sabato 11 gennaio 2014

LIVING ORGANISMS: Body,Brain, Mind



Post n. 14 (English)


LIVING ORGANISMS: Body, Brain, Mind
(First part)


The modern debate on the problem mind-body begins in the 17th century with Descartes. In the four centuries which followed, many philosophers and famous scientists have given their contribution to the argument, and the debate continues.
In “Polvere vitale” 1995, Christian De Duve writes: «Science and philosophy are such difficult disciplines that it is practically impossible for a person to have a good formation in both of them, except for in a bookish way, as an external observer, which is only a modest substitute of a deep familiarity with the subject».
Let us leave the debate to philosophes and famous scientists.
But then, why an article on this argument?
In general, when the problem of the origin of life is treated, one takes into consideration as a reference point life as it is now, the body from its invisible part that is the molecular level: nucleic acid, proteins, lipids. Looking at living organisms from their visible side that is their behaviour could give us some indication useful to understand their origin.
Before starting it is however necessary to clear a point.
In common language, by the word Mind one intends: memory, direction of the intellectual and practical process, conscience. Such a definition, even if in daily practice it is referred to the mind as a product of the human brain, it remains, however, a definition scientifically open.
With the coming of the neurosciences, the definition of Mind changes and becomes an activity of special cells: the neurons. And in fact in the same essay De Duve adds: «Mind does not exist without brain […]». Now, because the different function of the liver and the brain are due to the different genes contained (activated) in the two organs, the question becomes genetic. So Gay Marcus in “La nascita della mente” 2008, informs us that «It is without doubt possible that 5000 different genes contribute to form human intelligence and that only some hundreds of these vary in such a way as to contribute to the differences between one person and another.[…] the hereditary values tell us only how the differences in these few genes are correlated to the differences in values like those of the IQ». And so, when the gene or genes which determine the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) will be identified, we shall be able, finally, to establish who, between human beings, really possesses a Mind and who not. And as for me, let us hope that I make it!
Armed like this, the definition of Mind has become a Dogma which blocks research and creates, as we shall see, incredible absurdities.
In 2005 Giorgio Vallortigara publishes the result of his researches, included also in the essay “La mente che scodinzola” 2011. He makes it evident that: «If that which is important for living organisms is to survive and reproduce, natural selection must have invented (as in fact it did) a variety of expedients and short cuts to the end of more adequate behaviour in a certain ambience».
In the post n.13 “Darwin, us and the problem of the origin of life”, we have made evident how the instinct of reproduction seems contained inside the same biological structure which gave origin to life.
But for survival, what expedients and what short cuts did natural selection invent for behaviour more adequate in a certain ambience?
Vallortigara synthesises the result of his research and writes: «In these years we have learned much on the Mind of animals not human. Animals seem to be gifted with a basic equipment of cognition for survival, which is then the same possessed by our species, a set of specialized modules which consent  to interact with objects, both physical (inanimate) and social (animals), to place them in space and time, to number them, and to make suppositions on their properties and on their behaviour and in some circumstances, to use them as instruments». Moreover: «The results hence suggest that, over and above human beings, some other animals could have a mental representation of the future».
But only animals present this set of modules specialized for survival? And if they are presented by other living organisms, can we or not call it “basic equipment of cognition”?
In “L’origine delle teorie” (treated in: Quattro saggi sulla scienza 2012, Le Scienze), Enrico Bellone, after having made evident that: «There is no doubt that we more or less well adapt to our domestic places exactly because we know how to number the things which surround us, esteem the surfaces and volumes, reason in such a way that if  a certain thing happens, then a given event can happen». A bit further he affirms: «It is difficult to contradict, now tens of years have passed, that living organisms are capable of communicating between themselves, and that the communicative ability needs forms of intelligence. Thus it happens for example with hens. When a dog is coming dose, a cockerel gives out a specific sequence of sound. The sequence is different if, on the other hand, a hawk comes in view. Other sounds, in conclusion, are propagated when our cockerel finds appetizing food, and again others when the food is less interesting. And the hens which are around assume different behaviour when they listen to those variable acoustic stimuli: They assume it also if the stimuli are propagated not by a watchful cockerel but by a microphone. […] When we explore these situations, we can demonstrate that the cockerel does not act as a machine (or like a passive recipient to the inside of which a stimulus causes a reaction) but as an organism gifted with a program: “when you find good food if a hen is around then give out the calls”». He also recalls the incredible ability of the nutcracker: «Other living organisms must, so as to survive, satisfy needs of orienting environing and create maps. It is of a certain interest, on this question, the relationship between a bird, which is called nutcracker, and the zones in which the nutcracker live. This little bird, as Giorgio Vallortigara explains, nourishes itself mainly of the seeds of conifers. Predicting winter it accumulates an average of 30 000 seeds; not at 

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one time but in groups of five or six. The single groups are deposited in various biding places: about 5500 biding places. With bad weather the nutcracker goes to the biding place and feeds itself».
Until here following Christian De Duve “there is nothing without a brain”.
But Bellone goes further. After having argued on the theory of the human knowledge by Popper he gives his attention also to the plants: «We see them, for example, lose their leaves. Usually we undervalue the fact that the mutations observable in these living organisms precede the real winter. In such a way an important aspect escapes us: plants preview a lowering of temperature and a notable lowering in the intensity of light which they need to live in the best way. The prevision is notable efficient, and functions also because the ambiance variation are periodic: the winters are similar from one year to another, and this induces waiting. To elaborate a prevision it is necessary to dispose of sensorial aspects which measure, for example, the tendency of lowering temperature of the niche. Our plants though they do not have neurons, web feel the becoming of a rigid climate and they behave as though they were evaluating the change perceived in the scheme “if…then”: very refined processes inside the bodies receive external stimuli. They translate them in incorporate languages and predispose the right reactions.
In other occasions, I have already insisted on such arguments. Particularly efficient from a didactic point of view is the exemplary case of a wild potato, Solanum berthaulthii, which often attacked by certain aphides. These are at their turn the prey of other organisms and when the attack progresses, they emit and propagate in the ambiance around them very particular molecules which are perceived by other aphides and interpreted as a signal of alarm which creates a reaction of flight. Well, the potatoes attacked by the aphides, produce and give out the same molecular message, in such a way as to dissuade the attackers by a lie communicated by the subterfuge of the capacity which consists in imitating the language of others.
It would be unforgivable, even in the seat of the theory of knowledge, to lay in undertone this state of things. Vegetables do not have neuron webs, or such a thing of brain. And it would be extravagant to concede to plants a repertoire of mental states or a conscience. In fact vegetables have languages whose basic signs are ions and molecules, thanks to which they transfer informations  both at their own interior and externally, in such a way as to establish relationships with other vegetables».
Decidedly in a new dimension Stefano Mancuso e Alessandra Viola introduce us in “Verde Brillante”2013, The authors, illustrated also the results of research after having made it evident how the plants not only are in possession of our own senses (view, hearing, olfaction, taste and touch) certainly developed according to vegetable nature and not human but they possess at least another 15, arguing: «As we well know, in fact, every plant uninterruptedly registers a great number of ambient parameters (light, humidity, chemical quantities gradient, the presence of other plants or animals, electromagnetic field, gravity etc) and on the basis of these data it is called to take decisions which concern the search for food, competition, defence, relationship with other plants and with animals: an activity difficult to imagine without introducing the concept of intelligence»  The authors also treat carnivorous plants, which Darwin called insectivorous plants, plants of which 

