[Paleopsych] the embryo's balancing act

HowlBloom at aol.com HowlBloom at aol.com
Thu Jul 22 13:28:40 UTC 2004

Below is an intriguing bit of research, one that seems to demonstrate how the 
body keeps its balance, or, to put it more esoterically, how the community of 
 over 100 billion neurons in the brain and body keep from going over the 
edge.  Wait, that wasn’t the esoteric wording I had in mind.  In addition to 
demonstrating mechanisms that zero in on a golden  mean, mechanisms that act like 
catchers in the rye, this research shows a homeostatic mechanism at work.  Oh, 
that cellular neighbor of ours is passing to great an electrical current and 
threatening to grab undue influence and to skew the consensus that makes our 
community (the community of neurons) a survival mechanism?  Ok, girls, let’s go 
to work, let’s reengineer or reorient our activities a bit, and let’s put out 
inhibitory chemicals, tranquillizers to calm this obstrerous shouter, this 
electrically-hyperactive  cell down.
Hmmm, now we’ve got the opposite problem: a cell among us that puts out too 
little electrical activity.  We’ve got a cripple, a limper.  Let’s retool 
ourselves or readjust our output to manufacture some some uppers, some stimulants 
that will bring her up to speed.
The community of neurons this study is peeping-tomming seems to have a norm it
’s trying collectively to achieve.  That’s a very teleological and 
anthropomorphic way of putting it.  But that’s one reason the German biologists of the 
19th century showed a better understanding of the approach to a grand unified 
theory of everything, than did the physicists cooking up their 
steam-engine-based notion of thermodynamics.  Time has more than just an arrow in an embryo.  
Not only is the idea that time is reversible absurd when your starting point 
is an embryo, but there’s a goal unfolding, one that came from a vast 
condensation of past experience stored in the genome, the protoplasm, and in the 
fabric of the cell’s walls, but one that points at a teleos, a future.  How did the 
future get into the present?  Why is it lurking there?  Why does this seem a 
cosmos with a loose but certain goal?  A cosmos with plans it may not know, 
plans it discovers as it goes  along, but plans and intentions, will and 
motivation, nonetheless?  Howard
Retrieved July 21, 2004, from the World Wide Web 
 Science News Online  Week of July 3, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 1 Neurons take 
charge to change messages  Bruce Bower  Neurons in a developing embryo respond to 
changes in their own electrical activity by altering the types of chemical 
messengers that they produce, a new study suggests. This finding counters the 
traditional scientific view that genes alone determine which neurotransmitters a 
brain cell synthesizes.  A team led by Laura N. Borodinsky and Nicholas C. 
Spitzer, both of the University of California, San Diego, first measured 
distinctive patterns of electrical activity in each of four types of embryonic neurons 
in the spinal cords of frogs. The researchers then changed the electrical 
activity in such cells in other frog embryos by genetically engineering them to 
pass either more or less current through their membranes.  Those alterations 
that led to boosts in electrical activity also led to a surge in the number of 
cells producing inhibitory neurotransmitters that slow down neurons . 
Conversely, changes that caused electrical activity to decline triggered a rise in the 
number of neurons generating excitatory neurotransmitters that ramp up other 
cells' actions. The scientists report their findings in the June 3 Nature.  
Despite undergoing these electrical and chemical changes, all the neurons 
retained their distinctive structures.  The study indicates that some embryonic 
neurons can switch the chemical signals they produce in response to changes in 
their own electrical activity or that of nearby cells, the investigators theorize. 
 It's not yet known whether shifts in electrical activity similarly influence 
neurotransmitter release throughout embryonic nervous systems or in adult 
neurons.  If you have a comment on this article that you would like considered 
for publication in Science News, send it to editors at sciencenews.org. Please 
include your name and location.  References:  Borodinsky, L.N. . . . and N.C. 
Spitzer. 2004. Activity-dependent homeostatic specification of transmitter 
expression in embryonic neurons. Nature 429(June 3):523-530. Abstract available at 
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature02518.  Further Readings:  Goulding, M. 2004. A 
matter of balance. Nature 429(June 3):515-517.  Sources:  Laura N. Borodinsky 
Neurobiology Section Division of Biological Sciences Center for Molecular 
Genetics University of California, San Diego La Jolla, CA 92093-0357  Nicholas C. 
Spitzer Neurobiology Section Division of Biological Sciences Center for 
Molecular Genetics University of California, San Diego La Jolla, CA 92093-0357  
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20040703/note11.asp  From Science News, Vol. 
166, No. 1, July 3, 2004, p. 13.  Copyright (c) 2004 Science Service. All 
rights reserved. 

Howard Bloom
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of 
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 
21st Century
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty 
Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic 
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The 
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American 
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy 
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International 
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive 
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see: 
for two chapters from 
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, 
see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang 
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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