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This special episode highlights a new way to understand the evolution of life on earth. Willian B Miller, Jr., takes Darwinism’s theory of evolution as a jumping point for this evolved theory based on cellular intelligence. Listen in for an enriching and moving conversation about the origin and evolution of life.
Richard and Bill Miller discuss
William B. Miller, Jr., left a career in radiology to become an evolutionary biologist. His ideas have helped Richard, who’s interviewed thousands of scientists, understand evolution in a fundamentally different way—a step beyond Darwinism theory. Miller has a publication in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology called “Cellular senomic measurements in Cognition-Based Evolution,” which establishes this evolutionary concept.
This podcast explains in clear and understandable language the gist of the article and where these ideas stands in the era of biological evolution. “It’s not your father’s evolution,” jokes Miller. Richard replies with the opening line of the abstract: “all living entities are cognitive,” and this is the center of Miller’s article.
Miller asserts that scientific examinations have proven that all cells are intelligent: a cell can take in information, process it, and make decisions: in other words, it can adapt. As Stephen Hawking said, intelligence is the ability to adapt. Furthermore, it can communicate to other cells purposefully what it has measured and why. Cellular intelligence may differ than human intelligence, but it is complex, able to solve a maze, retain memory, and collectively work together with other entities.
He emphasizes that cells work together, and not just haphazardly, to get better information; in fact, he says that “each cell is in service to other cells,” and this is central to cognition-based evolution. Their conversation takes a deep dive into the essentials of this concept with concrete examples, from our immune system to breast feeding to biofilm construction. Listen in for a fascinating exploration of one of the most revolutionary scientific theories of our time.
Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK
Richard Jacobs: Hello, this is Richard Jacobs with the Finding Genius podcast. I have a special guest and a special podcast today. It’s William B. Miller Jr. and even though we’ve gotten really specific on his name, there is still other William B. Miller Jr. He is in Arizona and he was a radiologist for, I guess approximately 30 years and he went through an evolution himself and now he is an evolutionary biologist. He has become a friend and I’ve asked him hundreds and hundreds of questions about various aspects of science and biology and he has tolerated them and answered them. I wanted to have hi today because one of his papers that he submitted and was improved by progress in bio-physics and molecular biology, I understand that it took me many reads and many conversations to understand it.
The ideas in it, I think are incredibly important for all of science in general and I say that from my perspective of having interviewed 2600 people in the past 4 years. So I want to go through the paper with Bill and have him explain the background of it and it’s so dense, the information anew that we are probably just going to go through the abstract and find everything in it. But anyone that wants to read the paper or at least get an idea of it, I think it helps. So, Bill, thanks for coming. How are you doing?
William B. Miller, Jr.: It’s a privilege. I thank you for having me on. I want to assure your listeners that although I may have undergone a personal evolution, I still only have two legs and two arms. I haven’t changed that much yet.
Richard Jacobs: So, the paper, we’ll start with the name. It’s called Cellular Senomic Measurements in Cognition Based Evolution. So, just to define some terms, what is the senome?
William B. Miller, Jr.: The senome is the totality of the sensory apparatus of a cell. But even that’s awfully complicated to say it and to have people understand it that are unfamiliar with all the background that goes into knowing what that exactly means. So, let’s explicitly talk about what this paper is about and putting it into most familiar terms, this paper is about the concept that it’s not your father’s evolution. This paper is meant to explain an entirely new way of looking at biology and it’s evolution and what the paper is mostly concerned with is the concept called cognition-based evolution and I’m going to explain what that means and for the sake of our better understanding it together, let’s talk just a minute about what has been believed so that we can contrast it with where biology has to go in order to make progress in understanding it’s evolutionary history.
Richard Jacobs: Okay.
William B. Miller, Jr.: So, almost everyone that is listening will know a little bit about Darwin and let’s not mistake the fact that although I’m going to talk about the limits of natural selection, Darwin was a brilliant man and he is a most important scientific figure. So, though I’m going to talk about the reasons we should no longer consider Neo-Darwinism and certain tenets of Darwinism as primary, I don’t want anyone that is listening to imagine that I had anything but the greatest regard for Darwin as a scientist. But for a reason that most of the listeners won’t anticipate, Darwin is known for multiple specific aspects in biology. But the major ones, the sturdy pillars that he came up with was linking the concept of variation to the concept of natural selection. So most people know about natural selection.
If you ask people what does that mean? They are going to say that’s survival of the fittest and more or less, that’s pretty accurate. But Darwin didn’t come up with natural selection. That was an idea that was floating around before Darwin, even his grandfather knew a little bit about it. An arborist, a botanist named Matthews, Patrick Matthews, about 30 years prior had published in a magazine and Darwin was familiar with the work, that of natural selection and it was framed in it’s proper perspective and so did Wallace, the great biologist in Southeast Sea. They all understood in Southeast Asia, they all understood that natural selection simply relates to the fact that an organism needs to fit it’s environment.
