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GreatGearAmidAPizza t1_j14tp5n wrote

Intelligence may require a level of complexity that can't fit into such a small space, but this may in part have to do with what we mean by sentience.


Raagggeeee t1_j14w10s wrote

Hey man, for all we know....we're microscopic sitting on a cell or an atom


Juzzdide t1_j14wuh4 wrote

I’m so stoned this actually makes sense


Ramental t1_j15085y wrote

Not really. Atoms are working due to the balance of weak (radioactive decay) and strong interactions (why the are actually able to exist). Especially the former is only applied to extremely small distances, but the second is also appearing on fm distances.

No amount of scaling up would replicate weak and strong interactions that are affecting atoms. Thus, we can't be atoms just as there can't be life inside an atom. Purely because with smaller scale changes the balance of forces and the things get extremely volatile.


OMGLOL1986 t1_j152ga9 wrote

We can just have different interactions at scale. boom physics solved.


Jfurmanek t1_j15nifs wrote

This is why quantum physics is its own field. Interactions ARE different at scale.


KittieSlave t1_j152eo4 wrote

Compared to the universe we technically are microscopic. Our bodies are a living, thriving mass of bacteria, and cells that are all living. So a universe of microscopic beings make us up. To the vast expanse of the universe, and space...our earth is just a cell. For all we know everything we know, and experience could just be inside another, much larger being.


loopsbruder t1_j153bxb wrote

I really hope that being doesn't hear about COVID and start slathering themselves in hand sanitizer.


KittieSlave t1_j1547ip wrote

Well there is the milky way....or maybe thats something else...


Mary_Pick_A_Ford t1_j14wpyk wrote

I would be scared shitless if some giant being just suddenly stepped on Earth or had some giant scraper and sent us to be viewers under a microscope out of nowhere one day. You just unleashed a new fear of mine, the fact that we could be microscopic to something bigger than us


COMINGINH0TTT t1_j14ymd1 wrote

Well rest assured cuz if we are microscopic to something, that something stepping on us wont do jack shit. If you spit on the ground and stomp on it, do you think the bacteria are getting crushed to death by your shoes?


Latyon t1_j14zkrk wrote

No, but if I spit on an egg and then stomp on it...


Frisky_Mongoose t1_j152pfu wrote

Well, allow me to introduce you to the Lovecraftian horror genre!


WordSpiritual1928 t1_j153nno wrote

Yea this is a theory I’ve thought about as well. Maybe we’re just a tiny piece of something so much bigger we aren’t able to put the picture together. Interesting!


whatisthishappiness t1_j153fdt wrote

The day I look through a microscope and see a little atom in its kitchen slicing onions and peppers for a hamburger steak they’re about to cook up, I’ll jump on that bandwagon

This is definitely a simulation though, and none of you are real.


killstorm114573 t1_j14wez4 wrote

I don't know what's beyond the universe but if there's something or any life that can observe the universe as a whole, meaning look down on galaxies. Then I could argue that humans and earth would not appear intelligent from their perspective. We would seem to be no more important or intelligent than germs or bacteria and we definitely would seem to be a whole lot smaller if we're comparing size then bacteria would be compared to us.


AuralSculpture t1_j14x2mc wrote

Anything observing us would be watching us billions of years in the past. Same as we are looking at space that is basically dead or long since changed because of the amount of time it takes light to travel. We are looking at phenomena that happens millions of years ago. So if anything is looking at us NOW, they are probably seeing something out of the Cambrian era. They aren’t seeing “us”. They are seeing a bunch of primitive life forms between huge insects and early dinosaurs.