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about six hundred are now known. These make evident the process of evolution which led the plants to nourish also on meat and their sophisticated strategies to capture their prey. And further on, after having made it evident that plants do not have a brain at least as we intend it, and after having asked himself the question if the brain is really the only seat of “production” of intelligence, the authors affirm: «In plants the cerebral functions are not separate from the physical but included in every single cell: a real and proper living example of that which students of Artificial Intelligence call embodied agent, that is an intelligent agent which interacts with the world through its own physical body».
S. Mancuso and A. Viola, after having made it evident that Darwin was also an extraordinary botanic report how he wrote on the subject: «It is not an exaggeration to say that the point of the root, thus gifted with sensitivity and which has the power to direct the movement of the frontier regions, acts like the brain of an inferior animal, the brain being situated in the anterior part of the body, receives impressions from the sensitive organs and directs the different movements».
Hence, plants do not have a brain, at least as we intend it. Yet, just as animals seem to be gifted with a basic equipment of cognition for survival, certainly oriented towards animal nature, one cannot deny that also plants have a cognitive basic equipment for survival, this time oriented towards vegetable nature.
All this enter into collision with the dogmatic vision of the neurosciences. In fact Antonio Damasio in his essay “Il sè viene alla mente” 2012 when he defines the conceptual picture of his hypotheses affirms: «Organisms generate the mind thanks to the activity of special cell –neurons- […] ». And with reference to the success of our remote ancestor he continues: «What opened the path to complex creatures like us? With the scope of our appearance, an important ingredient seems to have been movement something of which plants do not dispose, but with which we and some other animals are gifted. Plants can have tropism: some are able to orientate themselves searching for the sun or avoid shade and some, like the carnivorous, succeed in capturing distracted insects. No plant however can uproot itself and go and seek a better environment somewhere else: the Gardner must do it for it. The tragedy of the plants, which however they ignore, is that their cells, surrounded by a rigid pane, like a corset, will never be able to modify their form in a sufficient way to become neurons. Plants do not have nervous cells. Hence, they will never have a mind».
However, Antonio Damasio, as we have seen in the preceding post, (already quoted), through homeostasis, attributes to the single eukaryotic cell, concepts of desire, will, intentions and ends which we associate to the human mind and argues: «It has in fact been found that living creatures completely without brain, even single cells, present forms of behaviour apparently intelligent and directed to an end: this also is a scarcely appreciated fact».
In truth these opinions on the behaviour of the single cell Konrad Lorenz “L’etologia” 1978, had already expressed them. In the chapter “Mechanisms which elaborate an information momentary” with reference to the amoeboid behaviour (the amoeba is a unicellular organism), writes: «In its natural ambiance, that is in a liquid of culture in which it can live permanently, the amoebae appears to be extraordinarily adaptable in its behaviour, even to the point of intelligence. It avoids damaging effect by a fleeing “of fear”, it comes close to favourable stimuli; englobes and eats “with avidity” an object right. If it were as big as a dog, says Jennings, one of the best experts of protozoa, one would not hesitate to attribute to it a subjective experience».
Hence the amoebas are capable of reasoning, of logical inferences. If they perceive the presence of food, then they direct themselves in the direction of the nutrition; if the ambiance is hostile, then they go away. Unfortunately for it however amoeba is not big like a dog and hence its apparent intelligence is only a mechanical question. This, as Lorenz explains us, is due to the different capacity of the ectoplasm to react selectively to two different categories of stimuli. In the same chapter, Lorenz writes: «It seems that we do not know of a unicellular capable of locomotion but without orientation in space», and that the paramecium inside a “suspended drop” gives phobic reactions. It is not clear how all this can be explained as a reaction caused by a stimulus.
However Jennigs has also carried out an experiment which concerns the Stentor, which Lorenz has not retained to take into consideration.
To quote an author does not mean sharing his ideas, from the essay of Rupert Sheldrake, 

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“Le illusioni della scienza”2013, was extracted the following example: «Every Stentor is a cell with the form of a trumpet, covered with a line of subtle vibrant air, called cilia.[…] These cells are fixed at their base thanks to a “foot” and the inferior part of the cell is surrounded by a tube similar to mucus. If the surface to which it is fixed is lightly shaken, Stentor shrinks rapidly to the inside of the tube. If nothing also happens, after a half a minute, it again extends and the cilia take up their activity again. If the stimulus is repeated, the animal does not shrinks any more, but continues its normal activities: this behaviour is not the result of a fatigue, because the cell reacts shrinking if a new stimulus presents, like being touched (H. S. Jennings). The cellular membranes of Stentor are crossed by an electric charge, like the nervous cells. When they are stimulated, a potential of action dilates itself on the surface of the cell, very much like a nervous impulse and this causes the cell to shrink (C. D. Wood). When Stentor gets used to it, the receptors on the cellular membrane become less sensitive to the mechanical stimulation and the action potential does not go off (C. D. Wood). As the Stentor is formed of a unique cell, its memory cannot be explained in function of changes in the nervous terminations, or synapsis, because it does not have any».
This sort of behaviour is called habituation, that is familiarization to the stimuli and it is present in animals and also in man. If a person goes to live near a railway or near a street with much traffic, at the beginning, he is disturbed but afterwards he gets used to it and does not take any notice. It is a fundamental form of memory because it permits us to adapt to the ambiance.
In other words Stentor has a memory. Stentor remembers.
Hence we find ourselves face to face with unicellular organisms which are able to orient themselves in space, have reasoning, scopes, intentions, will power, desires, memories, behaviour “apparently” intelligent, that is a basic equipment of cognition, concept typical of our mind; unicellular organisms which know how to look after themselves. A cognitive baggage much more simplified than that of plants or animals, but it is what they need for their survival; but Stentor does not have neurons.
And then, from where comes this basic equipment of cognition?
Christian De Duve, in the chapter “Il funionamento della mente” (quoted work) argues as follows: «In the known universe this is not a mystery greater than that of the human mind, with the exception of the universe itself. Born of the brain, from which it depends in a critical way in every instant […], mind is without the least doubt the product of neurons. […] It is mind to generate our thoughts, reasoning, intuitions, reflexions, inventions, design, beliefs, doubts, imaginations, fantasies, desires, intentions, displeasures, frustrations, dreams and nightmares. Mind reminds us of our past and form our plans for the future; It weights, decides and commands». De Duve has forgotten the “will”, very dear to Damasio.
But if the unicellular organisms and plants do not have neuron, then the problem is: in these organisms, where do the concepts typical of our mind come from? And then really, do we have certitude on the mind?
Christian De Duve, after having quoted some scientists and philosophers who work on the problem of mind, continues: «These few quotations should clear the fact that research on the mind is still in the embryonal state. This situation does not depend on the lack of study. In recent years tens of books have appeared on the argument, written by neuroscientists, linguists, specialists in computer and philosophers, not to mention theologises. Unfortunately the theses sustained are almost as many as the authors, also because the ideology has a role more important in human psychology than in other scientific fields».
In other words, no one knows how the brain gives origin to mind. No one knows if only the conscious mind of humans exists and if also conscious minds related to the grade of evolution of an organism in a determined ambiance. No one has demonstrated that a brain is necessary to give origin to a mind. Now, De Duve’s essay is written in 1995 and it does not seem that in the last two decades these problems have been resolved. Certainly we could expect that famous scientists and philosophers could resolve the question, but, if as De Duve writes, ideology has an important role in this research, we risk waiting another four centuries.
In the meanwhile we have a problem and while waiting we would procure, through an escamotage, a simple explanation and, just so as not to irritate anyone, also temporary.
Without wanting to enter in the field of philosophy, of which we have neither the competence nor the desire, we start only with the fact, with the ascertainment that concepts typical of our mind are possessed also by organisms which have no brain. And so the problem is: what generates in unicellular organisms, eukaryotes, reasoning, scopes, intentions, will, desires, memories, behaviour “apparently intelligent and the capacity of orientating itself in space, concepts typical of our mind?
In “La felicità della ricerca”2013, Shimon Edelmann, after having argued on the idea that cognition is calculus, writes: «Among the most synthetic descriptions of the nature of the human mind, the one I prefer is that of Marvin Minsk, mathematician and informatics: “Mind is that which does the brain”. Having given a look at the principals of that which is mind (a bunch of calculations at the service of the prevision) and that which makes the brain (execute those calculations), we can appreciate the word of Minsk, but we can also make present that it gives an interpretation very fascinating: if that which the brain does can be done with other means, then can exist a mind also without the need of brain. To reconcile ourselves with this tremendous affirmation, but true,[…]». And further ahead: «Because the same calculations can be done with different means. The existence of minds not biological is a concrete possibility». Hence, let us see if we understand something: we are disposed to give to our manufactures the capacity of having a mind but we refuse to give a mind not only to unicellular organisms but also to plants. No computer can ever equal the capacities of a Stentor but this last is considered an insignificant microorganism whereas the computer has the status of “electronic brain”. And yet these microorganisms have scopes, intentions, will power, desires, memories, reasoning, behaviour “apparently” intelligent and they know how to orient themselves in space, that is they have a basic cognitive equipment, concepts typical of our mind which no computer has. Caged by dogma and ideology, for microorganisms expressions like schemes of the sort “if…then” are used, or else concepts like: reasoning, languages and apparent intelligent, but we can reduce everything to a mechanism and if it is not found one supposes or keep silent, but we are disposed to accept minds which are not biological.
We do not know if Stentor and plants have a conscience of their own, but we ask ourselves: how can an organism survive if, in this way, it is not conscious of the world that is around it? Stentor and plants have: memory, they direct and resolve intellectual processes, practical processes, and perhaps they also have a conscience.
Stentor and plants are all of this.
And so, let us free ourselves of the cages, and so paraphrasing Shimon Edelmann: if  what the brain does can be done by other means, then the unicellular organisms, the eukaryote, and all the pluricellular organisms which are not gifted with a brain are in possession of a mind. What are these “other means” we do not yet know, but to only one its mind, simple or complex, just enough for its survival.
And so, Stentor and plants have a mind.
Hence, going from the unicellular organisms, the eukaryote, and then to the pluricellular up to the superior organisms ( in the sense of more complex), like plants and animals it seems that those no life without a basic cognitive equipment, without a mind. In the scene of life, mind appears even without the necessity of a brain.
Mind must have been an emergent propriety, in the meaning given to “emergence” by Ernst Mayr in “L’unicità della biologia”2005: «The appearance of unpredicted characteristics in complex systems». «This does not include any implication of a metaphysical type». «Often in complex systems properties appear which are not evident (and they cannot be predicted) not even if we know the single components of these systems».
Hence mind is already present in the unicellular organisms the eukaryote, and in the simpler organisms? And then, when does mind appear in the scene of life?

