VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
1. The Evolution of Cerebral Form and Cognizance
Stevens, Charles. An Evolutionary Scaling Law for the Primate Visual System and Its Basis in Cortical Function. Nature. 411/193, 2001. Allometric, scale-free laws likewise hold for neural development.
The conservation of these scaling relations raises the possibility that a similar basis for the scaling laws exists for all cortical areas. In this view, each cortical area would be provided with a map of some sort - perhaps one with very abstract quantities - and the job of the cortex would be to extract some characteristic of the map at each point that would be represented as a location code by the neurons in each map ‘pixel.’….A 3/2 power relation would result. (195)
Strausfeld, Nicholas. Arthropod Brains: Evolution, Functional Elegance, and Historical Significance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. Arthropods represent the broad, ancient genera of invertebrate insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and myriapods. The senior University of Arizona neurobiologist offers a popular exposition on their precursor neural circuitry and surprising cognitive acumen.
In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that an ant’s brain, no larger than a pin’s head, must be sophisticated to accomplish all that it does. Yet today many people still find it surprising that insects and other arthropods show behaviors that are much more complex than innate reflexes. They are products of versatile brains which, in a sense, think. Fascinating in their own right, arthropods provide fundamental insights into how brains process and organize sensory information to produce learning, strategizing, cooperation, and sociality. Nicholas Strausfeld elucidates the evolution of this knowledge, beginning with nineteenth-century debates about how similar arthropod brains were to vertebrate brains. This exchange, he shows, had a profound and far-reaching impact on attitudes toward evolution and animal origins. Many renowned scientists, including Sigmund Freud, cut their professional teeth studying arthropod nervous systems. The greatest neuroanatomist of them all, Santiago Ramón y Cajal—founder of the neuron doctrine—was awed by similarities between insect and mammalian brains. (Publisher)
Striedter, Georg. Building Brains that can Evolve: Challenges and Prospects for Evo-Devo Neurobiology. Metode. Vol. 7/Pg. 9, 2017. The Modern Synthesis combined population genetics with comparative morphology but had little or no use for embryology. The UC Irvine neuroscientist and author (search) scopes out a synthesis of bodily and cerebral evolutionary development within a 2010s sense of recapitulation between individual ontogeny and species phylogeny.
Evo-devo biology involves cross-species comparisons of entire developmental trajectories, not just of adult forms. This approach has proven very successful in general morphology, but its application to neurobiological problems is still relatively new. To date, the most successful area of evo-devo neurobiology has been the use of comparative developmental data to clarify adult homologies. The most exciting future prospect is the use of comparative developmental data to understand the formation of species differences in adult structure and function. An interesting «model system» for this kind of research is the quest to understand why the neocortex folds in some species but not others. (Abstract)
Striedter, Georg. Principles of Brain Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer, 2005. A University of California at Irvine neuroscientist gathers and explains many advances of the last two decades about how brains evolved from invertebrates to humans. An example is to compare two previously optional paths by which brains grow in size – “concerted” whereby distinct modules evolve in concert and size with each other, and “mosaic” whence regions enlarge (or shrink) independently. Upon observation, both modes are variously in effect, depending on the species and its environment. Another aspect is a steady scaling of brain size with body weight through evolution for fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and primates, suggestive of a generally emergent trend. Human brains are special because our late arriving, relatively large neocortex allows us to reconstruct and reflect upon these phenomena.
Striedter, George, et al. NSF Workshop Report: Discovering General Principles of Nervous System Organization by Comparing Brain Maps across Species. Journal of Comparative Neuroscience. 522/1453, 2014. A 27 person team of senior neuroscientists including Barbara Finlay, Hans Hofmann, Erich Jarvis, and Todd Preuss, outline a National Science Foundation program to study the common cerebral anatomy and intellect that is being found to distinguish every creature and kingdom. By our collaborative retrospect, life’s evolutionary development of body and brain is ever again becoming apparent as an embryonic gestation.
A 27 person team of senior neuroscientists including Barbara Finlay, Hans Hofmann, Erich Jarvis, and Todd Preuss, outline a National Science Foundation program to study the common cerebral anatomy and intellect that is being found to distinguish every creature and kingdom. By our collaborative retrospect, life’s evolutionary development of body and brain is ever again becoming apparent as an embryonic gestation.
Sumner-Rooney, Lauren and Julia Sigwart. Do Chitons have a Brain? New Evidence for Diversity and Complexity in the Polyplacophoran Central Nervous Systems. Journal of Morphology. 279/7, 2018. Oxford University and Queen’s University, Belfast neuroanatomists well quantify that these early invertebrates do indeed have a rudimentary semblance of a brain-like faculty. Thus life’s evolution can be seen to cerebrally and cognitively stir, sense and quicken from its original rudiments.