Westacious t1_j1512u1 wrote

I don't have anywhere near the understanding to accurately state what I'm about to type, but if an outside observer could actually view our universe they wouldn't necessarily need to observe using our laws and physics from the outside in right? If the beings were unfathomably enormous compared to our entire universe or are using some sort of device to observe the entire universe isn't it possible they could view the entirety of it at the same time? Like instead of looking down a tube from one side to the other it was flat or something

edit: grammar/clarity


I_am_BrokenCog t1_j151w9p wrote


/u/AuralSculpture mistakenly presumed that his/our frame of reference (within our universe) is bound to the same rules as a different frame of reference outside the universe.


bgplsa t1_j1544ea wrote

Stephen Hawking explains trying to describe what’s “outside” the universe or “before” the beginning of time as similar to trying to define what’s north of the North Pole. There’s just no reasonable way for our brains to express the idea of something that exists completely independent of any experience we could possibly imagine. So certainly it’s possible an infinite number of angels can dance on the head of a 5-dimensional pin but how would you count them 😉


killstorm114573 t1_j1554rj wrote

The comment wasn't so much about seeing us directly it was more about perspective.


D_Winds t1_j14v1ev wrote

Self-awareness is likely a multicellular construct. Like, highly multicellular, so much so that one loses their "microscopic" size before they are classified as sentient.


balkibartokamis t1_j14vuhr wrote

Can lots of micro organisms working together have some sense of self awareness?


D_Winds t1_j14w1xp wrote

Like a hive mind? Or like the cells of our human bodies?

People's definition of sentience will vary greatly, and the level of self-awareness with it.


JohnMayerismydad t1_j14y56f wrote

Probably how multicellular organisms arose to begin with. Not necessarily the awareness, but the bunch of single cells working together with some separation of function


DrQuinn79 t1_j155905 wrote

Radio Lab has an interesting segment where a scientist explained how, in the primordial soup, certain large molecules had a symbiotic energy exchange with smaller outside molecules, then at some point the larger molecules started absorbing the smaller molecules into themselves (they are not sure why, possibly just an accidental mutation that turned out to be beneficial and was passed on during replication...or possibly the Hand of God, if that's your dish), which then began to replicate INSIDE the host, thereby laying the groundwork for complex cellular development.


I'm sure I have some of the exact terminology a little wrong, but that's the basic idea anyway. If anyone could identify that edition of Radio Lab, I'm sure it's freely available, and would be a good listen.


LordOfSpamAlot t1_j14wjg8 wrote

Like a human brain? It's a bunch of cells (micro organisms) working together that have self-awareness.


GoreSeeker t1_j15343f wrote

What determines the size of a cell though. Could the cells of an organism on another planet be made up of less atoms, making the cell and the overall organism smaller?


Renaissance_Slacker t1_j1584lt wrote

I think the size of a cell is determined by the size of microscopic bubbles lipids spontaneously form under the right conditions. Those complex molecules took up shop inside lipid bubbles to form the first proto-cells.


[deleted] OP t1_j14t7h5 wrote



Ape_Togetha_Strong t1_j14tncn wrote

There's this thing called "the edit button". But what does it mean for life to "Still be microscopic"? Is a multicellular organism not a colony of differentiated microscopic clones?


Interested_Minds1 t1_j14zzxe wrote

I would imagine something that you cannot see easily with the naked eye. The small.


Ape_Togetha_Strong t1_j150be4 wrote

Thanks. I'm aware of what microscopic means. Which is clear from the next sentence in my comment that is only 3 sentences long.


Interested_Minds1 t1_j1anz66 wrote

idk seemed like a simple question if taken in layman's terms. Your comment just seemed to throw more confusion at it to me. Why I responded answering to your question on what they meant by "Still be microscopic".


Ape_Togetha_Strong t1_j1aobol wrote

It's called a "hypothetical question". One asked not to gain information, but, in this case, to cause the reader to question an assumption that they have already made. This is a pretty simple concept.


kfractal t1_j14t0xr wrote

i think there's a signalling count (limit) argument that could be used to suggest that microscopic (organic!) intelligence can't be self-hosted.


DeepThroatShrimpies t1_j14vdq9 wrote

We could technically be microscopic intelligent life. Do we really know? Our whole framework of the universe is based on our interpreted scale of it. Maybe there’s some giant life out there we can’t detect, much like tardigrades have no awareness of our existence.


