Brain Inspired
Brain Inspired
BI 149 William B. Miller: Cell Intelligence

Check out my free video series about what’s missing in AI and Neuroscience

Support the show to get full episodes and join the Discord community.

William B. Miller is an ex-physician turned evolutionary biologist. In this episode, we discuss topics related to his new book, Bioverse: How the Cellular World Contains the Secrets to Life’s Biggest Questions. The premise of the book is that all individual cells are intelligent in their own right, and possess a sense of self. From this, Bill makes the case that cells cooperate with other cells to engineer whole organisms that in turn serve as wonderful hosts for the myriad cell types. Further, our bodies are collections of our own cells (with our DNA), and an enormous amount and diversity of foreign cells – our microbiome – that communicate and cooperate with each other and with our own cells. We also discuss how cell intelligence compares to human intelligence, what Bill calls the “era of the cell” in science, how the future of medicine will harness the intelligence of cells and their cooperative nature, and much more.

0:00 – Intro
3:43 – Bioverse
7:29 – Bill’s cell appreciation origins
17:03 – Microbiomes
27:01 – Complexity of microbiomes and the “Era of the cell”
46:00 – Robustness
55:05 – Cell vs. human intelligence
1:10:08 – Artificial intelligence
1:21:01 – Neuro-AI
1:25:53 – Hard problem of consciousness


Bill    00:00:03    All cells have all of the capacities that we grant ourselves. They’re cognitive. That means they measure information. They’re aware of those measurements. They are sentient. They, they have, they don’t have feelings. The we, we have feelings, but they have states of preference. We are solutions to cellular problems. It’s not good for our egos to think of ourselves this way, but what we are is we are a wonderful habitat. Our kind of intelligence is how we measure intelligence across the scale. But that’s not the way biology should measure it, and it’s not the way evolution measures it.  

Speaker 3    00:00:52    This is brain inspired.  

Paul    00:01:06    Hey everyone, I’m Paul and I am jet lagged. So the first thing I wanna say is that I just returned from Norway, where I participated in the annual conference for the Norwegian Research School in Neuroscience. So I just wanna say hello, uh, to my new Norwegian friends, and thank you again for having me. And I look forward to throwing more axes with you anytime and or playing with more bows and arrows. I had a really good time, so thanks. All right. As you know, uh, mostly on brain inspired. We talk about the intelligence of brains and or models of brains. Um, as you also know, brains are made of neurons among other cells. And the models that we discuss are made of units that to some minuscule degree mimic real neurons. The key here is that we think of intelligence and cognition as a property of the collective activities of all those neurons and or units.  

Paul    00:01:57    On this episode, the focus is not on neurons per se, but on individual cells of all types. So my guess today is William B. Miller, who has just written the book Bio verse, How the cellular world contains the secrets to life’s biggest questions, which is all about bill’s thoughts and research on the intelligence of individual cells, be they neurons, skin cells, bacteria, and so on. Bill’s claim is that every cell is intelligent in its own right and has a sense of self in its own right. And these single cells, uh, strategically come together to engineer a collective intelligence, which makes up, uh, each of our bodies. And when I say us, uh, that refers not only to our own cells with our own dna, but also the massive collection of foreign cells within us that form partnerships with each other and with our own cells, our microbiome.  

Paul    00:02:52    So we talk about all those concepts, um, bill’s, thoughts on cell intelligence versus brain intelligence, the current state of, uh, cellular science, which bill calls the era of the cell, and how he envisions that science revolutionizing our health treatments, uh, and many more topics. So I link to the book and Bill’s website in the show notes at brain 149. Thank you to all my patriot supporters and students in my online neuro AI course, either of which is an excellent way to support the podcast if you value what I do, and or you want to dive deeper into those kinds of topics. For those of you watching on YouTube, I apologize we couldn’t get Bill’s camera, uh, quite up to speed. So this turned out to be an audio only episode. Nevertheless, uh, hope you enjoy listening. Here’s Bill. Uh, the book is Bio Verse, How the Cellular World Contains the Secrets to Life’s Biggest Questions. Uh, welcome to the podcast, Bill. Nice, nice to have you here.  

Bill    00:03:53    Thanks, Paul. I’m, I’m really thrilled to be here.  

Paul    00:03:56    So this book is really a, uh, thorough dive into, um, a deep dive into the individuality of ourselves, their intelligence, uh, their networking abilities, and, um, how we are not just our own cells, but a, you know, we’re made up of our microbiome. A, uh, huge collection of foreigners, <laugh>. So, uh, Right, right. Yes. And, and you know, it’s interesting, I had this reaction, I think it was around chapter eight in the book, uh, that just swimming in these waters, um, about individual cells and how we’re made up of them. I had to re uh, contemplate how, you know, I feel like an individual, but in reality I’m many, many, many individuals, and it’s just a what a miraculous thing to feel like an individual. And yet we’re made up of, uh, many individuals, um, <laugh>. So, so thanks for making me recon, contemplate that. And do you, in your, you know, but right now, I feel like an individual, but for a moment I felt like a, a collection of individuals in your, you know, as you’re going through your day, do you feel like Bill Miller or do you feel like lots of, uh, individual cells that make up Bill, Bill Miller  

Bill    00:05:10    <laugh>? No, I, I, I feel absolutely a singular individual. Mm. And that’s how it’s meant to be. That’s, that’s the super sauce, That’s the amazing, seamless collaboration that exists among ourselves. I, I don’t know how, how much your listeners might know about the cellular world. Most people know almost nothing mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but we’re a, a, a specific class of living organism, uh, that’s best termed a super organism. We are maybe a hundred or more trillion cells, maybe hundreds of trillions if you include all of our microbes. Uh, if we included all of our viruses, maybe even more than that, uh, we don’t actually know the, the exact number, but let’s just say trillions and trillions that were together. So almost seamlessly that you feel like one person. I I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror, I go, Eat your heart out.  

Bill    00:06:04    George Clooney <laugh>. I am gorgeous. And, uh, but once I started studying cells, I realized that each and every single one of those cells is what, what, what we term self-referential. Well, what does that mean? It means it’s its own actual problem solving individual. Every single cell, every single microbial cell, every single one of your personal cells, your pancrea cells, your liver cells, your skin cells, every single one of them has, is a living form, which it’s, it’s exhilarating and, and daunting and frightening, because now we’re, we have to figure out how is it possible for all of these trillions of cells to work together? So, so well that I’m, I’m Bill Miller all day long, and, uh, never don’t quite feel that way. Although we do have a number of experiences, uh, as living organisms that we have never quite understood, and we still don’t have the information. But there are those sensations when you’re out of body, when you’re, when you are living on another sphere, you’re, you are, um, you’ve reached an altered mental state, and those may give us clues on how to find out exactly how all of our cells work together. So, well,  

Paul    00:07:29    H how did you come to appreciate the cell? And, and maybe you could just mention how you essentially switched, uh, careers, uh, to study this, this newish love of yours.  

Bill    00:07:41    Well, I love this question because I can tell the listeners that there is no one that was more surprised than I, that I, that I turned from a contingent career in medicine. I was a practicing academic and, and private practice physician, uh, for over 35 years. And, uh, I had a passing interest in evolutionary biology, but no much, no more than any ordinary doctor or scientist that that has taken, um, that reads generally. Uh, it, it really hadn’t been a focus on my concentration. And so, uh, I’ll be quick about this, but I was at a medical meeting, uh, for my specialty in medicine, and it involved long days of sitting and listening to lectures. And I can only do that for a certain number of days before I go absolutely nuts. I’m not really a good sitting person  

Paul    00:08:39    Days, or I can only do it for hours,  

Bill    00:08:41    <laugh>. I know, it’s just, oh, it’s, it’s for me, The first day is exciting. The second day begins to start the agony anyway, so it comes around the third or fourth day, and I’ve had it, and it’s mid-afternoon. I turned to a, one of my partners who happened to be with me, and I said, I gotta get outta here. And we’re in Chicago. The meeting is a huge convention center in Chicago. It’s a big annual meeting. Uh, it’s, uh, and I said, Let’s go someplace. Let’s go to the Field museum or the Art Institute. You pick. He, he chose the field museum. So we, we played hooky. We go to this museum late in the afternoon, and I don’t know how many people that are listening may have been there, but if you walk into the field museum, there’s this gorgeous, magnificent rotunda that you walk into.  

