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Researchers: Could an ancient virus account for human consciousness?

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From Rafi Letzter at LiveScience:

According to two papers published in the journal Cell in January, long ago, a virus bound its genetic code to the genome of four-limbed animals. That snippet of code is still very much alive in humans’ brains today, where it does the very viral task of packaging up genetic information and sending it from nerve cells to their neighbors in little capsules that look a whole lot like viruses themselves. And these little packages of information might be critical elements of how nerves communicate and reorganize over time — tasks thought to be necessary for higher-order thinking, the researchers said.

Though it may sound surprising that bits of human genetic code come from viruses, it’s actually more common than you might think: A review published in Cell in 2016 found that between 40 and 80 percent of the human genome arrived from some archaic viral invasion.

That second paragraph is the real story of course: A great deal of evolution is not Darwinian (common descent) but horizontal (sharing genes with unrelated life forms). Now what becomes of the fabled tree of life?

Bizarrely, Arc seems to have made the jump from virus to animal more than once. The researchers found that Arc genes in humans and other four-limbed creatures seem to be closely related to one another. The Arc genes in fruit flies and worms, however, seem to have arrived separately. More.

Interesting how the premise of the article is that this virus can maybe account for consciousness. Not likely but it can certainly see off classical Darwinian theories of evolution (natural selection acting on random mutation, passed on to offspring).

But would anyone have dared make that the premise of the article?

See also: Philosopher: Materialist claims to explain the mind are like claims to have squared the circle

Philosopher exposes neo-Darwinian Daniel Dennett: Claims “so preposterous as to verge on the deranged”

and

The illusion of consciousness sees through itself.

5 Replies to “Researchers: Could an ancient virus account for human consciousness?

  1. 1
    outside_observer says:

    If all four-limbed animals have this “virus,” how come they don’t all seem to exhibit the same degree of “consciousness”

    Before this “virus,” all four-limbed animals were essentially braid-dead? That doesn’t seem to bode well for survival. How would they have lasted long enough to get “infected?”

    How do we even know it came from an external source. Has it ever been observed outside of our brains? What effect might it have on non-neural cells. We don’t know that it would have been benign in the least.

    Just because there it does seem to have virus-like properties, that does not preclude the possibility that it might have been a design element and not the result of random chance in the distant past.

  2. 2
    Querius says:

    The key words are “could have.” After all, almost anything is possible when you have billions of years of evolution! Random horizontal gene transfer *could have* resulted in this happy accident.

    The description reminds me of the old Frankenstein movie where a scientist hooks up a pieced-together cadaver and then arranges for lightning to bring it to life!

    This, of course, *could have* worked. You just need a lot of cadavers and funding.

    -Q

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    Interesting how the premise of the article is that this virus can maybe account for consciousness. Not likely but it can certainly see off classical Darwinian theories of evolution (natural selection acting on random mutation, passed on to offspring).

    How would it do that, then?

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Of semi-related note:

    Darwin vs. Microbes – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntxc4X9Zt-I

  5. 5
    LocalMinimum says:

    Could a viral title account for 72% of this article’s hits?

    I thought that long neuron wrapped around mice brains was the basis of consciousness? Is the coding for this neuron carried by that virus? Or did consciousness evolve separately in mice?

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