Mary_Pick_A_Ford t1_j14x6qg wrote

Dude, this just made me freak out. So some giant things could someday just discover us and be like ohhh look at this speck of weird stuff that has its own world and community, let’s put them under a microscope and see what’s there. They scrape us out of existence and carry us in a vile to some lab where a giant eyeball 👁️ is now observing us


DeepThroatShrimpies t1_j150sj7 wrote

hits blunt Maybe that’s already happened or is what’s happening with our own Little Rock. I’m not religious by any means but Maybe that’s what some people would consider their god or some version of it.

For real though it’s something I love to think about (that there could be something out there bigger than us we have no awareness of). Patterns of scales exist all throughout the universe. There’s no reason to assume it stops with us. We simply just can’t see whatever is bigger than us or the time scale shift is so slow for bigger things, sentient or not, we don’t notice them change.


Renaissance-child t1_j14wjcr wrote

I find it extremely unlikely, due to consciousness being more an amalgamation of sensory interpretation and numerous different processes all taking place at the same time.

I am not an authority on the matter, by any means, but from my understanding of research conducted by others who are more qualified, “consciousness” is the result of a combination of assorted processes, requiring a more complex brain than what could fit in a microscopic organism.

Since intelligence, and sentience, require some kind of independent judgment capacity, I would see this sort of advanced consciousness as a prerequisite.


Adenidc t1_j152wjz wrote

I think this is correct. I'm reading a book about consciousness right now called The Hidden Spring (I'd highly recommend), and it seems like consciousness is fundamentally affect, and we all exist to try and minimize the free energy of our surroundings, so consciousness evolves in order to form a predictive hierarchy and avoid as many error signals as possible in a constantly changing environment. I think that most animals with a brain are conscious, as we all experience affect, and dream, and "choose" between different available states based on our perceived needs - key word "perceived", because perception is also unavoidably tied to consciousness, as all you perceive is compared to past data so you can more accurately choose the best action to minimize your free energy. I may be wrong, I can't say I know too much about microbiology, but I don't think microscopic organisms contain a brain or analogous structure that could house a mind to evolve consciousness; I think they're more like computers just taking in feedback and executing raw code.


Renaissance_Slacker t1_j158hom wrote

If you could build mechanisms out of proteins and other large molecules you could fit a lot of processing and storage inside a bacteria. Clusters of these bio computers might display emergent intelligence like a hive of insects.


MammothInfestation t1_j14tlxk wrote

Depends on your definition of sentient.

the definition found on google was - able to perceive or feel things.

So by that definition yes, lots of microorganism already meet that criteria.


Poopy_Paws t1_j14vf3p wrote

I think OP means sapient. Sentient and sapient are always confused


MammothInfestation t1_j14w7c4 wrote

I'm not sure sapient is a better choice to be fair.

- wise, or attempting to appear wise.

- relating to the human species

I think he's asking about consciousness but unfortunately given we don't really understand it or have a rigid definition, the only answer to his question we can give reasonably give is we don't know.


Poopy_Paws t1_j14wudl wrote

The title is asking about intelligence. The actual comment is asking about sentience. Sapience is pretty much what is being asked.


MammothInfestation t1_j14ysjl wrote

So perhaps if we, rephrased it to could a microorganism develop intelligence comparable to a human.

In which case no not with conventional neurons as we understand them.

Perhaps you could engineer something that did processing on the atomic level that could meet the size and processing requirements.


narwhal_breeder t1_j14vtzi wrote

by that argument its very unlikely they meet that criteria. Feeling != automatic response to stimuli, with that you could argue a light switch is sentient.

Sentience very likely is an emergent property of complex interactions that are unlikely to arise from the simplicity of single cellular life.


MammothInfestation t1_j14zet7 wrote

What's the definition of feeling your using?

And ultimately sentience is a really vague poorly defined term which makes any answer difficult.


balkibartokamis t1_j14vy3q wrote

How do we know that microscopic life isn’t already intelligent?


Ape_Togetha_Strong t1_j14s45o wrote

Yes. See: all sentient life that exists on Earth evolved from microscopic life.

Reddit has an edit button. OP initially did not include "while still being microscopic".


unphuckable t1_j14tx5f wrote

Came here for the creationist arguments. I guess I'm early...


