Cajal on Consciousness


Lynn Margulis.


    Lynn Margulis

    Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts

    Lynn Margulis was born in 1938 and grew up in Chicago. She began her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago during the Great Books era. Chancellor Robert Hutchins had instituted a curriculum in which students read original works, following the development of ideas rather than academic disciplines, an intellectual approach that Margulis embraces to this day.

    She went on to complete her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. By 1970 she was an associate professor at Boston University. It was then that she wrote the most comprehensive account of her ideas: The Origin of Eukaryotic Cells. One reviewer wrote "Readers will find this book sprawling, stimulating, irritating and challenging but they will have difficulty ignoring it". In the book she proposed that mitochondria and chloroplasts evolved symbiotically. These ideas were so much at odds with the established point of view that, according to another observer, they "could not be discussed at respectable scientific meetings".

    Although aspects of the symbiotic theory of cell evolution still provoke controversy, the theory is now taught to high school students. "This quiet revolution in microbiological thought is primarily due to the insight and enthusiasm of Lynn Margulis" states Yale ecologist G. E. Hutchinson. "Hers is one of the most constructively speculative minds, immensely learned, highly imaginative and occasionally a little naughty".

    In 1981, Margulis published Symbiosis in Cell Evolution, a new version of the thesis in her first book. It marked a definite turning point in the acceptance of the Symbiotic Theory. Over the years her activities have spanned from original contributions to cell biology and microbial evolution to developing science teaching materials and hands-on garbage and trash projects in elementary schools. From 1977 to 1980, she chaired the National Academy of Science's Space Science Board Committee on Planetary Biology and Chemical Evolution to aid in developing research strategies for NASA. Extremely interested in Archean and Proterozoic evolution, her research now focuses on the Serial Endosymbiotic Theory of the origin of cells, study of life cycles and sediment impact of the inhabitants of microbial mats, and theoretical aspects of James E. Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis.

    Margulis believes that, like mitochondrias and chloroplasts, the case for spirochete ancestry will be proved. With regards to neurobiology, she speculates that "You can reduce the study of nervous systems to physics and chemistry but you're missing the microbiological step. It's as if you documented the changing surface of the Earth at urban sites using Landsat images, without knowing anything about the people. Think of the nerve as coming from what had formerly been a bacterium, trying but unable to rotate and swim. Thought involves motility and communication, the connection between remnant spirochetes. All I ask is that we compare human consciousness with spirochete ecology. "

    The title of his contribution to the Cajal Conference is The Conscious Cell.

Academic Address

    Department of Geosciences
    University of Massachusetts
    Amherst, MA 01003-5820

E-Mail Address / URL

Some bibliography