book. This invitation indicates that at least at some points the exclusion of humanistic concerns from the sciences is breaking down. Here even a theologian has been invited. I look forward to the day when it will be widely recognized both that theology is too important ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book, which traces back alleys and main pathways from the earliest life forms to cogitating human beings, stems mainly from an international conference held in 2004 at the Rockefeller Foundation’s beautiful Bellagio Center. I believe the subject matter will fascinate those genuinely interested in what is scientifically known ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

We are immensely grateful to those who provided financial support for our Bellagio meeting and for the preparation of this book inspired by it: the Rockefeller Foundation in New York and in Bellagio, and the staff of the Bellagio Study Center, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, ...

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pp. 1-14

Life on Earth is composed of myriad interacting elements, which sense one another and the environment. We humans represent only a tiny part of this colossus. The flying birds, the polarized-light-oriented bees, the bacteria that biomineralize, the gene-trading and fossil-fuel-trading humans, the recycling fungi, ...

Part I: Selves

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1. Valuable Viruses

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pp. 17-22

As the positively spun notions of “going viral and “viral advertising” — spreading something useful or exciting in the media — suggest in the human realm, so we are learning that, in the deeper realm of biology, viruses themselves cause far more than sickness. ...

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2. More Like a Waterfall

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pp. 23-34

As mysterious and complex as life is, essentially it is a sustained growth process that depends on energy flow and matter. Understanding this illuminates how it originated and evolved. Here Day proposes logical, detailed steps for the chemical unfolding of life growing in its energetic milieu. ...

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3. Alarmones

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pp. 35-44

Some of the earliest chemicals to arise in the biochemical growth process described by Day in the preceding chapter appear to be intimately connected with sensitivity to the world outside cells. This chapter details the remarkable conservation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a social hormone related to sensation and action. ...

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4. Early Sensibilities

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pp. 45-52

What do bacteria sense, how do they sense, and how does their sensing affect them as individuals and as communities? Here a microbiologist asks “What is the microbial IQ?” and “How do bacteria use their metabolic gifts to move, to detect light and oxygen, and, in general, to survive?” ...

Part II: Groups

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5. Smart Bacteria

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pp. 55-62

Eons before humans, bacteria inhabited a very different Earth. As the earliest life form, they countered spontaneously increasing entropy. They converted high-entropy inorganic substances into low-entropy organic molecules ( Ben-Jacob et al. 2004 , 2006 ). ...

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6. Ancient Architects

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pp. 63-70

Congratulating ourselves on our upright stance, our big brains, and our language skills, we consider ourselves the most “evolved” species. But bacteria exceed us in chemical (metabolic) abilities and in importance in distributing the chemical elements in the biosphere. ...

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7. Others

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pp. 71-90

Whereas dogma once insisted that natural selection operated only “on the level of the individual,” some current analyses focus on genes, populations, and species as units of selection. Here Lassiter introduces us to the work of Murray Bowen — a psychiatrist who never treated individuals in isolation, ...

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8. Nested Communities

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pp. 91-106

As only one of an estimated 30 million extant species on a planet where more than 99 percent of the species that ever lived are extinct, we shortsighted humans are pathologically preoccupied with the present. Here MacAllister examines two scientific concepts that extend our view of ourselves: ...

Part III: Earth

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9. Cosmic Rhythms of Life

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pp. 109-122

From the origin of life as bacteria to the sexual cycles of plants and fungi, the activities of all organisms occur in the constantly changing temporal environment created by the geophysical and astronomical cycles of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. Life has sensed and responded to this environment ...

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10. Life’s Tectonics

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pp. 123-128

The cycling of living systems may extend to continental drift and the plate tectonics that drive it. Here Lowman and Currier suggest that water-based cycling life extends to the water-based cycling of Earth’s huge lithospheric plates, the raised portions of which we recognize as the continents. ...

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11. Evolutionary Illumination

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pp. 129-150

Ancient life sensed light. Here Warshall traces life’s interaction with light, from the earliest light-seeking bacteria and cells (whose entire bodies behaved as roving eyes) to animals seeking orange-colored vitamin-rich plants. ...