But what Darwin understood, which no one before him has articulated was that variations in the way organisms presented themselves in the environment were subject to filtering. They were subject to being differentiated and that if you connected those processes over and over long enough, you could get a process called evolution. You could get the veritable transfer of differing variations over time and that natural selection offered a filtering process in which some variations were favored and others were not. What happened was Darwin’s ideas didn’t receive absolute approval. There were many brilliant people that thought it was magnificent but there were a lot of people that thought it was insufficient.
Darwin actually; Darwin’s theories went into decline for about 50 years. When genetics became really understood in the 1950s, the real impetus for the Darwinism going forward was the marriage of genetic studies with natural selection and this is what Neo-Darwinism is and this is where the majority of evolution stands right now. Evolution is due to random genetic variations that are judged as it were by natural selection and there are substantial problems with this that we are going to talk about and we’ll talk about a distinct alternative to this and the primary reason for the alternative is Darwin is correct about variations but the source of variations that occur in biology are not random genetic ones.
Richard Jacobs: So, in your abstract, the first 5 words say, all living entities are cognitive. So that’s in relation to what you’ve just said.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Right, exactly, thank you. why we gave this preamble was that in the Neo-Darwinist interpretation of things, cells and almost all organisms that are not human organisms are mostly automatons, they mostly react to stimuli and almost like they were machines. In fact, it is very common in literature to regard cells particularly and almost all organisms except humans as living machines. The first line of the abstract addresses the essence of the difference between cognition-based evolution and the old Darwinism. The difference is that scientific investigations, thorough unimpeachable scientific investigations have proved that all cells are intelligent. Now, let’s talk about what that means; cognitive intelligence. What does that mean for a cell? It means that a cell can receive information. assess it and deploy it’s resources, but to do so in the manner of problem solving, to communicate to other cells purposefully that what it’s measures about that information and why they’ve measured it the way they have and this is extremely important.
Richard Jacobs: Let’s give a couple of examples on that. So, I’ll put out one, I don’t know if this is even valid but I want you to give one. So, cells can display molecules on their surface that will let our immune system know to get rid of them or that they are in some state of problem. That’s perhaps one example.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Absolutely, but I’ll go a little further, that’s an excellent example. When I say that cells are intelligent, what I mean is they are intelligent to the point of not only where they can discriminate one molecule from another because we could create an automaton that could do that. well, I’m talking about sheer intelligence, impressive intelligence like the ability to solve a maze, the ability to remember, to have memory, the ability, for example, to collectively work together to understand very subtle differences in chemo-tactic readings. These are all signs of intelligence. There’s another sign of cognition in cells, cells work together.
They don’t work together haphazardly. Throughout the very beginning of evolution, cells have worked together in a consistent set of patterns. They collaborate, they cooperate, they are co-dependent and they are competitive. But all of those work together from the very beginning of what? So, why do I say that? We know that the Earth formed around 4.1 billion years ago and there’s very good evidence that life began rather quickly, about 3.8 billion years ago. But here is the important thing, that life that we are able to find is based on fossil evidence. Let’s not forget, cells don’t generally leave fossils. The only way they can leave a fossil is if they come together in a community and these are called Stromatolites but these are microbial mats.
What they represent are the living proof that cells self-organize into complex communities but here is further. They self-organize into complex communities from the very first evidence that we have any life at all. In other words, it’s the ground stay of the living circumstance is that intelligent cells measure information and why do they get together into Stromatolites or biofilms, these are complex, I like to think of them as cities of micro-organisms of bacteria or archaea or proteus or tiny unicellular organisms that choose to live together and the question is why have they chosen to live together since the dawn of life, why not just live separately? Why do we have cells that stay together that are small rather than simply huge cells? We could think of a biological system in which there are only scattered huge cells but it’s not that way.
But there is a good reason why, because all cells are intelligent, intelligence is the ability to assess information and further, it is the ability to assess information, solve problems, which is called adaptation. So, Stephen Hawking had a great definition of intelligence; intelligence is the ability to adapt and that’s what cells do but they could only adapt because they are able to intelligently assess environmental stresses and determine their best way to meet them. How do the cells meet them? They form collaborative associations since the dawn of life and why do they form those associations? They form it because and this is a very important issue for intelligent cells. Part of the intelligence is knowing that the information they have is imperfect.
So, you and I go through our lives, we know that the information we have is imperfect and we look to the animals on the Savannah and they see threats, they are not sure what things are, we know that they see that information as imperfect, so do our cells. Every single thing that we can see with our eyes is a complex multicellular organism. So even our cells know that information is imperfect and that’s very important because if information was perfect, it wouldn’t need to be measured. But information is ambiguous, it is uncertain, so it does have to be measured by a cell to assess whether or not to deploy it’s scarce resources to maintain itself.
Richard Jacobs: You gave me this example a while ago. If I look at the moon, my brain can say okay, it’s not a flat 2D thing, it’s a 3D object, there’s stuff behind it that I can’t see but it is there.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, I think that it’s a perfect example, we could imagine, in fact we have in our own playful system. All of us are getting more or less the same, I mean, if you look at populations given the same input of sources of information but we each evaluate them very differently. We have differences in assessing whether a temperature is a threat to us or not. some people think certain ambient temperatures are great, others regard them as uncomfortable. We tend to call that simple preference but it is ambiguous information. It is information that can be judged, it can be looked at from different sides if there is no absoluteness for that information. It’s the same way for a cell that it is for us. So, a cell wants to improve the quality of information that it can get because it wants to be as efficient as it can be to maintain it’s own state of preference and therefore it will collaborate with other cells to help measure it. It’s the wisdom of crabs.