                                                                                                 Giovanni Occhipinti

Translated by Silvia Occhipinti


LIVING ORGANISMS, BACTERIA: Body, Brain, Mind
(Second Part)
As we have shown in the first part, a basic cognitive equipment, that is the Mind, is present not only in the multicellular organisms, but also in the  unicellular organisms, the eukaryotes. But what can we say about more simple organisms? And then, when does mind appear on the scene of life?
Unicellular organisms like the amoeba, the paramecium, Stentor and all the pluricellular organisms are made up of eukaryotic cell. The unicellular eukaryotes appeared in the earth about 1,8 milliards of years ago and they were the first organisms really independent.
The eukaryotic cell has a very complex structure . Inside it, it contains a nucleus, where can be found the genetic material associated with proteins. The eukaryotic cell also contains some thousand organelles mainly of two different types like peroxisomes and mitochondria and, in the vegetal cell also the chloroplasts. The structure of the cell is maintained by a complex structure of microtubules.
There exist cells much more simple than the eukaryote: the prokaryotes. The prokaryotes do not contain a nucleus and the genetic material is in direct contact with the rest of cell. They do not contain organelles and microtubules and their cell is much smaller and simple than the eukaryotic cell. The diameter of the prokaryote is about 20 times smaller than the eukaryote, and its volume is 10 000 times smaller. To have a more eloquent image, the eukaryotic cell could contain inside it about 10 000 prokaryotes. The prokaryotes appeared on the earth about 3,5 milliards of years ago, and for about 2 milliards they were dominators uncontested  of the planet.
The direct descendent of the primitive prokaryotes are today bacteria and cyanobacteria, and it is thought that their organic mass is at least the double of all other living organisms on our planet. Bacteria and cyanobacteria are the smallest living organisms that we know. Smaller than the bacteria are the virus. For the greater part of biologists virus are not living organisms, but this is another discourse.
Hence there exist living organisms smaller than Stentor: bacteria. But how bacteria live, and what is their behaviour?
Bacteria can be found at the planktonic state, that is as independent cells in a watery ambiance, or in the sessile state, where the cells are attached, the one beside the other, on a solid surface where they give origin to colonies.
We are in august of the long ago 1976, Julius Adler publishes in Le Scienze “La chemiosensibiltà dei batteri”. Adler informs us that already at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was known that bacteria are attracted by nutritive substances and repelled by damaging substances. And with respect to the swimming behaviour of the bacteria, he presented the studies conducted by Berg and Koshland, and by Koshland and others, on Escherichia coli and he writes: «[…]The final result is that the bacteria thickens close to the source of the recall substance, and far from that of the repellent substance.[…] these effects on the movements of the bacteria are determined not only by a spatial gradient (for example a higher concentration of the recall substance on the right part with respect to the left), but also by temporal gradients (for example a higher concentration administered a second afterwards)».
Adler who in 1969 had already discovered the chemosensory of bacteria, studying bacteria in the plankton state (that is as independent cells in a watering ambiance), in conclusion writes: «In the end, if we enter into the field of the bacterial “psychology”, we put in the presence of bacteria a capillary tube containing not only a recall substance, but also a substance which repels. In this way the bacteria could choose if they would enter or not into the capillary. Their “decision” is dependent on the concentrations with respect to the substance of attracting and that of repelling. The mechanism which permits “taking a decision” in a situation of “conflict” like this one is  still unknown, but one can say that bacteria are able, in a way, to integrate  multiple sensorial stimuli. […]. In the same way, bacteria are attracted by heat, but not if the warm solution contains a fairly strong repellent. In these cases, the bacteria must integrate, or elaborate, two sensorial informations: the temperature and the chemical substance.





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The basic elements which render possible the behaviour in a superior organism, are hence present also in a single cell of bacteria.[…]. Obviously there must be important differences; for example, as the bacteria are independent cells, the synaptic action between a cell and another, which is so important in determining the behaviour in the more complex organisms, cannot probably realize itself in them,  at least at cellular level».
We learn in this way that bacteria move between schemes “if…then”, have cognition of space and time, they resolve conflictual situations integrating multiple sensorial stimuli and they elaborate divers sensorial information, that is: bacteria reason. And all this already configures like a basic cognitive equipment.
Adler writes that bacteria are independent cells and synaptic action can cannot be realized between one cell and another. But as we have said,  over the plankton  state, these microorganisms can live at the sessile state, where the cells are attached, the ones beside the others, on a solid surface giving origin to colonies.
What is, in the animal world the social group?
The term was invented by Ernst Mayr. In “L’unicità della biologia”2005 Mayr affirms: «[…] the group which has success behaves like an all-one and is, in its unity, the favourite entity of selection». The earth squirrels, for example, dispose of a system of sentinels which, in the presence of predators, emit signals and warn all the other members of the group of a nearby danger. And so, one is in the presence of a social group when one has: interaction between its components, subdivision of work, cooperation and hence communicative capacity.
What is the behaviour of the bacteria at sessile state?
Between 1970 and 2000 communication in bacteria was discovered and studied. As Richard Losick and Dale Kaiser report in “La comunicazione nei batteri”1997: «[…]it was mainly believed that the single members of a colony were essentially rigid individualists, dedicated to themselves and not very communicative to they similar. Today instead it seems that the greater part of the bacteria, if not all, communicate with their neighbours». But not only this, as the authors inform us, bacteria “converse” also with plants and animals, emitting chemical signals and reacting to them. It is opportune to remember that according to Enrico Bellone (already quoted in the first part): «It is hardly confutable, now for decades, that living organisms are capable of communicating one with another, and that communicative ability require forms of intelligence».


