Decoding Ourselves On A Sleepless Night

Do you ever wonder about your existence? We are complex systems, a result of a billion years of evolution, struggling to stay alive. As we evolved through ages, we developed a curiosity to know about ourselves, what we are? Or how do we function? There have been different answers to this thought, with a large number of supporters to every reason. Some people believe in an intelligent design, and that we have something, a ‘kind of energy’, called soul inside us, that keeps us conscious about our surroundings and actions. (This is a pretty long post, and I am sorry I cannot summarize it but please continue reading, you won’t regret, it is quite an interesting and enjoyable topic!)

This is actually an interesting thought. Last night after some late night studying, I couldn’t sleep, and I spent most of the night sitting outside, in the cold breeze, and pondering on this. I enjoyed thinking about it so much I never realized it was already 4:30 am in the morning, and it was then I actually realized how complex, and outstanding machines we are! I personally do not believe in creation, and I am curious about finding scientific and logical answers to any question, and that is what I did. What I realized was so intriguing that I was really excited to share this on my blog the following day. Let’s leave our biases aside, and think about this in an ordered way, trying to break or decode our body step by step.

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At first, it seemed really usual when I thought about it, I am a person who eats, sleeps and thinks, using different parts of my body. Most of the active region in my body would be my Nervous System, consisting of my Brian, Spinal Cord and Nerve Cells. But, here is when something just hit me, I am nothing more than electrical signals running throughout my body controlling different actions through  chemical reactions. Let’s talk about vision. The light from an object enters my eye, is focused by the lens on the yellow spot on the retina, where the light-sensitive cells, rods and cones are located. (I am a physics, student so my background in biology is a bit weak, but I will be using my basic understanding instead of going in very minute details.) Now these cells undergo photo-chemical reactions, depending on the colour(i.e. wavelength) and intensity(i.e energy) of light, and send a signal down the optic nerve. This signal is then interpreted by a specific region of the brain, which using past memories, experiences and knowledge adopted through our genes sends a feedback which tells us what object we are looking at, or what it is, and the colour we see is a ‘response’ to certain wavelengths. Like red light is actually a wave of wavelength 8000 angstrom, and this ‘red’ colour we see is a response or reaction of our eye to this wave because of the optic cells, and since they are sensitive to a finite range of wavelengths, we cannot see the waves, or ‘colours’ beyond this range, like x-rays, infrared rays. Certain animals whose sensitivity allows them to see a wider range are able to see what infrared radiation looks like, and perhaps they see a ‘colour’ we don’t.

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Similarly, we can break down our senses of smell and taste. The chemicals/compounds/elements in the air or our food react with our sensory cells in the nose and tongue, and in a similar way, are transmitted to be interpreted by the brain through nerve cells and back, and the smell or taste we get is a response or reaction, or a feeling to these stimuli.

Our movements are also a result of electrical circuitry, are brain is the control centre, and is connected by an extensive network of ‘wires’ of nerve cells, and when we think of moving a part, the part of brain responsible for this kind of thinking gets activated, releases electrical signals, and these travel to the target body part, and contracts the muscle cells there which then moves the part, like our arms. But what are these electric signals? And do we have a proof they exist? Actually YES. Many years ago Giovanni Aldini proved that the body parts communicated with the nervous systems using electricity by sending down current on dead animals and making their body parts move(Dr. Frankenstein?) These electric current is carried by K+ and Na+ ions from one nerve to another.

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Similarly the different parts of the brain control our actions of both internal and external organs by sending down currents through ions produced by chemical reactions depending on a stimulus. For example our digestive system, the cells on the surfaces of stomach, liver, pancreas react with the carbohydrates, proteins and similar organic compounds and trigger the release of necessary chemical juices which react with on reaction release simple compounds which by selective absorption are absorbed by the walls of these organs and the energy release by these reactions is used to power us. The simple ions are carried by the appropriate vessels. The remaining is excreted.