Richard Jacobs: This is why I want to micro each thing you are saying because to you, it’s conversant, comfortable and all that but I just remember going through this with you and it took a long time. For instance, when you say cells are intelligent, I can feel one of my past guests blanching and saying, what do you mean they are intelligent? They are not intelligent, they are just automatons and so, we probably need to say that they are intelligent in their own way that may be totally alien to you as a human, that a cell can be intelligent but they are. So, I guess maybe you can say we are overtalking it but I think that’s important in this conversation.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, I think you are exactly right. One of the problems that you have when you are very familiar with the topic is it becomes so clear cut that you can’t remember that it’s complicated. I remember taking a physics class which is certainly not my natural state and the professor was a brilliant guy and he was frustrated with the entire class because the Schrodinger equations for the electron K shells was obvious to him. I mean, who couldn’t understand that? How about all of us, none of us could, so I completely understand but the way to look at intelligence, I think to have people understand is that automatons would have all cells would respond to the same stimulus in almost or exactly the same way. But that’s not how it works in the human body or in any cellular organism. Cells make discretionary decisions.
Each cell, of course they work together collaboratively so that we can function as large organisms but each cell is it’s own individual unit. Each cell has what we term self-reference. It is individual and this is a very important aspect of cognition-based evolution because it isn’t considered in the old Darwinism. It’s not an important point to them. I’ll give you further examples of why it’s important. Let’s talk about our cells as multicellular organisms. We are termed halobionts, so that means the listeners will know that each of us is a combination of our own cells like miller cells and my partner and everyone else that is listening to us too with trillions, maybe as many as 100 trillion other cells, microbes of all different varieties.
Bacteria, extremophiles, archaea, viruses and all of them are working together in a common outcome and each of them has it’s own self-identity. Each of them is working to protect itself and finds that it can do it best in the collaborative form and that’s how we can be this exquisite organism that we are. The combination of our own cells and this vast array of microbial cells and the reason that I am emphasizing it is, it would be easy for our listeners to imagine that there are 100 trillion hangers on, either they are not familiar or they are just hanging around but that’s not the way we actually work. We have found out, in the last couple of decades that our partnership with these microbes is absolutely central.
They form very vital parts of our metabolism, of our physiology. They are the first line of defense against those microbes that seek to harm us, the pathogenic microbes, they are with us at the moment of; in the fetal stage, either directly from the womb or from the influence of the maternal metabolism which is itself influenced by these microbes. They affect our development, our developmental stages are in fact, in part due to the microbial calendar. Our immune system develops in concert, we co-develop with them, we’ve co-developed over evolutionary time with them. So, we cannot be separated from them without harm and all of them have their own form of intelligence and all of them are acting together to make us what we are.
Richard Jacobs: Again, I’m not pressing you for details but examples. So what’s an example of biological ambiguous information that tells you a microbe or a cell has a sense of self and is evaluating something that’s not clear cut?
William B. Miller, Jr.: Here is an example. When a mother is breastfeeding, it would be natural to assume that the purpose of breastfeeding is exclusively to feed the infant and if the metabolic information or metabolic sources were exclusively directed towards that, it would have a specific composition. But as it turns out, part of breastfeeding is to feed the partnering microbiome of the areola, that’s the area right around the nipple and the nipple itself and part of it is to feed the breast tissue back along the breast ducts because there is back and forth communication and each of them evolves and assesses their environment in their own way to utilize the nutritional characteristics of that breast milk to it’s own advantage and each of them are part of the whole. So, it is an extraordinary collective form that is only just beginning to be understood.
Richard Jacobs: To expand on that a little bit, I did interview a lady that talked about the composition of breast milk and she said there was like what’s called overgo saccharides, sugars that people cannot digest and the only conclusion is that they are there so that bacteria that can digest them, that are beneficial to the baby will take up residence in the baby’s digestive tract. Otherwise there is no explanation for why they would be there.
William B. Miller, Jr.: That’s exactly right and so you would say we can conceive our little robotic cells and microbes in there, they all work together to yield this outcome but that makes no sense. In fact, the only way that it can actually work is that each of the participants assesses It’s background environmental data and problem solves in it’s own way but does so under the explicit rules that have governed life over 3.8 billion years. Collaboration, cooperation, co-dependence and competition. Each of them are vital but the primary message of our cells is actually quite direct. You serve yourselves best when you are in service to others. This is a major difference between Neo-Darwinism and cognition-based evolution. The interchange, the cell to cell communication that is going on all the time that enables us to sustain our lives is each cell being in service to others and that’s very non-Darwinian.
The concept that you will get if you read the literature on Darwinism is always about selection pressures. It’s always about natural selection, it’s always about competition. Yes, there is, of course, there is competition.
