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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 Sapiens: Encephalization, Sensibility, Learning, Self-Realization

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.

Brancazio, Nick, et al. Approaching Minimal Cognition: Introduction to the Special Issue. Adaptive Behavior. 28/9, 2020. As the Abstract notes, NB, Miguel Segundo-Ortin and Patrick McGovern, University of Wollongong, NSW scholars collect papers as novel abilities rapidly increase so as to trace and study life’s central evolutionary course of ever enhanced neural faculties, intelligence and informed responses, all the way to our speciesphere retrospect. Contributors include Pamela Lyon, Lachian Welmsley, and Sidney Caris-Diamante.

This special issue highlights the growing interdisciplinary interest in minimal cognition, bringing together philosophers and scientists who are investigating where, how, and why cognition arises. Here we introduce the topic of minimal cognition by giving a survey of debates and discussions about the earlier, rudimentary occasions of cognition itself, early sensory behaviors, and a life-mind continuity. We next offer a short summary of each contributions to the issue. In the spirit of the Minimal Cognition conferences at the University of Wollongong, we hope this edition will enrich the current advance of minimal cognition research. (Abstract)

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.

Crespi, Brnard. Pattern Unifies Autism. Frontiers in Psychiatry. Fenruary, 2021. The Simon Fraser University, Canada clinical biopsychologist (search) has sketched a mental spectrum from this malady that can only view dots without connections (unable to relate to anyone) all the way to schizophrenia whence only patterns exist, often not there. Human awareness, or lack thereof, is thus due to varying degrees of “perception, recognition, maintenance, generation, seeking, and processing,” As a way to appreciate, it occurred that one might apply this range to public propensities from anarchy to individualism, egalitarian, authoritarian and totalitarian conditions. The USA is grievously beset by divides and disunity, unable to connect dots. Russia is now in ruins because its leader is obsessed with and acting upon senseless scenarios. In regard, historian Thomas Piketty(search) lately recommends a Participatory Socialism so that peoples might converge on a middle reciprocal balance.

Autism is a highly heterogeneous condition, genetically and phenotypically. These diverse causes and influences have impeded its definition, recognition, assessment, and treatment. Current autism criteria involve restricted interests, repetitive behavior (RRBs) and social deficits. I suggest that this suite of autistic traits, and more can be grouped under the single rubric of “pattern,” a term that involves consistent brain and cognitive functions. RRBs result from decreased and imbalanced pattern-related perceptions, and consequent social deficits from aberrant connections and imagery.

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)

Kverkova, Kristina, et al. The Evolution of Brain Neuron Numbers in Amniotes. PNAS. 119/11, 2022. Charles University, Prague paleo-neuroscientists deftly reconstruct the evolution of brain neuron number across an entire range of Metazoa species and found that after fish and reptiles, birds and mammals have much larger quantities in cerebral areas meant for higher cognition. It is noted that several major changes in neuron brain scaling in the past 300 million years indeed appear to be oriented to an increasing degree of intelligence. The group effort has achieved the strongest evidence to date of how life’s emergent sensory stirrings can be known to have this central edification. The paper has vivid illustrations of relative creaturely advances in body and brain anatomies, which well evince a grand learning experience.

A reconstruction of the evolution of brain information-processing capacity is vital to understandings the rise of complex cognition. Comparative studies long used brain size as a proxy. However, to get a better sense of paths leading to high intelligence, power, we need to compare brains by large datasets of computational neurons. We find Amniote brain evolution to be tracked by four major shifts in neuron–brain scaling. The most dramatic increases in brain neurons occurred independently with the appearance of birds and mammals. The other two rises in neuron numbers happened in core land birds and anthropoid primates, known for their cognitive prowess. (Abstract excerpt)

Amniota, a group of limbed vertebrates that includes reptiles, birds, mammals and their extinct ancestors. The amniotes are the evolutionary branch (clade) of the tetrapods in which the embryo develops within a set of protective extra-embryonic membranes—the amnion, chorion, and allantois.

Lacalli, Thurston. An Evolutionary Perspective on Chordate Brain Organization and Function. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. In this Systems Neuroscience and Evolutionary Theory issue, a veteran University of Victoria, BC neurobiologist (see website) posts a definitive retrospect to date of how a group social sapience can now be consistently traced all the way back to its earliest invertebrate rudiments. But by a unique turn from that origin, the author traces an advent and advance of relative sentience and consciousness as it stirs and knows through vertebrate forms and scales. Contrary to random models, we want to record that a central axis, a vectorial progression, to our people selves in community does in fact exist. In regard, when warlords “think with tanks,” such collective findings of a long walk and talk course need gain wider appreciation. Isaac Newton found this oldest journal in the 1660s, has anything at last been learned since to save us?

The similarities between amphioxus and vertebrate brains, in their regional subdivision, cell types and circuitry, can provide a deep relativity over this evolutionary span. Mobility controls were already well developed in basal chordates. But amphioxus did not yet have complex sense organs. Vertebrate development thus involves their progressive improvement in two main aspects: anatomical and neurocircuitry innovations in the sense organs and the occasion of sentient consciousness. (Abstract excerpt)

Chordate possess synapomorphies, or primary characteristics, during their larval or adulthood stages which include a notochord, dorsal hollow nerve cord, endostyle or thyroid, pharyngeal slits, and a post-anal tail. Chordates are bilaterally symmetric, have a circulatory system, and metameric segmentation. Amphioxus consist of species of "fish-like" benthic filter feeding chordates. (Wikipedia)

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)

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