The human need for information — in our minds and in our bodies
We human beings cannot survive without accurate information. Not even today’s vast electronic media network can satisfy this need, for we need information every waking moment. Sure, we have routines and have developed habits which take much of the guesswork out of life, but predictions are risky, especially about the future!
Moving from the mundane to the more consequential, it is apparent that the old saying is true, viz., “You’re only as good as your information.” Just as our appetite for food and drink must be regularly and adequately satisfied, so is our need for information. We are needy beings constantly seeking knowledge about what to do, how to do it, when to do it, what and who to do it with, and for what purpose.
But since we are intelligent beings, however lacking in specific knowledge, barring some mental or other barrier to our quest for information, we usually obtain what we seek. As family members, we need to know how to treat others. In the workplace, we need to know what our duties are.
There is no need to multiply examples of the obvious. What is not so obvious is how we need information that we are not even aware of, that we need at all times. That kind of information keeps us alive and functioning, and is inextricably tied up with our body’s various systems, including blood circulation, breathing, nerves, digestion and elimination, not to mention our five senses.
In short, we have both voluntary functions that enable us to think, feel, see, hear, smell and taste that depend much on outside information, and involuntary powers provided by our several complex operating systems that depend on inside information. Whenever I contemplate the immense work made possible by both types of bodily functions, I am amazed at how much information our body is supplied with.
In the twentieth century, the discovery of DNA revolutionized our understanding of the numberless cells that are the building blocks of all life. Whereas Charles Darwin saw the cell as the irreducible unit, later scientists learned with more powerful microscopes that a lot more was going on in each cell than Darwin believed.
This is understandable. While the number of cells in plants and animals varies from species to species, humans contain about 100 trillion cells. Most plant and animal cells are visible only under the microscope, with dimensions between 1 and 100 micrometres.
Scientists have learned that all cells come from preexisting cells, that vital functions of an organism occur within cells, and that all cells contain the hereditary information necessary for regulating cell functions and for transmitting information to the next generation of cells.
What is particularly interesting is the cell’s informing function. Most of us are familiar with the cell’s generational information transmission. What is less known is the cell’s informational role in its governance of each new generation’s cell functions.
Think about this. The infinitesimally tiny cell contains and transmits information! As molecular biologist Bruce Roberts writes,
“[W]e can walk and we can talk because the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we . . . had ever considered. Proteins make up most of the dry mass of a cell. But instead of a cell dominated by randomly colliding individual protein molecules, we now know that nearly every major process in a cell is carried out by assemblies of 10 or more protein molecules. And, as it carries out its biological functions, each of these protein assemblies interacts with several other large complexes of proteins. Indeed, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.” http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/did_scientists_072871. html#sthash.465aMp1p.dpuf
No “factory” functions without a steady supply of information. Somehow those interior parts of cells “know” exactly what to do, and how and when—and does it constantly. Where does that information come from? Think about the word inform. Divide it into its two syllables and you grasp the active nature of information, which is “informed” within living things. We humans didn’t give those cells the information they need to function effectively, virtually without interruption. Who or what does? “Nature does nothing in vain,” wrote Aristotle. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote the Psalmist, who might well have comprehended the smallest things in creation, no less than the largest.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Take Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at email@example.com