Richard Jacobs: But in order to have competition, there has to be a drive to win and for what purpose? Winning means I win, competition doesn’t mean you win, it means I win.
William B. Miller, Jr.: You know we always take a slice that pleases us. Let me give an example. I’ve emphasized over and over already that what is the most important aspect of biology and I’ve talked about cooperation, collaboration, co-dependence, competition which is mutualized and you say okay, let’s go to the Serengeti and tell me all about it when the cheetah gets the gazelle, tell me all about the collaboration. You are only seeing the very tip of the process. What about all of the trillions of cells that are cooperating in the cheetah to allow it to do it’s job, all operating under the explicit terms that I just mentioned and for the gazelle. If you look at the dynamics of the entire ecology, you’ll see that even in the instance of that competition, all sorts of things are occurring that are also collaborations.
For example, when the cheetah is eating the gazelle, it is going to metabolize those cells and it’s going to be dropping them on the savannah and that’s going to fertilize the savannah and other animals are going to chew on the bones and so on and insects are going to have their day and you end up with a system that can’t be understood under simplistic notions merely nature having tooth and claw.
Richard Jacobs: There’s a funny example of if you are pregnant, you are eating for two but if you are an organism you are eating for two trillion.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Yeah, no actually, here’s we talked about the ambiguity of information and how different cells see it differently. So here is a fact about how we as halobionts, this exquisite combination of our own cells and partnering microbiomes. When we are eating, we naturally assume that we determine when we are full but that’s not correct. We do, to some degree determine it and we have free will and so on, but when you look at the actual dynamics in the stomach and these are experiments that have been performed in France, they are very good ones, you will find out that there is a biphasic response of bacteria in the stomach and the duodenum. The duodenum is that part of the intestine that connects to the stomach.
It has its own population, it’ has it’s own microbiome and when we start to eat, those microbes which has already signaled you to be hungry because their population has dwindled, they don’t stop their reproductive cycle and remember reproductive cycles of microbes can be measured in minutes, hours, it’s not like humans with years or months or days. So, you are hungry in part because they are hungry, you start to eat and as they metabolize because you fed them, you are giving them food that they can break down that food and utilize it. they switch up a certain set of peptides that they give off and those peptides go to the stomach lining and they go through the neural system like a vast number of nerves that connect the gut to the brain and it sends off signals to your brain and it starts to tell you that you are full.
So getting full is not just your stomach getting filled with food, but even bigger. It’s really a combination of your microbes feeling sated, feeling as if they’ve had enough and they signal you that it’s okay. So, one of the ways for people to figure out how to control how much they eat is to simply say to themselves, I’ll tell you what, before I have that piece of pie, I’ll wait 20 minutes because we already know that 20 minutes later, a lot of times, you are really not that hungry. It’s all about giving your microbes time to send their signals to your brain. It’s complicated.
Richard Jacobs: So, theoretically, you could eat exactly what the bacteria in your digestive system want and also some of the things that your cells want and probably eat what you’d consider to be normally half a meal in terms of volume of food and it feels sated completely.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Yeah, we could even derive an experiment at some point, I’m sure we will because e are entering an era of the cell. We are at a wonderful new moment in biology. We are beginning to really understand cellular dynamics and cell to cell communication in a way that we’ve never had before in our entire human history. So, we are on a new threshold. One way that it may be manipulated in the future, certainly hunger and I mean weight control will be almost certainly affected by it. It will be a set of probiotics that you will take either on a daily basis or perhaps just prior to a meal in which you will be artificially zooming up the microbial count in your stomach to make you feel full. Someday this will not be science fiction because we already know from certain research studies that probiotics, especially in adolescents are pretty useful in weight reduction. Pre-biotics and probiotics have their uses and that’s already been peer reviewed. So, I’m not just making things up here.
This is where we are going when we understand this partnership to a much greater degree and when we understand that partnership on a scientific level, we’ll also understand evolution much better than we did before.
Richard Jacobs: So, continuing on and I am deliberately beating this up to make it super clear. So, let’s go back to again, the name of the paper and senome. So, I look at it as my senses or hearing, smell, touch, sight, taste, the basic five, I’m sure there’s more. So, what are our cell sense? Is that what you mean by senome, sensory apparatus?
William B. Miller, Jr.: Yeah, for cells, it is those sets of processes that when they are combined, they yield our own senses. So, what do I mean by that? If a combination of bio-active molecules that they send to each other that’s part of their senome. Cells sense the biofield, the electrical biofields, the electrons, they are sensitive to sound, they are sensitive to photons, certain cells that obviously are retinal cells that are sensitive to photons, they are sensitive to certain quantum mechanical properties. So, our retinal cells are sensitive to the quantum mechanical properties of photons at the single photon level. they are sensitive to all the environmental things; they are sensitive to heat and to what is called appropriate reception which is touch.
It depends on what part of the body. So, each differentiated cell will have it’s own set of cues among the vast array of potential cues that possibly exist. Each cell will have it’s own set of things that are sufficient to stimulate it and the combination of all those, the aggregation of all those, that’s the senome, that’s the combination of the sensing apparatus of any particular cell which need not be identical to every other cell in the body.