Bill    00:09:27    And what caught my eye immediately and is meant to, is a, I like to say it’s a boy named Sue. It’s the Tyso Rex. It’s that magnificent tyso Rex that sits in the rotunda of the Field Museum. And I was startled just the scale of it. I just, I’d seen fossils before, but the way it was presented, the skillful way that it was presented really, uh, attracted me. And I walked over to look at it, and that’s when everything changed. I started to notice that the bones of the Tyranno sores Rex have a remarkable similarity to our own. And that just completely shocked me. So let me explain that. Of course, they’re huge, and we’re talking about a enormous difference in scale. But the, the major features, the, the shape of the head of the humorous, that’s this bone or the femur bone, the big thigh bone, the shape of the, the general shape of the pelvis, ribs, the vertebrae, the, the alignment. They’re different. But the, the muscle insertions where the grooves are on the bones for the muscle insertions, were pretty close to what I know from human anatomy. And I’m, I was very skilled at human anatomy based on what I was doing for a living.  

Bill    00:10:49    And I didn’t know anything really about evolution. But I did know that the general thought was that it was all accidental, That nothing was on purpose. It was always, uh, the, the source of random mutation. And I’m just generally thinking about it and realizing that this was a successful creature for over 6 million years. And then I’m looking at the arms, and those arms are unbelievably tiny. I mean, they are just, they just make no sense at all. But the arm bones are very much like our bones, and not nothing made any sense to me. And I was just confused and interested. It turned to my partner. I said, Boy, I’m not sure that what we were taught makes any sense at all. And he was very dismissive. He’s a super intelligent guy. He just said, No, it’s all a about of time, and you’re, you’re wasting your time to think about it. And for some reason, that became a challenge that was like a gauntlet had been thrown it. So I decided to start looking up on the web. It was at a period of time when the, the web existed, fortunately. When was the vital resource?  

Paul    00:11:59    Was this the nineties? When was this?  

Bill    00:12:01    This was the nineties, Yeah, the late nineties. Okay. Very, very late. Uh, early two thousands.  

Paul    00:12:07    So you were searching on like Lycos or something like that? Probably <laugh>.  

Bill    00:12:11    I cut. I, I don’t know, was it aol? I don’t know. I I know my connection. I had the phone, the dial phones, Uhhuh was ringing. Anyway, I, I was able to get articles that I would orderly get from the library, and I did utilize local libraries, um, and including a local university library. And I started to think about it. And one other quick thing, and then we can move on. I had made an observation in my medical practice that mattered to how all this turned out. I was in a, in a field that offered guidance and advice, um, by interpreting imaging for all sorts of specialists. So it would be the orthopedist of the, the, the, um, gastroenterology doctors, the neurologists often. And I noticed that, um, we were very reliant in, in radiology and imaging on patterns, consistent patterns. Uh, some of them were so specific that we could make a very likely diagnosis, almost certain diagnosis for certain diseases.  

Bill    00:13:17    For example, um, on an MRI scan of the brain, and someone with toxo plasmosis, there’s a specific pattern around the, this, this cerebral spiral fluid pathways in the middle of the brain. You see that, and you can very closely predict that it’s gonna be toxo plasmosis. And I started to wonder, why, why, why could we make that decision? What was it about Toxo that brought it to that site? And the feeling among all my partners was, well, that’s just, they’re just like, like little robots. And they, they go there and they, they default. They’re circulating around. And that’s, they find that spot and they kind like it, and that’s fine. But I said, They like it. He goes, Yeah, they kinda like it. Well, that mattered to me. Preference. What has preference? Well, robots don’t really have preference. It seems like such an uncomplicated thought, but it actually was a very, uh, difficult one for my partners.  

Bill    00:14:10    They didn’t wanna hear it. They, they had no interest in it. It wasn’t, they’re super smart guys and gals. Um, it just was not interesting to them. And it seized my imagination. Hmm. So what do we know now? Every single one of these cells, and one, every single one of these pathogens is seriously smart in its own limited scale. It’s intelligent. What do I mean by that? At the cellular scale, they’re problem solving. They, they, they get a stream of information and they interpret it. They measure it. This is an important, uh, idea that sells, are measuring information because it, it tells us why we have multicellularity. Why, why, why do I exist? Why do you exist? Why are, why can we, as a collection of cells, and the trillions get along because cells measure together to assess environmental uncertainties. Every cell measures the environment and that makes its best guess.  

Bill    00:15:11    And then it deploys its assets, and it, it’s, it doesn’t have unlimited assets. Just like, just like ourselves. We have to make choices. How are we gonna spend our energy? We can do this. It, it’s a matter of, of focus. We can do this or that. We don’t have energy for both. Uh, so we make a choice. Cells are are not different in that way. They, they have scant energy resources and they have to deploy it sensibly. They have to solve problems. How do they do that? Well, they learned that they can solve problems better together than a part. And that’s precisely why we exist. We are, we are solutions to cellular problems. This is, it’s, it’s not good for our egos to think of ourselves this way, but what we are is we are a wonderful habitat for exactly those combinations of the trillions of cells.  

Bill    00:16:03    My personal body cells and the, and the microbiome that we share. And our microbiome as a species is quite specific compared to any other mm-hmm. <affirmative>. We share certain bugs with other species or other primates and so on. We share certain bugs with our dogs and our cats. But if you take the whole composition, it’s very species specific. Going further, it’s actually individual specific. You have your own personalized microbiome. It is attuned to you. And why is that? Because they’re partners. They are mostly partners that yes, they can threaten you. They certainly, there can be pathogens that are lurking. These can be dangerous. But most of the time, all these cells and all of our microbes are getting along just fine. And you couldn’t live without them. And they can’t live the way they wanna live without you, You are their state of preference. And so I’m happy to be satisfying  

Paul    00:17:03    <laugh>. I mean, yeah, I learned a lot in the book. One of the things is just how diverse our sort of, I guess you’d call them, sub microbiomes. Each of our organs has its own specific collection That’s right. Of, um, foreign cells. I, I guess, uh, did you use, is the phrase sub microbiome in the book? I  

Bill    00:17:25    Remember? No, actually, actually, I was gonna steal it from you cuz I think it’s brilliant. I, I think that’s a very, a good way to put it. Because we loosely tend to use the term microbiome for our entire microbiome. But if I talk about my skin, I’ll talk about my skin microbiome, my pancreas microbiome. Um, the, the term sub microbiome might make sense. It would be the pancreas, sub microbiome. Um, and I have to think about it. But I think the important point for everyone that’s, uh, uh, watching and listening to this is each, this is a very surprising thing. Um, I’ve, I’ve been very, very lucky. I had a career in medicine that has spanned now some of the great advances, um, especially in imaging, which is where I spent a lot of my time. Um, when I first came out of my residency, computed tomography had only just begun.  

Bill    00:18:23    Ultrasound was extremely primitive, no such thing as a magnetic resonance imaging existed. Um, most of the great, uh, nuclear medicine procedures that we’re using today didn’t exist. Uh, almost none of the interventional procedures that I did of many, a lot of work in interventional work. Um, none of those existed. So I’ve seen a huge and gratifying progress in medicine. And, uh, one of the things that I was taught in when I was in medical school, as just a matter of certainty, is that your sterile on your insides, except for your gut, your your gut has bugs. And they somehow do something which was not really known. They certainly, they had something to do with digesting fibers and carbohydrates, but there was no conception that they were a critical part of our metabolism and physiology like we understand today that no one knew that. So I would say to a patient, Oh, good news.  

Bill    00:19:24    Uh, the antibiotic that you use cures your urinary tract and your Uranus sterile. And I really believe that. And it was, it was correct science of that moment decades ago. Well, that’s wrong. Your urine is never sterile. But we did. But you have gotten rid of the, the disproportionate amount of the abnormal of the pathogenic bug that was causing you symptoms. So it’s an hugely different nuance of understanding of, of the way thing is. Now we know that a, it it is beginning to become certain that absolutely every part of our body has some constituent microbiome. Uh, some of it is tiny, like our brain has a very tiny microbiome, but it has it, um, it, our pancreas has a, an active microbiome. In fact, we, we now believe that it is an active player in cancer. Uh, for instance, uh, it is believed that, uh, a breakdown of the pancreatic microbiome, that’s called a dysbiosis.  

Bill    00:20:29    Everything’s gotta have a scientific name in what we do. Got, we don’t know. We don’t know the answer. We make up scientific, and it sounds wonderful because we sound educated. Anyway, anyway, this is a good word, dysbiosis, because it simply means that the normal friendly partnership between the bugs that constitute the, the normal background microbiome has broken down. And that can have many causes. It could be due to cellular damages in the, uh, in our body cells, our pancrea cells, like our insulin cells for insulins producing cells that beta cells. Or it could be that there’s has been an interloper outside microbe that’s come in disturbed the background pancreatic microbe. As it turns out, there is pretty strong evidence that a fungal player causes an inflammatory response in the pancreatic microbiome. That somehow, for reasons that we don’t yet understand triggers, um, sufficient underlying cellular changes to induce early stage pancreatic cancer.  