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On the sessile state, from the middle of the ‘90’s, new knowledge was added, which has changed the opinion of many biologists on bacteria.
As J. W. Casterton and Philp S. Stewart expose in “Combattere i Biofilm” Le Scienze 2001, the study of bacteria begins at the end of the 19th century when the theory of the germ of Robert Koch was declared valid. According to the authors the researches, worked out for a century in all the laboratories in the world, were based on presumptions not completely exact,  because bacteria were imagined like separate cells. That is, it was thought that bacteria led a free and independent life, even if inside colonies. And the authors write: «But this image was linked to the way in which researchers usually examine microorganisms: observing on the microscope cells in culture suspended in a little drop of liquid. It is an easy process from an operative point of view, but not on the whole appropriate, because these experimental conditions do not at all correspond to those of the ambiance in which microorganisms are effectively to be found living». In other world around the middle of ’90’s  it was discovered that if bacteria were to be found in a laboratory cultivation, with food at disposition, these could live independently or else they organize themselves in colonies attached to solid surface. In natural ambiance, where their survival is threatened, bacteria organize themselves in micro colonies, held together and protected by very complex and resistant film called “Biofilm”. The bacteria which can be found in cultivation in a laboratory rich in nutrition do not give origin to a “Biofilm”.



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As can be deduced from the article quoted, this research has shown that the biofilm forms the 2/3 of all the material of the micro-colony and it is traversed by micro canals through which the nutrition passes. Inside the biofilm, in the natural ambiances, the cells communicate, organize all the strategies for their survival and reproduction producing hundreds of proteins which are not found in the cells cultivated in laboratory. It has also been discovered that some bacteria escape from the colonies, staying free for a brief time (planktonic form). These however, through the emission of signal molecules, reunite in another place. When enough cells are united and the molecular signals attain a certain concentration, changes in the activity of some genes have origin and the production of the biofilm starts. This mechanism is called “individuation of quorum” or “quorum sensing”
After another five years of research, the mechanism of communication of the bacteria were so complex that a new article on Le Scienze 2005, by Cristina Valsecchi has an emblematic title, “La vita sociale dei batteri”. In this article it is shown how according to the species and the ambiance conditions, the “quorum sensing” regulates the much different functions of the bacteria: the exchange of genetic material, the mobility of the cells, the synthesis of the biofilm the production of toxic substances, the communication and the cooperation not only between cells of the same specie but also between bacteria of different species. Cristina Valsecchi reports what one of the greatest experts of biofilm in the world affirms, Roberto Kolter: «[…] in laboratory, cultivated in a test-tube in a favourable ambiance, rich in nourishing substances, the bacteria behave like isolated and independent cells, they do not have any reason to interact. It is in difficult conditions that microorganisms aggregate and make a common front to ensure their own survival and their reproduction. […] The greater part of the pathogenic agents of man form biofilm in the organism of the hosts infected […]». Moreover, adds the author: «In the biofilm, unicellular microorganisms undergo transformations which bring them to specialize themselves. The colony assumes the characteristics of a multi-cellular organism». And Kolter adds: «The specialisation has an important role also in the development of resistance to pharmacies: the bacteria which form the upper stratus in a biofilm are the first to be joined by the pharmacies. With right chemical messengers warn the under strata of microorganisms which have time to activate molecular defence on the membranes of the cells to overcome the attack».
Around 2006 various technologies were created to cultivate biofilm in laboratory. As we are informed by Joe J. Harrison and Raymond J, Turner in “Biofilm” Le Scienze 2006: «One of this uses a rotating disc placed in the culture broth in which has been injected a bacteria colony. The force given by the pressure of the fluid provoked by the rotation stimulates the formation of a biofilm on disc». So, also in laboratory cultivation, as soon as the ambiance becomes hostile, the bacteria give origin to a protective screen, the biofilm.
Harrison and Turner admit however that: «To say the truth, not everyone agrees on the fact that the biofilm are the main organisation that bacteria assume in nature. The greatest part of the methods in laboratory now used analyse microorganisms cultivated in a plankton form».
And important results have been obtained also by studying bacteria, in laboratory, in the sessile state.
Hanna Kuchment in “Il batterio piu’ intelligente”, Le Scienze 2011, reports what Eshel Ben-Jacob affirms on a study of colonies of Paenibacillus vortex made to grow in a capsule of Petri: «When they act together, these microscopic organisms can perceive the ambiance, elaborate information, resolve problems and decide in a way of prospering in difficult ambiance».
And Hanna Engelberg-Kulka and colleagues in “PLoS Biology” (from Le Scienze on line) have discovered that bacteria have two systems of programmed death (Apoptosis). One of these systems depends on the cellular density and it primes in case of alimentary crisis. Such a mechanism determines the death of a sufficient number of bacteria to guarantee to the survivors the necessary primary material.
Well, the research carried out in the last ten years on bacteria now widely use terms like: communication, cooperation, languages, social behaviour, intelligence, information, altruism; it seems that one is reading articles on “psicologia contemporanea”. To all this it is necessary to add that the bacteria move according to schemes if…then and they have in their way knowledge of space and time, they resolve conflictual situations and elaborate different sensorial information.
To be precise, in the planktonic state the bacteria have a basic cognitive equipment. In the sessile state more than presenting a basic cognitive equipment, the bacteria have a behaviour like the behaviour of social groups which can be met with between animals.
But bacteria do not have a brain!
As we have already said before, not wanting to enter into a field of philosophy of which we do not have either the competence or the desire, we are concerned only with facts, with the ascertainment that concepts typical of our mind are possessed also by organisms which do not have a brain.
So the question is, what generates in the prokaryotes: reasoning, communication, languages, intelligence, information, altruism, and social behaviour, concept typical of our mind?
In the first part we have already shown, as Shimon Edelmann, after having evidenced that mind is a bunch of calculus, at the service of prediction and that the brain makes those calculus, concludes: «if that which the brain does can be done with other means, then a mind can exist also without the need of brain».
And then, still paraphrasing Shimon Edelmann: if that which the brain does can be done with other means, then the bacteria, even if they do not have a brain, are gifted with a mind.
What these “other means” are, we do not yet know, but the prokaryotes are in possession of a mind, just as much as is necessary for their survival.
And then, starting with the bacteria and going on with the unicellular eukaryotes organisms up to the complex organisms like plants and animals, it seems that there is not life without a basic cognitive equipment, there is no survival without a mind, and to everyone its mind.
To conclude, all living organisms have a mind and in the scene of life, the mind appears without the necessity of brain.
Mind must have been an emergent propriety, in the meaning given to “emergence” by Ernst Mayr in “L’unicità della biologia”2005: «The appearance of unpredicted characteristics in complex systems». «This does not include any implication as a metaphysical type». «Often in complex systems properties appear which are not evident (and they cannot be predicted) not even if we know the single components of these systems».
But when mind appears in the story of life, what are the “other means” which give origin and why does mind appear?

                                                                                                 Giovanni Occhipinti
Translated by Silvia Occhipinti

LIVING ORGANISMS
Third Part
When does Mind appears in the history of life?