Busman123 t1_j14v9xe wrote

Maybe those sentient microscopic beings have their own religion. Hey I'm just asking the questions! /TuckerCarlson


MrLeapgood t1_j1514lh wrote

What is the point of a comment like this? Do you have an obsession with creationists? You not only seek them out, but you announce to the world when you don't find them?


unphuckable t1_j15eskr wrote

To be glib. Obsession? No that's kind of a stretch in this situation I would think. I don't think you were the target audience for this joke though.


Lookatthatsass t1_j14x9wm wrote

I would say so.

It’s relative I think. To the microscopic organism they are sentient. They perceive and react to stimulus in their environment and make decisions to attain their goals just as we do. They survive and do what they need to do well for the world they exist in.

Compared to us, they aren’t. Compared to some other species we are probably just as limited as the microscopic organism in our capacity “be sentient”.

It’s one of those “we don’t know what we don’t know” sort of things. We can perceive things at that level anymore. We can only observe and define sentience based on our limited capacity to evaluate the world and behavior of organisms within it. Arbitrary lines.


fiatfighter t1_j1508gc wrote

It already did. That’s where we all came from.


Sirkelly21 t1_j14wc9e wrote

Can macroscopic life evolve to be intelligent


Legoboy514 t1_j150hjo wrote

I believe we first have to determine where the line of both sentience and intelligence are with regards to non-terrestrial species. We have a bias towards intelligence and sentience basing them on ourselves but in truth, we can be completely off.

Frankly I believe if microscopic life was to become intelligent and sentient, it may be done through becoming a hive-mind. Each individual microorganism contributes to the greater processing capability of the whole, not too unlike the vex from destiny. The whole forming a collective consciousness within a colony like some pyrosome in earths ocean.


Chinchillan t1_j1515e4 wrote

I would say no but tbh I don’t think there’s a good enough definition of sentience to properly answer


Renaissance_Slacker t1_j156b3o wrote

For an extended answer, read Blood Music by (the late :() Greg Bear. Biologist is designing intelligent bacteria at his job but gets caught, so he smuggled them out by injecting them into his arm. Wackiness ensues


nyg8 t1_j14vlm8 wrote

Yes. For example any form of life that is "denser" then us, will have the same complexity but smaller size. One could hypothesize life evolving under immense gravity being far far smaller then here.


DemSkilzDudes t1_j14vpoi wrote

The book 'The Swarm' has microscopic life that has a hive mind. Does this fit your criteria?


JPeterBane t1_j14vwmh wrote

I just read a totally fictional book about sentient intelligent microorganisms. Blood Music by Greg Bear. It was very good, so if this idea is interesting to you, you might check it out.


skyld_70 t1_j14wdrr wrote

All life evolved from microscopic organisms, so yes.


_mad_adams t1_j14wgry wrote

So is this place just the “speculative pseudoscience” sub now? Goddamn


charlie_ferrous t1_j14x9sj wrote

Humans are pretty bad at imagining forms of life different from our own. We’ve only encountered one habitable planet, on which there is only one species regarded as intelligent; in our vanity, we tend to assume it’ll look the same elsewhere.

We’ve never seen “sentient” microbial life and probably wouldn’t recognize it as such if we had, so who knows? Science fiction has imagined lots of things, but science fact unfortunately has a sample size of 1.


LaCiel_W t1_j14xamn wrote

The closest thing we got are fungus, which form complex network and work together to survive, but such network lack the cells for what we define as intelligent, neurons, if a species of single cell life form manage to develop a neural network without becoming a multicellular organism, I guess it would be possible, but highly unlikely, because they don't need to, just look back at fungus, they are perfect as they are, evolution isn't driving them to becoming a thinking mass of slime to survive, they are doing great as it.


Sargent_Sarkasmo t1_j14xn5f wrote

Short answer: No. There has been unicellular life for at least 3.8 billion years here and our microbes are most likely as dumb as they were then.

Not enough space to make enough connections to reach the complexity level of any brain. Also, at this level, the ampunt of energy that would consume a microscopic "thinking" brain would be enough to fry it instantly.

