Thursday, June 18, 2009


Bacteria with Culture?

I'm presently reading the marvelous book, Hierarchy in the Forest, by Christopher Boehm, where on page 224, he refers to humans, and to variations in their phenotypes, as "dealing with a species that, through morality, can radically manipulate its own behavior." (Having inferred elsewhere that morality represents a system of cultural values shared more by humans than by their ancestral primates.)

But isn't that another way to describe how all us animals use intelligence to adapt our strategic "phenotypes" to new situations? And how organisms purposively (using their versions of "intelligence") drive their own evolutionary adaptations - or how they affect the odds of the selective process, whatever it will turn out to be?

Because we humans didn't invent morality. Morality in effect invented us. Life's basic strategy is one of "moral" choice making. Simply put, whatever reliably increases odds for survival is seen or felt on some level as right, prudent, and therefor moral. Whatever we have learned to trust as viable strategies, whether cultural or instinctive, have become the foundation of our human morality, (Often ironically hardening the concept to represent the essentially immoral, when changing circumstances should have otherwise required changing strategies - or reversing the labels when referring to the identical strategies of a predator or successful competitor.)

And coincidentally, I've just found this related article, Scientists Show Bacteria Can 'Learn' And Plan Ahead, at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090617131400.htm

Excerpts: "Their findings show that these microorganisms' genetic networks are hard-wired to 'foresee' what comes next in the sequence of events and begin responding to the new state of affairs before its onset."

"--- implying that bacteria have naturally 'learned' to get ready for a serving of maltose after a lactose appetizer."

"Further analysis showed that this anticipation and early response is an evolutionary adaptation that increases the organism's chances of survival."

"After several months, the bacteria had evolved to stop activating their maltose genes at the taste of lactose, only turning them on when maltose was actually available."

So, in my view, using the term "evolved" means they passed on to successor bacteria elements of a strategy that they had learned from experience. They remembered results of trials and errors and "calculated" diminished probabilities, formed expectations and reacted or declined to react accordingly, and enabled the replication of those revised strategies.

And with no ritualistic ceremony to stand on in the bargain.

(It wasn't intended that this should be a demonstration of the Baldwin effect, but a purposeful effort can serve more than one purpose. Check this article by one of our better philosophers: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ip/davidpapineau/Staff/Papineau/OnlinePapers/SocLearnBald.htm)

1 comment:

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