Behavior Atoms

Long long ago, in a civilization far far away, there were some deep thinkers.  They wondered what the universe was made up of, and they came up with a simple ingredients list: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.  Everything they knew of was made up of some proportion of those four things.  These ancient Greeks called these small things, atoms.

It took about 2,000 years before some more natural philosophers decided to look into these atom things, and figured out that there were really more than the basic 4.  Today we have elements, atomic particles, sub-atomic particles, and maybe even strings.

What about behavior?  Can there be a “unit” of something so intangible?  Is there an atom equivalent for saying “thank you” or watching someone get embarrassed because they farted?  For the sake of our argument, and because it wouldn’t be any fun to assume anything else, let’s go with the assumption that, yes, there is a unit of behavior.  Where’s the best place to go looking for it?

Think small.  Real small.  What about a cell?  After all, it was cells that tamed our early Earth, taking all that nasty carbon dioxide and turning it into nice, volatile oxygen.  It was cells that crawled out of the ooze and became plants, fish, and primates.  Heck, even today our bodies are only a vast collection of cells.  What do cells do when they’re on the job?

They behave.  They do things for some reason or other.  We like to describe them as factories, as machines, as computers running a program of DNA, RNA, and other such instruction sets.  But the fact remains that if we take any single celled organism, or even one of our highly differentiated cells, and try to predict what it will do at any one time, we can’t.  And prediction is the one thing you CAN do with a machine, or a computer.

My deep thought then, for this day, is that there are atoms of behavior, and we can see those atoms within cells.  For what are we, but a bag of cells?  Who can say that we don’t act in ways to help our cells, ourselves?

Now, where should we start looking for a behavioral periodic table?


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