But on the scene of life, when does mind appear and what are those “other means” which give origin to Mind?
With reference to the capacity of forming Biofilm C. and S. in “Combattere i Biofilm” Le Scienze 2001, after having made it clear that only around half of the nineties the strategy of survival of the bacteria in natural ambiance was understood, they write (the underlining is mine): «Looking backward, it is very surprising the fact that it took so much time to decide and consider the way in which the bacteria effectively live. After all the bacteria biofilm are to be found everywhere: the dental plate, the muddy film on a rock moistened by a creek and the mucilage which appear in a vase of flowers after two or three days, these are some examples particularly familiar». And they affirm: «In fact, the genetic difference of the microorganisms capable of forming similar structures and the enormous variety of ambience which can be invaded by these microorganisms make us think that this capacity must be a very antique strategy for the proliferation of microorganisms»
But how old?
Strong indications, in this direction, we can have them from the study of antique fossils.
As we have already seen in preceding articles, the experiments of prebiotic chemistry like Miller’s have made certain that going from simple molecules (like methane, ammonia, water, hydrogen, oxides of carbon etc.) and with the application of energy, a greet number of organic substances were formed. It is with these organic substances, through a process which we have not yet well understood, that the first living organisms have had their origin. Since the ambiance was rich in organic substances, one can think that the first forms of life were heterotroph that is microorganisms that nourished themselves on substances that could be found in the ambiance around them. One can also think that these organisms very rapidly gave origin to autotroph organisms that is organisms like the cyanobacteria, which synthesize themselves the substances of nutrition. If this were not so, when the alimentary stores were exhausted, they would be extinct and with them life itself. How rapid was this apparition, it is not given to us to know, perhaps a thousand years or a million, but certainly the cyanobacteria, if not really the first are very antique organisms and it is thanks to them  that life has been able to prosper.
In a place in Australia called North Pole, which is part of the Pilbara Block were found, in 1976,
 Wikipedia (by Ruth Allison)
stratified structure formed of small granules of limestone and silicates. Such structures called Stromatolites, were dated and they come from about 3, 5 milliards of years ago.
Modern stromatolites can be found at Shark Bay in Australia. In the upper part of these stratified structures live communities of microorganism, which secrete mucilage. In particular, the upper stratus is occupied by cyanobacteria that is autotroph, which procure their food by photosynthesis. The stratus immediately underneath is occupied by sulphobacteria, these also autotroph. Finally, the last stratus is occupied by heterotroph anaerobic bacteria, that is bacteria which can live only in the absence of oxygen and feed on substances produced by the autotroph.  It is believed that the antique Stromatolites, which go back to 3,5 milliards of years ago, were formed from sediments and from the activity of bacterial colonies like the modern ones. In the zone of North Pole, in a rocky unity known as the Apex flint and dated 3,47 milliards of years ago, in 1986 J. William Schopf has discovered the most antique fossils known until today and called “Apex fossils”. Schopf has published the result of his research in 1993, he has taken and commented his discovery, with a more amole vision, in an essay, “La culla della vita” 2003. In this essay he writes: «The fossil cells, analysed on the microscope at a high resolution in thin petrographic 


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sections or in thin residues resistant to acids, often show characteristics of dimension, form, cell structures and aspect of the colony practically the same as those of microorganisms actually alive». And «Unlike the filaments of the Proterozoic, these “float” variously placed like raisins in a slice of fruit-cake, in thick masses filiform of that which originally was a mucilage gelatinous. Many prokaryotes and almost all the cyanobacteria secrete mucilage from their cells, but the Apex community is the only one known in which microorganisms lived included in such voluminous masses. Since it is the only microbic community known in rocks so antique, it is impossible to say if the secretion of abundant mucilage was typical». With reference to the ambiental scene, he writes: «Because the distance Earth-Moon was less, the Earth rotated more rapidly, the days were shorter, the tides more strong and the storm also. The heavens were of a foggy steel grey, obscured by sand storms, volcanic clouds and subtle rests of rocks lifted by the bombardment of meteors. […] Because of the almost total absence of free oxygen, the atmospheric ozone (O3), capable of absorbing the ultraviolet rays, was still scarce, and the surface of the Earth was immersed in an ultraviolet light, mortal to the first form of life. The organisms yet had to learn to face this hostile ambiance […] » This mucilage according to Schopf: « […] has had a part in helping the first microorganisms in evolution to face an ambiance hard and inhospitable».
Hence, 3,5 milliards of years ago the first organisms produced mucilage, that is Biofilm. But the production of Biofilm is active by the “Quorum sensing” which, as we have seen in the second part of the article, regulates the most different functions of the bacteria: the exchange of genetic material, the mobility of the cells, the synthesis of biofilm, the production of toxic substances, communication and cooperation not only between the same species but also between bacteria of different species.
Hence the microorganism, already 3,5 milliards of years ago, lived like bacteria live today, and in fact Schopf, with respect to the evolution of bacteria, adds: «In simple words we believe that the cyanobacteria have maintained the status quo, with very little modifications from when they irrupted on the scene milliards of years ago». And he called this type of evolution ipobraditely.
Hence, he takes up again the opinion already expressed by the famous palaeontologist Elso S. Barghoorn who, in an article of 1971 “I fossili più antichi” Le Scienze, affirmed: «All the organisms whose genetic material is dispersed inside the cell and whose reproduction is not conditioned by the recombination of the genes of the progenitors are genetic conservative. In organisms of this type the rare mutations, instead of being transmitted, when they are useful, are eliminated in a few generations».
William Schopf moreover in chapter 8 with regard to the fossil documentation of the Precambrian, after having shown that these fossils are mainly of a spherical form or with filaments ribbon-like, adds: «The spherical fossils can be found alone, in couples or in colonies made up of some unity, of hundreds or also thousands of cells, and they are often surrounded by one or more strata of a subtle membrane, a residues of capsules of mucilage of revetment».
So the precursors of bacteria already 3,5 milliards of years ago lived like today bacteria live: in the planktonic state, that is like free cells in a water surrounding; in the sessile state, that is one beside the other forming colonies. And for what regards the ribbon-like filament, after having made it clear that the bacteria are wrapped in a sheathing mucilaginous tubular of wrapping and that often is conserved only the sheathing with a spaghetti form he writes: «[…] One observes that all fossils or almost can re-enter in modern types, and even 40% is not distinguishable from precise living cyanobacteria. All the form of the colonies known in the modern groups are present in the fossils and the tubular fossil sheathing are identical as to form, dimension and structure up to the respective living species».
As we have said, modern stromatolites can be found at the Shark Bay in Australia. It is believed that also the antique stromatolites were formed from sediments and from the activity of bacteria colonies like the modern ones.
Schopf illustrates the formation of the stromatolites: «If however the conditions change, if for example the spring rain floods the surface of increase covering it with mud, the cyanobacteria react. The most important imperative for all living beings is to stay in life and to succeed. The cyanobacteria need solar light. For this reason, if a layer of mud blocks the solar rays, the filament types get rid of their revetment mucilaginous and slide towards the upper part through the sediments to find once again a surface exposed to the sun, which afterwards they rapidly colonize.


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The photosynthetic bacteria of the under felt which are also in need of solar light, follow the example freeing of their turn a space, immediately occupied by the anaerobic which come up from below to feed on whatever organic material is abandoned».

Hence, the imperative for all living beings is to stay in life and to succeed in this they move between schemes: if…then.
To conclude the fossil documentation gives us strong indications that for 3,5 milliards of years the life of the bacteria remained almost unchanged. Already at the dawn of life, these, according to the ambiental conditions, lived either in the planktonic state or in the sessile state, The mucilage today called Biofilm, was already present 3,5 milliards of years ago. And if the Biofilm was already present in such organisms, then was already active the “Quorum Sensing”.
One can hence presume that the prokaryotes were, already at their origin, in possession of: reasoning, communication, languages, social behaviour, intelligence, information, altruism, that is to be clear of a mind.
As we have shown in the precedent article, it is to be held that the organic mass of bacteria and cyanobacteria is, today, double the mass of all the other living organisms in our planet.
And it is hence to presume that only the possession of the characteristics mentioned above, only the possession of a mind, has enabled the primitive cells, which appeared 3,5 milliards of years ago, to dominate the world for the first 2 milliards of years and to be still today protagonists of life in our planet.
And if life, as we believe, had its beginning with the prokaryotes, then: when the life appeared so did the mind.
The Mind appears before the appearance of the brain.
The mind must have been an emerging property in the sense given to emergence by Ernst Mayr In “L’unicità della biologia” 2005: «The appearance of unpredicted characteristics in complex systems». «The emergence does not imply any idea of a metaphysical sort». «Often in complex organisms properties appear which are not evident (and they cannot be predicted) not even if we know the single components of these systems».
But what are these “other means” which give origin to the mind, and why did the mind appear?

