VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware
B. In the 2020s, a Cognitive Course from First Stirrings to Our Earthuman Acumen is Being Defined
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).
Ball, Philip. The Book of Minds: How to Understand Ourselves and Other Beings from Animals to AI to Aliens. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022. In this latest volume, the prolific polyscholar science writer (search here and his website) extends his wide compass onto another vital feature of emergent life and sentience on the way to our global cognizance as it lately gains prominence. While he won a 2018 physics book for Beyond Weird about the quantum revolution, this thoroughly researched, copious interview edition covers the disparate occasions and sequential stages of how life’s long developmental course came to trace a axial advance in cerebral forms and cognitive faculties. In regard, this historic shift from bones to brains can further distinguish a progressive florescence of quickening, stirring, awakening intelligences in group communities. Chapters include Minds and Where to Find Them, Waking Up in the World, All the Things You Are and Free to Choose, along with novel machine learnings, if we properly program. But this 21st century turn from aimless accident to an evolutionary gestation as it may just reach and transition to a Geonate moment may well return human persons, one and all, to a central place and purpose.
Popular science writer Philip Ball explores a range of sciences to map our answers to a huge, philosophically rich question: How do we even begin to think about minds that are not human? Sciences from zoology to astrobiology, computer science to neuroscience, are seeking to understand minds in their own distinct disciplinary realms. Taking a uniquely broad view of minds and where to find them—including in plants, aliens, and God—Philip Ball pulls the pieces together to explore what sorts of minds we might expect to find in the universe. In so doing, he offers for the first time a unified way of thinking about what minds are and what they can do, by locating them in what he calls the “space of possible minds.” (Publisher)
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)
Cisek, Paul and Ben Hayden.
Neuroscience Needs Evolution.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
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.
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)
Ginsburg, Simona and Eva Jablonka. Picturing the Mind: Consciousness through the Lens of Evolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2022. The senior Israeli philosophers of science (search) are joined by their illustrator Anna Zeligowski to visually convey how life’s emergent transitions can be seen to facilitate of a parallel ascent of aware, informed sentience. In this convergent year, the edition reveals that this cerebral, cognitive faculty along with its expansive knowledge content serves to define life’s central, salient trend. In regard, from earliest stirrings (see herein) some manner of educative learning process goes on via nested scales all the way to our common planetary retrospect. A succinct capsule can be found on a MIT Press Reader site as How Did Consciousness Evolve? An Illustrated Guide (Google this and author’s name). (Excerpts below are from this posting.)
Is there a single, tangible property that when present in an entity means that all the characteristics of consciousness are in place — an evolutionary transition marker of consciousness? We believe that we have identified such a marker as a form of open-ended associative learning, which we call unlimited associative learning (UAL).
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)
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)
Jablonka, Eva and Simona Ginsburg.
Learning and the Evolution of Conscious Agents.
This latest essay by the Tel Aviv University and Open University of Israel scholar on their insightful perceptions (search) of life’s central propensity to evolve, develop and grow in learned, informed, aware agency from the earliest minimum to our personal, planetary retrospect here adds a biocommunicative advance in effect along the way. In regard, these thoughtful views contribute to the historic 2020s subject shift from bony bodies to a primary cerebral, cognitive, knowledgeable, collective individuation.
The scientific study of aware experience is now an active research program for philosophers of mind, psychologists, cognitive scientists, neurobiologists, evolutionary biologists and biosemioticians. Here we outline our evolutionary approach from two decades which focuses on the early transition to minimally conscious, organisms. We propose that life’s sentience was driven by an open-ended, representational, generative and recursive form of associative learning, which we call Unlimited Associative Learning (UAL). In this present regard, our framework allows the exploration of the evolutionary changes in agency, value systems, selective processes and goals that were involved from a perspective that resonates with the approaches of bio-semioticians. (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)
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)