Richard Jacobs: So, how do you know that it’s important for cells to cooperate? What’s an example of that and why? What if they didn’t cooperate? What would we have?
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, you wouldn’t have us, you wouldn’t have any biofilms. So, we know, for example, an excellent example of biofilms. Biofilms are, as I mentioned, they are the combinations of microbes that sometimes are of one strain, one particular strain but most often, are a combination of many different microbial strains and even different domains, different cellular types and even including viruses. They all form complex patterns of arrangements that are almost just like cities. You can go on the web and find nice videos that illustrate the complexity of biofilms for which all intents looks like Tokyo and they are able to utilize resources and measure the environment together collectively better than they can apart.
The fact is the example of multicellularity of cells working together to measure together is everything. You have to look hard to find the examples when this does not happen. You have to go to separate diatoms in the ocean, plankton that are not even; they are separate cells and they are not aggregated side by side but even there, they have a surrounding nature of their own microbiome. So, even when they are separately floating and you say well these are separate cells that have no relationship to other cells, it’s very rarely that case. They are called free-standing but they are not really free. They are still getting information, measuring information collectively with others that are close by.
Richard Jacobs: if something is called a single-celled organism, do you think that’s a misnomer, do you think that it hides what it really is?
William B. Miller, Jr.: No, I think it’s a useful thing to think about because the cell is a unit of intelligence, the unit of self-reference. It is simply correct that single cells can stay alive just as a single cell. So, it is about separate living form. What is important about single cells is what we now know about them that we didn’t know before. They don’t like being that way, in fact they don’t like being that way so much that they hardly are ever that way. From that observation alone, we have to devise an entirely different evolutionary narrative because we have to answer why is multicellularity the predominant living form? the answer is because intelligent cells measure and they measure better collectively than they measure apart. What are they measuring? Information. Information is environmental stresses.
Those stresses are individually evaluated by every cell; collectively they measure them better than apart. What do they get from that? Energy efficiency. An advantage or an ability to communicate. All of these things are vital. What have we learned from that which is different from Neo-Darwinism? We learn that since the major issue for cells is intelligence and we know also that the epicenter for intelligence in cells is also not genes alone. In other words, it takes every aspect of the cell for the cell to be an intelligent unit. It means that genes are tools. So, in Darwinism, genes determine outcomes because genetic frequency determines the forms that we will see. In cognition-based evolution, genes are tools of cells that need to measure information properly and when they can measure information together collectively, that’s engineering and then they engineer outcomes.
So, this is the hardest thing, I think, for listeners to and I hope I can explain it in a way and you’ll help me. We start from a new plateau, the new starting position which is that all cells are intelligent. Because they are intelligent, their intelligence is defined by the fact that they can measure information. what this means is that they are able to combine those measurements in the collective form and when they do that, it’s engineering. So, when humans want to build a city, you have each individual human who is individually intelligent. Each problem solves according to it’s abilities and then humans together collaborate, cooperate, co-dependent and they compete and they build a city.
Richard Jacobs: Let’s give an example of, humans are going to put up a new building on the corner. What are the elements that they need and let’s mirror that in the cells.
William B. Miller, Jr.: The overlap is nearly explicit. You get a group of humans together and they communicate, they would assess information, it could be a plan, they would assess it, they would communicate between themselves, they would encounter problems and problem solve together and then they would produce a form or a building. This is precisely what cells do in their own way. Cells are not intelligent in the way that we are. They don’t look at problems in the way that we do. It’s almost as if we are talking about an alien form of life. It is a different form of intelligence just as I would say, pretend to think like a bat. Well, you say you can’t think like a bat, I mean bats think like bats. Exactly right. There is no way for a human to imagine what a bat thinks. But there is no question that bats think.
Richard Jacobs: Let’s bring it back to the engineering example. Here is what I’m going to ask you, so, one picture in my mind is a bunch of little guys in hard hats building a building and the other picture is a bunch of cells, I put hard hats on them too and they are building a liver. Both need a blueprint; both need a common language that the blueprint would be written or diagrammed in and both need to be able to understand the blueprint and execute it and engineer. So, is that enough in that comparison or is there more to it? What does that suggest to you, it’s your example, by the way. What does that suggest by saying that?
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, I thank you for leading me to where I wanted to go to anyway. But it’s a particularly good introduction. You pointed out that there has to be a coordinating platform for humans to engineer successfully together. That’s your common language. There has to be a way to have concordant measurements; measurements that make sense. I mean as simple as we are all going to use a foot. These plans are all going to be read according to feet. We all agree. You couldn’t build a building with some guys building according to feet and some guys building according to meters and some guys dreaming up their own, it’s going to be, we are going to have a new measurement that will be the equivalent of 12.14 centimeters.
I mean, you just couldn’t do that. You have to have a platform where the measurements can be resolved among all the players and that exists in this paper that you are talking about. There is a concept called end space. It is too complicated to go through in this conversation but let me just say that it is an important part of cognition-based evolution that we understand that there has to be an intermediate platform between the environment and the biological form. There has to be a place where all of the cells can coordinate their environmental experiences, measure them in some kind of a shared way, to produce corresponding useful outputs instantaneously. It’s not just a matter of them going back and forth nicely and over time.
