How life ‘plugs in’ to the universe

Definition (in context): Plug in = to connect oneself to the universe.

The Universe is out there. And we and all life is inside. Inside a cell, or a body or a brain. How does life plug itself into the outside world and bring it in? i.e. how does life sense the world out there? How does life detect the world out there and then react to it?

To explain I’m going to give you one example of this behaviour of detecting the world. Behaviour exhibited by a very simple organism called a Paramecium.

The Paramecium is a single-celled organism known as a Protozoan:

p_bursaria001_dic

It consists of a single cell. In the centre is a nucleus and the small green globular structures you can see are algae which are independent organisms that live inside the paramecium with whom they have a symbiotic relationship. In return for protection, the algae photosynthesise, and make food for the Paramecium.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

On the surface of the cell membrane you can see tiny little hairs. These are known as cilia. The Paramecium is literally covered in these like fur. When you view a Paramecium under the microscope you can watch it move about all over the place. It swims here and there and when it encounters an obstacle such as something hard it will first hit it (like a car hits a wall), next realising it can’t get through, it then reverses and then turns either left or right – heads forwards again, may bang into it again, reverses again, turns left or right again – all in an attempt to try and get around the obstacle. Eventually it finds a way round and continues its merry dance – encountering more obstacles, hitting them, reversing, and then navigating past them.

Now you might be thinking: ‘so what!’

Well…here’s the thing, the Paramecium is a single celled organism. It is made up of a single cell. It has no nervous system. It has no nerves. It has no brain – yet the behaviour I have just described is remarkably similar to the behaviour of complex organisms with a nervous system! When you watch it under a microscope the behaviour looks like the behaviour of an animal such as a worm or a fish or a beetle.

Yet, it is not a complex animal. It is a single cell. It contains a few protein molecules and only a few genes.

How does the Paramecium do this? How does it detect the obstacle, and then know it must reverse, and then turn left or right, and in the end figure out how to go around the obstacle? It has no brain. No nerves. And it does all this at high speed? How does it ‘know’ what to do?

Who is in the driving seat?

Who and what is controlling the Paramecium?

[To be continued….(dun-dun-dun!)

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