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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

C. Pedia Sapience: Encephalization, Sensibility and Learning

2022: As the Pedia Sapiens title of our Introduction conveys, a wealth of current findings which probe deeper into life’s minimal cognition and across evolutionary entities scales have now filled in and defined an embryonic gestation along with bodily, somatic forms, as per Chap. V. Of especial note is a Systems Neuroscience through the Lens of Evolution issue in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Cisek herein), and an The Emergence of Collective Knowledge and Cumulative Culture in Animals, Humans and Machines collection in the same journal ((see Whiten).

The nested, recurrent stages of skeletal, anatomic complexity from life's deep origin to valiant, smart peoples well display a mosaic and concerted encephalization process whence the embryonic body gains a ramifying complex brain faculty. Metazoan creatures across invertebrate, aquatic, amphibian, reptilian, avian and mammalian scales are now known to possess a modular, multiplex network, neural capacity for enhanced communicative cognition, and proactive group behaviors. A significant aspect is the presence of a ramifying complementary bicameral faculty which is traced back to earliest neural casts.

As a consequence, all these animal forms and stages become increasingly graced by familiar personal abilities and communal activities. A resultant arrow of integrated information and intelligence has become paired with a relative knowing consciousness which seems aimed toward our phenomenal homo, anthropo, and Earthropocene phases. The four subsections about brains, behaviors, bilaterality, and a communicative ability from grunts and gestures to syntactic language will altogether illume an ascendency of brain over body, mind over matter.

2020: The import of this section is to report and convey a 21st century appreciation that life’s evolution is more distinguished by a progressive emergence of cerebral and cognitive abilities. These features thus continue to define a true developmental gestation. And once again, at each stage and instance, the bigender naturome code is manifestly evident, especially with regard to bilateral brain complements.

Cisek, Paul. Evolution of Behavioral Control from Chordates to Primates. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. In this special issue about rooting brain studies within life’s long oriented developmental stirrings from whence they arose, a University of Montreal neuro-researcher provides a comprehensive reconstruction from invertebrates to our emergent homo and anthropo (236 references) sapiens. All told, this paper, and the whole content, ought to be appreciated as an historic understanding of how our own cerebral and cognitive acumen naturally came to be. In regard, a full page graphic shows some 22 continuous stages from sponges and jellyfish to reptiles, birds, mammals to ourselves which complexifies, learns and quickens, and learns from earliest stirrings all the Metazoan way to such a global retrospective.

This article outlines a sequence of evolutionary innovations along the lineage that produced humans by which an extended behavioural control from simple feedback loops to diverse species-typical actions occurred. I begin with response mechanisms of ancient mobile animals and follow the major niche transitions from aquatic to terrestrial mammals, onto nocturnality, arboreal life and to diurnality. Along the way, I propose an elaboration and diversification of behavioural repertoires and their neuroanatomical substrates. (Abstract excerpt)

Figure 2. Phylogenetic tree of animals expanded along the lineage that produced humans. Branch points represent some of the key divergences between different lineages, with timing estimates based on the fossil record and molecular clock analyses. Thick lines indicate the presence of relevant fossil data (paleobiodb.org), and small rectangles indicate the latest estimated timing of the innovations listed in the boxes.

Cisek, Paul and Ben Hayden. Neuroscience Needs Evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. University of Montreal and University of Minnesota editors introduce 15 papers in a special Systems Neuroscience through the Lens of Evolutionary Theory issue, in advance of a March 2022 London meeting. But it opens by reminding that Evolution has no goal, no metric aside from the general problem of differential survival. Yet as the content review proceeds, this latest reconstruction of sensory neural capacities back to invertebrate origins well conveys an oriented advance of homologous “elaborations” which fill in, trace and reveal life’s oriented cerebral and cognitive development all the way to our Earthuman retrospect. Into these fraught, terminal 2020s, it is an imperative intent of this Natural Genesis site to help identify and resolve this ecosmic contradiction.