Part IV: Chimeras

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12. Symbiogenesis in Russia

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pp. 153-158

Bacteria, the first individuals, sensed their environments, found sources of energy and matter to maintain and expand their growth, and synchronized with Earth’s great biogeochemical cycles. As they did so, some of them merged to form integrated many-cell communities that became a new kind of cell. ...

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13. From Movement to Sensation

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pp. 159-166

Spirochetes attach with great tenacity to other cells, and may propel them 100 times as fast as they would otherwise go. Some spirochetes still move from the periphery to the inside of their partners. It appears to us that the genomes acquired in spirochete partnerships later evolved for sensing light and chemicals ...

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14. Packaging DNA

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pp. 167-172

Many of the most fascinating and evolutionarily momentous changes in life’s history took place at a level below the resolution of the unaided human eye, and before the evolution of any animal. Here Maniotis traces the transition from the bacterial carrier of DNA, a circle of genes technically known as a genophore, ...

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15. Lemurs and Split Chromosomes

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pp. 173-182

Despite repeated claims, there is very little evidence for gradual transition from one to another species. Here Kolnicki explains one of several proposed methods for rapid evolution: “karyotypic fissioning,” also called “centromere-kinetochore replication theory.” ...

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16. Interspecies Hybrids

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pp. 183-198

Since Darwin, evolution has been presented as a matter of gradual variations accumulating in branching lineages that eventually speciate. Here, however, Williamson and Vickers show that evolution was sometimes radically inventive, producing striking new animal forms in a single generation ...

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17. Origins of the Immune System

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pp. 199-206

Over the eons, animals, plants, and all other multicellular eukaryotes diversified within the context of a bacteria-rich environment. (See plate XII.) Evolutionary selection pressure was exerted by prokaryotic and other microbes on larger organisms, especially animals. ...

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18. Medical Symbiotics

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pp. 207-218

The medical sciences are enhanced by incorporating new knowledge from evolutionary biology. Here Whiteside and Sagan argue that modern medicine should reflect the new understanding of humans as multigenomic beings with an ancient evolutionary history. ...

Part V: Consciousness

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19. Animal Consciousness

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pp. 221-232

Sensation and complex data processing preceded human consciousness by more than 1,000 million years. Here Roth traces how thinking-like processes that began in mute cells continue through to visualizing amphibians to symbol-manipulating humans. ...

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20. Brains and Symbols

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pp. 233-240

The word “chimera” refers not only to mythical beasts that combine various animal parts but also to animals that merge in one body populations of genetically distinct cells. Here Skoyles uses “chimera” in yet another sense — to refer to the blending of symbols with the human brain’s neural apparatus. ...

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21. Thermodynamics and Thought

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pp. 241-250

Do consciousness and matter belong to radically different realms? Here Sagan argues that the sensitivities and responses of consciousness in humans and others emerge from naturally complex energy-driven systems. ...

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22. “I Know Who You Are; I Know Where You Live”

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pp. 251-258

If we can reasonably speculate that consciousness as we experience it in ourselves is at least partially, if not entirely, the emergent result of the aggregate feelings and interactions of post-bacterial cells, it behooves us to turn our attention to the “mental capacities” of groups of animals — behaving, solving problems, ...

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23. Cultural Networks

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pp. 259-266

Working and living together on a crowded planet full of sensation and intelligence are inescapable facts of life. The way forward is a road not only of species divergence but of evolutionary chimerization: coming together to become more than any of us can ever be alone. ...


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pp. 267-280

Appendix A: Major Groups of Living Organisms

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pp. 281-288

Appendix B: The International Geological Time Scale (Time-Rock Divisions)

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pp. 289-290


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pp. 291-308

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About the Authors

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pp. 309-314

Celeste A. Asikainen is the administrator of the Margulis Laboratory and a doctoral student in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her work has been published in the Journal of Paleolimnology and in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ...


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pp. 315-322


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pp. 342-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780262312462
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262015394

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2011