Bill    00:21:34    And how will this will pan out, and whether future scientific studies will corroborate this absolutely is yet to be seen. But that’s the initial information. And, and it makes an important point. Every part of our body has its microbiome. My testes have a microbiome. Um, the uterus has its microbiome. The, the, um, lungs have a very important microbiome. It contributes to protecting us from infection, and also it sets us up for the possibility of infection. So someday we may find a one way of treating SARS covid. Two of covid would be to alter the microbiome of the lung rather than necessarily having to wait until you’re infected or necessarily have an immunization. Or we may always need immunization. I, I don’t know. I’m just saying that it’s a tiny, it’s a tantalizing prospect in this new ear of the cell that we’re entering. Oh, this new understanding of cellular life that we’re, we stand on the threshold of at least beginning the search for an entirely new ways of combating disease.  

Bill    00:22:46    Either preventing it entirely or stopping it at an early stage before it really becomes highly damaging for us. Even the fetus, which we all knew, we all were taught that absolutely every fetus is sterile. The, the placenta sterile, amniotic fluid is sterile unless there’s a bad bug in there. Well, now we’re finding out that that’s not the case. The fetus has a very tiny constituent microbiome. Uh, the placenta, which is always assumed, absolutely be sterile, probably has its own microbiome. That’s still a matter of some debate. And amniotic fluid definitely has some scattered bugs in it, mostly. And rarely makes a, is rarely a problem. We’re finding surprisingly that this microbiome matches the mother’s mouth microbiome more than any other body side. And we don’t really know why exactly that is. But you gotta, you have to get the data and then you can kind of work towards finding out new things along the way.  

Bill    00:23:45    Why is this important? It means that from the moment of conception, we are being subjected to the influences of our microbial companions. And even if the amount of, the number of, of microbes that a fetus has is tiny, the mothers metabolism is highly dependent on its microbial partnerships. And so the feeds has been bathed by these, my, these, uh, metabolic products, um, from from the get go. So we are never, ever separated from microbial life. It’s, in fact, this is the way I think people should look at it. We are taught, and in fact, even most scientists, even most biologists today, insist on talking about the relationships between micro our microbiome and our cells as us and them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So us as our body cells, uh, their, our dna, special kind of cells, uh, uh, our cells with our dna, our specific dna, they’re the specific cells.  

Bill    00:24:47    They’re called ucar cells, fancy name. It just means that these are the kinds of cells that allow organisms like us, and they have a nucleus. They, they have a nucleus and procars that’s bacteria and other types of, uh, cellular microbes don’t have a nucleus. The end result is, it’s wrong to look at it strictly as us and them. It’s a consensual we. And that’s the term that’s important here. Consensual. We we’re, we’re a negotiated product all the time. No matter what is happening to us, it, we are always that product of the constellation of all of ourselves working together. And it, it governs our life cycle in ways we have yet to discover. But one of the ways we probably age is that the partnerships break down. What does that mean? It means it sells. Probably lose the ability to efficiently signal one another. Why that is, I don’t know, but the most likely pathway to aging, protecting aging is to improve cell cell signaling.  

Bill    00:25:54    It’s too new a thought for us to have many experiments in that direction. Um, we are looking, we’re finding out that many of the medications that we rely on are working through the microbiome to, let’s take, um, I’ll bet many listeners, people are watching, um, have diabetes type two diabetes adults, onset diabetes particularly. Well, one of the most common medications is metformin. Okay. It’s an excellent drug. Um, in fact, it, there’s some, um, there’s some good paper, some good information suggesting that not only does it work to lower blood sugars, but it might be an anti-aging drug. It might protect cognition. All sorts of things that that drug does that we still don’t understand completely. But one thing we do understand now that we didn’t re until very recently, is that it appears that the mechanism of action of metformin is through, It’s shifting our gut microbiome in a way that’s improving us. And again, we don’t even know those ways specifically yet. It’s just that we now we know to look because we have that information.  

Paul    00:27:02    So on this podcast, we talk a lot about the complexity of the brain and, you know, the challenges in modeling the brain and understanding it. And as you’re talking about, you know, potential treatments by shifting and adjusting, uh, different, the different participants of our microbiomes and our sub, as it were in microbiomes, Is there a worry or do you have a worry that the, the challenge is, uh, could be insurmountable in under, you know, futzing with such a complex system as our microbiome? Is that that is just gonna be nearly impossible to know how to do? I mean, you’re also just talking about drugs, and it was making me think of the medical industry. No knock on you. Uh, but how we, you know, just bathe the body in, in a drug and then, you know, see if it works, right? So we don’t really understand what effect a drug is having. Uh, and you were just talking about, you know, this, this drug, um, working through the pathway of the microbiome. So, um, I guess my question is how, and this is kind of an aside, so I apologize, but, you know, how optimistic are you that we will, uh, understand the shifting complexities of our microbiome enough to be able to know how to treat, uh, certain organs or, you know, and so forth to shift it back into the right place.  

Bill    00:28:24    It’s just a terrific question. Uh, and bio verse the book that, that’s the reason that you’re kind enough to have me on, uh, really goes into explaining exactly the reasons why I’m, I am truly optimistic, As I say in the book, we’re in, uh, what I would like to call the, the new ear of the cell. The ear of the cell. And I’ll explain first what that means. And then it’s, it’s ramifications throughout human history. We, we tend to concentrate on battles and politics and religion, you know, re religious battles particularly. But when you look at what are the things that have mattered most to the average person, but leaving faith aside that let’s not go in that direction, uh, today, cuz it, it, it’s too complicated. <laugh>, what are the things that have really mattered? Well, it’s really been medical revolutions and what kind of revolution?  

Bill    00:29:27    Some I’m talking about, uh, there was vaccination before that inoculation, before smallpox killed hundreds of millions of people. The smallpox has, has been virtually eradicated polio. Another perfect example of a terrible scourge. I’m old enough to remember kids with braces walking in braces. It was a killer also. Uh, I grew up with images of kids in iron lungs. Mm. So vaccination was one example of a critical revolution. What’s another one? Anti sepsis. So that surgical wounds or battle wounds could heal, uh, anesthesia. Can you imagine surgery before anesthesia? In the book? I describe an operation in Boston in the early, in the 18 hundreds. Yeah. And, uh, in the 19th century. And the horror of it is, is unimaginable grabbing the tongue. Exactly. Yeah. You rent that. Thank you. Uh, so in all, there have been six prior revolutions in including, uh, ger theory and imaging.  

Bill    00:30:32    And now we’re up to the seventh. I think it’s the seventh. Uh, it’s the ear of the cell. And why am I tall talking about this in the terms of a re of revolution? Because it radically changes ex all of how we look at biology. And ultimately it will change how we as, as a society, uh, look at ourselves knowing that all of ourselves are intelligent and knowing further that we’ll rely on a critical partnership with them forces us to look at research and biology in an entirely different way. So what does this mean? It it means that we’re going to leverage this actual cellular intelligence, this microbial intelligence to our own benefit. So we engineer, it’s obvious that we cooperate, we measure together and we communicate. And because we can do those two things, we can engineer, that’s why ourselves, that’s exactly what ourselves do.  

Bill    00:31:35    They can measure, they measure information, they communicate abundantly, chattering away at each other all the time. And they engineer, what are they engineering. They’re engineering us. So we engineer because ourselves can. So when we talk about how do cells resemble humans, it’s really how humans resemble cells. It’s really the opposite. We, we are, uh, and the term is an epi phenomena. We are, we’re an extension, we’re derivative of all of the behaviors and practices and rules of cellular life. We, we bring to them our ID idiosyncratic, our unique ensemble, our human species specific ensemble of, of additions. Um, we’re like variations on a theme. But the theme is so essential that we never get a away, We can’t escape the basic theme. All that we can do is we assert it, we embellish it, we manifest it in a slightly different day way. So what are cells building us?  

Bill    00:32:47    They unite together to build the tissue ecologies that enable that form together. The, the gut tissue ecology, the pancreas tissue ecology, the lung tissue ecology. Then they all work together at the next level, at the next scale to create us. So what does this mean in reverse? It means that we can use, if, if we become clever in our research about cell cell communication and learning about how cells measure together, we can enlist their intelligence towards finding solutions to a vast number of human diseases. Um, the solution of plastics in the environment are probably gonna be intelligent microbes and and so on. So we’re, we’re going to have new solutions. We, we will learn it from cells. How salamanders regenerate a limb. We don’t know how, but they we know they how they can, It’s probable that we can too. But we have to, we are blocked from it for, for some evolutionary reason, which is yet to be discerned.  

