Bioelectricity is the electricity produced by living organisms as they go about the business of moving, breathing, digesting, etc. Bioelectric currents differ from electric currents that power machines because they consist of ions (molecules that carry an electric charge) rather than electrons. ( But it is still electricity. So what’s the link with consciousness?

Evolutionary biologist and lawyer Tam Hunt argues,

Nature seems to have figured out that electric fields, similar to the role they play in human-created machines, can power a wide array of processes essential to life. Perhaps even consciousness itself. A veritable army of neuroscientists and electrophysiologists around the world are developing steadily deeper insights into the degree that electric and magnetic fields—“brainwaves” or “neural oscillations”—seem to reveal key aspects of consciousness. The prevailing view for some time now has been that the brain’s bioelectric fields, which are electrical and magnetic fields produced at various physical scales, are an interesting side effect—or epiphenomenon—of the brains’ activity, but not necessarily relevant to the functioning of consciousness itself.

A number of thinkers are suggesting now, instead, that these fields may in fact be the main game in town when it comes to explaining consciousness. In a 2013 paper, philosopher Mostyn Jones reviewed various field theories of consciousness, still a minority school of thought in the field but growing. If that approach is right, it is likely that the body’s bioelectric fields are also, more generally, associated in some manner with some kind of consciousness at various levels. Levin provided some support for this notion when I asked him about the potential for consciousness, in at least some rudimentary form, in the body’s electric fields.

Tam Hunt, “The Link Between Bioelectricity and Consciousness” at Nautilus (March 10, 2021)

This is a remarkable idea because it includes the notion that our individual cells are conscious:

Something like thinking, they argue, isn’t just something we do in our heads that requires brains. It’s a process even individual cells themselves, and not requiring any kind of brain, also take part in. To the biologists who see this as a cavalier form of anthropomorphization, Levin and Dennet say, “Chill out.” It’s useful to anthropomorphize many different kinds of life, to see in their parts and…

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