Humans: More than Dust in the Cosmic Wind
Superb design in the human body counters the claim we are mere starstuff.
“All we are is dust in the interstellar wind,” Sara Dwyer writes as the headline of a PhysOrg piece. Her article is actually quite informative for what astronomers are learning about interstellar dust grains. At one point, though, she does reinforce her title with the old Sagan quote, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
Is that a fair assessment of human exceptionalism? It’s not the atoms; it’s the way they are organized. Biological information and intelligently designed structure has a lot more to say than the chemical elements that ferry them along. Here are some recent news findings to increase human esteem:
Study suggests human infants develop metacognition earlier than previously thought (Medical Xpress). Don’t underestimate what happens in the brain of a developing child.
Humans have been found to have a variety of different mental abilities compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, one of which is metacognition—where an individual not only experiences uncertainty, but possesses an ability to convey that uncertainty to others. It is very common in adults, but scientists have not been able to pinpoint when it first develops—some have suggested it does not appear until babies develop into children. In this new effort, the researchers suggest the results of their study show that it occurs by the time a baby is just 20 months old.
The gut: Performing into old age: First large-scale study on the secretion of the human intestine (Science Daily). We go now from infancy to old age. This article states that the findings of Dr. Dagmar Kruger at TU Munich “are startling: contrary to common beliefs, the secretory capacity of the human gut doesn´t decline with age. Nor does gender play a role.” She found this by studying 2200 samples from 450 human patients, instead of relying on older studies that used guinea pigs.
Eye cells may use math to detect motion: Study reinforces theory for how neurons process information (Science Daily). This article reinforces the view that life is about information, not just atoms.
Our eyes constantly send bits of information about the world around us to our brains where the information is assembled into objects we recognize. Along the way, a series of neurons in the eye uses electrical and chemical signals to relay the information. In a study of mice, National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists showed how one type of neuron may do this to distinguish moving objects. The study suggests that the NMDA receptor, a protein normally associated with learning and memory, may help neurons in the eye and the brain relay that information.
“The eye is a window onto the outside world and the inner workings of the brain,” said Jeffrey S. Diamond, Ph.D., senior scientist at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the senior author of the study published in Neuron. “Our results show how neurons in the eye and the brain may use NMDA receptors to help them detect motion in a complex visual world.”
Math-wise, the cells use “multiplicative scaling” to amplify information about motion in the visual field. “Cells in the eye can multiply,” the researcher says. This ability helps us distinguish between a fast-approaching tiger and one that is just sauntering by.
How the brain processes the torrent of information coming in through its windows (the senses) is a marvelous mystery. A concert violinist who suffered a concussion resulting in speech and memory loss, Jennifer Koh, became very interested in the workings of the brain, reports Medical Xpress:
“I have a general curiosity about the relationship between human beings and music,” said Koh, a touring professional who has played the violin since she was 3 years old. “No matter what the culture, no matter what the country … music is a fundamental part of human beings.“
A video clip in the article shows her playing highly complex violin music and tells how Koh went to a Tobias Overath, a neurologist at Duke, who examined her brain using functional MRI (fMRI) as she mentally interacted with the music she loves. Together, they learned about activation patterns related to listening, reading, and imagining playing music. Some activation patterns were shared by the three activities, while others were unique. It’s clear that the brain was not playing the music; it was responding to Koh’s mind as she thought about it.
“The musician’s brain is exquisitely sensitive to all aspects of music, be it listening, reading or imagining playing music,” Overath said. “Therefore, you engage a whole range of areas of your brain – it’s quite literally a whole body experience. From a cognitive point of view, but also physically, it’s incredibly strenuous.”
Does this sound like starstuff? You can watch starstuff till the cows come home and you won’t find speech, music, experience, curiosity, imagination, or sensation. Those all had to emerge subsequent to the alleged origin of life from atoms and molecules. The human experience is so much richer than we can imagine. Calling it starstuff blowing in the interstellar wind reduces humanness to something much less than its fundamental essence, unworthy of its complex design.
Greet your family and friends with “Hi, starstuff” and see how they respond. Starstuff becoming human is a subset of the Stuff Happens Law. It explains nothing. We are not atoms; the atoms are mere carriers of the information that ferries our souls and/or spirits along. As Dembski argues in Being as Communion, the real essence of the universe is not starstuff but information. Physical particles become secondary in this view.
When you think about metacognition and the ability to imagine music in the mind, the physical systems (like the gut) are mere servants to the mind. To be human, to act like a human being, to be rational and moral — these cannot be reduced to nitrogen, iron, calcium and carbon. Those things, too, are manifestations of information. Information only makes sense to a mind. The mind of God, therefore, used atoms to create the real world as a habitat for thinking beings.
Exercise: Watch some virtuoso musicians on YouTube, like Alexander Hrustevich on accordion or Clara Rockman on theremin pulling music out of thin air, or thalidomide baby Tony Melendez, born without arms, playing guitar with his feet and singing. Who can forget Vladimir Horowitz playing Rachmaninoff? Find more examples. Then consider Carl Sagan responding to this with, “These are some of the things hydrogen atoms do, given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution.”