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VI. Life’s Cerebral Cognizance Becomes More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

B. A Neural Encephalization from Minimal Stirrings to an Earthuman Cognizance

Bond, Alan. An Information-Processing Analysis of the Functional Architecture of the Primate Neocortex. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 227/1, 2004. A California Institute of Technology neuroscientist proposes that the neocortex can be understood in terms of a hierarchical arrangement of both its components from neurons to cortical regions and its cogitation involving data type and complexity, memory, motor function and so on.

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)

Breidbach, Olaf and W. Kutsch, eds. The Nervous Systems of Invertebrates: An Evolutionary and Comparative Approach. Basel: Birkhauser, 1995. Research papers suggest a common Bauplan for invertebrate nervous systems along with parallels between early embryogenesis and evolutionary neurogenesis.

Bressler, Steven and Vinod Menon. Large-Scale Brain Networks in Cognition. Trends in Cognitive Science. 14/6, 2010. Florida Atlantic University and Stanford University neuroscientists expand at an 80th birthday conference in honor of Walter Freeman to endorse an historic advance from initially separate brain areas, then to disparate modules, and on to the ubiquitous presence of dynamic nested nets that span local and global cerebration.

Briscoe, Steven and Clifton Ragsdale. Homology, Neocortex, and the Evolution of Developmental Mechanisms. Science. 362/190, 2018. In a special Brain Development section, MPI Molecular Cell Biology, and University of Chicago researchers can now lay out the full homologous continuity of amniote neural formation. By this novel view, an expansive, mosaic and concerted ramification from earliest invertebrates to amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals becomes apparent. Once again, life’s cerebral faculty increasingly seems to evolve as if an embryonic gestation. Lastly homo and anthropo beings emerge as a major sapiensphere transition whom are cognitively able to reconstruct how me and we came to be. A third quote from the section introduction by Pamela Hines offer further urban analogy.

The six-layered neocortex of the mammalian pallium has no clear homolog in birds or non-avian reptiles. Recent research indicates that although these extant amniotes possess a variety of divergent and nonhomologous pallial structures, they share a conserved set of neuronal cell types and circuitries. These findings suggest a principle of brain evolution: that natural selection preferentially preserves the integrity of information-processing pathways, whereas other levels of biological organization, such as the three-dimensional architectures of neuronal assemblies, are less constrained. We review the similarities of pallial neuronal cell types in amniotes, delineate candidate gene regulatory networks for their cellular identities, and propose a model for the divergence of amniote pallial structures. (Abstract)

In neuroanatomy, pallium refers to the layers of grey and white matter that cover the upper surface of the cerebrum in vertebrates. In basal vertebrates the pallium is a relatively simple three-layered structure, encompassing 3-4 histogenetically distinct domains, plus the olfactory bulb. In mammals, the cortical part of the pallium registers a definite evolutionary step-up in complexity, forming the cerebral cortex, with simpler three-layered cortical regions allocortex at the margins. (Wikipedia)

The human brain contains billions of well-connected neurons. Neural neighborhoods perform different tasks: Some coordinate movement, whereas others hum along planning dinner. The mature brain is a complex assembly of networks, structures, and tracts. Like cities and their neighborhoods, however, the brain does not arise fully formed. Rather, operational patterns and developmental constraints guide the proliferating neurons that build the typical adult human brain. Just as cities are governed by both hard and soft infrastructure, the placement and function of neurons in the brain respond to multiple cues during development. (P. Hines, 170)

Brown, William. Natural Selection of Mammalian Brain Components. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 16/9, 2001. Recent findings advise that cerebral anatomy is influenced by a species specific ‘mosaic’ evolution. An ‘adaptationist’ view is proposed in addition to the ‘developmental constraints hypothesis’ of a concerted size increase, which is driven by the need for expanded environmental knowledge.

Because the midbrain has visual and auditory structures, the neocortex and midbrain expansions of the insectivores support the idea that there has been an elaboration in mammals of neural capacities to integrate multimodal information to create perceptual representations of increasingly complex 3D niches. (472)

Bshary, Redouan, et al. Social Cognition in Fishes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 18/9, 2014. A recent spate of research reports find that deep down a similar neural anatomy persists across animal kingdoms from its pre-Cambrian origins. Building on these findings, University of Neuchatel biologists and a Cambridge University zoologist propose such aquatic creatures as candidates to study group behavior and cooperation. There are differences among species, but as cases confirm, nuclei networks, cerebellum functions, lateralizations, and more seem highly conserved from a common origin. As a result, the notice and study of “collective cognition” as based on reciprocation is recommended.