We note these typical entries: Scaffolding Layered Control Architectures through Constraint Closure by Stuart Wilson and Tony Prescott, Evolution of Behavioral Control from Chordates to Primates by Paul Cisek (see review and pg. 4 graphic), An Evolutionary Perspective on Chordate Brain Organization and Function by Thurston Lacalli (herein), Self-Tuition as an Essential Design Feature of the Brain by David Leopold and Bruno Averbeck, The Neuroecology of the Water to Land Transition and the Evolution of the Vertebrate Brain by Malcolm Maclver and Barbara Finlay, and The Evolution of Quantitative Sensitivity by Margaret Bryer, et al.

The nervous system is a product of evolution. As a result, the organization and functions of the brain must be shaped by its history. While not well assimilated into systems neuroscience, this vista can help resolve many mysteries. In this introduction, we survey specific ways that evolutionary theory can enhance cerebral studies. The rest of the theme issue will consider the conservative effect of evolution’s transitional course.

Fitch, W. Tecumseh. Information and the Single Cell. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Vol. 71, 2021. In a special Evolution of Brains and Computation issue, the University of Vienna linguist discusses Bacterial Chemotaxis, Attractant Gradients, Paramecium Associative Learning, and more whence life began to stir to its senses on the long course to our collaborative reconstruction. By this widest scan, our current advance toward global self-discovery could be the potential achievement that Earthuman, and Ecosmic life needs to achieve on her/his own.

Understanding the evolution of cognition involves the costs and benefits of cerebral computation. Thus we need to know neuronal circuitry in terms of information-processing efficiency. In regard, along with synaptic weights and electrochemical dynamics, neurons have multiple mechanisms including ‘wetware’ and cell morphology. Insights into non-synaptic information-processing can be gained by examining the quite complex abilities of single-celled organisms (‘cellular cognition’) which neurons also share. Cells provide the basic level at which information processing interfaces with gene expression. Understanding cellular computation should be a central goal of research on cognitive evolution. (Abstract excerpt)

Information and the single cell: Evaluating the costs and benefits of cellular computation requires approximate answers to a seemingly simple question: what is the information contained in a single neuron, and by what mechanisms is it stored and processed? There are at least five major information storage and processing systems within a cell: synaptic weights, electrochemical dynamics, protein phosphorylation, gene transcription, and cell morphology. Some are quite well-understood in computational terms, but others are relatively neglected, and available data allow only very rough estimates of information capacity. The following estimates are intended as order-of-magnitude values to give some relative sense of their potential relevance in evolution and not as precise quantitative estimates. (154)

This special issue of Current Opinion in Neurobiology addresses issues at the intersection of brain design, evolution and computation. With today’s considerable interest in the structure and function of neural circuits, it struck us that a shot of comparative perspectives might be timely and useful. The papers assembled in this issue thus address old and fundamental
questions, but in light of recent data in dominant and non-dominant experimental model systems, modern techniques (genomic, transcriptomic, computational, connectomics, etc.), and theoretical neuroscience. (Editors)

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. The Australian naturalist (search), continues his project and mission, which involves scuba-diving amongst the creatures he writes about, to emphasize that Earth’s fauna and flora developmental emergence is defined by an advancing intelligent cognizance and proactive behavior from its earliest rudiments. Our interest is to report growing appreciations (Pam Lyons, et al) that life’s uniVerse to wumanVerse ascent can be seen as an oriented learning and knowledge gaining process.

Below the ocean’s surface are forms of life that seem quite foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are reminiscent of plant life. As fellow members of the animal kingdom – Metazoa - they can teach us much about the evolutionary origins of not only our bodies, but also our minds. As he delves into what it feels like to perceive and interact with the world as other life-forms do, Godfrey-Smith shows that the appearance of the animal body over half a billion years ago was a profound innovation that set life on its way to us. Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, and octopus, then moving onto land and insects, birds, and primates, Metazoa bridges the gap between mind and matter, so as to reach aware consciousness. (Publisher excerpt)

Peter Godfrey-Smith is a professor in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of the bestselling Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea and The Deep Origins of Consciousness, which has been published in more than twenty languages.

