There is no doubt that humans have unique gifts. We are well aware of them and assume that an innate superiority categorically separates us from the rest of our planetary companions. Few question our natural supremacy over all other living things. Yet, despite that lofty self-regard, our own lives are plagued with uncomfortable uncertainties and personal doubts. There are so many nagging questions that rattle our thoughts. We ask ourselves: “Why do I make bad choices?” “Why am I always unhappy?” Those who are lonely may ask in despair, “Do I matter at all?” “Does anyone care?” Each of these anxieties shares a common denominator—they reflect our continuous struggle to find our place in an unsettling world.
Feeling adrift is a nearly universal sensibility in this tumultuous cultural moment. Our prior societal touchstones have lost their force. Many believe that they are simply wandering through life, hoping to find some security and purpose along the way. Many silently wonder, “Am I simply running out the clock with my life?” Fortunately, there is an antidote for this modern malady of prevalent unease. In this fretful time, science can provide evidence that there is genuine permanent meaning in your life.
In the last few centuries, previously invisible realms have been revealed. This momentous achievement required the dual inventions of the microscope and the telescope to permit detailed observations in opposing directions—outward and inward. Both are crucial to our modern understanding of the world—but an ongoing exploration of the intricate wonders of our cells has unexpectedly revealed previously hidden connections between ourselves, our planet, and the cosmos. Simultaneously, this same unprecedented scrutiny of the inner workings of our cells is uncovering new keys to better health and personal well-being. Furthermore, scientific research shows that our cosmic place can be better revealed by looking inward at the extraordinary capacities of our cells. Recent discoveries indicate that the combined actions of our cells not only grant us our gifts and limitations but also impart connections that assure our permanent individual signature on the planet.
One particular facet of our emerging knowledge stands paramount and separates the past from the future. Extensive research confirms that each of the cells of our body and every one of our microbial partnering cells has its individual form of intelligence. Unquestionably, that intelligence is distinctly limited compared to our intellectual gifts. Yet, their cognitive capacities are remarkable because they are sufficient to permit discriminating choices and coordinate all of those cellular actions that energize our living planet. Two linchpins of our existence emerge from this revelatory knowledge about our capable cells: All life, at every scope and scale, is defined by intelligence; and second, intelligence permits individual and complex choices at every scale, even at the level of our cells.
A remarkable threshold has therefore been reached. We have just entered a transformative “Era of the Cell.” Its radical message is that all cells are intelligent. All the cells of our body and all the microbial cells that inhabit us share a basal level of intelligence at their scale. What does intelligence at the cellular level mean? Every cell is a capable problem-solving agent and a skillful networking participant. This means that cells can make independent decisions and can group together to make collaborative ones. In the past, cells had been regarded as mere automatons, reacting to molecules or energetic impacts like tiny robots. Now, for the first time, cells are recognized as independently intelligent and capable of finding their own solutions to environmental problems at their scale. In this new framework, we will appropriately task ourselves to leverage their problem-solving abilities for our benefit. This is a radical shift from the past. Cells are not “living” machines. They are living problem-solving intelligence. For the first time, we will be using living beings as partners to augment our futures. This shift in scientific perspective powerfully impacts our understanding of our health and all planetary biology.
From this illuminating nexus, a wide range of further wonders will cascade. Research into our cells will ultimately reveal the essential physiological and metabolic pathways that sustain us. Consequently, we are on the threshold of much healthier and longer lives. Emerging cell-based technologies will yield these dramatic changes. Effective cures for many devastating afflictions will be found. Ultimately, the same technologies will displace our assumption that aging must yield to inevitable disability and decline. None of our ancestors could have imagined such freedoms.
Yet, even beyond these self-evident future benefits, this exploration of our cellular selves is already yielding appreciable gifts beyond those material advances. Throughout our human existence, we have struggled to comprehend the outward universe and grasp our place in the cosmos. Now, unexpectedly, it unfolds that a pursuit deep within us offers our best chance of discovering ourselves and our manifest purpose. Cell
Each of us owes our existence to physical and energetic networks that began with the singularity of the Big Bang and echo across our daily lives. Your unique self-awareness, as its derivative, sits within the center of a shared cosmic immensity as a vital and permanent participant. That is your universal place. Cell
No matter our outward appearance, it is unequivocal that we remain exquisitely connected cellular beings. Those cells link you permanently to the planet and the universe beyond. From this actuality, a cardinal assurance emerges: “When we behold our cells correctly, we might, at last, fathom ourselves.”
About the author:
William B. Miller, Jr. M.D. is an internationally known evolutionary biologist, medical doctor, and author and co-author of seven science books, including the acclaimed The Microcosm Within. He has also contributed over three dozen peer-reviewed, highly influential academic articles on evolutionary biology. After a career practicing medicine, Dr. Miller became fascinated by evolution through a chance encounter with Sue, the startling T-Rex skeleton housed in the magnificent rotunda of the Chicago Field Museum. Since then, Dr. Miller has become a leading expert in the field of evolutionary biology, developing Cognition-Based Evolution as a novel peer-accepted alternative to conventional evolutionary theory. His latest book, Bioverse: How the Cellular World Contains the Secrets to Life’s Biggest Questions, is a popular science book for general readers. A docuseries based on its illuminating ideas is in development. Dr. Miller had been in academic and private medical practice for over 30 years. His experiences and observations about patterns of the disease led to a conviction that the dominant narratives of disease causation and evolutionary development were insufficient. The result is a discerning body of work in evolutionary biology and cellular cognition, including four academic books in print, two more to be shortly released, and Bioverse. As an expert on the intimate interrelationships between our cells and our microbiome, he has contributed over 100 online articles and blog posts and given over 100 media interviews.
By Bill Miller