Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mixotricha paradoxa

Hoffmeyer asks, "Where does endosymbiosis end and individuality begin" (Signs of Meaning in the Universe, p. 31)? An example he considers is Mixotricha paradoxa, an archeazoan organism that lives in the gut of the termite Mastotermes darwiniensis. The curious fact about Mixotricha is that it moves around by means of ectosymbiont spirochete bacteria. Evolutionary biologists have put forward the hypothesis that "eukaryotic locomotory organelles such as flagella and cilia originated from spirochetes," while eukaryotic cytoplasm is presumed to be of archeal origin (K├Ânig et al., p. 195). Wikipedia presents the idea of symbiogenesis as controversial because the evidence for anything in the eukaryotic cell besides mitochondria and chloroplasts is unclear. Nevertheless, it appears that evidence is accumulating to support the idea of symbiogenesis, and the clear evidence that we do have is enough to raise questions about what exactly an organism is, about how organisms orginate, behave, and evolve over time.

Some of the philosophy I've been reading has left me with the idea that an organism is the totality of relations between a living body and its environment. This would be an adequate description of a bacterium, from a certain point of view, so in a sense it's a good place to start. The eukaryotic organism, however, is much more complex than that. In the case of eukaryotes we must consider relations in the internal environement of the cell.

There seems to be a chasm between what we can learn from an investigation of consciousness and what we can learn from persistent observation of living organisms. We can think of consciousness as "intersubjective," but it's much harder to think of consciousness as bacterial. In The Conscious Cell (the whole article is not freely available online), Lynn Margulis has begun to think, from the perspective of an objective science, the vesitiges of the bacterial in consciousness. Her approach is not without problems. She asks to imagine that the "the components that fused in symbiogenesis [to form the nervous system of animals] are already 'conscious'" (p. 57). In her view the spirochetes that attach to Mixotricha paradoxa are analogous to "sense organs" (p. 68). It is difficult to reconcile this view of consciousness with the sense that you or I have of being conscious.

I'm sympathetic to a Deleuzean approach to individuation. However, the rigors of objective science on the one hand and phenomenology on the other remain productive for all their philosophical blemishes. I want to know how individuation can be thought, and it seems that the conditions of possibility for thinking individuation are various and sundry. My expectation is less for reconciliation in a grand narrative than for edifications.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:52 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'My expectation is less for reconciliation in a grand narrative than for edifications.'

That's a good approach!

I too am interested in this question of individuation. Stengers has things to say about this in 'Cosmopolitics' which must be translated now...You really would appreciate these short volumes.

After looking at Deleuze, Simondon and some theoretical biology I still find it attractive to distinguish btwn 'persons' and other things (whether living or not). Mariela once wrote that "you may change in life but you don't become a different 'person'".
I tend to agree with this approach which in which person's as semovient existentialities 'pop' into existence or eclose but do not 'emerge' from their boundary states etc. It's also a traditional Christian approach....
The brain or circumstances do not determine the one who comes to say this is my brain and this is my environment.

I always like the Marx line 'but circumstances are in fact changed by men and the educator must be educated'! (Thesis on Feurbach).


July 21, 2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steven Shaviro blogged this in 05 but it may be translated now

July 21, 2007 2:48 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks for the link. I searched WorldCat again. No translations yet.

You know I really don't do science very well. Maybe you noticed that in my last post on repetition.

At least with biology I have some familiarity. But I just don't think like a working scientist, like I never think "Oh, this is testable." It took me a long time to learn that about myself. Could I have become a different person, Fido the Bad Scientist? I don't believe that personhood is (totally, philosophically or strictly) determined by circumstances, but I do believe that personhood is both open to circumstances and polyvalent.

July 21, 2007 4:43 PM  

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