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machine brains

Michael Edelman mje at mich.com
Mon Feb 8 15:03:18 EST 1999

William Thomas wrote:

> So, does a virus have consciousness? what about a tree? do they function
> without this thing consciousness? and if consciousness is the ability to be
> aware of oneself, and the tree is not aware of itself, how does it interact
> with its environment?

Ask yourself, how does a single human CNS neuron interact with its environment?
In the context of being part of a larger self-aware organism.

But does an organism have to be self-aware to interact with the environment? I
don't think so. It's a short jump from a cell or small group of cells that
regulates input or output of something in the environment to maintain
homeostatis to finding a cooperative relationship that does the same. And
sometimes the question of just what constitutes the organism and what
constitutes the environment is simply a matter of where you stand.

Mitochondria are generally describes as cell organelles- part of the cell- but
they're not, really. They're a seperate population of organisms with their own
genetic material that ineract with their environment- the cell. They have what
appears for all the world to be a cooperative relationship with the host
organism, but does the cell "know" about the mitochondria, and do the
mitochrondria "know" about thecell? No.  They're both simply performing some
regulatory functions.

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