Below are reflections I wrote towards the end of the Stem Cell course at Cold Spring Harbor (Summer 2010). They serve as an elaboration on the chapter titled “Dream” in the book “Ground Zero Mosque.” A related post is here.
Waddington’s epigenetic landscape model is built upon a classical conception of space, time and gravity evident in the landscape’s topology, the cell’s location at different stages of its differentiation and the journey “down-hill,” respectively. Cellular reprogramming becomes an attempt to change their location on the landscape by pushing them uphill to less committed states or horizontally to alternative differentiated states. I propose here a different conception of space, time and gravity which aims to provide a framework for cellular reprogramming as well as new areas of cognitive research.
Space is a function of perception. Time is a function of memory. Gravity is a function of [engraved] neural architecture. Classical Physics does not describe the universe, but rather describes how human beings observe the universe. Neuroscience is now poised to investigate how the laws of classical physics are cognitively dictated.
Phenomena are what we observe, and indeed we only have access to that which we can observe. This proposed framework considers space, time and gravity as phenomena and therefore products of our observation that are contingent on the specific nature of our cognitive faculties.
Space is a function of perception and varies according to perspective. Any notion of time discussed amongst humans is inseparable from memory; the ability to hold on to an immediate perception and recall more distant ones. Without memory, there is no passage of time, only ever-perception, but no time. Translocating “back in time” is achieved by erasing all memories formed between “now” and the desired time-point. Translocating “into future” is to accumulate the necessary memories to the desired time-point. With the above assumptions regarding space and time, we can speculate about the nature of the universe external to the observer.
If time does not exist external to the observer, then all events exist all-at-once externally, but are serially streamlined during observation. External to the observer, the apple exists attached to the tree branch and at every location between the branch and the ground. Observation serially streamlines these events to appear sequentially. A simplified parable is of a filmstrip with all the events already on the reel, but the process of running streamlines the events.
Navigating through the external all-at-once-events requires a pulling force which is the same as that which drives the perceived apple to the ground. Gravity is the force which pulls external all-at-once-events into observation according to [engraved] neural architecture that defines the sequence of perceived events. Aside of the gravitational effect observed visually, the sense of bodily weightiness or weightlessness is also a function of [engraved] neural architecture that can be chemically modulated.
This proposed framework assumes that there is no difference between voyeurism and engaging interactively with the universe. Consider the extreme case of painful events leading to death. For example, given the proposed interpretation of gravity as being a function of neural architecture that dictates the trajectory of observed events, how does one explain the fate of someone who falls from a tower?
Death is assumed in this framework to be the cessation of all cognitive faculties performed by the brain. This may be caused by the failure of sustaining this organ due to internal malfunctions such as cardiac arrest or infection. It may also be caused by a “crashing” resulting from severe processing overload or processing shock. Thus, to merge voyeurism and interactive engagement, death is considered to be the result of intense observation that leads to neuro-crashing. Pain and other forms of qualia can also be incorporated in this framework. This is a subject for future discussion.
Since all phenomena are functions of our cognition, the objective-subjective dichotomy becomes obsolete. Rather, our observation follows trajectories determined by the architecture of our cognitive faculties. These architectures vary in their universality amongst human beings. Architectures that are universal (i.e. identical between human beings) give rise to similar [objective] observations. These objective observations are corroborative by the testimony of others due to the common architecture we share leading to similar observations. Other architectures that are more variable lead to unique [subjective] observations. Thus observations span a spectrum of Sobjectivity according to the degree of engraved architectural variation. A key area of cognitive research is mapping trajectories of observation and their degree of variation amongst human beings.
This neuro-centric framework rests on engraved architecture. Architecture depends on blueprints. The neural architecture is a function of a genic blueprint[i]. That is, Genes are the elements of genesis that generate the engraved architecture required for our observations. In our neuro-centric framework, the entire human body is required to serve the faculty of cognition.
There is a need to make an important paradigm shift away from studying the genic blueprint as mere phenomena and towards understanding its position at the interface between observation and the external universe. The cell is not a machine like a car, a watch or a computer. The cell harbors the paste that interfaces between our observations and that which lies Beyond observation. What lies Beyond our observation is the substrate of our perceived world. Our perceived world includes the sensual, the imaginary, and the inputs that drive our genesis. The individual lies between the perceivable and that which lies Beyond through their genic interphase.
To investigate biological development is to investigate the interphase between the Beyond and the perceived, as well as the engraved architecture which channels and directs [random] all-at-once events to a certain direction. Thus cellular reprogramming provides us with the incentive to investigate randomness in genic expression, and a thorough surveying of the genic landscape. However, the crux of cellular reprogramming may lie in discovering the mechanisms of cellular memory and the ability to erase or introduce the necessary memories in order to translocate cells (i.e. cellular reprogramming is a form of cellular time-travel).
The current methods in cellular programming emphasize the role of modifying the genic landscape through modulating the expression of key genes. Such brute force may lead to the desired observable phenomenon. Experience will demonstrate if what lies Beyond will give way to our attempts at translocating cells, or will effortlessly circumvent them[ii].
Summary of Research Frontiers
The heuristic framework discussed here raises important questions that are amenable to experimental research. How are the basic rules of logic and laws of classical physics engraved into our cognitive faculties and how are their engraved architectures altered in various psychiatric conditions? What is the degree of variation in our cognitive faculties leading to the spectrum of Sobjectivity?
What is the substrate of cellular memory (or the mechanism of cellular time-keeping) and how can we erase or add cellular memories?
Are there general architectural motifs used at the interphase between what lies Beyond and the perceived universe? In other words, are their general architectures utilized for the channeling of [random] all-at-once events to emergent perceivable phenomena?
How much can we infer, if anything, of what lies Beyond perception?
[i] Genic is used here to emphasize the role of the “Gene”. The intended “gene” is not the mere exon/intron fragment of DNA between a promoter and a stop site, but rather the abstract element of “genesis”. Genic thus encapsulates the genetic and the epigenetic.
[ii] Such a question raises the issue of Free-Will, a topic for future discussion.