Out of Our Skulls (or: Food for Thought)

I visited Aeon (the online magazine) today and read an article about enduring memory in animals. If memory is only seated in brain cells, asks the author, how come hibernating animals can lose a huge percentage od their brain cells during the dormant state and still know what to do (even to the extent if avoiding certain odors they wouldnt encounter naturally but which they were conditioned to associate with unpleasant stimuli)?

And how come insects which go through as many as four complete metamorphoses, total reconfiguration of all body cells, can demonstrate memory of stimuli to which they were exposed as larvae?

People, too, can have literally half their brains removed, which is apparently still sometimes done as a treatment for epilepsy, and go right on with their lives, still remembering how to do whatever they had learned.

So the author concludes, in a memorable phrase, that the mind is not “enskulled”—all the cells of our bodies store memory!

So far, so…okay, i reckon. I mean, at least this means that after death when all our body’s cells are defunct, we wont be tortured any longer by memories of happier times, nor by memories of our most regrettable mistakes.

But then, he talks about flatworms, planaria. They are apparenyly every neuroscientist’s fave lab animal. With nary a nod to whether or not them critters feel any pain, the author blithely describes sawing them in half lengthwise, beheading them, ,chopping their bodies up into increasingly tiny segments.

Maybe they DONT feel any pain, because if pain is meant to warn an organism of danger to its existence, of approaching death, these li’l guys dont need it. Each piece of them completely regenerates into a whole new worm! They’re like the biological version of a Terminator robot!

Furthermore, the regenerated segments demonstrate “memory” stored in the original critter, insofar as that can be be tested in a laboratory setting.

And here’s the scary part: when conditioned flatworms are ground up ( i know, i know 🤢) and fed to other flatworms,those carnivorous flatworms demonstrate the “memories” of the worms they ingested.

Do you get it? What if the worms who, by all accounts, feed on us humans after we die , can store some of OUR memories? What if our consciousness will be fragmented into the cells of millions of slimy stinking, voracious creatures .like flatworms and their relatives, passed on and on as they get dismembered and regenerate, perpetuating for eternity our happy memories of our never-to -be recovered status of being human, at the top of the food chain? Our painful memories of our failures, our gratuitous cruelties?

Of course, we are educated to believe we have a soul, which is eternal, and which will have all eternity to enjoy reward or suffer punishment for what we’ve done while embodied. I tnink everybody exposed to the Abrahamic religions and the earlier Greco Roman myths believes this, at some level. I’ve always found it consoling to remind me that, despite my sins, surely “i”will know nothing, no regrets, after my brain has liquified.

But maybe memory is eternal, after all.

This is a good argument for cremation. I tnink. (While yet i may.)

And—do you think on some level, it is also an argument for the existence of the soul? Or doncha?

One thought on “Out of Our Skulls (or: Food for Thought)

  1. Wow, Hypatia, what a post! I do think that all of this is an argument for the existence of a soul, and it might also be an argument for the Catholic view that our souls cannot really be separated from our bodies, at least not forever.Or at least, I think that is the Catholic view 🙂 For Catholics, the body is definitely very important. They believe that we will have resurrected bodies in heaven.

    But, whatever we may believe, this post is definitely proof that there is so much that we just don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

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