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The latest in pop science: The selfish superorganism

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From New York mag:

In a new paper, “Humans As Superorganisms,” Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan of the University of Padua describe a typical human body as a teeming mass of what they call “selfish entities.” Picture a tree warped by fungus, wrapped with vines, dotted at the base with mushrooms and flowers, and marked, midway up, by what the tree thought the whole time was just a knot but turns out to be a parasitic twin. This is the human superorganism — not the tree, not the tangled mess of things doing battle with it, but the whole chunk of forest — and Kramer and Bressan would like to place it at the very center of the way we think about human behavior. They are psychologists, and their paper is a call to arms to their fellow shrinks, exhorting them to take seriously as a possible cause of an enormous buffet of behavioral phenomena — from quotidian quirks, to maddeningly opaque disorders like autism, to schizophrenia — the sheer volume and weird diversity of completely crazy alien shit going on in just about all of our bodies, just about all the time. …

Okay, so, the gut is weird. But what if you lived in the gut? What if you were the gut? Kramer and Bressan want us to stop looking at our stomachs like we’re hosts to some messy guests, or homeowners too disgusted by a particular closet to ever go poking around in it, because, they write, the human superorganism isn’t something to observe from the privileged perch of the self. Instead, they suggest, it envelops the self — the environment in which and against which genes give rise to who you are, an internal environment populated nevertheless by an entire orchestra of aliens, some of them fiddling away in the brain, and each with its own evolutionary interests at stake.

Kramer and Bressan write. “We argue that an incessant struggle among a very large number of ‘selfs’ — some human, some not — determines who we are.” Is it insane to say, at least as a metaphor for mosaic identity, that sounds sort of reasonable? More.

They offer some striking cases and interesting information, but the underlying message that there is no unified self is, of course, nonsense. What it all adds up to is a unified self, the one we consciously experience.

As with so many efforts to undermine the idea of the mind, the self, or what-have-you, one can only say: Another nice try.

Along those lines, check out Malcolm Gladwell and “Blink” here

See also: The human mind is reducible to itself.

Note: Pdf of Kramer and Bressan’s work.

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9 Replies to “The latest in pop science: The selfish superorganism

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    Wait a minute…….

    Are these guys that proved Dawkins wrong also now wrong?

    http://aeon.co/magazine/scienc.....e-to-rest/

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    as to this claim:

    “in which and against which genes give rise to who you are,”

    So according to them, “I” am my genes?

    “I” don’t think so! Something doesn’t sound right at all:

    John Cleese – The Scientists – 2008
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-vnmejwXo

    Mind and Cosmos – Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False – Thomas Nagel
    Excerpt: If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history.
    http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/pro.....9919758.do

    “I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purports to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension.” “…, I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense”.
    Thomas Nagel – “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” – pg.128

    In fact, I have a much better theory than their “‘I” am my genes” theory:

    “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
    George MacDonald – Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood – 1892

    Moreover, the ‘I am a soul’ theory is a theory with a proven track record in the researchers own field of study, i.e. in psychology:

    Christians respond better to psychiatric treatment than atheists: – July 21, 2013
    Excerpt: “Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation. Belief was associated with not only improved psychological well-being, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,” explained Rosmarin.
    The study looked at 159 patients, recruited over a one-year period. Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation, each on a five-point scale. Levels of depression, well being, and self-harm were assessed at the beginning and end of their treatment program.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....are-crazy/

    As well, I have far more evidence for my “I am a soul” theory than they have for their “I am my genes” theory:

    Near-Death Experiences: Putting a Darwinist’s Evidentiary Standards to the Test – Dr. Michael Egnor – October 15, 2012
    Excerpt: Indeed, about 20 percent of NDE’s are corroborated, which means that there are independent ways of checking about the veracity of the experience. The patients knew of things that they could not have known except by extraordinary perception — such as describing details of surgery that they watched while their heart was stopped, etc. Additionally, many NDE’s have a vividness and a sense of intense reality that one does not generally encounter in dreams or hallucinations.,,,
    The most “parsimonious” explanation — the simplest scientific explanation — is that the (Near Death) experience was real. Tens of millions of people have had such experiences. That is tens of millions of more times than we have observed the origin of species , (or the origin of life, or the origin of a protein/gene, or a molecular machine), which is never.,,,
    The materialist reaction, in short, is unscientific and close-minded. NDE’s show fellows like Coyne at their sneering unscientific irrational worst. Somebody finds a crushed fragment of a fossil and it’s earth-shaking evidence. Tens of million of people have life-changing spiritual experiences and it’s all a big yawn.
    Note: Dr. Egnor is professor and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....65301.html

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Dionisio says:

    Andre @1

    Interesting article. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. 5
    Dionisio says:

    bornagain77 @3

    That’s a cool gif indeed. Thank you for sharing it here.

  6. 6
    EvilSnack says:

    I’m reminded of an exchange in one of the Narnia books, in which Eustace meets a retired star, who takes the form of an old man. He states that in our world, stars are giant spheres of hot gas.

    The retiree states that even in our world, that is not what stars are, but only what they are made from.

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    Andre @1

    In the interesting article you referenced, the following paragraph:

    This raises a question: if merely reading a genome differently can change organisms so wildly,

    why bother rewriting the genome to evolve?

    How vital, really, are actual changes in the genetic code?

    Do we always need DNA changes to adapt to new environments?

    Are there other ways to get the job done?

    Is the importance of the gene as the driver of evolution being overplayed?

    Starts from the sentence:

    This raises a question

    However, it asks not one but five (kind of related) questions!

    Also, at least one important question seems omitted, but maybe even more than one:

    Are there separate procedures* associated with the genome reading for the grasshopper and the locus?
    If yes, then (1) what are they? and (2) are they stored somewhere?

    (*) the term ‘procedures’ borrowed from our beloved doctor GP’s OPs and commentaries.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: More cool gifs

    Tracking a jellyfish’s movements with green dye.
    http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/stat.....258-32.gif

    32 Mesmerising GIFs That Will Make You Fall In Love With Science
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/kellyo......lpe82m0Yl

  9. 9
    Dionisio says:

    BA77 @8

    More cool gifs. Thanks!

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