Bill    00:33:56    But the, it’s, it’s almost certainly there in us. And there are researchers that are doing a, a great job. There’s, uh, Mike Levi up in Tufts. I was gonna ask he saw of his work? Yeah. Oh, of deeply. In fact, um, uh, he and I have talked about it a number of times. He’s doing critically important research. Uh, we will find those solutions. So we, we will understand more about the ingredients, the electrical bioelectrical, gradients that are part of it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they’re not gonna be the only part because cells, cells use every imaginable cellular based tool in order to accomplish their problem solving goals. And so you can imagine the range of products that will be available, uh, uh, a solutions to medical conditions. Uh, I truly believe that when we learn a great deal more about our microbiome, we will find at at least partial solutions to a great, many of the chronic diseases that we just regard as well.  

Bill    00:35:03    I’m just getting old. It just comes with a territory. Well, frankly, we know that there are certain individuals that resist those things. It means that it’s within all of us to be like that. If we just had the key, one of the things that we’re learning in diabetes, for example, I mentioned metformin is modulating the gut microbiome. We know that the microbiome of people with diabetes is different compared to those that don’t have that issue. Uh, we do know that certain probiotics and prebiotics seem to nudge the microbiome into productive direction. It doesn’t work equally well for every individual. But we do know that in general, that’s one additional pathway that is being discovered, um, that can, that can help individuals towards living longer and healthier lives to greater degrees of wellbeing. We know microbes, and, and this is almost frightening. Microbes in many ways control our behaviors and personality.  

Bill    00:36:07    It’s a disturbing thing that microbes can possibly affect. Whether or not you’re depressed, optimistic, um, you’re just, your general mood, your, your outlook on life. It seems absurd, but it’s true. They, they produce specific neurotransmitter. Serotonin is almost totally dependent on a partnership between our gut cells and critical microbes. And without those critical microbes, we wouldn’t have the serotonin levels that we have in the server. Toin is considered one of those vital neurotransmitters that, that, that assures that we keep a stable, uh, mental outlook. Uh, so we’re smart enough now to know that we need to look, we haven’t developed all the tools, but we’re clever enough that we will. What, why am I particularly optimistic? Because I think we will learn how to harness all these things. Because one of the things that the micro learning more about cell cell communication and so on, is we’ll be able to design very clever sensors.  

Bill    00:37:16    So I have one section of the book that readers made. Like it talks about a woman getting ready to prepare for her date in her seventies <laugh>, because, you know, she’s young. She’s only in her seventies. My goodness. I mean, you know, it’s just nothing. Um, and, uh, she’s looking into a mirror and the mirror has a constant set of sensors that’s, that, that’s assessing her general health. And it seems that must be science fiction, but it’s not really, I’ll tell you why you can’t see it. But I’m surrounded by a microbial cloud. Um, I’ve actually got cells of my own body cells are floating around. It’s an invisible signature and it’s very particular to me. And how can I say that? I mean, I can’t see it. So first of all can be measured with sensors now that we have. But also, you know, everybody’s watched the movie where the, the blood hounds track the, the, the, the guy out that ran off the chain gang.  

Bill    00:38:15    Uh, I mean, that’s cool. Hand Luke, the sensors are old. Yeah, yeah. All, all these old time movies, but yeah. Yeah. What, what is it that blood hounds are following? They’re following your cells. You’re leaving a trail of cells, billions of cells every day. Everywhere you go can be, if we had the, if you were a hound, we could track your every movement. How, how specific is it? Blood hounds have the capacity to identify every single individual. So a twin to Iris could be identical to a blood hound. Their individual, the blood hound can follow a trail for 50 or a hundred miles two weeks after you’ve left. It is possible that researchers probably now is probably exists. I don’t have the exact machine, but, um, I’ve got my hands hovering over my keyboard here. Um, I could probably leave this keyboard for a month and researchers could come back, be sent the keyboard. If they had my microbial signature, they’d know it’s Bill Miller.  

Paul    00:39:22    So this, this kind of, uh, may make some people a little queasy. Right. But, uh, but people should be celebrating it instead of feeling icky, perhaps about it. Yeah.  

Bill    00:39:32    Uh, no, I, I in the main, I think it’s a celebration, I’ll tell you because it’s a tool. Now that we know that we have this kind of specific signature, it means that if we were clever enough in manipulating it, we could get those people that live the longest, that have the healthiest lives and try to figure out why. So I, I’m, I’ve loved jogging my whole life. I’ve for 50 plus years, and I’ve been really lucky. I don’t have knee problems. I don’t have hip problems. And I have friends, wonderful friends that haven’t jogged a mile in their whole life. Yeah. And they’re crippled up. They’ve got total hips, they’ve got total knees. What’s the sense of it? What, how, why is that? Well, it, it could be, Well we’ve talked about blood types, we’ve talked about luck, we talk about microtrauma. I’m just a very good runner.  

Bill    00:40:21    Well, that’s ridiculous. I’m a clumsy runner. And I mean, I’m just terrible athlete. My only merit is I keep at it cuz I like it, but I like it because I’m not in pain. So the question becomes, what is that crucial difference? Well, in the ear of the cell we’re gonna find out why. And then what does that mean In the end? It means that people will be given a set of, of options that will allow them to take advantage of, of some kind of modulation that will give them a better shot of health and wealth being across their life and probably a, a good deal longer life than ordinarily. What is, what has been the, the result of each of the prior great medical rev revolutions? More and more of the population gets a, a fair shot at a healthy, happy life. Um, take something as mundane as, uh, eyeglasses and contact lenses.  

Bill    00:41:21    Well, I have poor eyesight. I’m wearing contact lenses. Guess what? I’m even in another era, I would be the blind guy in the village. Um, I couldn’t have hunted. I couldn’t, I mean, I, I could, I would walk into the tree not see, I couldn’t see a game to fire or something, a bow and arrow or a gun or anything. Um, I’m not, I’m not suited for survival. So given glasses and contact lenses in that respect, I’m even, um, it’s, it’s the same thing with someone with heart failure. When, when people devise digitalis a couple hundred years ago, they started to find means of, of making people a little bit more even when they might ordinarily have died prematurely. Same thing with, uh, smallpox vaccination and, and so on. Um, treatments for tb, the end result of each and every single medical advance was a greater and greater possibility for each individual, each average individual to lead a healthy, happy life.  

Bill    00:42:28    Not everyone gets that, but better and better probabilities on the whole. And that, that comes out with improved life, inspect disease and so on. What will we get from the year of the cell? We’ll get a much better overall life spinning out the next several decades. We will find, uh, the chronic diseases that I mentioned, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, all of them will be either treated much better than they are today or they will be cured. And so you’ll have a better shot at a longer, healthier life. What else is one of their firms? Their ramification? So we’ve talked about engineering, that’ll be bioengineering, that’ll be bioengineered products, combinations of, uh, some kind of a synthetic manufactured la lattice and actual cells that are working together in some kind of very intelligent way, almost like an intelligent robot that will help. We, we talked about the possibility of regeneration of organs, regeneration of brain cells, all all sorts of things like that.  

Bill    00:43:36    There will be much improved treatments for inflammation. Chronic inflammation is one of the major causes of disease. Uh, there’s no question that micro microbial dysfunction is one of the chief chief causes of this kind of inflammation. So if we learn how to tune our microbiome better, we’d learned how to cut down an inflammation. When we, when we use probiotics and prebiotics, what, what’s the common denominator for? In most instances, they improve what’s called inflammation. They just, they just bring down the general level of inflammation that is part and parcel of stress. And that’s one of the great killers in modern societies just simply stress. And, and that breaks down, uh, cellular activities. So what will will we need to do to deliver this? A new way of looking at medicine? So if you go to the doctor, you have hypertension, the doctor’s going to give you the, the range of pills for hypertension that almost everybody gets.  