Ask yourself if it would be evolutionary useful? The purpose of intelligence is to be able to build strategies or tools to adapt to our environment where our body is unsufficient. Those microbial life-form live for how long before splitting or dying? And what is the use of a functioning brain if you don't have the time to learn / teach anything? There would simply be no yuse to it. It would be a waste of energy.


BusyMap9686 t1_j14xurb wrote

I would argue it already has. Fungus seems intelligent and even sentient. We should expand our understanding of sentience.


ILoveEmeralds t1_j14y3jk wrote

Well a colony organism could both theoretically ehnace its intelligence enough and still count as microscopic


JD-K2 t1_j14y9aq wrote

What puzzles me about answers to questions like this is everyone assumes that physics as we know them on earth apply throughout the galaxy. Maybe individual electrons hold billions of planets in galaxies we’ll never discover. Maybe life forms have formed that aren’t carbon based, or doesn’t need oxygen to breathe.


bigdaddycraycray t1_j14ydw3 wrote

Maybe when they work together in symbiosis, as all complex life form do now. Each part of an animal (or human) is really a complex system of cells working in symbiosis with other masses of cells--the skin, organs/gut/excretion, brain, nervous system, and sensory systems work in concert with each other to make up the entirety of of the complex organism, but at some point in our past, those masses of cells performing those functions were their own entity separate and apart from the others.

The great mystery is why they decided to work together at all.


lunex t1_j14ypel wrote

We don’t know, but I think we need to consider the possibility. We have a “scale chauvinism” that makes us think in terms of human, animal, microbe, and surely the universe has more creativity in store than even the huge biodiversity we see on Earth.


hazlejungle0 t1_j14yqgd wrote

Does it count for things that connect to form a hive mind? Like some fungi?


AtlasShrugged- t1_j14z7pm wrote

I have ways thought of “complex”life to simply be a collection of cells that are all just doing their own thing. My red blood cells are part of the collective but on their own they are not intelligent, same with a single brain cell . So my thought is, we are a type of hive.


hazlejungle0 t1_j150boq wrote

But it can't split up and re-emerge like the different types of fungi.


AtlasShrugged- t1_j15436b wrote

Ok yikes, that’s totally a fair point, hives etc do have differences. Thx


hazlejungle0 t1_j15cco3 wrote

You're good. I think you had some awesome points to it tbh.


ageekyninja t1_j14yvnb wrote

Probably not to the degree you are referring to. Microscopic life is "intelligent" in the way all life is- it reacts to things, it fends for itself, it will run from danger.

Is it self aware? Most likely not. Complex thought in humans comes from the frontal lobe of the brain which took a very long time to evolve. It also came in part from our omnivorous diet and more dense complex foods that we eat to maintain the energy to have those thoughts.

I do not know if the size of our brain is really necessary, but it would VERY LIKELY need to be bigger than microscopic. The more cells there are, the more complex the organism is likely to get. You would probably need something multicellular and with enough cells to be physically capable to form a memory so they can have a sense of "self".

Memory is a bit like "Bop it!". Remember that game? When you have an experience, you have a combination of sensations. When you REMEMBER an experience, your brain is firing off the same combination of senses- as similar as possible with the time that has passed. Thats why a memory feels like you are "there again". But there are so many combinations of cells to fire at once in a small organism. What if all you have is "bop it, twist it, pull it" and thats it? Lets say each "bop" "twist" and "pull" trigger is a neuron. Theres only so many combinations you can make with that...theres only so much that could be recalled. What if I added a dozen more buttons? 2 dozen? a hundred? Now we are talking more possibilities. More COMPLEX. The more combinations there are, the more in depth can be recalled. Thats....putting it pretty simply....but this is just to give you an idea of why bigger brains tend to be smarter brains.

Something so little that it feeds on simple foods would not likely have the proper inflow of matter to sustain such a complex network of cells.