Three‐dimensional reconstructions from historic histological slides reveal unappreciated complexity in chiton nervous systems. The concentration and organisation of nervous tissue in the oesophageal nerve ring in eight species unambiguously qualify it as a true brain. (Editor)
Thiebaut de Schotten, Michel and Karl Zilles, eds. The Evolution of the Mind and Brain. Cortex. 118/1, 2019. An introduction to this special issue with some 20 entries such as The Biological Bases of Color Categorization from Goldfish to the Human Brain, The Left Cradling Bias, Large Scale Comparative Neuroimaging, and The Hippocampus of Birds in a View of Evolutionary Connectomics.
Trianni, Vito, et al. Swarm Cognition: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of Self-Organizing Biological Collectives. Swarm Intelligence. 5/1, 2011. Computer scientists review innate tendencies in such creaturely assemblies not only toward a composite organismic state, but also to achieve an effective group intelligence.
Basic elements of cognition have been identified in the behaviour displayed by animal collectives, ranging from honeybee swarms to human societies. For example, an insect swarm is often considered a “super-organism” that appears to exhibit cognitive behaviour as a result of the interactions among the individual insects and between the insects and the environment. Progress in disciplines such as neurosciences, cognitive psychology, social ethology and swarm intelligence has allowed researchers to recognize and model the distributed basis of cognition and to draw parallels between the behaviour of social insects and brain dynamics. In this paper, we discuss the theoretical premises and the biological basis of Swarm Cognition, a novel approach to the study of cognition as a distributed self-organizing phenomenon, and we point to novel fascinating directions for future work. (Abstract, 3)
Tschacher, Wolfgang and Jean-Pierre Dauwalder, eds. The Dynamical Systems Approach to Cognition. Singapore: World Scientific, 2003. Generally based on the synergetics approach, it highlights the work of Esther Thelen and Scott Kelso, among others. As a result, universal self-organizing systems are seen to exhibit their own “intentionality.” We quote form the publisher’s website.
The shared platform of the articles collected in this volume is used to advocate a dynamical systems approach to cognition. It is argued that recent developments in cognitive science towards an account of embodiment, together with the general approach of complexity theory and dynamics, have a major impact on behavioral and cognitive science. The book points out that there are two domains that follow naturally from the stance of embodiment: first, coordination dynamics is an established empirical paradigm that is best able to aid the approach; second, the obvious goal-directedness of intelligent action (i.e., intentionality) is nicely addressed in the framework of the dynamical synergetic approach.
Vallverdu, Jordi, et al. Slime Mould: The Fundamental Mechanisms of Cognition. Biosystems. Online January, 2018. (arXiv:1712.00414). A premier 10 person team including Michael Levin, Frantisek Baluska, Hector Zenil and Andrew Adamatzky proceed to trace a minimal proto-conscious cognizance to this generic single cellular organism. By so doing, as the quotes cite, an evolutionary continuity from life’s rudimentary advent all the way to our composite sapient reconstruction can be traced. By this synoptic view, an overall autopoiesis, self-sentience, inter-relational emergence distinguished by a quickening integrated intelligence, is illumed. A further tacit sense of natural, software-like algorithms at work separate from and prior to any post-selection is evoked.
The slime mould Physarum polycephalum has been used in developing unconventional computing devices in which the slime mould played a role of a sensing, actuating, and computing device. These devices treated the slime mould rather as an active living substrate yet the slime mould is a self-consistent living creature which evolved for millions of years, but in any case, that living entity did not own true cognition, just automated biochemical mechanisms. To "rehabilitate" the slime mould from the rank of a purely living electronics element to a "creature of thoughts" we are analyzing the cognitive potential of P. polycephalum. We base our theory of minimal cognition of the slime mould on a bottom-up approach, from its biological and biophysical nature and regulatory systems using frameworks such as (Pamela) Lyon's biogenic cognition, (Gregory) Bateson's "patterns that connect" framework, (Humberto) Maturana's autopoetic network, and proto-consciousness inputs. (Abstract edits)
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)
Vincent, Jean-Didier and Pierre-Marie Lledo. The Custom-Made Brain: Cerebral Plasticity, Regeneration, and Enhancement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Veteran French neuroscientists survey the billion year course of how neural anatomies and cognitions came to form, evolve, ramify, think, and learn on their way to knowing sentience in our retrospective human phase. We cite because in a section named Behind Diversity in the Animal Kingdom, a Single Plan the work describes how life’s evolutionary developmental encephalization of cerebral bilateral topology and thought is again much like an embryonic gestation.