Bill    00:44:36    It could be thiazides, you know, the, the, the things like that. Or it could be a beta blocker. The thing is, you’re going to generally be approached as one size fits all in the future. We will have your personal signature, uh, some kind of a, an assessment of your metabolic profile, which is very different from the crude way that we go about it today. And your microbiome and, uh, smart programs, computer programs will devise the probabilities that any one of these medications will work well for you. So what will be the first thing that will be used? The first thing that will be done is they’ll try to adjust that microbiome so that you fit the profile of people that don’t have this problem. Pharmaceuticals, rather than being the first thing you get will become the thing that you get when the other thing didn’t work. Hmm. It’s complete reverse of where we’ve been in the past. And if this seems pretty far out, it’s not as far as you think. Uh, if we gave as much emphasis to understanding ourselves as we do trying to put somebody on Mars, we would, we’d get a long way there much faster than we’re ever gonna get to Mars. Cuz we’re not going to Mars <laugh>. Um, and, um, I’m sorry to have such a long answer, but it’s no, for me, it’s the most exciting topic in the world.  

Paul    00:46:00    Could it be that? So let, let’s say, um, I buy your premise that we’re gonna treat first line using microbial, um, microbiome adjustments using microbes. Could it be, and, and given that we have our individual signature microbiomes and yet, uh, so, so it could be seen as somewhat miraculous that we have health at all because there’s so many different interactions going on. But your premise is that these cells are working intelligently together. So could it be that there’s a, uh, robustness and wide range of self-organization that fits within a healthy, uh, profile so that it it’s not that big a worry that introducing some set of mic microbes will throw off the whole, uh, system, Right? Because it, it sounds a little scary mucking with, uh, a system that has evolved over millions of years, uh, to be in this sort of nice cooperative state. And, and mucking with that, uh, sounds somewhat, um, challenging or, or scary, I suppose could sound scary. But, but could it be that the, the range of healthy, um, interactions is, is just so wide, the space of possible healthy interactions is, is so wide that there’s a robustness there that, um, might soothe our concerns?  

Bill    00:47:24    Uh, absolutely. I that’s a great way to look at it. Uh, we are blessed with resilience. It’s, it’s true with all living things, they’re remarkably resilient to stress. Hmm. And there’s, so when I say that cells are problem solving and that they band together to solve problems together, it’s true. But there are lots of solutions to problems there. That’s that why are cells so intelligent? Is because they can see more than one solution and they, they take advantage of more than one solution given the opportunities, the tools that they have available given the substrates that they have. So in cellular terms, if they don’t have the proper nutrients that they’re accustomed to, one form of glu, let’s say you take a a, a certain microbe that’s used to a certain form of glucose, well, you give them another form of glucose, another form of sugar, and they’ll, they’ll make a metabolic switch.  

Bill    00:48:22    Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they, that genes are tools. Uh, yes. Genes are crucial. There’s, they’re absolutely vital to whom we are and how we live and our lifespan. It, they’re important contributors in ways we don’t understand yet. But they’re just tools of the cell. Yeah. They’re memory. They’re, they’re, We’ve had an 80 year romance with genes and we’ve, we almost everyone assumes that your genes control your life. Well, the era of the cell says no. Yeah. Genes, I I like that version tools. Yeah. It’s because they’re not masters, you know, as if you take a gene and you take it outside of the cell, it’s iner. It has no, it has no effect. The, it is the cell that is the problem solving entity. It’s an organized toll. And this is an important point because, um, that’s what all this research is that we, we need to do together the concept of the organized toll.  

Bill    00:49:21    Um, I go, so suppose someone else would call it holistic, but it really is, um, it, it’s the, it’s in the connections. It’s in, in how all of the parts fit together. If you reduce, if you do a reduction and you reduce it just to the molecules, or you just, you reduce it just to the cell cell signaling pathways and you take, and if you knew all of those little individual mos or parts of the whole, you still wouldn’t understand it until you under, until you truly comprehended how they all linked together as an organized toll. This is the vital secret that we’ll have to uncover. And it’ll take many decades to do that. How is it that the whole is more than the sum of its parts mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it’s a big debate in, in biology and in in evolution, whether you can possibly understand things through reduction or whether in doing that you destroy the, the, the character of it.  

Bill    00:50:22    And it’s, it’s much too complicated to go into today on, on our broad, this broadcast about evolutionary biology and, and biology have argued about this for centuries. Exactly. Where does that line lie? And I’ll tell you the, the, we don’t know where that line lie is, but we do know that the reduction will destroy the essence of it. And it’s, it’s not metaphysical, it’s just that we are much more than the sum of our, of the parts. Um, that’s also true for human societies. It’s, it shouldn’t surprise us that a collective action at, at the level of the, the hoba, the super organisms of human beings working together produce things that no individual in and of themselves would ever conceive of or be able to do. Things emerge, they emerge from the processes of themselves, the connections themselves. And that’s the vital principle that the ear of the cell concentrates on.  

Bill    00:51:21    Now, bio verse, the book concentrates on, We are embarking on a wonderful exploration of all of these connections. And so one of the things that we’re going to learn is that we can learn them. It’s, yes, it’s complicated, but here’s a mysterious thing that we don’t get. And, and so you, you said, is it frightening or, or not? Well, it’s intimidating, but it’s exhilarating because for example, in, um, in diabetes, there are young diabetics that do really well. There are diabetics, uh, adult downside diabetics that say, get diabetes in their thirties and they live happily into their nineties. We don’t know why, why that subset? We know statistically that there are risks for cardiovascular disease and stroke and things like that. But why are those people immune? But why are some people immune to heart disease virtually immune. So if there’s a village in Italy where the cholesterol levels are sky high, I mean, we’re talking about double the cholesterol levels in the, in, if you measure the, the number, the things they double, there’s no heart disease in that small village.  

Bill    00:52:36    Now, of course they, there are genetic markers and that may have something important to do with it, but there’s more to it than than the genes themselves. And we, we don’t have those answers yet. So what I’m getting at is when I talk about individualized medicine, and I’m mentioning that there, you’re gonna have much more specifically tailored solutions to your problem, ultimately decades from now when you go to the doctor, there’s one other, there’s one other freedom of action that comes from the ear of the cell, the recognition that your numbers don’t have to re be perfect. So you get your chemistry 18 back and my God, I’ve got three stars there and I’m scared to death. This is terrible. That’s terrible. Well, actually there’s another fraction of life there. The connections part of it that we really don’t understand. We just know the, the book, but the connections part of it is you could actually be quite healthy and your numbers are not normal.  

Bill    00:53:41    Not exactly normal. Um, again, there’s, there’s this robustness, this resilience that allows many solutions to the same problem. And so those exact chemistry profiles that your doctor would look at and gravely tell you that you’ve got something that really is a little bit, uh, alarming here, and we’re gonna have to go. That may not be so for you as an actual individual, that’s the difference between the then that was the before and the future where we’re going, you will, it will be much more nuanced and that will be, um, a certain freedom of action that we, you, I mean, for example, with the issue of weight, some people just do fine being overweight. It’s just, it’s really not a health problem for them. For others, it’s a crucial source of metabolic syndrome with deterioration and with with insulin resistance and, uh, glucose intolerance and hypertension and risks of renal failure and all the sorts of things that go with metabolic syndrome. Two people, they look the same when you’re looking at ’em, but they’re metabolically totally different. And that’s the difference of the ear of the cell where we’re going compared to where we were  

Paul    00:55:05    Going back to the idea of DNA as a tool. So you talk a lot about cell intelligence and, and you use words like self-awareness that cells have some form of self-awareness, uh, and you know, reading it, uh, multiple times in the book because you, you keep coming back to the same theme. Um, you know, it makes me wonder how you view our own intelligence, first of all. So what I would like you to do is compare what, what you mean by sell intelligence and self-awareness mm-hmm. <affirmative> to what you mean what to how you think of human or organism intelligence and self-awareness. But then I also wanna ask you, do you consider our intelligence, uh, as serving cells? So is our intelligence a tool for cells? Like DNA is a tool for  

Bill    00:55:58    Cells? Yeah. Uh, that’s a terrific question. Okay. What, what does cellular intelligence mean? Well, I mentioned one things, right? They’re problem solving. Um, how, how do we know that they’re self-aware? Well, we, we know that by observation, what do, what? How, what do I mean by that though? It means that cells are aware of the quality of information. This sounds little bit iffy, a little bit hard to understand. What does it mean by that? And this is actually a really important point. Sales know that their information is imprecise being a doubt. They get it. Yeah. They get it. Say, Well Bill, how do they get it? How do they know that? I don’t know that answer. I don’t even know why cells are smart. I just know that they are, and they have been smart since the first competent cell about 3.8 billion years ago. Or maybe more. It could be 4.28 billion at the up upper maximum. But the point is the very first cell was smart in its own way. And what does that mean? It was self-aware. And what does that mean? It means that it knew that its information is imperfect and has to be measured internally.  

