Picasso Tadpoles: Michael Levin on the ‘Dark Matter’ of Biology

Dr. Michael Levin of Tufts University crosses many disciplines: computer science, embryo development, cancer and tumor research; limb regeneration; evolutionary theory and neural networks.

If you watch some of Michael’s fascinating talks at https://ase.tufts.edu/biology/labs/levin/research/presentations.htm he’ll take you down his magical rabbit hole including worms that grow new heads when you cut them in half, tumors that heal themselves and eyes planted on tails that actually work.

In this interview, Michael explodes the myth that “we’ve got it mostly figured out.”

The truth is closer to 1% understanding and 99% is Dark Matter.

Discover Michael’s research at https://allencenter.tufts.edu/our-team/michael-levin/ and http://www.drmichaellevin.org.


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4 Responses

  1. John Torday says:

    Great interview Perry and Michael. HOWEVER, what Michael misses is the ‘meat’ in the biological ‘sandwich’ of evolution and regeneration. He focuses on electrical properties of cells, which are under the auspices of growth factors that determine homeostatic set-points. Biological homeostasis refers all the way back to the Singularity that preceded the Big Bang, so that is the reference point for both the physical and biological realms, which share the common vectoral trajectory produced by the Big Bang. Physics and biology merge through cells endogenizing their environment (Endosymbiosis Theory, Lynn Margulis), their physiologic contents now also being governed by the Laws of Nature just like everything else in the Cosmos. So in my humble opinion, Levin has ‘thrown the baby out with the bath water’ by overarching the entire literature on cell-cell signaling as the basis for development, phylogeny, injury repair and evolution. Experimentally, if you deprive a cell of its environmental ‘cues’ you will lose the electrical signals that Michael is studying, so it’s the interactions between the cells and their environments that give the insight to evolution and physiology…..the electrical flows are epiphenomena! Michael did mention the loss of gap junctions in injury, but such structures were eliminated as being ‘necessary’ in all of the experimental work on paracrine signaling by implementing the use of conditioned medium to experimental demonstrate the existence of soluble growth factors like Stan Cohen’s Epidermal Growth Factor or Maria Montalcini’s Nerve Growth Factor. Talk about palimpsest!

    • arthur harris says:

      I have read Torday’s criticism of Michael Levin and it confuses me. Central to Levin’s approach is the concept of purpose. What is happening with cell signalling is relevant insofar as it offers an insight into how cells express purpose. Where in his criticism does Torday address the issue of purpose? How did purpose arise in a lifeless universe? That is the central issue! How did a sense of beauty arise from cells endogenizing their environment? To raise the Singularity before the Big Bang as some starting point for biology I find intriguing. As far as I am concerned the Big Bang is a theoretical creation of the human mind but Mr Torday would have me believe that it somehow led to the creation of my mind.

  2. arthur harris says:

    I do not have the expertise to engage Mr Torday on the issue of cell signalling. However I do understand evolution theory in great detail and take exception to his glib and simplistic assertions about the physiological contents of cells being governed by “the laws of physics” as well as to references concerning the Big Bang. He takes the human mind for granted. Are there laws of physics and a Big Bang beyond the limitations of human knowledge that perform as he has described? If so then how does he or any-one KNOW that?
    This term “the laws of physics” does not refer to a reality beyond human thought and which governs human thought. This term firstly reflects the capacity of the human mind to GENERALISE and secondly it is an expression of how the human mind must understand within its limitations what is out there in order to control and manipulate it.
    There would be no laws of physics as we know them if the human mind did not generalise. So how did the human mind acquire this capacity? I want someone expert in the laws of physics to explain how these laws bestowed that capacity on the human mind. I claim for reasons too complex to be expressed here that such an explanation is impossible.
    As regards the Big Bang it is an inference of the human mind in order to ( “in order to” is an expression of purpose because the human mind does have purpose) to explain a set of data (identified as A). It is invalid reasoning to use an inference specifically drawn to explain data A, as an explanation or even a part of an explanation for data other than A such as data concerning the evolution of life on Earth.
    The human mind was not part of the data to be explained by the Big Bang. It was outside data A seeking to explain it using the power of INFERENCE. The concept of the Big Bang can in no way be used to explain evolution and in particular the formation of the human mind.
    “Science” wrote Einstein” is a creation of the human mind with its freely invented ideas and concepts”. (“The Evolution of Physics” p.294) In understanding how the human mind evolved in order to make these creations one must find the answer by examining the mental powers that enabled these creations-powers such as generalising, making inferences by reason and having purpose. Furthermore these powers must reside in cells.One does not explain the evolution of the human mind by turning to its creations or inventions such as “the laws of physics” and “The Big Bang”, When evolution is properly understood at some future time it may well be the case that principles so involved will radically change the “the laws of physics” as they are currently understood, All and I mean ALL of our knowledge begins with the human mind not at some Big Bang.

    • ChienHsin Jesse Lin says:

      The laws of cosmology involved in the above discussion are enough to prove that human beings have evolved…!
      Although the individual’s academic origins are almost superficial, only the “biological instinct recognition” is left… Just like the instinct of the tortoise found, swimming skills do not need to be taught but naturally exist. Why does it exist naturally? Because any biological existence? It must be related to the systemic ecological environment of the ontological field.

      The ability to balance must be achieved, otherwise it will be reduced to natural selection!

      Therefore, the body must restart its immune system to fight against the violation of the external environment.
      Or the development of the potential of behavioral consciousness… This is not the same as the expansion and convergence of inevitability with the “laws of nature”.

      Therefore, in the category of wisdom theory of human science, it is always related to paradox…?

      We can even conclude that the “unified field theory” of the universe is a question of [dimension]…?

      The “dimensions” involved in the cosmic ecosystem that can be explored are the argument that the field never ceases…!

      The universe is restored to the original singularity effect… The Milky Way system formed after the Big Bang, I am afraid… everything is “destined with absolute precision”…?
      The calculation of the dimension of the micro adjustment gap involved in it.

      If there is a guiding factor for “theological control”…interaction and dependence…at present, since the history of mankind, it should be regarded as an unbreakable longitudinal argument.

      The evolution of the universe is inevitable, but the limit is self-destructing to higher dimensional existence… We are taking a big step towards this.

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