As global citizens in 2021, we might feel, at times, as if we are an ant on an aircraft carrier. We know the ship is headed for the rocks, but we are just too small to do anything about it.
We could always wake the skipper, maybe? Maybe bite her or him on the toe? Alas, as any ant who has been to the bridge will tell you: ‘Hey guys, there is nobody there’. Nobody is running this ship.
Just as nobody is running our planet.
And so we go on, living our lives. Each of us an individual little ant, living in an individual little ant colony, going about our daily business. Each colony with a queen ant, but at the end of the day, nobody is steering the ship. And we are heading for the rocks.
Oh well, we might think, there is nothing I can do to make it worse. Right? So, we go on about our business: copulating, populating, consuming and polluting. Let’s even chew out the steering system. It is not going to matter anyway.
So, that is the ‘ant on the aircraft carrier’ state of mind.
But is it the right way to think? Well, we sure are small. And we sure feel helpless. But it just doesn’t feel right.
Maybe it doesn’t feel right because we also know, deep down, that things way smaller than ants can change the world.
Picture a neuron. A neuron is a single brain cell, one of the billions of nerve cells that make up the brain. Each neuron is connected to other neurons by cells called ganglia.
Just like us, neurons are born, they consume energy, they do stuff and then they die.
What do they do? They are programmed by their DNA to do what they do, which is: to receive information through electrical pulses, and pass information on. Clock on in the morning, shoot off pulses of information to one another all day, and clock off at night.
The information they pass on to one another via the ganglia might be a sensory input from outside the body, or just a piece of information that they have received from another neuron. Input, output. That’s what they do.
It is when enough of them output information in a certain way that the brain as a whole makes a decision. Generally, that decision is what the neurons have figured was in the best interest of the whole lot of them. Because that is how we survive.
Now, move your left hand index finger, ever so slightly.
That is an example of just a small bunch of neurons deciding to make something happen. Each of them a billionth the size of your finger. But as a group, they just used your left arm – as if it is was a conveyor belt – to send information to your finger, with the end result that the muscles in your arm were engaged – like a massive pulley system – to move something more than a billion times the size of any one of the neurons that activated your finger.
They were able to do this because they worked together.
Let us not forget that the brain has no king or queen, no president, no master neuron. There is no captain on that ship. It is the connectedness of neurons that allows them to do useful things.
And if a neuron can work with other neurons to move a finger, then it follows that they can do a lot more. They can even steer a ship. In fact, when you think about it, it was neurons working together that built all the ships in the world in the first place!
So, what would happen if we, the people who inhabit the planet at this time, started to act more like neurons and less like ants?
You could argue that we can’t because, after all, we don’t have ganglia. Right?
Not quite. We didn’t have ganglia til now. But in the last 30 years, and especially in the last 10 years, humanity has developed a kind of ganglia. It’s called ‘the internet’.
Through the internet, we can now not only communicate information to each other across the globe, we have all the information in the world at our fingertips to help us make good decisions.
Wow. Perhaps we really can work together, like neurons, to make good things happen?
We do not know. We haven’t done much with our ganglia so far. Statistics show that most of us use the internet for idle gossip and entertainment and personal research. Maybe this is just a phase, and maybe we are kind of like, well, a bunch of infant neurons who have just discovered ganglia. Maybe we are just using it to check out the world around us, before we knuckle down and start to use our ganglia for something useful. Maybe.
To find out, first we need platforms on the internet to allow us to communicate rationally with each other about what is best for all of us.
Because the more of these platforms we have, the more we will learn about how to drive our ganglia, and, ultimately, the better the chance we have of turning this ship around.
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