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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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Genesis Vision
Learning Planet
Organic Universe
Earth Life Emerge
Genesis Future
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VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

B. In the 2020s, a Cogntive Course from First Stirrings to Our Earthuman Acumen is Being Defined

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)

Miller, Jacob and Kevin Weiner. Unfolding the Evolution of Human Cognition. Trends in Cognitive Science. August, 2022. As the quotes note, Yale University and UC Berkeley psychologists contribute to 21st century worldwise reconstructions of prior trajectories of effective cranial and knowing capacities. We cite as more 2020s evidence that better brains and more informative content actually defines a central vector from earliest phases aimed at our global human acumen.

Recent findings spanning subject fields from braincases in paleoneurobiology to in vivo measurements in cognitive neuroscience are providing novel insights into our reconstructions of life’s emergent cerebral intelligence. Here, we integrate these findings and propose that studying small, evolutionarily new cortical structures can be a significant way to identify new links between neuroanatomical substrates and human-specific aspects of cognition. (Abstract)

Evidence from sulcal indentations on endocasts not only show big changes from our early human ancestors, but also hint that smaller sulcal structures may hold large implications for the history of our own brains. Considering when smaller sulci emerged in our evolutionary history builds on present work and offers a promising new application bridging studies of cognition, neuroanatomy, and paleoneurobiology. (737)

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)

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