They argue it out and it’s okay. No, it’s instantaneous. So, that platform has to exist and that platform has to be a very difficult concept which is it has to be information itself. This is a very difficult aspect of biology because we in biology always want to think about things in very concrete biological terms. They have to be molecules or they have to be a measurable energy but the problem about information is that it’s not explicitly energy or physical in the way we tend to think of them and yet it is both. When you are out working on a computer, even what we are doing right now, information is being exchanged and it’s not. If you had to say give me the form of this information. well, I can’t give you a molecule that represents this information.
But there is no question that we have an information platform and yes, it’s made up of connectors and computer components and so on but there’s more. There is more to it than that and that’s information space and it’s a very well-respected concept among scientists and that’s an important part that has to be the way that all these cells that are individually intelligent and individually desirous of protecting themselves to measure together so well that they can collaborate, cooperate and even compete.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah, I mean one example of this is, again, if I am an embryo and my organs are being developed. How is it across 120 billion people that ever lived that the liver is always in a certain position and usually always a certain shape and size and it’s in certain opposition to the pancreas and the stomach and all the other stuff and again, it has a certain shape and size and function and all that and it’s pretty reliable. The plans aren’t always 100% but a vast majority of the time they are and where are those plans kept, how are they interpreted and what language is being used to interpret them and where does the coordination come from and the feedback on is everything going well or not and where do we stop and when do we start building this part of it etc.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, in Neo-Darwinism, what we have believed in the past, it was assumed by many that the coordination was the genome and the Human genome Project which was instituted a couple of decades ago now had fulfilled it’s mission of successfully defining the human genome and I must say it’s disappointed us because what we thought we would find explicit answers to, we’ve only found renewed questions. So, for example, we thought that we would find specific genes that would control whether you are left-handed or right-handed. You say well, you know it’s got to be pretty simple; it’s got to be this gene or that gene. It turns out that the more you know about the genome, the less you understand. It is so complicated, it is so overlapping, there isn’t one gene for most things. It’s almost always a consortium.
Not only is it a consortium, it’s a consortium that has liberties and constraints based on accessory aspects of genetic material that reside in the cellular compartments. It relates to protein populations and protein domains. The end result is we haven’t been rewarded so far and that doesn’t mean we won’t be in the future but so far, the only thing we know for sure is the one to one correlation between traits like eye color and genes, we can’t find that there. Maybe it’s there to be teased out in the future but it isn’t there for complex personality traits like schizophrenia or autism. No one can trace that genetically at this moment but there is a larger and more important message there that I think the listeners should understand.
Although it is imperative in our genomes for us to be what we are, it isn’t the thing that controls what we are, there is more to it than that and there are a lot of theories out there about specialized developmental processes. So, you’d say all you need to do to understand why the liver is one side and not on the other is it’s all in the genes. It’s all in the way the genes express themselves. Well, to a degree that’s true but the problem is, the genes don’t control the delivery of that expression, not themselves. They are being controlled. So, now we need to understand what’s controlling this basically genetic software that resides within a cell so that you get the expression of proteins, the translation from RNA to proteins that is necessary for us to sustain ourselves and there are lots of theories whether some people think there’s electrical fields and some have very complicated concepts of morphogenetic fields.
My belief is that it lies within this information domain we are talking about. I know it seems kind of squishy to say that there is a specialized concept of information that is neither quite energy and not quite biological but a vital intermediary. But when you look at all the data, it has to be there. It has to be there because cells require it to measure together in a concordant fashion. So, at the moment it’s kind of the default understanding.
Richard Jacobs: One way to put this and with an example is instinct, that’s part of it, so for instance, I just saw a movie, I think it’s called Edge of Extinction and they have a film of, I think it was a dolphin giving birth underwater and the baby comes out and literally within 2 seconds, the baby is swimming in the same way the mother dolphin is swimming. There is no way that anyone could have taught it to do that. Where is that knowledge contained? Where does it come from?
William B. Miller, Jr.: That’s a perfect example, here is why. In standard Neo-Darwinism, the presumption would have been an easy, it’s in the genes. In fact, I’m sure what they’d say tonight if we interviewed those people that are stalwarts for but it’s not. It’s not there. It’s partly there, of course. I mean obviously you have to have a certain genetic component to it, to yield certain forms but that’s because they are a memory system of the cell. They are tools of the cell. The cells are the formative agents and the cells, I believe have, their own apparatus, in addition to genes. They help determine form. That’s an important principle in cognition-based evolution.
Richard Jacobs: This is a memory that the cells would have to have about their external environment. How do they know they are in water? I’ll compare it with a cow being born. A cow is born, within seconds or maybe a minute, it’s standing up and walking. The cells in it have to know that external environment and the memories carry through for both of these creatures.
William B. Miller, Jr.: So, yes, again, that’s perfect. We are talking about the senome of the cell and we are saying that the senome in concept is the summation of the ability of a cell to assess it’s information and space, this concept of information space that we are talking about, that’s the common platform for all the cells to react to water and instantly know that we’ve got to go to action in this way based on the memory component of the information space that we are talking about and react to the environment in this manner instantaneously. Again, it would be so easy to say that it’s all in the genes but scientific information doesn’t show it’s there.