Hulse, Brad, et al. A connectome of the Drosophila central complex reveals network motifs suitable for flexible navigation and context-dependent action selection. eLife. October, 2021. A nine person team at the Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Virginia, report and discuss novel abilities to sequence the neural architecture of such a minimal insect entity. Thus our collaborative neuroscience is able to reconstruct ever deeper origins from whence this worldwise Earthuman acumen arose. Once more a true genesis uniVerse reveals itself as a grand learning process, which seems potentially on the way to its own vital acknowledge.

Flexible behaviors over long timescales are thought to engage neural networks in deep brain regions, which are often difficult to study. In insects, recurrent circuit dynamics in a brain region called the central complex enable directed locomotion, sleep, and context- and experience-dependent spatial navigation. We describe the first complete electron-microscopy-based connectome of the Drosophila CX. We also identified numerous pathways that may facilitate the selection of CX-driven behavioral patterns by their internal state. Our results provide a comprehensive brainscape mapping by which to understand network dynamics underlying sleep, flexible navigation, and state-dependent action selection. (Abstract excerpt)

Leopold, David and Bruno Averbeck. Self-tuition as an Essential Design Feature of the Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. National Institute of Health, Bethesda neuro-researchers provide a novel vista whereby cerebral faculties, as they form, arise, evolve in both ontogeny and phylogeny, have a primary impetus and need to gain relevant knowledge. In regard, life’s long ascent can thus appear as a processive, cumulative learning and educative advance.

We are curious by nature, particularly when young. Evolution has endowed our brain with an innate obligation to educate itself. In this review, we posit that self-tuition is an evolved principle of basic brain architecture and its normal development. We consider hypothalamic and telencephalic structures along with their anatomic segmentation architecture of forebrain circuits. We discuss educative behaviours, stimulus biases, and mechanisms by which telencephalic areas gradually accumulate knowledge. We argue that this aspect of brain function is of paramount importance for systems neuroscience, as it confers neural specialization and allows animals to attain more sophisticated behaviours than genetic mechanisms alone. (Abstract excerpt)

We posit that the vertebrate forebrain has evolved to support an interplay between brain areas that drives its own education based on a curiosity-driven exploration of the environment. We refer to this process as self-tuition. (1)

Liebeskind, Benjamin, et al. Evolution of Animal Neural Systems. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 48/377, 2017. UT Austin senior computational biologists Liebeskind, Hans Hofmann, Danny Hillis, and Harold Zakon provide a most sophisticated review to date of how early sensory cerebral capacities across the phyla came to form, sense, learn, and develop. Their detailed reconstructions, an incredible achievement by our collaborative humankinder phase, are depicted by cladogram, deep homology, molecular novelty, and systems drift models. An “urbilaterian” origin is seen to deploy into Nematode, Cnidarian, Ctenophore, Drosophila and Xenopus ancestries. Once again an overall appearance, one might muse, seems to be an embryonic gestation.

Nervous systems are among the most spectacular products of evolution. Their provenance and evolution have been of interest and often the subjects of intense debate since the late nineteenth century. The genomics era has provided researchers with a new set of tools with which to study the early evolution of neurons, and recent progress on the molecular evolution of the first neurons has been both exciting and frustrating. It has become increasingly obvious that genomic data are often insufficient to reconstruct complex phenotypes in deep evolutionary time because too little is known about how gene function evolves over deep time. Therefore, additional functional data across the animal tree are a prerequisite to a fuller understanding of cell evolution. To this end, we review the functional modules of neurons and the evolution of their molecular components, and we introduce the idea of hierarchical molecular evolution. (Abstract)

Lyon, Pamela, et al. Basal Cognition: Conceptual Tools and the View from the Single Cell. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Volume 1820, January, 2021. With this entry we review two special issues, one above and the other as Basal Cognition: Multicellularity, Neurons and the Cognitive Lens. Volume 1821, March 2021. The editors for both are P. Lyon, Flinders University, Adelaide, Fred Keijzer, University of Groningen, Detlev Arendt, EMBL, Heidelberg, and Michael Levin, Tufts University. They introduce Vol. 1820 in Reframing Cognition: Getting Down to Biological Basics and Vol. 1821 in Uncovering Cognitive Similarities and Differences, Conservation and Innovation.

By way of this diverse, multipart, authoritative collection, life’s sentient qualities can now be steadily traced back to their earliest stirrings. In respect, the phenomenal presence of common, recurrent principles and processes are found to ramify in modular and mosaic forms all the way to our late worldwise phase. Thus life’s long course of an emergent evolution quite appears as a grand learning endeavor unto self-realization, altogether as a quickening, procreative gestation of personal selves.

For some V. 1820 papers see Origins of Eukaryotic Excitability by Kristy Wan and Gaspar Jekely, Grounding Cognition by William Bechtel and Leonardo Bich, and Collective Decisions in Social Bacteria by Celine Dinet, et al. In V. 1821 we note Individuality, Self and Sociality of Vascular Plants by Frantisek Balusha and Stefano Mancuso, Elementary Nervous Systems by Detiev Arendt, Reafference and the Origin of the Self in Early Nervous System Evolution by Gaspar Jekely, et al, Elementary Nervous Systems by Detlev Arendt and Evolutionary Transitions in Learning and Cognition by Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka.

Despite decades of research into the subject, no agreement exists about where cognition is found in the living world. This two-part theme issue on the emerging field of ‘Basal Cognition’ pursues Darwin’s insight that life’s ‘mental faculties’ evolved early with physical embodiment and in parallel with it. Articles in Part 1 (Conceptual tools and the view from the single cell) range from molecules to unicellulars (bacteria, amoeba, slime moulds). Part 2 (Multicellularity, neurons and the cognitive lens) addresses plants, the neural revolution and cognitive cellular behaviour in development and regeneration. A working definition of cognition—a rarity—provides material for endless debate. (Double Issue Abstract)

The evolutionary origin of nervous systems has been a matter of long-standing debate. Earlier studies addressed their origins at the cellular level and vertical sensory-motor reflex arcs. Later work considered the tissue level. Here I will discuss divergent views and explore how they can be validated by molecular and single-cell data. A possible consensus could be: (i) the first manifestation of the nervous system likely was a nerve net, whereas specialized local circuits evolved later; (ii) different nerve nets may have evolved for the coordination of contractile or cilia-driven movements; (iii) all evolving nerve nets facilitated new forms of animal behaviour with increasing body size. (D. Arendt Abstract)

Our evolutionary transition learning capacity scale is based on qualitative changes in the integration, storage and use of neurally processed information. We recognize five major neural transitions: (i) the advance from learning in non-neural animals to the first neural animals; (ii) the transition to animals with elemental associative learning, entailing neural centralization and brain differentiation; (iii) animals capable of unlimited associations, which constitutes sentience and entails hierarchical brain organization and dedicated memory and value networks; (iv) imaginative animals that can plan and learn through selection among virtual events; and (v) human symbol-based cognition and cultural learning. (Ginsberg & Jablonka Abstract)

Smaers, Jeoroen, et al. The Evolution of Mammalian Brain Size. Science Advances. 7/18, 2021. Twenty two neuroresearchers from across the USA and onto Germany, the UK, Austria, Canada, Madagascar, South Africa and Australia provide a most comprehensive, quantified, graphic reconstruction of cerebral anatomies to date for this major animalia class. By view of its international occasion, one might consider the current advent of an emergent sapiensphere which is proceeding to learn how all manner of beings evolved and grew smarter on their way to this worldwise retrospect.

Relative brain size has long been considered as a measure of cognitive capacities. Yet, these views about brain size rely on untested assumptions that brain-body allometry is a stable scaling relationship across species. Using the largest fossil and extant dataset yet assembled, we find that shifts in allometric slope underpin major transitions in mammalian evolution and are often characterized by marked changes in body size. Our results reveal that the largest-brained mammals achieved their relative sizes by divergent paths. These findings prompt a reevaluation of the traditional paradigm and open new opportunities to improve our understanding of the genetic and developmental mechanisms that influence brain size. (Abstract excerpt)

Tosches, Maria. From Cell Types to an Integrated Understanding of Brain Evolution: The Case of the Cerebral Cortex.. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology. Vol. 37, 2021. A Columbia University neurobiologist provides a summary survey to date of her collegial project to conceptually and experimentally reconstruct how neural net faculties formed and emerged with regard to Vertebrate phylogeny, forebrain neuroanatomy, tetrapartite palliams and more across invertebrates, fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals onto curious, brilliant sapient selves.

