Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I R’ Us - a waking mashup

When I am going through the daily transition from the last bit of REM sleep to having an awake self I frequently find articles I have recently noted appear in mind in an associated cluster. Thus the title of this post, which tries to point to our delusion that each of us is a tidy "I" that is running its own show. The chunks that come together are:
1). A review by Ezenwa et al. as well as an excellent article by Michael Specter in The New Yorker ('Germs are Us') discuss the microbiome of bacteria, viruses, and fugi whose cells vastly outnumber our own and whose genes outnumber our own by least 100 times. These 'invaders' influence not only our behavior but also our physiology and resistance to disease. We are being managed by a much larger ensemble of creatures than the "I" that writes or reads these lines.
2). A piece by Paul summarizes the powerful effect that social factors and stereotypes can have on our performance. And finally,
3).Nick Bilton writes on how our social boundaries and privacy are being erased as people are watching and reporting on us on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Path and an interminable list of other social networks. Our identities diffuse into the public sphere, and we don't get to choose what show we are going to be on...
The common thread here is the message that our lives are being run by a vast army of creatures, microscopic to human size, that we usually take to be external to our "I".


  1. Timely post. =) I think about this sort of thing *all the time* lately.

    Our lives, our perceptions, our thoughts, our choices, our goals, etc., are the products of unfathomably vast collections of cooperative organisms, each one living its own life, oblivious to the collective consciousness it is helping to create. It's a fascinating idea, especially given the 'individual'-centric view we typically think of as reality.

    Along a similar vein, I recently remarked to my cohabitants how ant colonies might share a singular collective consciousness, possibly similar to the consciousness the human brain generates. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's this - - a draft of an essay considering the possibility (probability?) that the United States (and other human social collectives) possesses a species of consciousness that may or may not be self-aware.

    I wonder what increased public awareness of this fact about consciousness would be. Would we begin to see individual selves as less important than the social collective? Would our sense of individuality diminish? Or will this illusion of 'separateness' persist?

  2. Thanks for your comments, Eric.