Bill    00:57:17    It also means that a cell knew that there others that measure like it did. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had ullo cooperation. How do we know, how do we know the origin? This will sound digress, but it’ll all work back into one organized toll, I promise. How do we define the origin of life? How do we know when life began? Right. Well, an individual cell is not gonna leave a fossil. You can’t, it’s just, there’s no way for it to fossilize. Every bit of evidence that we have for the actual origin of life is based on cells living together, living continuously with one another. Right? Which implies absolutely at the sale of the level, cooperation, collaboration and codependence. They, they’ve traded resources. Why do, why do we know that cells are self aware? Cuz they’ll trade resources for each other’s benefit. We know that in a biofilm, that’s the, the collection of microbes that are living together to improve their chances.  

Bill    00:58:23    And, uh, these biofilms are what actually cause infectious disease in humans, not individual microbes. They have to band together before they really become a problem. So then these little microbe microbial cities, these biofilms, these little microbial societies, if there’s antibiotics floating around, there might be some cells, some microbes in that biofilm that are resistant to the antibiotic. And they, and that resistance is actually contributed by a, a viral companion that’s living within. And this is how complicated the system is. Their own partnership with a vi with a virus. It’s living inside the microbe. And so this cell can determine to donate some of its gene. Some of its like the viral gene to a, that lacks resistance to the antibiotic, my, the bacterial cell that lacks resistance so that they can both get through it together. So this, this is awareness, awareness of status that a cell is aware is its own status.  

Bill    00:59:35    That’s how it, that’s how it upholds itself against an agitating environment. It measures itself against that environment and it assimilates the outside and upholds itself. It knows that others are like it and it trades resources freely with it. And so that’s how cells are intelligent. That’s how we know they’re intelligent. We know they’re intelligent because of their patterns of behavior. Just like we know humans are intelligent by their patterns of behavior. So how would you, how would we rate cellular intelligence versus our own? Well, totally different. I really don’t think cells have egos in the way we do. I really doubt that they have abstractions. They don’t deliberate. Um, yeah, I mean as far as I know, they don’t get on Tinder and try to attract their rates. I mean it’s just, they, they, they, they live at their scale. But here’s our error. We imput we, we regard our intelligence as intelligence.  

Bill    01:00:32    It’s, right. So look, look back at Darwin when Darwin was writing his crucial text in 1859. It was very Victorian era. So what, what is Darwinism? It, it’s not wrong by the way. It’s, it, Darwin said two critically important smart things and, and deserves his, his the high regard that he has as a scientist. But it was still a very Victorian era. And so it was natural for the concept of survival of the fittest to resonate with a Victorian male group of scientists, <laugh>. Um, it was, it was the natural order. It’s not the way the world actually works. The world actually works through cooperation compared to competition. Yes, competition is fierce. It’s obvious. Um, you go on the Seren Getty plane, you’re gonna see it, but you, you forget that when the lion is taking down the will beast, that’s one on one and there’s, there’s gonna be one winner and one loser.  

Bill    01:01:42    But there are hundreds of trillions of cells working together seamlessly in both of them to enable them to exist for this moment, for this final drama. So where, where is our emphasis on the final drama? Where do we put our emphasis on intelligence? Our kind of intelligence is how we measure intelligence across the scale. But that’s not the way biology should measure it and it’s not the way evolution measures it. So who’s smarter cells or humans? Well, it depends. It depends on the, on the test. Stephen Hawkings is accredited with saying that intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s, you might have said it, I mean it’s not a hundred percent sure, but it’s a great way to put it. It’s, it’s, it is a great way to consider intelligence. And so what does this mean for humans versus cells?  

Bill    01:02:45    Well, cells have been in continuous successful existence on this planet for billions of years. Humans have lived on this planet as our kinds of, of humans are homo sapiens. Uh, the estimates are somewhere between 200 and 300,000 years, probably 300,000 years. And it isn’t clear that we’re gonna last another 300,000 given our personal type of intelligence <laugh>. So who is more intelligent and what is biology’s purpose? Well, it’s disturbing, but you gotta take the evidence for what it is. If cells have been continuously perennially successful on this planet for billions of years, then they are the purpose. What are we then? We’re solutions to problems for cells. And we explore the environment in ways that no other creature on this planet does. And we bring back information to ourselves. We’re communicating to them all the time. We’re explorers of the planet and we are bringing information back to those basic cellular lines. And it’s, I know it’s a very inverted way of looking at things and it’s gonna take time for people to let this sink in cuz it just seems almost perverse. But that’s the evidence. We, we are cellular beings. And our major purpose is exactly to be that, to be cellular beings and to return information back to the perpetual cells that dominate the planet. Those  

Paul    01:04:29    Are shot to the ego though  

Bill    01:04:31    It, it’s terrible. But here’s, here’s an interesting thing. Here’s an interesting thing we’re doing. So this is just a thought experiment. I’m not saying this is absolutely correct, but you know, it’s part of the evidence that exists. You just have to work with it. So I’ve told you that cells are engineers, and I told you that we are what they’ve engineered, we and every other creature that you can see with our eyes. I mean, there we are not exceptional in that regard. We’re just another engineered habitat. This is crushing to meta physicians and, and, and many religious people. Um, and actually, I don’t think it’s, it’s any argument against religion. It’s just simply a different way of looking at it. It is possible for us to consider that how ourselves, could they be clever enough to create humans that are clever enough to send them into space to give them an opportunity to explore the next environment beyond the planet.  

Bill    01:05:28    Now you say, Well, that’s absurd. Well, you say that, but think of the evidence. We’ve done it. We have sent microbes and we didn’t even know we’re doing it. You know, NASA had its clean rooms back in the seventies, and they were scrupulous about trying to, to, to make sure that there were no bad, no bugs on, right? The on, on the, the ships that went to Mars and the, the initial probes that went out, um, uh, Voyager one and two that are now past the heliosphere billions and miles away. Um, the idea was that they should be sterile. And they tested them very carefully. And guess what? The technology was lousy. And it turns out they were loaded with microbes. And microbes are adaptable. And they, some of them are termed extremophiles, which means they can actually survive in conditions that no human could even bear for, for, for a minute.  

Bill    01:06:34    Temperatures that are well below zero, enormously below zero or frighteningly high, they can, they can do a radiation that no human being can. They’re just some of them, not all micro. Some of them are very fragile, but a lot of them, many of them, especially those that are everywhere on the planet, including miles down below the Earth’s crust or up in the, in the up, up in the stratosphere, they’re, they’re everywhere. Um, some of them are very hardy, inadvertently we’ve sent them out. And, um, so maybe it’s not an absurdity to say that how clever, how smarter microbes clever enough to have us send them out. Now. It, I’m not saying that’s true. I’m just saying it is one way to interpret exactly what’s happened. And there’s no way to say absolutely it isn’t true without misunderstanding the particularities of microbial intelligence. Our intelligence, and Darwin actually saw this too.  

Bill    01:07:38    Darwin was aware. He didn’t, he really didn’t think that he was thinking of animals specifically. He had a very, um, pluralistic viewpoint. He felt that it’s, it’s a different in manifestation as opposed to kind. Hmm. And I, I, I happen to agree with that. I think that our form of intelligence is its own specific, I’d like the word idiosyncratic manifestation of all of the cellular proclivities in, And we also abstract things more. I think we have an emergent property that, that is different from certain other animals. But here’s the other disturbing thing. Plants are highly intelligent. They, it, they are not just because they don’t move and just because we don’t communicate with them, uh, in the ways that we think we, uh, the ways that we consider to be communication.  

Paul    01:08:37    Yeah.  

Bill    01:08:38    Uh, plants are quite intelligent. They’re, they are highly adaptable. They are solutions. They solve problems. They form partnerships with microbes. They form partnerships among themselves. If we really understood forests, you’d realize that they’re there. What you’re seeing above ground is trivial compared to what’s going on underneath. And all the connections that, that are, uh, that, that, that are, bring them together into, um, it, it, it’s, it, The complexities are well beyond a human city. So we we’re, we stand on the threshold of actually learning about this. And I think it’s going to be very important. I think it will ultimately impact how we look for extraterrestrial intelligence. Of which I’m doubtful that, I mean, my point, your  

Paul    01:09:23    Doubtful aliens exist. Is that what you were about to say?  

Bill    01:09:27    I, yes, I am. Doubtful. And I, I, except I would say only one thing if, if aliens exist. I think they’re intelligent. And the reason for that, uh, and I’m stealing this from a cartoonist, how they’re intelligent cuz they haven’t tried to contact us. Uh, so that’s how smart they are. They haven’t tried to reach us. I mean, we’re too dangerous. We’re, we are, we are very competitive as a life form.  

