Abstract: The cognitive powers of the brain evolved from much more ancient processes in which cells, tissues, and even molecular networks had to make decisions to optimize their function in a challenging world. In this talk, I will discuss the field of primitive cognition, focusing on a number of examples in which non-neural biological systems process information and make decisions. These include a) cells during embryogenesis, regeneration, and cancer, b) unicellular organisms such as slime molds, and c) synthetic organisms. I will also discuss non-neural bioelectricity - an ancient precursor to brain function, which enables collectives of cells to cooperate toward large-scale goals. Implications of our work to crack the bioelectric code extend from regenerative medicine to synthetic bioengineering and even artificial intelligence.
Michael Levin is Professor of Biology at Tufts University, as well as Director of the Allen Discovery Center and the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology.