Try doing a mental experiment: think of a brain. It may be a simulated brain, virtual if you want but it can also be a physical brain. Now imagine this brain expanding itself, like a rubber balloon, inflating more and more. Neurons being "stretched", their dendrites and axons being increasingly stretched... imagine that we continue to INFLATE this brain until it gets really big, almost the size of a planet. Each neuron of our "inflated brain" could be kilometers from each other. Thus, we have opened (or expanded) the brain's "black box" and turned it into a huge "Grey Cloud."
However, in this brain inflated by the imagination, our "Grey Cloud," would still be able to feel and think, because in theory, in our mental experiment, we kept it "alive” and thinking. Of course the synapses would happen at a much slower speed, because the signals that used to pass from one neuron to another in micro-seconds will now take minutes, maybe even hours. However, our hypothetical inflated brain would still think as before, unless, of course, its pace or synapses rate, much slower now.
Note that what is important in our "grey cloud" is the communication of processed signals in each neuron, and according to their small internal processing, sent to others (or not). A neuron receives information from several others (through its dendrites), and according to its own internal processing, it sends (or not) a signal to other neurons (through its axon).
Each individual neuron does not know what is happening in the brain as a whole. Each neuron does not know what the whole set is thinking or feeling. However, we know that this whole processing, formed by the set of single processing, can feel and think, even though separated by kilometers. This is an important conclusion about our "Grey Cloud."
We also realize that the three main parameters of cognition in our "grey cloud" are: the number of "unitary granules”, formed by each individual neuron, the objective function of each individual neuron and the network configuration that is how these neurons are interconnected.
We know that in the case of learning, for example, new connections (synapses) that did not exist before can be formed so that the configuration does not necessarily have to be static. Nowadays we also know that new neurons are created from stem cells available in the brain . Therefore, there is some degree of flexibility and also dynamism.
From our model of "Grey Cloud," we can infer that many other forms of organization that may not even be neuronal could likewise think or even feel. Consider, for example, a city, country or planet where every human being plays the role of a network granule (neuron) and also communicates with others. This network of people may also form a "grey cloud" where something might happen even though none of the individual organisms that belong to the network "knows" that. Another example would be the Internet and its computers, or the society of termites, ants, etc… But one particularly interesting example would be our genetic material: the DNA and its genes.
Genes can communicate with other genes in two ways:
1-Through the emission of proteins and enzymes involved in the cellular control: one gene can thus activate or deactivate other genes which can generate proteins that affect other genes within the same cell or the same body. This would be an endocrine communication.
2-Genes emit proteins that form bodies, and these proteins in the form of bodies, transmit information (memes) to other bodies. Through this information, these bodies produce hormones and other substances that activate (or deactivate) other genes in these bodies. We have then an exogenous inter-genes communication. Schematically, we have the following for exogenous inter-genes communication:
Genes --> Proteins --> Bodies- -> .... memes /action ..... --> Body --> Hormones / Proteins --> Genes
We also observe that the genes network communication, through the various bodies that own them, is similar to a neural network where neurons that are close to each other have a higher degree of connectivity than the ones that are far away. In addition, new genes can be created when, for example, a body (male) interacts with another (female) and the genes directly exchange information producing a new being.
Thus, if we cannot claim that a neuron "thinks" or that a gene "feels", we can at least conjecture that the system as a whole does.
It is important to notice that this genetic "Grey Cloud" also evolves. The selective pressure that its unitary granules face (genes) cause the whole “grey cloud" to adapt in order to survive the weather and, perhaps in a distant future, the death of the Sun.
Portuguese Version: http://www.genismo.com/metatexto52.htm