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Ursula Goodenough

Duane — (Here’s the URL for the article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27730-this-singlecelled-bug-has-the-worlds-most-extraordinary-eye.html) — A cool critter to be sure. Importantly, there’s only one radiation that uses neurons to detect the outside world, called Animalia or Metazoa. All other organisms have ways of doing this without neurons: bacteria, protozoa, algae, land plants (roots know how to grow down, shoots how to grow towards light, etc.). The main issue is vocabulary. I use the words awareness or sentience to refer to these capabilities, reserving consciousness for one facet of brain-based activity and reserving narrative self for the trick that humans, at least, know how to turn in having an “I” concept. Other people elect to use different nouns. The point is that these systems, from single-celled to neuron-based brains, are all fundamentally homologous, using membrane-embedded receptor proteins and/or ion channels to elicit signal transduction cascades and responses. 


It will be fun to learn how this dinoflagellate works, but the ocean is teeming with protists that detect their prey in lots of ways. Awareness is indeed a fundamental property of all organisms on this planet, and I would predict that it’s a property of organisms on any planet. That’s quite a different statement from “consciousness or sentience is … a more fundamental property of the universe.”