Neuroscientists have recently discovered that a given visual perception of the Universe activates the same group of neurons than just to imagine that perception. Surprisingly, the discovery did not make headlines in the press.
Apparently, it does not matter that much to perceive a fraction of the tiniest part of the Universe—that is to say, the visible part—or imagine instead the dominant invisible reality of atoms and void, in order to feel something, the glory of colours in Newton's words, or to be self-conscious.
The immediate corollary for corporate life of the absence of barriers between visible and invisible at the level of consciousness is that the same degree, at least, of attention should be paid to evaluating customers degree of satisfaction, than to what is going on in their imagination. Both might be very different and equally relevant. It is obvious that some corporate projects might be geared to fulfill consumers visible needs, and others to short-cut this lengthy process by direct access to the imagination.
By and large people have not realized yet the impact of the sudden crumbling down of all sorts of barriers. From the neuron's point of view there is no difference between a visually perceived or imagined bit of the Universe. From a professional chemist's point of view, it has become irrelevant too to distinguish between a synthetic or a natural compound. Both are likely to be impure, more so natural extracts usually made of complex mixtures, unless processed to separate the components.
Biologist John Bonner at Princeton has, following more than forty years research, proved that it is impossible to distinguish between human intelligence and that of a social amoeba like slime molds. You just cannot demonstrate that slim molds—or bacteria for that matter—are unconscious. Since Darwin and modern genetics, the old debate around what distinguishes humans from other animals has become redundant. If anything, we are looking now into the differences betweens humans and minerals.
Astrophysicist John Gribbin—to the dismay of many—has been meticulously unscafolding away the existence of that last barrier. Life and the Universe are inextricably intertwined. There would be no planets like the Earth, and no life forms like us, if there were no clouds of gas laced with tiny traces of dusty debris produced by the previous explosions of supernova. There is no doubt now. We are made of interstellar galactic mineral dust.
Last but not least, the mother of all barriers, the last frontier between life and death is becoming ever more suspicious and difficult to ascertain. Hardly three years ago it was discovered that we humans too—like mouse and rats—have stem cells. Or, stem cells happen to be immortal. Stem cells command the process of morphogenesis from the incipient and magic zygot to the finished embryo. They are not the least important cells in the body. On the contrary. No wonder if the mother of all barriers has been deadly shaken. If atoms are eternal, and stem cells are immortal, what on earth dies out when somebody dies.
The unprecedented disappearance of barriers clashes with every social convention. Most people only feel comfortable within the narrow limits of his or her own identity, if duly ranged with equals from the same species, tribe, generation, church, country and culture. And identical cultures provide similar sight, taste, tact and hearing. That is the way the neocortex works. But the sudden lack of barriers tunes very well with the unconscious brain and its capacity to allucinate under the effects of LSD. The most powerful drug on earth happens to destroy barriers between people, between mind and body, between oneself and other living organisms and, finally, between the spirit and the Universe.
Science is pointing towards an LSD-like world without LSD intake. And we are wholly unprepared for both. Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Psychology—the things we are made of—are inextricably intertwined. People though, remain interactiveless and disentangled.
Governments have no more urgent task than to help to conciliate individuals, corporations, institutions, and society at large with the new frontierless Universe. Otherwise, managers will continue to hold that science has nothing to do with their entrepreneurial projects, citizens and their legal systems will be crushed by unexplained violence, Universities will go on focusing on specific subjects amidst growing demands for global interconnectivity between humans, robots and computers, the practice of medicine will continue to exorcise symptoms instead of regenerating tissues, and in a frontierless Universe nations will continue to fight and hide behind frontiers.
Professor of Economic Policy at the Chemical Institute of Ramon Llull University in Barcelona
Director and Producer of Networks (a weekly programme of Spanish public television on Science).
Author of A Field Guide to Survive in the XXI st Century.