Richard Jacobs: Do the responses prove it? It’s not provable at all
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, who knows what we’ll find out in the future but at the moment, in order to capture just what you are talking about or to understand it, we need to have this rethinking about what we are biologically. We are not automatons, we are constellations of thinking, not thinking cells but cells that have a limited form of intelligence sufficient to maintain their self-identity, to maintain their integrity. In order to best maintain their integrity, they work together with other cells. This imperative is so important that it’s been true since the moment life began and we can ourselves measure the reasons that our cells work together is because the context of the living circumstance is doubt. All life is doubtful, all information is doubtful. Each person evaluates information in their own idiosyncratic ways.
We know that in our own lives, yes, of course, most of us react to many things identically. How many times do you see someone else do something crazy? So that’s there, reaction to an ambiguous information. It’s great to jump off this cliff. I can’t wait to do it.
Richard Jacobs: There will be no divorce.
William B. Miller, Jr.: So, information is ambiguous in this context. The privilege of biology is that it is a measuring apparatus. Cells are measuring instruments and remember, this is important. Two other things, cells are measuring instruments of information and they measure information to problem solve and what is problem solving? Prediction. Cells are prediction machines, not machines, they are predictive entities. So are we. Every single decision we make is predictive whether we know it or not. we are default predicting our next course of action; whether we consciously think about it or not. That’s what we are doing all the time and why is it so important? I should emphasize that; I’m saying that the privilege of biology is measurement. It’s important to know that communication among cells is the lifeblood of the living circumstance; cell to cell communication is the means by which all these cells can collaborate and cooperate and the things I am talking about.
When they do that together, they are engineering. When they engineer, they produce phenotype which is like arms and legs and arms and liver and the history of that on this planet is evolution. So what is this reduced to, what does this mean? It really means that cognition-based evolution suggests that we stop looking at evolution as simply a story of natural selection acting on cells that are just automatically responding to stimuli and we start thinking about it as information management. Intelligent cells measure when they work together, that’s information management, problem solving and prediction and these are the vital differences between natural selection and Darwinism as it has been perceived and what it needs to become. This doesn’t mean that natural selection doesn’t exist. Of course, it does.
But what is natural selection? I’ll talk about that for a minute before we go. So, all through Neo-Darwinian literature, selection is looked on as a force. Selection pressure determines what this will happen or that will happen and we see this from positive selection pressure. It explains everything. In fact, it is the non-thinking way of approaching evolution. There is selection, there is of course, selection and what was being selected. In an information management system, what is being selected, is the measuring capacity of cells, their information management strategies are being selected.
Richard Jacobs: I want to give people as complete as possible, the ability to read this paper. That’s what I want to do in this interview. So, there’s two things left that I want to ask you. There’s two sentences in here, so here it is. I’ll take the last line of the abstract and then we’ll get this one other. So, the last sentence talks about continuous self-referential cellular measurement. So, we understand cells measure and self-referential cellular measurement means the cell is measuring for it’s own purposes or it’s measuring in reference to it’s condition versus the environment. But you talk about the perpetual defense of individual or cellular identities. What does that mean? Why is there a defense of self and what does it mean?
William B. Miller, Jr.: Thank you for asking, it’s a terrifically important aspect of understanding cells. The best way to think about cellular intelligence is that they know just enough to know that they can protect themselves in a discretionary way. So what do I mean by that? I mean that they are not robots, that they can assess information and make living choices. When I say they are trying to protect self-identity within the context of a cell, it means they are trying to protect what’s called their homeostatic level and what that means, think of it more or less as being in a cellular equilibrium. Just imagine that a cell is just like you and when everything is right for you, you’ve had the perfect glass of wine, whatever it is that satisfies, you are just in the zone, it’s good. Life is good and I’m in this zone.
Cells and we, we are not alike in the sense that cells are thinking at all the way that we do but the sense of a preferential state which you and I know exists for every single person. That’s why we drink, that’s why we smoke, that’s why we take drugs, that’s why we have sex, that’s why we do everything. Cells have their own state of preference, it’s called homeostasis. What does it mean for the cell? It means the proper set of gradients, the proper electrodynamic inputs, the proper physician for itself, these are the, physically, in a mechanical transudative manner, these are the other cells. Cells experience pressure, cells experience the contact of other cells. Those are important things. It may mean the amount of nutrition, it means their own state of nutritional satisfaction, their own metabolism. Every cell has it’s own metabolism.
So, when we talk about self-integrity, we are talking about cells that are a simple biological plan. All cells are self-referential, meaning that they have a sense of individual discretionary preference and they seek to defend that and it’s important. The single best way they can defend that because of their need to measure imprecise information is in the collective form which precisely explains why multicellularity exists and is absolutely predominant on this planet.