With the discovery of the incredible diversity of neurons, Ramon y Cajal and coworkers laid the foundation of modern neuroscience. Neuron types are not only structural elements of nervous systems but evolutionary units, because their identities are encoded in genomes. With the advent of high-throughput cellular transcriptomics, neurons can be compared systematically across species. Research results now indicate that the mammalian cerebral cortex is a mosaic of deeply conserved and recently evolved neuron types. This review illustrates how various neuron types is key to observations on neural development, neuroanatomy, circuit wiring, and physiology for an integrated understanding of brain evolution. (Abstract excerpt)

van Duijn, Marc. Phylogenetic Origins of Biological Cognition: Convergent Patterns in the Early Evolution of Learning. Interface Focus. 7/3, 2017. The University of Groningen paleoneurologist continues his reconstructive studies of how life gained sensory, information-based, cumulative abilities so as to survive and thrive. See also Principles of Minimal Cognition by van Duijin, et al in Adaptive Behavior (14/2, 2006) for a much cited prior entry, and Slime Moulds, Behavioural Ecology and Minimal Cognition by Jules Smith-Ferguson and Madeleine Beekman in Adaptive Behavior (January 2019). These findings and many others are filling in a embryonic gestation of cerebral capacities from life’s earliest advent to our collective abilities to learn all this.

Various forms of elementary learning have recently been discovered in organisms lacking a nervous system, such as protists, fungi and plants. This finding has fundamental implications for how we view the role of convergent evolution in biological cognition. In this article, I first review the evidence for basic forms of learning in aneural organisms, focusing particularly on habituation and classical conditioning. Next, I examine the possible role of convergent evolution regarding these basic learning abilities during the early evolution of nervous systems. This sets the stage for at least two major events relevant to convergent evolution that are central to biological cognition: (i) nervous systems evolved, perhaps more than once, because of strong selection pressures for sustaining sensorimotor strategies in increasingly larger multicellular organisms and (ii) associative learning was a subsequent adaptation that evolved multiple times within the neuralia. (Abstract excerpt)

Whiten, Andrew, et al. The Emergence of Collective Knowledge and Cumulative Culture in Animals, Humans, and Machines. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. University of St. Andrews, Oxford, Sorbonne, and Edinburgh editors introduce a special issue of 18 papers in advance of a Royal Society meeting in March 2022. The event (Google) is being held because these two subject fields now appear to be converging into a common, reinforcing synthesis. Typical entries are Human Cumulative Culture and the Exploitation of Natural Phenomena, When does Cultural Evolution become Cumulative Culture, Paradox of Diversity in the Collective Brain and The Origins of Human Cumulative Culture: From Foraging Niche to Collective Intelligence, by notables such as Ida Momennejad, Michael Tomasello and Simon Kirby (search each). St. Andrews was founded in 1413. Some six centuries later, may a worldwise sapiensphere at last close on itself so to reach a grand discovery of wuman and uniVerse?

The goal of this themed issue and meeting is to review and join the title topics whose research fields which have coalesced in recent years. One aspect is concerned with collective action, intelligence and knowledge among groupings which is much more is than any one alone. Some prior notations are consensus decision-making, quorum sensing, wisdom of the crowd, collective brain, group cognition and extended mind. The second interest covers the evolutionary emergence and evolution of their cultural content - the creation and spread of social traditions through communal learning processes. Culture has long been seen as a defining feature of humans. Yet, recent research has have revealed that intergroup culture plays a significant role for many vertebrate taxa and onto invertebrate insects. (Introduction excerpt)