                                                                                          Giovanni Occhipinti

Translated by Silvia Occhipinti  


LIVING ORGANISMS, BACTERIA: Body, Brain, Mind
(Part four)

The problem mind-body, which began with Descartes, manifests now for centuries and has animated many numbers of debates. In the first article of this series we have shown how the argument has been taken up again also by Christian de Duve in “Polvere vitale”, 1995. De Duve, after having quoted some scientists and philosophers who are occupied with the problem of the mind, affirms: «These few quotations should make it clear that research on the mind are still in an embryonal state. This situation does not depend on the lack of study. In recent years, tens of books have appeared treating the argument, writings of neuro-scientists, linguists, computer specialists and philosophers, without counting theologists. Unfortunately the thesis sustained are almost as numerous as the authors, also because ideology has a more important role in human psychology than in other scientific fields».
In the ´70s, as affirmed by the psychologist Richard Gregory “La mente nella scienza” 1985. R. Mark proposed a chemical theory that made the hypothesis of the existence of “molecules of memory”. But as writes Nicolas Humphrey, a scientific psychologist, as he himself defines, in “Polvere d’anima” 2013: «The psychologist Walter Mischel has ironically observed: “Psychologists treat other people`s theories as tooth brushes. No-one with a minimum of dignity would use that of another”. And the philosophers tend to be even more parsimonious».
In the article “Living Organisms: body, brain, mind”, we started off with the definition of what one intends by Mind, that is: memory, direction of intellectual and practical ones, conscience. These concepts, which define Mind, we have seen them, certainly in a simple way, not only in the pluricellular organisms but also in unicellular organisms. The examples, which have been reported, are only some of the hundreds of publications, which show how typical concepts of our mind are in possession of all living organisms.
But in the unicellular organisms, from where does the mind emerge and when, that is, in what circumstances?
All composed substances can be divided in organic and inorganic compounds. The organic compounds are about 1,5 Million; they all contain at least one atom of carbon and are derived from living organisms or from artificial synthesis.
The inorganic compounds are about 150000. Even if they include the carbonate rocks, these compounds are constituted essentially of all the other natural elements, with the exclusion of carbon. Of all the inorganic compounds known, only about thousand, the minerals can be found in nature as constituents of the Earth’s surface.  The minerals are to be found essentially in the crystalline state, where the particles (atoms, molecules or atomic groups) have a spatial disposition perfectly regular and rigorously geometrical. The crystals can give origin to splendid and complex geometric structures or aggregates where the most various colours shine.
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Various popular beliefs have attributed magic virtues to crystals and some scholars have attributed even souls to stones. But until the times of Stenone around about 1650 and afterwards by Renato Haüy, scientists who began the study of crystals, no researcher of crystallography, mineralogy and geology, has ever discovered in crystals magic virtues, souls or concepts typical of our mind.
Inorganic matter is inanimate.
As living organisms are made up essentially of organic substances, life and mind are properties, which emerge only from organic matter.
As living organisms are made up essentially of organic substances, life and mind are properties, which emerge only from organic matter.
In the preceding article we have seen how an equipment of basic knowledge, that is mind, is in possession of all living organisms, included the bacteria, which are the smallest living organisms. However, there exist organisms smaller than bacteria: virus.
The virus are made up of a proteic involucre called capsid. Inside this involucre is contained a molecule of nucleic acid, their genetic patrimony. As they do not have a cellular apparatus, they cannot reproduce and hence they are not considered living organisms. But do virus present concepts typical of mind? Can we affirm that virus present a basic knowledge equipment?
Dorothy Crawford microbiologist, one of the most important experts of virus, in an essay, “Il nemico invisibile, storia naturale dei virus”, 2002, writes: «Intelligent, clever, ingenious; these are only a few of the adjectives usually used for virus, and apparently they describe them well. […] Moreover, they seem capable of planning a strategy of attack and survival, but this would mean giving for certain that they are able to think. And yet virus are without a brain, and so they are unable to control their destiny. How can an organism so small and simple be so “intelligent”? » But Dorothy Crawford, after having briefly examined the bacteria, further on adds: «Contrary to bacteria the virus can do nothing by themselves. They are not cell but particles, and they do not have a source of energy nor any of the cellular apparatus necessary to produce proteins. Each of them is made up simply of genetic material surrounded by a protective proteic shell, called capsid. […] But to succeed in using it, they must penetrate in a living cell and assume its control». […] In this way the virus invade living beings, they take possession of cells, and transform them in fabrics for the production of virus». Moreover, as Crawford inform us again, outside the host cell, the virus cannot survive long because they not dispose of the metabolic processes of cell.
Hence, it is not enough for virus to be in possession of nucleic acid. These present concepts typical of our mind only when they take possession of a cell. This means that the basic knowledge equipment has its seat in the cell. However, it also means that the mind does not emerge directly from the genetic patrimony.
But then, in the cell, from where does the mind emerge?
Before giving an answer to this question, we must clear up another question. The mind in our species emerges from the brain, which is made up of nervous cells or neurons. But concepts typical of our mind we have found them also in bacteria.
And then, how different are the neurons from the other cells and in particular from the unicellular?
The neurons are made up of a cellular body from which goes out a prolongation called axon, through which they transmit signals to the other cells. From the cellular body take leave also the prolongation called dendrites, through which the neurons receive signals from the other nervous cells. The brain of monkeys, of hens, is also made up of neurons and neurons can be found in worms.
Neurons seem, at first sight different from all the other cells. But how much different?
With reference to the data of comparative anatomy, Aurelio Bairati, in “Compendio di anatomia umana”, 1975, faces the problem of the delimitation and recognition of the most simple nervous 
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elements in the lowest phyla. In particular, he asks himself if one should consider as nervous elements the cells muscle epithelium of the low metazoan capable of gathering stimuli at the body’s surface and manifesting phenomena of contraction; or else consider as more primitive nervous the elements epithelial modified, of revetment, capable of gathering ambiental variations linked with contractile elements, that is the cells receptive peripheral. And he adds: «Unfortunately studies at this level are spoiled by the fact of often not wanting to take account that all the cellular elements, even on a small base, are capable of manifesting phenomenon classifiable as nervous: we must in fact remember that one of the properties of living matter and of the cellular state is irritability, that is the capacity to respond immediately to stimuli, […] ».
Alessandro Minelli in “Forme del divenire. Evo Devo: la biologia evoluzionistica dello sviluppo”, 2007, writes: «The cases in which our classifications go in crisis are not rare, and to come out without being too subtle we content ourselves with creating new hybrid classes, as in the case of the mioepithelial  cells (a bit muscular fibres, a bit revetment cells) or of those neuro epithelial (a bit revetment cell. A bit neuron) which we find in the body of the hydra and the other cnidarians». And after having made it clear that evolution does not imply only the organs apparats, he adds: «Moreover many significant turns in the story of evolution really depended on changes in the properties and in the functions of the single cell: for example in their capacity of remaining sticking the ones against the others – a fundamental property in passing from the condition unicellular to the pluricellular – or its getting longer in answer to definite stimuli, as can be observed both in the hyphae of mushrooms as in neurons of animals and in the vegetative tops of green plants». Christian de Duve in “Polvere vitale, 1998 in the chapter dedicated to the brain with reference to the neurons writes: «Subtle extroflessions with filaments form the parts receiving and transmitting […] The neurite or axon […] and the dendrites […] The emission of extroflessions is a general property of the eukaryote cell. Such processes, or pseudopods (in Greek), which carry out functions in the perception, in the capture of nourishment or in the locomotion, usually have an ephemeral existence and are retired immediately after having been emitted. In these reversible phenomena, they play an important role mounting and dismounting of microtubules. We can affirm that a neuron had its origin for the first time when such extroflessions became stable – when the evanescent micro tubules transformed themselves in micro tubules stable – and they polarized themselves in receptionist and transmitters unidirectional».
Also Gary Marcus is concerned on the difference between normal cells and neurons. In “La nascita della mente”, 2008 he writes: «Even if the external aspect and its special aptitude in calculation and in communication at a long distance make them seem different from the greater part of the other cells, underneath it all what they do is the same as what the other cells do. Their cellular body (called soma) contains the variety of particles (called organelles) as a cell of the skin or the liver: mitochondria to produce energy, establishments for the synthesis of proteins called “endoplasmic reticulum”, membranes to keep invaders out and nuclei to contain the DNA. A neuron whatever, in fact, begins its life as an epithelial cell and, if it were not for a few chemical indications, could just as well finish on the outside just like a cell of the skin. Many of the most spectacular specializations of the neuron are only variations on normal cellular themes. For example, the neuron has more mitochondria than usual in such a way as to satisfy the high request of energy. Also the long subtle axons are not something completely new: the proteins of the cytoskeleton fibrous on which the structure of the axons and the microtubules bases itself, like conducts which they use to transport material, they can both be found practically in every cell. The neurons, cells characteristic of the brain, are special, but not more so than the other almost 210 types of cell of the human body». Marcus, after having made it clear that in the animal world the genes over and above the development of the brain influence the development of the mind, he writes. «Many genes and proteins which take part in the construction of the brain have stories which go back to a time very much before that in which the branch of the primates bifurcated from that of the other mammals; of some of them one can even follow the traces backwards to the bacteria».
Definitely, from the point of view biochemical and physiological, all the cells, including the unicellular, manifest nervous phenomena and the capacity of communicating and elaborating information. About 600 millions of years ago, during the cellular division, we do not know why, the cells, instead of separating, stayed together giving origin to the pluricellular organisms. At this point, it was necessary to coordinate the nervous manifestations, those of communication and elaboration of the information of the single cell. At the beginning cells had origin, as can be observed also today in the lowest phyla, where the neuron function was superposed, in the same cell, on other functions, like covering. During the evolution process of the pluricellular organisms, some cells, the neurons, evolved growing and coordinating the nervous functions, and liberating at the same time all the other cells of this task. Hence, the basic elements which characterize the neurons are, at an elementary level, already present in all the cellular elements. Then the mind, which characterizes the neurons and our brain, comes in reality from a long evolution process of a bases cognitive equipment already in the possession of all living organisms.
The question remains: in the cell from microorganisms, from where does the mind emerge?