Brain evolution has often been correlated with the cognitive demands of social life. Further progress depends on our ability to link cognitive processes to corresponding brain part sizes and structures, and, ultimately, to demonstrate causality. Recent research suggests that fishes are suitable to test general hypotheses about vertebrate social cognition and its evolution: brain structure and physiology are rather conserved among vertebrates, and fish are able to perform complex decisions in social context. Here, we outline the opportunities for experimentation and comparative studies using fish as model systems, as well as some current shortcomings in fish social cognition research. (Abstract)

Burger, Joseph, et al. Toward a Metabolic Theory of Life History. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116/26653, 2019. Evolutionary ecologists posted in North Carolina, Missouri and New Mexico (James Brown) can now proceed to visualize and discern broadly applicable patterns and processes across the vast species diorama that past decades have put together.

The life histories of animals reflect the allocation of metabolic energy to traits that determine fitness and the pace of living. Here, we extend metabolic theories to address how demography and mass–energy balance constrain biomass for survival, growth, and reproduction over a life cycle of one generation. Evolution has generated enormous diversity of body sizes, morphologies, physiologies, ecologies, and life histories across the millions of animal, plant, and microbe species, yet simple rules specified by general equations highlight the underlying unity of life. (Abstract excerpt)

Burish, Mark, et al. Brain Architecture and Social Complexity in Modern and Ancient Birds. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 63/2, 2004. On parallels between telencephalic forebrain size fraction and the intricacy of social groups. This evolution is then seen to converge with that of mammals.

Burkhardt, Pawel. Ctenophores and the Evolutionary Origins of Neurons. Trends in Neurosciences. 45/12, 2022. An article in a Neurons, Brains and Behavior across Species Cognition series by the University of Bergen, Norway marine biologist which from a 2020s vantage traces and describes an incipient advent of neuronal rudiments. A philoSophia view would be able to realize that such stirrings reflect some intrinsic ability to so proceed.

Ctenophores (commonly known as comb jellies) are among the earliest branching extant lineages of the animal kingdom. Here, I present a brief overview of the ctenophore nervous system, discussing its cellular architecture and molecular composition, as well as insights it offers into the early evolution of neurons and chemical neurotransmission.

Burkhardt, Pawel and Simon Sprecher. Evolutionary Origin of Synapses and Neurons. BioEssays. Online September, 2017. Marine Biological Association, UK and University of Fribourg, Switzerland neurobiologists delve even deeper into life’s sensory quickenings to fully quantify life’s ramifying course of cognitive development. Once again it is possible to trace this neural facility all the way to their earliest invertebrate rudiments. But it remains curious that at our late hour of global cognizance, they are still likened to machinery.

The evolutionary origin of synapses and neurons is an enigmatic subject that inspires much debate. Non-bilaterian metazoans, both with and without neurons and their closest relatives already contain many components of the molecular toolkits for synapse functions. The origin of these components and their assembly into ancient synaptic signaling machineries are particularly important in light of recent findings on the phylogeny of non-bilaterian metazoans. The evolution of synapses and neurons are often discussed only from a metazoan perspective leaving a considerable gap in our understanding. By taking an integrative approach we highlight the need to consider different, but extremely relevant phyla and to include the closest unicellular relatives of metazoans, the ichthyosporeans, filastereans and choanoflagellates, to fully understand the evolutionary origin of synapses and neurons. This approach allows for a detailed understanding of when and how the first pre- and postsynaptic signaling machineries evolved. (Abstract)

Callier, Vivianne. Brain-Signal Proteins Evolved before Animals Did. Quanta. June 3, 2022. Neuropeptide Signaling by Yanez-Guerra, Luis, et al in Molecular Biology and Evolution (39/4, 2022) which indicate that an ancestral choanoflagellate microbe made proteins that were later repurposed by the nervous systems of the first animals. (See also A Newfound Source of Cellular Order in the Chemistry of Life by VC herein on January 7, 2021.) So once more a gestation-like continuity can be quantified and traced all the way nack to life’s earliest cognizant advent.

Our human brains can seem like a crowning achievement of evolution, but their roots run deep. The modern brain arose from many millions of years of incremental advances in complexity which has been traced through the branch of the animal family tree that includes creatures with central nervous systems, the bilaterians. However it is now becoming clear that basic neural elements existed much earlier. This has been made evident by researchers at the University of Exeter who found that the chemical precursors of important neurotransmitters, or signaling molecules appear in the major animal groups that preceded central nervous systems. (V. Callier)

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