Paul    01:09:51    But it’s our, we, we can just blame it on ourselves though. I’m gonna start blaming things on myself, my, for my own basis.  

Bill    01:09:56    I do. I like, Yes. Um, I, I wrote an article once about my, uh, about the love for chocolate and my microbes made me do it. My, basically, yeah, it was my punchline there.  

Paul    01:10:08    The term intelligence though is notoriously, uh, difficult for people to settle on a definition. I mean, you just used Steven Hawkings definition of, uh, to adapt, what was it? To adapt to change. Change,  

Bill    01:10:23    Yeah.  

Paul    01:10:23    Yeah. Um, which, which I think is a fairly common, you know, definition of intelligence. You know, it just makes me wonder, do we need different words for, you know, microbial and that kind of intelligence versus our kind of intelligence. Right. Um, in, in any case, uh, you’re, I know that you’re not an AI expert, but I’m sure you’re well aware, well aware of the, uh, many impressive feats, uh, that AI has undergone. And you’re talking about the era of the cell. And a lot of people, I think would say it’s the era of artificial intelligence. The, because of this recent revolution, deep learning revolution and ai boom that’s happening right now. Um, maybe, you know, I’ll, I’ll, uh, since I haven’t done this yet, I’ll read a passage from your book, um, about ai, and then I’d like to ask you, you know, just about your, your views on ai, given your views on the cell.  

Paul    01:11:14    Uh, artificial intelligence may ultimately produce a robot that is so sophisticated, it can easily fool a human observer into believing that it is a living entity, yet it will still not be alive. No computer engineer can devise that program without simultaneously understanding how to create life, which is the quote unquote, knowing internal state, a state of doubt, artificial intelligence will always remain an artful fact. Similarly, uh, living processes, but it will not be alive. So is life necessary for intelligence or what, what’s your view on creating artificial intelligence, which obviously doesn’t have a microbiome, although the computers probably do, um, and you know, obviously is not alive. So just, you know, 30,000 foot viewed. How do you view, uh, the artificial intelligence efforts and should, should it be called intelligence?  

Bill    01:12:08    Uh, I, I think it should. It is intelligence. It is a tool. Intelligence is a tool. Uh, we talk about something as as simple as an intelligence thermostat. We simply mean that it assists us in solving a certain set of problems through programming. But here’s the distinction. In those forms of intelligence, there’s living intelligence and there’s computer intelligence. So what are the two differences? Well, the very basic one has to do with the quality of information. I’ll explain. If you look at Shannon information, that’s the, the basic mathematical construct that’s used for computers. And there are many different types of computer intelligence. There’s algorithmic intelligence information and all sorts of things. But basically with Shannon information, it’s data, it’s bits. And if you look at the, the wave form, if you look at a, in your mind’s eye and you consider, um, a wave form in, in a com, in a computer, it, the data spikes.  

Bill    01:13:20    It has very sharp margins. It’s a one or a zero. It’s triggered or it’s not. There’s, there’s no actual nuance within the flow of information. It’s the computer program, the computer logical processor that creates any nuanced answers that comes out. But the information itself is definitive. It’s edges are sharp. Well, that’s totally different in, in biological information. It’s completely different. And never the two are will meet right now because in in biological information, it’s a curve. It’s a s wave. And that curve means that the information doesn’t have sharp edges, it has ambiguities. And that’s hu that’s living intelligence. Living intelligence is knowing that the, knowing that the data’s imperfect, I don’t think any listener is gonna say, Oh, my computer knows that the data that it’s gotten is corrupted. It doesn’t know it, it just stops. It’s, it’s, it’s completely qualitatively different living things.  

Bill    01:14:32    Even cells know the quality of their data is limited. And that explains biology. And that’s bio versus the book explains to you why that particular principle is so crucial to biology. So what does that mean with respect to the concept of an AI that’s alive? Well, we, the programmers would have to figure out how to create that sense of internal knowing. But here’s the problem. We don’t know how that’s done. We don’t know why that is. So within sales, we don’t know why. That’s the living principle. Hence, if you are able to do it as a computer program, you have, have created life. And I’ll tell you, there isn’t the slightest prospect that that’s going to happen. I mean, that’s talk about science fiction. That’s way out in the future.  

Paul    01:15:24    But, but you can design probabilistic programs, right? So, you know, even deep learning  

Bill    01:15:29    Mean it’s completely Yes.  

Paul    01:15:30    Yeah. It comes out with probabilities and then you soft max it to pick the right answer, right?  

Bill    01:15:35    Yeah, exactly. But it never overcome. So a intelligent nuanced human designer figures out a program that allows a, a computer that knows no doubt, to mimic doubt, human doubt. So I was a talk talking with a colleague and I said, he asked me about the touring test. The touring test is that, is the concept by the genius Allen touring that, uh, we would consider a computer to be intelligent if it could fool someone into believing that it was another living person, Person that couldn’t, wasn’t seeing the computer, but having a conversation with it. And if the conversation was so satisfying computer to human, that the human thought it was talking to another human, that it would’ve passed the intelligence test. Well, it would’ve, it would’ve definitely passed the concept of intelligent computer programming test. And there’s any doubt in my mind that we will create iis that are so intelligent that they will routinely fool even very perceptive people to believing that they’re alive.  

Bill    01:16:46    They will it, that it will, but it will simply be effect. Similarly, it will be a, basically an engineering feat, a trick, because that being that you’re talking to is still programmed. And it has no doubt it won’t be irrational. You can you say we could program in irrationality, <laugh>? No, no. Part, part, part of being an is doubt, part of ambiguity, part of uncertainty is that sometimes you do the thing that doesn’t make any sense. We each do it, not me. We know we do it actually ourselves. Do it less than right. Than humans. Okay. And, and animals, animals, animals are much more sensible. I, in fact, I like to say that the thing that separates us from all other animals is that we’re the only one that’s capable of actual irrational action over and over again. We, we are, it’s almost, uh, form of, of intelligent perversion.  

Bill    01:17:51    We will sometimes do the craziest things there, there, even if a panther could figure out how to skydive it, wouldn’t it just, it just wouldn’t do it. It’s that just, there’s no, there’s no panther that leaps out of a tree to the ground and says, Oh, I just did it for fun. Yeah. It’s, that’s just not, it’s just not how they as an intelligent collection, a collection of ecologies, of cellular ecologies. They’re just not put together that way. That’s not their form of intelligence. I really do think we have a very specific form of human intelligence. Uh, I don’t think we understand it very well, but I tell you absolutely it is nonetheless absolutely del derivative of cellular intelligence. And trying to understand it means we have to understand how we are that special combination of, of cells that enable us to, to engineer better than any other creature on the planet. And to do so in ways that, uh, are are highly, uh, clever, uh, utilizing abstract thought in ways that other animals and plants can’t.  

Paul    01:19:12    You’re not, you’re not worried about a super intelligent AI taking over the world and destroying us and stuff.  

Bill    01:19:19    I think the possibility of of, of aggressive AI certainly exists. That’s obvious. No, again, it would have to be programmed, it would be the individual behind it. That is, is the force, the, the, the computer itself is not going to do it.  

Paul    01:19:34    And, and therefore it’s the cells. The cells will have made the AI that takes this over.  

Bill    01:19:39    Well, here’s, I actually, here’s here’s a possibility. And, and actually this is being worked on in labs already all over the world. It is possible, uh, that I’ll be contradicted about AI in so far as it will be a synthetic combination of living cells that are part of a computer matrix and done in a very clever way that I can’t currently imagine. But I think it’s, it, it’s conceivable that you could get that quasi living combination that somehow leverages, uh, the living circumstance of being a doubt, the precise information, utilization of a computer. And together it becomes a, a different kind of life form, a living synthetic life form. And that possibly could satisfy, but again, that there would be some living thing to, it would not be just a computer in and of itself.  

Paul    01:20:49    Right. Yeah. I had to, I mean, this, these sorts of ideas are rife for science fiction. And I, I’ve had Oh, sure. A few of these ideas I need to get writing, but, so, okay. Um, and I know you’re not a neuroscientist, but, so a lot of what we talk about here on the podcast is use. So AI is interesting in that its birth was really, uh, because of what we knew, what they knew about neuroscience at the time. And like the, the units in deep learning networks are inspired by the neurons, uh, spiking artificial neurons, Right. Make up these layered, uh, deep learning architectures. And right now in computational neuroscience, there’s a lot of excitement and work being done using the deep learning architectures and AI architectures to try to understand how our brains are, uh, functioning the way that they do. Uh, do you have thoughts on whether that is a wise or, uh, prosperous endeavor, or would we be missing something crucial by analyzing our own intelligence, using the intelligence of the artificial systems that we have built?  

