VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
1. The Evolution of Brain Anatomy and Cognizance
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.
Vitiello, Giuseppe. The Use of Many-body Physics and Thermodynamics to Describe the Dynamics of Rhythmic Generators in Sensory Cortices Engaged in Memory and Learning. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 31/1, 2015. In a special issue on Brain Rhythms and Dynamic Coordination edited by Gyorgy Buzsaki and Walter Freeman, a University of Salerno physicist (search), often a collaborator with WF, advises that if neural faculties are seen as continuous with and arising from such natural depths, this can facilitate their full understanding.
The problem of the transition from the molecular and cellular level to the macroscopic level of observed assemblies of myriads of neurons is the subject addressed in this report. The great amount of detailed information available at molecular and cellular level seems not sufficient to account for the high effectiveness and reliability observed in the brain macroscopic functioning. It is suggested that the dissipative many-body model and thermodynamics might offer the dynamical frame underlying the rich phenomenology observed at microscopic and macroscopic level and help in the understanding on how to fill the gap between the bio-molecular and cellular level and the one of brain macroscopic functioning. (Abstract)
Williams, Caroline. A Beautiful Mind. New Scientist. June 11, 2011. A science writer lauds this heretofore daunting quantification of the neural regimen and cognitive acumen of the cephalopod octopus, which can be seen as a primordial instance of how brain and intelligence began their evolutionary ascent.
Yopak, Kara, et al. A Conserved Pattern of Brain Scaling from Sharks to Primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107/12946, 2010. A team of neuroscientists from Australia, Sweden, and the United States, including Barbara Finlay and Richard Darlington, report remarkable cerebral similarities between such widely separate Metazoan species. Once again it can be increasingly surmised that evolution retains the same basic neural anatomy, which then ramifies and deploys by an interplay of concerted and mosaic size and capacity as emergent encephalization proceeds to our retrospective description.
Several patterns of brain allometry previously observed in mammals have been found to hold for sharks and related taxa (chondrichthyans) as well. In each clade, the relative size of brain parts, with the notable exception of the olfactory bulbs, is highly predictable from the total brain size. Compared with total brain mass, each part scales with a characteristic slope, which is highest for the telencephalon and cerebellum. In addition, cerebellar foliation reflects both absolute and relative cerebellar size, in a manner analogous to mammalian cortical gyrification. This conserved pattern of brain scaling suggests that the fundamental brain plan that evolved in early vertebrates permits appropriate scaling in response to a range of factors, including phylogeny and ecology, where neural mass may be added and subtracted without compromising basic function. (12946)
Yoshida, M., et al. Molecular Evidence for Convergence and Parallelism in Evolution of Complex Brains of Cephalopod Molluscs: Insights from Visual Systems. Integrative & Comparative Biology. 55/6, 2015. In a Dawn of Neuronal Organization section, a team from research institutes in Japan and Florida including Leonid Moroz (search) find these quite intelligent invertebrates to have an equivalent cerebral capacity to vertebrates. Once again, such 2010s worldwide findings affirm a persistence for life to form and elaborate similar neural architectures as an inherent evolutionary encephalization.
Coleoid cephalopods show remarkable evolutionary convergence with vertebrates in their neural organization, including (1) eyes and visual system with optic lobes, (2) specialized parts of the brain controlling learning and memory, such as vertical lobes, and (3) unique vasculature supporting such complexity of the central nervous system. We performed deep sequencing of eye transcriptomes of pygmy squids (Idiosepius paradoxus) and chambered nautiluses (Nautilus pompilius) to decipher the molecular basis of convergent evolution in cephalopods. RNA-seq was complemented by in situ hybridization to localize the expression of selected genes. We found three types of genomic innovations in the evolution of complex brains: (1) recruitment of novel genes into morphogenetic pathways, (2) recombination of various coding and regulatory regions of different genes, often called “evolutionary tinkering” or “co-option”, and (3) duplication and divergence of genes. In summary, the cephalopod convergent morphological evolution of the camera eyes was driven by a mosaic of all types of gene recruitments. In addition, our analysis revealed unexpected variations of squids’ opsins, retinochromes, and arrestins, providing more detailed information, valuable for further research on intra-ocular and extra-ocular photoreception of the cephalopods. (Abstract)