The Science behind Collective Awareness
Scientists have known for a long time about the ‘biological imperative’, an inherent mechanism that engages the drive to survive. How it’s activated is unclear, but every organism, from a bacterium to the most advanced creature, can read the environment and sense whether its life is in danger or not. If it’s under threat, the system engages the imperative, which activates behaviors that will ensure survival. The immediate imperative for personal survival is to breathe air, drink water, and eat food—all the activities that support life. When forces outside the body threaten life, the imperative will read the situation and engage life-sustaining behaviors. These functions are not only activated in the brain, but are also experienced in the gut as a feeling that the situation is in some way life-threatening. I believe that’s what civilization is experiencing right now.
The biological imperative is directing people to discover how to become more secure, and the fundamental resolution to that quest is to form community. It is important to understand that this drive to be in community is not just an expression of our biological imperative; it is also our evolutionary imperative. Our consciousness is driving us to assemble and survive through the creation and support of a global community.
The evolutionary imperative is simple to understand, and it can be profoundly liberating—a way to transcend fear. Let me explain:
Over 30 years ago, my research as a cell biologist revealed that the genes are not the key to organismal evolution. Instead, the studies revealed that the cell membrane, the ‘skin’ of the cell, is the ‘brain’ that controls behavior and gene activity. Protein switches in the membrane respond to environmental signals by translating the information and creating a life-sustaining biological response. The relevance of this insight is that these protein switches represent units of ‘perception,’ and the number of perception units in the membrane is directly proportional to the amount of awareness expressed by an organism.
According to this understanding, the nature of ‘consciousness‘ can be directly correlated with the number of perception units that can be deployed within what we might call the cell ‘mem-brain.’
This means there are physical limits to awareness. The first limit is that perceptual protein switches cannot be stacked up in the very thin cell membrane; they can only be distributed in the membrane as a monolayer.
Picture an olive sandwich, where the olives represent perception. Once the surface of the bread is covered with olives, you can’t stack more olives on top. To add more olives, you need more surface area—a bigger slice of bread. Evolution of consciousness is directly proportional to the number of protein ‘olives’—therefore, evolution is focused on making a bigger slice of bread, increasing the surface area of the cell’s membrane.
Another physical limitation of awareness is reached when a cell maximizes its amount of membrane surface area. For example, the most primitive cells, bacteria, are surrounded by rigid ‘capsules’ (the equivalent of the exoskeleton found in insects, clams, and lobsters). The physical limitation imposed by the exoskeleton limits the amount of membrane a bacterium can possess. Once the maximum amount of membrane was packed into the bacterial capsule, evolution hit a wall. You can’t make a ‘smarter’ bacterium.
But evolution didn’t stop—it changed paradigms. Once you’ve made the smartest bacterium, the next level of evolution is to create a community of bacteria, wherein the bacteria can share their awareness. On the physical plane, bacteria can communicate with one another through the use of secreted chemical signals (similar to hormones). Bacteria can also communicate by releasing viruses that contain nucleic acids (DNA or RNA programs)—information that can be picked up and utilized by other members of the bacterial community. In addition, bacteria can communicate by broadcasting vibrational energy fields.
Over time, communities containing a variety of different bacterial species, each with specialized traits, learned to support each other’s lives. These communities surrounded themselves with a membrane, taking control of the conditions in their shared environment (for example, salt balance, pH control, temperature control, and so forth). In understanding the relevance of community, consider that each bacterium has a membrane awareness of 1X consciousness, but a community of 100 bacteria would have 100X+ amount of consciousness. With greater consciousness, a community of bacteria has a better chance of survival than an individual, free-living bacterium. These microbial communities are called bacterial films.
We see a human as a single living organism. In truth, a human is an integrated community of around 50 trillion amoebalike cells.
With further development, the bacterial film communities became specialized and integrated, a development that led to a new organism, an amoeba. While the amoeba is recognized as a single cell, in truth it is a modified version of a bacterial community. For the next million or so years, the amoeba was able to continually expand its cell membrane surface area to an extent that an amoeba’s awareness is 1,000 times greater than that of a single bacterium.
Then, evolution stopped again because the amount of membrane an amoeba can contain also has a size limitation. The amoeba, which possesses an internal cytoskeleton, is somewhat like a water balloon: You can fill a balloon with a small amount of water and throw it around all day. But if you overfill the balloon, the pressure will cause the balloon to rupture. Similarly, if an amoeba’s membrane-bound mass of cytoplasm becomes too large, the membrane will rupture. The profound point is that an amoeba can only grow to a certain size—and no bigger. You can’t make a ‘smarter’ amoeba.