YankeeKuya t1_j14zhee wrote

Sentience is not easy to determine. Or at all possible with the tools we have now. There's no clear scientific description of consciousness. Is microscopic life currently sentient? It doesn't seem so from my perspective, but we don't actually know. Is there something that it's like to be a microscopic life form? Possibly. Is there something that it's like to be an ant? Do any creatures have subjective conscious experience? Is it at all similar to what it's like to be human? Unlikely is my best guess but there's actually no way to know. I think there probably are ranges of sentience between different types of life. I'm pretty certain my dog feels love but is it like the love I feel for him? These are all interesting philosophical questions we don't have answers to. I think it's safe to assume that all creatures should be treated with dignity and respect so as not to bring unnecessary suffering into the universe. And no, I don't believe disinfecting the countertop is bacterial genocide.


DrQuinn79 t1_j15u9f4 wrote

Do ants have periods of rest or breaks? Just that I think it might lend itself toward self inspection, i.e. "What am I doing this for...and why?"


Large_Cube_Unaligned t1_j14zq25 wrote

No, at least as far as we what we understand "life" to mean at this stage. Organisms vary greatly in size, but the size of the cells that constitute said organisms vary comparatively little. Size is generally determined by how many cells an organism is made up of. At scales that small, there isn't enough structural complexity available to allow for any degree of real intelligence to develop.


zzupdown t1_j150ad4 wrote

We ARE microscopic sentient life. Each of uus are a group organism of billions of microscopic cells working together as one sentient being. That's probably the only way.


Enriches t1_j152i56 wrote

Just because you're sentient, doesn't mean you're intelligent.

  • Rick Sanchez

Cold_nut12 t1_j1533y4 wrote

Is it how humans evolved, or I could be wrong or could be right


proud78 t1_j15553u wrote

We are made out of cells. If enough cells come together maybe they can develop intelligence. For example there is a fungy that can solve labyrints.


Princeofcatpoop t1_j155peh wrote

Yes. However, the scale at which that intelligence would be expressed is difficult to project into larger scales. Both in terms of lifespan, affect on surroundings, and long term record, the evidence of sentience would be difficult to impossible. Orson Scott Card wrote about a sentient virus in Children of the Mind and addressed not only the difficulty inherent in communication between macro and micro life forms but also how such things would communicate.

The Game of Life demonstrates some of the 'qualties' of life, reproduction, evolutionary pressure, pattern seeking, but that's literally just ones and zeroes being expressed in a two-dimensional plane. Extrapolate how much more complex molecules can become in the three-dimension plane with at least 4-bit expressions (just counting valence electrons). Then take into account how many molecules are necessary to make up a single prokaryotic life form. There is room for the complexity of sentience in some form, as long as we allow for differences of scale.

One difference of scale we have observed in flies is that their reactions are faster than humans because they experience time differently. And we can see flies with the naked eye. Extrapolate that down to the cellular level and then imagine a single hour being a lifetime of experience for an amoeba.

Want to really go crazy with it? Imagine a pattern of energy created by pairs of bosons that develops 'sentience'. They would measure their lifetime in Planck seconds.


StinkingCoachpo t1_j155uzr wrote

I just finished a sci fi book by Andy Weir that explores this concept of super intelligent microscopic life. Book is called Project Hail Mary. Very good read, it was about a fictional microscopic life force called Astrophage that sucked all the energy out of the sun and was causing an ice age on Earth


space-ModTeam t1_j1564fh wrote

Hello u/marigoldddd, your submission "Could microscopic life evolve to become intelligent?" has been removed from r/space because:

  • It is not related to space.

Please read the rules in the sidebar and check r/space for duplicate submissions before posting. If you have any questions about this removal please message the r/space moderators. Thank you.


DocCEN007 t1_j15jifw wrote

Well, technically microscopic life did evolve to become intelligent, but it did not stay microscopic. Could it develop sentience and intelligence and remain microscopic? It's possible, but unlikely given how brain size and intelligence are linked to a large degree.


Tulupe t1_j14uw03 wrote

I dont think so, there is just not enough space in microscopic beings to develop intelligence, imo.

I doubt you can have intelligence without complex mechanisms working with each other, it would never fit in a small microorganism


christiandb t1_j1526b7 wrote

It did. It shuts everywhere and asks dumb questions 😛


[deleted] OP t1_j14tip2 wrote



[deleted] OP t1_j14szk4 wrote