Monday, June 20, 2016

Microbial Collective Memory and the Future of Human Sociothermodynamics

stickers communicating with each other

I guess the easiest way to describe this is “distributed memory?” I’ll cut directly from the article:

“When an entire population is observed, rather than individual cells, the bacteria appear to develop a kind of collective memory. In populations exposed to a warning event, survival rates upon a second exposure two hours after the warning are higher than in populations not previously exposed. Using computational modelling, the scientists explained this phenomenon in terms of a combination of two factors. Firstly, salt stress causes a delay in cell division, leading to synchronization of cell cycles; secondly, survival probability depends on the individual bacterial cell's position in the cell cycle at the time of the second exposure. As a result of the cell cycle synchronization, the sensitivity of the population changes over time. Previously exposed populations may be more tolerant to future stress events, but they may sometimes even be more sensitive than populations with no previous exposure.”

So what this is saying is that the population has a memory. Not the individual cells, but the population as a whole. In other words, a collective memory, distributed, remembers what happened last time, and behaves accordingly. Behaves? Cells don’t behave, or at least we don’t normally say things like that. But alas, cells – plural – behave.

In the trendy field of sociothermodynamics, people are treated not even like cells but like molecules bouncing around. This idea of a collective memory changes the way we may think about these “molecules.” It seems kind of silly, we know humans have memory – individual memories inside our brains and a form of collective memory in the form of … cultural products, i.e., art, architecture, writing, etc.? – and we have theories about collective memory and the Noosphere, via Carl Jung and Tielhard de Chardin. But there’s no real metrics behind this stuff, it’s all theory. For now. Combining models of sociothermodynamics with the kind of work presented above may shed new light on human behavior, we’ll see.

March 2016,

Interlinks to things about the Noosphere and such:

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