 

But all this was the comparatively the least interesting part, what amused me the most was the brain itself,the way it has evolved, different parts of it are specialized to control different actions. The cells of gray matter act as storage units for memory and new information. How? Just like the information is stored in as series of ‘bits’ in a computer the information is stored in form of series and sequences of similar’bits’ or ‘ions’. We have adapted to certain particular events, stimulus, or changes in our environment, through the years of evolution, and depending on these, the brain reacts by releasing chemicals, and this chemicals cause changes in different parts of the body which we feel as ‘emotions’. For example when you see your crush, the involuntary urge in animals (yes after-all we are animals too) to reproduce and pass on their genetic information, or the pre-fed response to a being with closed ones, the brain reacts to these stimulus by releasing chemicals, or enzymes, like oxytocin and serotonin, which depending on their specific target and activity cause changes in the body like elevated blood pressure, increased rate of heart beat, the muscles of your face ‘smile’, increased temperature, and all this makes your body feel excited, or relaxed, or satisfied, and these reactions are what you associate with the ‘feeling of happiness’. Same mechanism makes  you cry when something happens around you which your brain (or as you would say ‘ you’) thinks is harmful for you, and releases the concerned chemicals. Crying, smiling , fear, anxiety are all instincts we adopted from our past generations through the genetic material.

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Our consciousness is just our brain reacting to different changes in our environment. When you think, it is your brain, using the data or information stored, to analyze the present situation based on past experiences, and thus giving the right response or change throughout your body. Basically like a computer program working on a code, which tells it how to use data to get the desired result. Now, some of you argue that this data needs to be entered. But let’s break this too. Life EVIDENTLY started as single-celled, and in billion of years as we evolved very slowly, in a race to stay alive, we learnt, we developed specific cells or tissues or organs which were to help us tackle a difficulty, and all these experiences when became necessary for survival, were stored as ‘instincts’ or data and passed from the parent to the offspring through genes. Just like when you feel you are falling off your bed, this is your brain involuntarily trying to wake you up, just in case there was a nearby danger, which it could not sense because your eyes were closed; This is the result of your ancestors experiences as the earlier apes, when we slept in the wild, or on tree branches, and were in a danger to be attacked or fall off! Our genes are special cells evolved to store information in form of special ‘sequences’ of 4 chemicals, abbreviated A, G, C and T. Every special sequence has a particular job like producing chemicals to help you grow, or chemicals that tell you your instincts to different changes in the environment, or producing special antibodies in response to the entry of an ‘unknown’ cell inside your body. This is the reason when certain sequences are missing or mutated/changed, it could affect the baby adversely, like radiation reacts with a gene sequence and changes it, and suppose this sequence was to control your eyesight, then the baby born from you will be blind or will have some sight defect if this mutated sequence passes on to the child. Even you can get affected by this change.

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I know this has been a very, very long post, but thanks for staying with me till here. I was really excited about sharing these thoughts with everyone. We are more awesome than we realize. A machine so evolved and job specific. The most complex system in the Universe. I know I might have had some biological errors, but I hope my basic ideas were clear. There is still research going on our body especially the Brain and the Genes. New studies are being conducted with new results. I hope you found it just as interesting and intriguing as me. Even if you still don’t agree with this idea of being an independent system, of electro-chemical reactions, you would, I think, agree with the fact that this thought really makes the motors running. I feel we are, all of us, including other living organisms, a marvelous result of the joined work of different scientific laws and events. We spend lives arguing there is supposed to be a reason, an aim for our existence, but what if there is not a reason that we exist but our existence is a reason to have an aim, to understand ourselves, and our lives, and this Universe around us? Be proud of yourself! And the next time you are alone, think about how great journey you have undergone as a species to reach this point, what an amazing system of chemicals you are! Sorry for the long post, Happy reading!!

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Science, Bitch!

-The Cosmogasmic Person


PS: Want to add something to the above? Don’t budge from commenting below or on the Facebook page. Share it with your friends if you found this interesting!!

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