Homeostasis or regularizing circuit
Konrad Lorenz in “Etologia” 1980, first of all makes a distinction between disquisition of information of the genome and learning. He dwells on a third category of processes which serve to acquire information but do not absorb it: «The simplest form of acquiring information momentarily is the regularizing circuit or homeostasis. Such a mechanism permits for the living beings to find once more and to maintain their equilibrium after a disturbance. If an animal who lacks oxygen breaths more rapidly or in the presence of excessive food, stops eating for the while, this means, not only that the organism is informed on its need of certain substances, but also on the “situation of the market” which exists in its environment with reference to this substance. The structure of the regularizing circuit in the genome renders it possible to maintain in the organism a determined “normal value”. The regularizing circuit or homeostasis in the field of the living is practically omnipresent and it is unimaginable a life without this function. One could think that it appeared at the same time as life, unless the first vital processes did not appear in an ambiance of a such highly elevated constant (not imaginable) rendering superfluous to keep count the momentary information». But the ambiance as it is described by Shopf in “La culla della vita”2003, 3, 5 milliard of years ago, when life had its origin, was not all constant, it was an infernal ambience. Hence, the homeostasis appeared at the same time as life.
On homeostasis works also Freeman J. Dyson in “Origini della vita” 2002,where he writes: «The essential characteristic of living beings is homeostasis, that is the capacity of maintaining a uniform chemical equilibrium and more or less constant in a changing ambiance. The homeostasis is this complex of chemical controls and of cycles of retroaction which enables every molecular species, inside the cell, to be produced in the right proportion: not too much and not too little. Without homeostasis there could not be neither an ordered metabolism nor an equilibrium almost stationary, nothing which could deserve the name of life».
The neuro scientist Antonio Damasio in “Il sè viene alla mente” 2012, defines the homeostasis, present in all living organisms, like all the operations of management to procure the sources of energy, incorporate them, transform them and eliminate the residues: «It aims at maintaining the chemical parameters of the organism (the internal milieu) between that magic interval compatible with the life of cell itself».
And Christian de Duve, with reference to the cellular body of the neuron (essay quoted), writes: «The body of the cell occupies itself with all the functions necessary to the life of the cell itself: it is the unity chosen at the same time to furnish energy and to occupy itself of the maintenance and of the reparations».
The brain, seat of the mind, is an interface where is elaborated information which comes from the inside of the body and from the external environment.
As exposed above, the homeostasis remain on the other hand a question internal to the cell, in the sense that the metabolism controls and maintains the right parameters, and the genome repairs the damage of the metabolism. It does not have any direct interaction with the external ambiance, it does not elaborate information.
The homeostasis or regularizing circuit cannot be the place where the mind emerges.
Hence the mind, as we have seen analysing the behaviour of the virus, does not emerge from nucleic acid, that is from genetic patrimony, but neither from the homeostasis.
But what structure in the cell is, like the brain, the interface between the interior and the external ambiance?
The cellular membrane.
The cellular membrane or plasmatic membrane is made up of a skeleton of phospholipid. It draws the limit which confines the cell and separates the inside of the cell, the cytoplasm, from the external environment. Anchored to the cellular membrane, one finds enzymatic protein and hence it also carries out a catalytic function. Moreover, engrained in the membrane one can find proteinic biosensor and proteinic ducts through which the cell controls that which must enter and that which must go out. Proteins constitute 50-75% of the substances present in the membrane. As exposed by Romano Viviani in “Elementi di biochimica” 1984, (Significato biochimico dei fosfolipidi, pag. 239); the phospholipid accomplish important functions which concern the activity of the enzymatic proteins and of transport present in the membranes. In particular: «[…]it has been demonstrated a specific role of the phospholipid with allosteric effects, transporters of reagent and activators of the substrata».
So, all the components of the cellular membrane are in continuous and active cooperation and coordinate their activities.
Moreover, as Pietro Amodeo informs us in “Anatomia comparata ed evoluzione della cellula” Le Scienze Quaderni n.7, 1983 with reference to the bacteria cell:
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«The plasmatic membrane carries out different and essential functions: it regulates the flux of nutrition and hence the growth and cellular reproduction; it regulates the flux of ions and hence the excitability; it supports many enzymes and enzymatic apparatus and it is hence the principal seat of metabolism; it is the seat of flux of protons for the refurnishing of the energy, and in the end it furnishes the places of anchorage for the chromosome, for a part of ribosomes and for the flagella, if these little organelles are present. This list is enough to convince that the plasmatic membrane is the dynamic centre of the cellular life»
Even if in the unicellular eukaryotes (cells that have a nucleus) some of these functions are transferred in the interior of the cell, the plasmatic membrane remains however, the dynamic centre of the cellular life, where the proteins have a determinate role.
 The study of the functioning of the proteins begins with the theory of the key and lock elaborated by Emil Fisher for enzymes. At that time, it was thought that the enzymes had a rigid structure. Later studies have made it evident that enzymes present a certain modulation, they are flexible in the sense that their structure remodulates adapting to the substratum to be catalysed. Moreover, allosteric molecules can modify the structure of the enzyme, that is molecules which tie to specific sites of the enzyme which assumes a new conformation.
The modulation is not a characteristic only of enzymatic protein but it concerns all the globular proteins and hence also the proteic biosensors and proteic ducts contained in the cellular membrane.
Russell F. Doolittle in “Le proteine” Le Scienze 1985, informs us: «A typical globular protein contains about 350 amino acids which could fold in innumerable ways, […] In a certain sense it is extraordinary that a random protein constantly assumes a single conformation well defined; the folded condition has in fact a free energy inferior to whatever alternative configuration, but the difference is small».
But how many are these conformations innumerable?
Rupert Sheldrake in “Le illusioni della scienza” 2013, quotes Christian Anfinsen, Nobel Prize for the refolding of the proteins: « […] if the single residues of a polypeptidic chain could have only two states, an estimation roughly by defect, conformations generated in a casual way would be 1045 for a chain of 150 residue amino acids (even if, obviously, the greater part would be impossible from a steric point of view) ».
Even if the greater part of the conformations are impossible, in a single protein, however an enormous number of conformations at low energy would remain, perhaps milliards, where the difference of energy, between the various conformations, is small. A slight change in the surrounding ambience is enough to make a protein pass from one conformation to another.
Around the ´80s, it was made clear how some enzymes are, in reality, a grouping of several enzymes. A modification induced in the structure of one of the enzymes leads to changes also in the enzymes associated in a sort of enzymatic “cooperation”.
Nigel Unwin and Richard Henderson in “La struttura delle proteine delle membrane biologiche” Le Scienze 1984, after having made it clear that the biological membrane are not simple container, but they behave as mediators highly specific between the cell and the surrounding ambience, they write: «Groups of helical and pleated sheet structures probably fuse in compact globular molecules, which vary as dimensions form and number of polypeptidic chain. Many of these molecules can associate on the level of the membrane, creating composite structures. Such a composite structures could be compared to certain hydro soluble enzymes, which consist in many sub unities, these last go through small restructuration “cooperative” in answer to stimuli of a specific nature».
Hence, the memory of specific stimuli is conserved in the conformation of the protein of membrane.
Daniel E. Koshland Jr, in “Conformazione delle proteine e controllo biologico” Le Scienze Quaderni n.44, 1988, with reference to the flexibility of proteins, writes: «The sensorial receptors which make us able to see, to hear, to taste, to smell, are proteins. The antibodies, which immunize us, are proteins. Recent experiments have demonstrated that it is the capacity of these proteins of changing form by the effect of external influence to furnish the mechanism of control so essential for the living systems». That is an odour changes the conformation of a protein, when the same odour presents itself the protein recognizes it again.
