OF OCTOPUSES AND NANOWIRES
Every now and then I get articles that are seemingly unrelated, and I have to blog about them in one fell swoop. and that's the case today with these two articles shared - with our thanks - by T.S. Perhaps in doing so he was thinking more or less the same thing I'm thinking when reading them.
One of the articles is about a subject near and dear to my heart, and regular readers here know what it is: octopuses. The creatures fascinate me because they are, by almost any reckoning, some of the strangest creatures in all of God's creation; their head is their body, which, incidentally, is entirely soft, their mouth is in the middle of their eight legs, or arms, or tentacles, and moreover consists of the only hard structure for the mouth is rather like the beak of a bird, their two eyes are unusual in that their pupils are rectangular, their arms (or legs, or tentacles) are covered with suction cups, by which the creature not only grasps things and holds onto them for dear life, but also are how the octopus smells and tastes. They can change colour and are as expert at camouflage as a chameleon, and they are known to decorate their living quarters, to be able to learn from each other simply by watching each other, and they've been observed solving puzzles. And as any aquarium that has played home to the creatures, they are master escape artists. Tales abound from aquariums where the octopus will wait for the facility to close, and then escape its tank, slither over to another tank, and dine on crabs, or even, in some cases, sharks, and then slink back to its own case before the facility reopens. In short, in their relatively short life-spans, they are remarkably intelligent animals, doubtless due to the very unusual structure of their brain.
Or rather, brains, because they have nine of them, one for each leg/arm/tentacle, and a "central" one connected to the other eight. It would be safer to say that the octopus brain is actually a network of brains with a central processor. In short, the creatures are just downright bizarre and strange. And I can attest personally to that, because where I live we have an aquarium, and that aquarium is home to a Giant Pacific Octopus. During my visit he(or she... I was never able to get a good enough look at its tentacles to determine its sex), was all coiled up in a corner of the tank, his (or her) syphon gently breathing the water, and those two black rectangular pools of pupils looking at me very intently. Looking into the eyes of that octopus, the impression I had was unforgettable: I was being studied and thought about.
And that brings me to the first article:
As the article makes clear, scientists have finally been successful in implanting electrodes into an octopus brain (presumably the "central processor" and not the brains in the eight legs), and they have made a rather remarkable discovery, for in spite of the dissimilarity of neural architectures between octopuses and humans, the octopus brain(s) display some unusually human-like brainwave patterns:
Octopuses possess a brain wave that has never been seen before in animals, along with others similar to those found in humans, first-of-their-kind brain recordings reveal.
"Some of these activity patterns have some similarity to activity patterns observed in the mammalian hippocampus, also a memory center," first-author Tamar Gutnick(opens in new tab), a visiting scientist at the University of Naples, told Live Science. "But we also observed unique patterns, 2Hz activity, that were never reported in other animals."
The recorded brain wave patterns surprised the scientists in a number of ways. First of all, the researchers discovered brain waves that were very similar to those found in the human hippocampus.
This hints at convergent neurological evolution — where two separate animals evolve the same trait independently of each other — as humans’ last common ancestor with octopuses was a seafloor-trawling flatworm that lived around 750 million years ago and did not possess anything other than a rudimentary brain. The researchers also found brain waves known for controlling sleep-wake cycles in other animals.
Alongside the more familiar brain waves, the researchers also found ones they had never seen before in the recordings; long-lasting and slow, they repeated just twice every second. Scientists aren’t sure what these mysterious brain waves are being used for, and it will take more recordings while octopuses complete set tasks to fully map them, the researchers said.
Unusually, in spite of an evolutionary divergence some 750 million years ago (according to current standard theory), humans and octopuses share an unusual common feature in their brain dna according to this article:
Octopus brains may have grown smart from an enormous diversity of microRNAs that let them grow multiple types of brain cells.
Octopuses may have gained some of their exceptional intelligence from the same evolutionary process that humans went through, a new study suggests.
The process involved a sudden explosion of microRNAs (miRNAs) — small, noncoding molecules that control how genes are expressed. This increase may have helped the brains of octopuses and humans to develop new types of nerve cells, or neurons, which were stitched together into more complex neural networks.
Now before we get today's high octane speculation, let us look at that second article shared by T.S.:
Note something very important in this article:
In a groundbreaking study, an international team has shown that nanowire networks can mimic the short- and long-term memory functions of the human brain. This breakthrough paves the way for replicating brain-like learning and memory in non-biological systems, with potential applications in robotics and sensor devices.
An international team led by scientists at the University of Sydney has demonstrated nanowire networks can exhibit both short- and long-term memory like the human brain.
“In this research, we found higher-order cognitive function, which we normally associate with the human brain, can be emulated in non-biological hardware,” Dr. Loeffler said.
Now what these two seemingly disparate and unrelated articles seem to suggest is that intelligence is as much a feature of architecture as it is a feature of the "hardware" (organic or inorganic matter), or of "software" (the "programming or 'instinct' itself). This suggests that Elon Musk's hypothesis of a few years ago, i.e., that a sufficiently sophisticated architecture of artificial intelligence might actually either "wake up", or that it might transduce an "entity" into it. Or to put it differently, intelligence, and thence consciousness, might be an emergent property of the architecture of organic or inorganic matter, rather than something inherent only to organic matter . Why? because a look at an octopus and at a nano-wire assembly and at a human reveals the utter dissimilarity of all three creatures, except in that neural architecture. The implications are enormous, for they imply we might have to return to the older and more classical view that there can be multiple types of intelligent life, some of it even being inorganic.
And in any case, all of this tends to confirm that eerie feeling I had visiting the aquarium and studying that Giant Pacific Octopus; just as I was studying it, it was studying me, and may actually have been thinking what I was thinking: "What strange manner of creature is this? And I wonder what it's thinking?"
See you on the flip side...
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