Recognize yourself?

Behavior is wonderful, and wide.  Behavior encompasses everything life does, and this includes many things we can’t see.

We can’t see a virus, not without tools, anyway.  But our body can “see” a virus.  It’s incredible once you think about it.  Our body senses the virus, and gets ready.

Ready?  For what?  For war.

If the virus isn’t a threat, then our body may simply let it slide by.  “This is a friendly!” says our cellular sentry.  “OK” says the immune system, and it stands down.

If the virus is a threat, then our body jumps into action.  Proteins called MHC cut off pieces of the enemy and present it as evidence.  Immediately two different military arms of the immune system jump into action.  The innate arm sends general alarm signals and starts pumping blood into the area.  You know this because you might get a rash, a hive, redness and itching.  Ninjas start showing up, this time dressed in white, ready to gobble up everything showing signs of infiltration.

At the same time the infected cell may know something is going very wrong, and it sets off a self-destruct sequence.  Far more exciting than watching it happen in a movie, because in the movies the heroes always stop the self-destruct in the last seconds.  Not so in the cell.  You start it, and nothing stops it.  The cell develops holes, and in seconds it simply… dissolves.  All its contents, including the intruder, exposed to your body.

Now for the second arm, the adaptive immune system.  Soldiers designated T and B are assembled, briefed on what they are facing, and they go to it.  Logistics and ordinance are supplied courtesy of interferons and antibodies, and the attack is mounted.

Is this boring?  It shouldn’t be.  This is you, your body, every day, every moment.  This is your body behaving, protecting you from evil forces in your environment.  The fact is that out of the thousands of invaders there are attacking you every day, only a few are potentially dangerous.  Of those few, almost all of them are destroyed by your immune system.  The one or two who make it to form a colony, we destroy with modern tools.

The really exciting point here is that this is recognition, your body knowing who you are versus the environment.  This is the fundamental component of knowing who YOU are.  It’s the beginning of what we call consciousness, because the first step in knowing who you are begins with knowing what you aren’t.

Now do you recognize yourself?


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