But then the proteins conserved in their conformations, the memory of the sensorial stimuli.
And Koshland with reference to the entity of the modifications of conformation and of the propagation, writes: «It hence seems that the modification of the conformations induced in the proteins are not propagated like concentric rings provoked by the fall of a stone in a pool. It is more like something similar to a cobweb whose threads are predisposed in such a way as to transmit a shirt precisely from one extremity to the opposite extremity of the web. The hit can be transmitted at a great distance and can change the position of many threads, but an accurate design can guarantee that some webs remain unmoved, whereas others move in an appreciable measure. The protein like the spider web is predisposed to transmit information in a selective way to some regions while leaving others unchanged». And again: «These modifications of form […] are rather like the delicate reactions of a cobweb fabricated with an equilibrium exquisite. The subtle web, which we call protein, can be changed in its form by minute hits, and it is through the repercussions of these blows that the functions can be put into motion or blocked».
Essentially, the information is transmitted in a selective way and are conserved by changing only some regions. The difference of energy between the new conformation and the preceding one is little. But how we have seen before, the number of conformations at low energy is enormous. This means that the proteins can archive, in their conformations, a great number of information.
And Koshland continues: «Moreover, it has been suggested recently that a slow change of conformations is at the basis of a certain sort of memory typical of bacterial chemotaxis, that is that phenomenon for which a bacteria, put into a solution of certain chemical substances, moves in answer to a grade of concentration. A change of this type can have at its counterpart in the nervous system of animals».
Hence, already in 1988 Koshland suggested that memory of bacteria can be contained in the conformation of proteins.
The proteins, in unicellular organisms, could be the “molecules of memory” hypothesized by R. Mark.
Because these proteins are disseminated in the cellular membrane, it is hence possible that one of the properties fundamental in mind has a seat in the cellular membrane.
Let us sum the above exposed facts. All the components of the cellular membrane are in continuous and active cooperation and coordinate their activities. The cellular membrane receives information from the inside of the cell and, through biosensors receives information from the external world; it is hence a means of communication and elaboration of data. The proteins disseminated in the plasmatic membrane can assume numerous conformations at a low energy with small difference of energy. A stimulus or a change of ambiance can modify the conformation of a protein and conserve  its memory. The information are emagazined in a protein under the form of different conformation, it can hence conserve an enormous quantity of information.
We could compare the final structure of a protein to the water, which goes down a mountain and fixes itself in a hydric basin at the end of the valley after having lost all its potential energy.
So let us imagine that from the mountain a stone rotates down and falls in the basin, splashing water on the surface of the basin. Slowly that water, energetically instable, goes back to the original basin cancelling every memory of event. But, if the water that splashes is abundant and gives origin to a small puddle, it does not come back. In the new basin, the water has a little energy more but it is energetically stable because it cannot come out of the puddle. It remains there to conserve the memory of event.
Now, let us imagine a protein of membrane which receives a stimulus and changes its structure. The protein presents, in the new structure, the memory of event. If the new structure is energetically unstable slowly, it returns to its original structure, losing the memory of the stimulus. If however the new structure, which the protein assumes as an effect of the stimulus, is one of the structures stable energetically, it will maintain the new structure and will conserve the memory of the event.
The plasmatic membrane is really the dynamic centre of the cell and following the suggestion of Kosland, one can advance the hypothesis that it is the seat of the memory. The memory is one of the properties of the mind, but is memory already mind?
 It would be like saying that the puddle of water, generated by the stone which falls into the basin and which conservers the memory of the event, has a mind.
The memory, as we have described it, can re-enter in a mechanical process that is in a complex of chemical interactions and cycles of retroaction.
In the unicellular organisms the memory, which we associate with the definition of mind, can exist also without the presence of mind and can act in an autonomous way.
But in the end the mind, when does it emerge and from where?
As we have shown in “I batteri. Organismi viventi: corpo, cervello, mente (parte seconda), Adler has put in the presence of bacteria a capillary tube containing not only a substance which attracts, but also a substance which repels and he writes: «So the bacteria had the choice if to go in or not to go in the capillary. Their “decision” is dependant on the concentration relative to the substance which attracts and that which repels. The mechanisms which permit to “take a decision” in a situation of “conflict” like this is still unknown, but we can say that the bacteria are capable, in a certain way, of integrating multiple sensorial stimuli». And he continues: « […] bacteria, usually flee from cold, but this does not happen if the cold solution contains an attracting substance fairly strong. In the same way, bacteria are attracted by heat, but not if the hot solution contains a repellent fairly strong. In these cases, the bacteria must integrate, or elaborate two sensorial informations: the temperature and the chemical substances».
If bacteria receives at the same time, a stimulus which communicates to it the presence of a repellent and a stimulus which communicates the presence of a nutrition, how can it choose? Because, as Adler writes, the “decision” depends on the concentrations, we indicate with N the nutrient, that is the substance of attraction and with R the repellent. The bacteria seems to act in this way: If the concentration of the nutrient is higher than the repellent then go towards the nutrient, that is: if N >R then … . The bacteria resolves a situation of conflict through a logical scheme. If the situation of conflict contains two sensorial information, as a cold solution and an attractive substance, the bacteria must integrate correlated logical schemes. In fact the bacteria must above all evaluate how cold is the solution, it must afterwards evaluate how it is concentrated, it must integrate the results and take a “decision”. But these are logical scheme typical of our mind and they emerge when the bacteria finds itself in a situation of conflict.
Hence, in unicellular organisms the mind is an emergence in the presence of a situation of conflict.
But the logical choices are not always the right ones and then, if the choice is the right one it saves the life of the organisms; if the choice is wrong, the organism loses its life but saves the life from extinction.
It is known that the proteins in the cell, above executing their function, interact also between themselves. As Carol Ezzel informs as in “Adesso comandano le proteine” Le Scienze 2002, one of the aims of proteinomic is that of defining how the proteins organize themselves in webs, like electric circuits. It would hence make the hypothesis that all the proteins of the plasmatic membrane organize themselves in specific webs that interact between themselves and with all the components of the cellular membrane.
We have made the hypothesis that the sensorial proteins contain the memory of the event. It seems that when the web of sensorial proteins receives stimuli in contrast, the mind emerges which recuperates the information contained in the memory and it chooses according to schemes if…then. The choice creates a counter reaction to the complex of the protein webs of the membrane and of the final reaction of the organism.
As these proteic webs are to be found in the cellular membrane, which is the dynamic centre of the cell, in the unicellular organisms the mind emerges from the cellular membrane when situations of conflict present themselves and take the decisions, using the data contained in the memory.
In conclusion, in the unicellular organisms, the plasmatic membrane is an interface between the inside and the outside of the cell and it carries out at a very elementary level, the same function, as does the brain in the pluricellular complex organisms. It is probable, hence, that the mind, which we have found also in the unicellular organisms, has its origin in the plasmatic membrane when the organism finds itself in conflictual situations. If there is no conflict the mind does not emerge, but the memory is always present and this is enough for the survival of the organisms.

                                                                                                 Giovanni Occhipinti

 Translated by Silvia Occhipinti

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