Richard Jacobs: So, again, to reduce it, it’s one thing if I measure, because I am measuring ambiguous things, I may be right, I may not but if myself and 10 other people measure; if I say hey Bill take a look at this, so and so, take a look at this, everyone looks at the same thing even though they are all measured a bit differently will still get a better outcome.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Yeah, let me offer a very good example from my point of view. How many TV shows do you see and I don’t even know which show is which but take a circumstance where you’ve got the contestant and the host and they’ve got to choose among 3 doors or they have to choose a multiple-choice question in order to go to the next round or get a prize. What do they often do? They’ll turn to the audience. How often do they do that? Almost all the time. Every once in a while, someone is very cocky and self-confident and they’ll rush to do it but you can hear it on the radio, you can see it on the TV every day. The ambiguity of information, which door do I choose so people are uncertain. Other people are certain it’s the other door and again, what is the solution that is as common as dirt among humans? Collective assessment, the wisdom of crowds. So, we see it in our own lives all the time.
We need to enlarge our imagination to permit the thought that our cells are just capable enough to exhibit certain types of properties that we ourselves do. In fact I should reverse this to say we exhibit those properties because our cells have them. We are the ultimate level by level connection of these elemental processes that began almost as soon as the earth was formed within 300 million years, current assessment which is no time at all in geologic space. So we should really see ourselves as properly as the product of cellular engineering and we exhibit our responses to stresses in the way we do because we are their products.
Richard Jacobs: So, okay, we are just about done here. Again, I wanted to talk about one more term. You talk about homeostatic equipoise. What is that? What does that mean in plain speak?
William B. Miller, Jr.: That just means that each cell is seeking it’s zone. It’s zone of happiness, happiness being whatever a cell regards as being it’s preferential zone. Again, it’s a set of gradients, it’s a set of certain molecular concentration, it’s a certain position with an electrodynamic field. It is whatever it is for cells and it will be different for any one cell or another. How does this one cell assess the information so it can get to that state? Through it’s senome.
Richard Jacobs: Okay, very good. So, the last thing I want to do, if you could just bear with me. I want to read the title and I want to read the abstract and for the listeners, if we’ve done our job right, you’ll understand a lot of this and it’ll entice you to read the paper and at least understand it. So, the title is Cellular Senomic Measurements In Cognition-Based Evolution and here is the abstract, it’s just one paragraph.
“All living entities are cognitive and dependent on ambiguous information. Any assessment of that imprecision is necessarily measuring function. Individual cells measure information to sustain self-referential homeostatic equipoise, which you identify as self-identity in juxtaposition to the external environment or with the external environment. The validity of that information is improved by collective assessment and the reception of cellular information, it obliges thermodynamic reactions that initiate a self-reinforcing work channel.” I guess we could probably answer what that means but we’ll get to it. “This expresses as natural cellular engineering and niche constructions which becomes the complex inter-related tissue ecologies of halobionts like ourselves. Multicellularity is collaborative cellular information management as we talked about, directed towards the optimization of information quality through it’s collective measured assessment. Biology and it’s evolution can now be re-framed as the continuous process of self-referential cellular measurement in the perpetual defense of individual cellular self-identities through the collective form.”
So, if you were to just plain speak like super low level just to restate the abstract, how would you restate it?
William B. Miller, Jr.: intelligent cells measure. They measure better together than apart and because they can measure, they can engineer and communicate. We are their product.
Richard Jacobs: Okay, that’s excellent. So, this is an experiment for me to do this but again, it’s only because these ideas, I think are incredibly important for all of science. So, I appreciate you coming on the interview and is there anything else that we should cover? You hinted at what’s called the end space which will be another call at some point in the future. It’s another concept but do you feel like we’ve covered the concepts in this paper in a layman’s type way or explicative way?
William B. Miller, Jr.: Well, there is one other thing. The point of cells is to maintain a state of preference but let me just explain that a little bit further as our final thing. What is actually the state of preference? The state of preference is when it is in concert with the environment. It’s in equilibrium with the environment. It’s not stressed, it’s in equilibrium with that environment. So what does that actually mean for a cell? It means that cells are extremely complicated. They are not simple in the slightest. They are extraordinarily crowded, active and complex. What this means is that the cell’s job is to continually internalize the environment. Internalization of the environment is what adaptation means. In other words, when you think of an organism doing this or that to adapt to the environmental stress, what it really is doing is grasping the environment and bringing it inside and it expresses itself in biological form.
I know this is a weird thought and that’s why it’s best to leave for last but that’s us on this planet, that’s evolution in action. It’s always trying to internalize the environment but natural selection is making sure, it’s judging whether the cell has measured the environment correctly to internalize it. so what you realize and what I am trying to express is that we are not simply on the planet, we are not just within the environment, we are the environment, we are of the environment. We are the product of this continuous internalization. So, we see ourselves as occupying the environment until the listeners know. Let’s go further together for this tough concept. You are the environment; you are the product of billions of years of the consistent internalization of this planet and you are a part of it. It’s not a spiritual thing but you are part of it in a deeply scientific biological way.
Richard Jacobs: Excellent. Well, Bill, thanks again for coming and imparting your wisdom.
William B. Miller, Jr.: Thank you.
Richard Jacobs: I appreciate it.
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