Bill    01:22:02    No, I think we could leverage all of our tools. I don’t have any problem with that. Uh, I would say that there is one major obstacle in a neuroscience research. It’s not universal. There. I I think it’s beginning to break down, uh, from a prior prejudice. And that is, it was, and it was, it’s natural that you start with a concept of exclusive human intelligence, right? And you begin with a concept that only humans are inte. That was a big prejudice for a very long time, which is fading. Yeah. Yeah.  

Paul    01:22:31    True.  

Bill    01:22:32    Um, it wasn’t very long ago that it was absolutely believed, and we’re only talking decades that only humans had real intelligence. All other creatures were just basically, uh, robust automatons, you know, like really fancy robots. Uh, but anyone with a dog knows that, that dog’s intelligence and has feelings and has emotions.  

Paul    01:22:53    Not my dog, but, Okay.  

Bill    01:22:55    Well, my dog did. What’s wrong with your  

Paul    01:22:57    Dog? Dumb as a rock. I’m sorry. We love her. So  

Bill    01:23:00    My, my, my dog was pretty stupid too, but she’s, she was very sweet and she’s a, she was, she could be smart at certain moments. Sure. And, but certainly emotional. Absolutely very emotional. Maybe that was one of the reasons she could be annoying.  

Paul    01:23:14    My, my cycles her own, um, biome quite, quite a bit.  

Bill    01:23:18    Oh no.  

Paul    01:23:19    Yeah, it’s, it’s awful. I  

Bill    01:23:20    Think I know what you mean. I think I know what you mean. My sister has that same dog. Oh, oh my. Anyway, she had, she’s been unable to break it too.  

Paul    01:23:28    Break it up. Yeah. We couldn’t, we we’ve given up. Yeah.  

Bill    01:23:31    Oh goodness. Um, anyway, the, so the, the neuroscience approach had been from top down. Yeah. You take what you know about human intelligence, you, what you believe about human, uh, superiority. Um, and then you believe further that only humans have real sentient. So there’s in, there’s consciousness, there’s cognition, and there’s sentient. They, none of them are formally defined. No one really understands what consciousness is. No one. We’re all working to some kind of common definition. But here’s the thing that we, I and my colleagues are insist upon in, in a, a book we’re writing, uh, for Oxford University Press, that all cells have all of the capacities that we grant ourselves their cognitive, That means they measure information. They’re aware of those measurements. They are sentient. They, they have, they don’t have feelings the way we have feelings, but they have states of preference, Okay?  

Bill    01:24:42    Which is why bugs go to the same spot and the human body over and over again to, to wreak their particular particular havoc. That’s why you can get, uh, liver, you know, and viral infections of the liver or viral infections of the brain, or hemos goes to the lung and very rarely goes to any other body parts and so on. There, there are bugs that go everywhere, like TB can notoriously go over here, but it tends to affect lungs more than anything else. Uh, so sales are sentient. And I think in order to actually com to create a robust program, it’s not just humans top down and trying to work from it, from the point of view on how computer programs can help us understand human intelligence from top down. I think that if you use that computer programming and you, you work hard to figure out how it sells up, that’s how it’s cellular. The basics of cellular intelligence work their way into human type of intelligence, I think it would be more productive. Let me explain one specific aspect in support of that. I’m sure you know about, uh, the hard problem of intelligence for those that are not  

Paul    01:25:58    Consciousness  

Bill    01:26:00    Of consciousness. Yes. Thank you. Uh, for those that are not familiar with it, you, you can consider consciousness in into two kind of quats, two types of portions. There’s one portion which is called, uh, by a, by a brilliant guy named Chalmers. It’s called the easy problem. That’s how do we know that, um, something is cold or hot or fast or slow or bright or dark. That’s connections. That’s like the quantitative aspect. Enough information reaches us. We assess it as a specific experience. But then there’s another realm of experience which is much hard to, to define. So for example, uh, if I hit a hammer on my thumb, I see red, um, you, you hear that expression to, to see red. What is that? What, where does that come from? That seems very much more mysterious. And that’s called the hard problem. And this is really seduced a couple of generations of neuroscientists.  

Bill    01:27:13    It’s, it seems like a terrific idea. The only problem is there’s no reason for it. If you understand that cells are intelligent and why they’re intelligent, then you realize that that’s just a human way of categorizing things because it’s satisfying. But cells have all the apparatus for feelings of all different kinds. They’re surrounded by an intelligent membrane at the plasma membrane. They outside of the membrane, and every single bit of information that can come into a cell that, that a cell has, has to go through it. So a cell doesn’t know one bit of information that it hasn’t produced. This is a difficult concept. What, what do I mean by that? And a surprising conclusion comes from this. There’s no way that information can go from outside of a cell to get to the inside of a cell without crossing that membrane. And there’s no way any information, any environmental queue can reach a cell without a delay in time.  

Bill    01:28:18    Having to travel through, um, the, the, the separations between cells and the, the fluid matrix that’s between them then so on and so on. All of those things create information degradation. It’s noisy inside a cell also cuz it’s a very packed environment filled with tools for cellular life. So that’s part of this information, ambiguity, this doubt that I’m talking about. The cell never gets perfect information. If there was a perfect source of data, they could never know it. And the only information they have always has to travel across all of these barriers, get through this, the membrane, the the plasma membrane, and then get inside and get measured through an internal process which is itself noisy. What does this mean? It means that a cell is producing the actual information. It has it’s deriv of what’s on the outside, but it is self-generated on the inside.  

Bill    01:29:15    A cell only knows what a cell produces, the information it produces at the derivative information that it produces. This is not contextual. This is an absolute requirement of cellular life. Just a look at a cell, it’s, it’s actually actually quite obvious when you look at it. What does that mean? It means that we ourselves as as human beings are a constellation and enormous constellation of self produced information. There is no external absolute reality. It’s only our interpretation of it. We a, we agree on what reality looks like. It’s cuz we’re all species human. We’re all humans. So in general, we all evaluate all external cues in a self-similar manner. This, this issue of self-similar is really important. Why do we know that cells are intelligent? Because they know that others experience things in the same way and they’ll trade resources because of it. What does that mean for us?  

Bill    01:30:14    We internally devise our own world, our own reality of external informational inputs. And as it happens, because of our architecture, our information management systems to human, to human, they’re all white. We tend to produce the same interpretation of reality except for the small minority of us that don’t. And they are always the people that we say, Well, we live in his own world. What can I say? He sees it differently. I mean, you always shrug, but there’s a real good reason for it. It’s a condition of life that can never ever be otherwise. So your interpretation of reality is, is exactly that. There’s you, you don’t have a connection to the external reality that’s any more robust than the next person. You’ve, you may agree with the next person in, in general construct, but you each cell constructs its own reality and then it communicates that to other cells. And together they average these things that it’s a wisdom of crowds and they produce biological outputs. That’s us. And what do we do? We take to us ourselves, and then we agree on a certain set of reality and we form collective actions. We engineer together, we build buildings together. We have collective societies. We, we institute governments. And we don’t get along with each other because we’re all living on our own reality. And this is not even contextual, it’s just basic biology. But we just didn’t know that until a very short time ago.  

Paul    01:31:54    The book is bio verse, How the cellular world contains the secrets to Life’s biggest questions. And we touched on, you know, a few topics from the book, but we only skim the surface. I mean, you go into quantum effects in biology and populating the universe with our microbes and just tons and tons of really well informed, uh, examples of our, uh, microbiomes and, uh, different kinds of microbes and how they affect our cognition and not just through the gut. And like you mentioned before, you know how our brain, which because of the blood brain barrier was thought to be completely sterile, has its own, although smaller microbiome, which I don’t know how to think about that, whether that’s good or bad. But anyway, um, I hope that, um, people check out the book and I appreciate the conversation today. Thanks for being on.  

Bill    01:32:41    Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me on.  

Paul    01:33:00    I Alone Produce Brain Inspired. If you value this podcast, consider supporting it through Patreon to access full versions of all the episodes and to join our Discord community. Or if you wanna learn more about the intersection of neuroscience and ai, consider signing up for my online course, Neuro Ai, the quest to explain intelligence. Go to Brain To learn more, to get in touch with me, email paul You’re hearing music by the new year. Find Thank you. Thank you for your support. See you next time.