Joining into communicating networks allows each cell to have (self-regulated and temporally delayed) access to the information obtained by neighboring cells, as well as to form layered architectures with progressive layers abstracting patterns from raw data. In this way, the subunits not only expand their spatial range of perception but also can improve memory and a degree of predictive ability. The resulting larger Individual is formed with a cognitive world that is unified by the cells’ sharing of information across time and space.

from The Computational Boundary of a “Self” (2019)

Portrait of Michael Levin

Michael Levin

Developmental and Synthetic Biologist

Michael Levin is an American developmental and synthetic biologist at Tufts University, where he is the Vannevar Bush Distinguished Professor, and a director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University and Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. He is also co-director of the Institute for Computationally Designed Organisms with Josh Bongard.


4 Documents






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Biology, Buddhism, and AI

Care as the Driver of Intelligence

Intelligence is a central feature of human beings’ primary and interpersonal experience. Understanding how intelligence originated and scaled during evolution is a key challenge for modern biology. Some of the most important approaches to understanding intelligence are the ongoing efforts to build new intelligences in computer science (AI) and bioengineering. However, progress has been stymied by a lack of multidisciplinary consensus on what is central about intelligence regardless of the details of its material composition or origin (evolved vs. engineered). We show that Buddhist concepts offer a unique perspective and facilitate a consilience of biology, cognitive science, and computer science toward understanding intelligence in truly diverse embodiments.

From Matter to Mind

Bioelectricity, Body Intelligence, and the Future of Regenerative Medicine

The Collective Intelligence of Evolution and Development

Collective intelligence and individual intelligence are usually considered to be fundamentally different. Individual intelligence is uncontroversial. It occurs in organisms with special neural machinery, evolved by natural selection to enable cognitive and learning functions that serve the fitness benefit of the organism, and then trained through lifetime experience to maximise individual rewards. Collective intelligence, in contrast, is a much more ambiguous idea. What exactly constitutes collective intelligence is often vague, and the mechanisms that might enable it are frequently domain-specific.

The Computational Boundary of a “Self”

Developmental Bioelectricity Drives Multicellularity and Scale-Free Cognition

All epistemic agents physically consist of parts that must somehow comprise an integrated cognitive self. Biological individuals consist of subunits (organs, cells, and molecular networks) that are themselves complex and competent in their own native contexts. How do coherent biological Individuals result from the activity of smaller sub-agents?

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Francis Heylighen and David Sloan Wilson

Glimpsing the Global Brain

Complex systems theorist Heylighen and evolutionary biologist Wilson discuss a possible phase transition of humanity in which the members of our species become neurons in a planetary brain, utilizing the Internet as a shared exocortex.