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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

D. An Enhancement of Autonomous Individuality

Buss, Leo. The Evolution of Individuality. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. A prescient attempt to expand the modern evolutionary synthesis beyond an emphasis on genes and/or organisms to sequential levels of the selection of whole “individuals.”

Life is hierarchically organized because any given unit of selection, once established, can come to follow the same progression of elaboration of a yet higher organization, followed by stabilization of the novel organization. (172)

calcott, Brett and Kim Sterelny, ed. The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. Reviewed more in A Quickening Evolution, wherein several contributors observe a central, regnant trajectory of Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality.

Clarke, Ellen. A Levels-of-Selection Approach to Evolutionary Individuality. Biology & Philosophy. Online October, 2016. An All Souls College, Oxford University philosopher of biology continues her endeavors to show how natural selection acting at different hierarchical levels can lead to and trace a regnant personal identity within relative communal groupings.

What changes when an evolutionary transition in individuality takes place? Many different answers have been given, in respect of different cases of actual transition, but some have suggested a general answer: that a major transition is a change in the extent to which selection acts at one hierarchical level rather than another. The current paper evaluates some different ways to develop this general answer as a way to characterise the property ‘evolutionary individuality’; and offers a justification of the option taken in Clarke (J Philos 110(8):413–435, 2013)—to define evolutionary individuality in terms of an object’s capacity to undergo selection at its own level. In addition, I suggest a method by which the property can be measured and argue that a problem which is often considered to be fatal to that method—the problem of ‘cross-level by-products’—can be avoided. (Abstract)

Collier, John. Self-organization, Individuation and Identity. Revue Internationale de Philosophie. Vol. 29/No. 228, 2004. In an issue on complex systems (most articles in French, check journal website), the University of Natal systems scientist first clarifies how ‘selves’ organize and emerge from interacting agents whom are guided by information and infused with energy. This creation of autonomous entities is then seen to have an affinity with self-referential autopoietic systems, which has previously been subject to discussion.

I will…discuss how these requirements entail that self-organizing systems are both self-producing and self-maintaining in a clear and important sense: the very process of self-organization implies individuation of the entity formed. (152) Self-organization occurs when the properties of a system allow it to take on a more ordered state through the dissipation of energy (production of entropy), some of which goes into the newly formed structure. (152)

De Monte, Silvia and Paul Rainey. Nascent Multicellular Life and the Emergence of Individuality. Journal of Biosciences. 39/2, 2014. Institut de Biologie de l’École Normale Supérieure, Paris and Massey University, Auckland, evolutionary biologists consider one more way that life’s integral complexity could arise from a genetic insistence to form beneficial collectives.

Feinberg, Todd. Altered Egos. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. The brain is arranged in the same nested hierarchy as all biological systems. From this structure emerges the unified self.

Ferner, Adam and Thomas Pradeu. Ontologies of Living Beings. Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology. Volume 9, 2017. An introduction to a special collection of this University of Michigan online journal about a deep evolutionary trend toward life’s emergent individuation. Amongst its entries are Evolution of Individuality: A Case Study in the Volvocine Green Algae by Erik Hanschen, et al with Richard Michod (abstract below), Large-Scale Modeling in Systems Biology by Fridolin Gross and Sara Green (search), and Modularity, Parthood and Evolvability in Metabolic Engineering by Catherine Kendig and Todd Eckdahl.

While numerous criteria have been proposed in definitions of biological individuality, it is not clear whether these criteria reflect the evolutionary processes that underlie transitions in individuality. We consider the evolution of individuality during the transition from unicellular to multicellular life. We assume that “individuality” (however it is defined) has changed in the volvocine green algae lineage during the transition from single cells, to simple multicellular colonies with four to one hundred cells, to more complex multicellular organisms with thousands of differentiated cells. We map traits associated with the various proposed individuality criteria onto volvocine algae species thought to be similar to ancestral forms arising during this transition in individuality. We find that the fulfillment of some criteria, such as genetic homogeneity and genetic uniqueness, do not change across species, while traits underpinning other aspects of individuality, including degrees of integration, group-level fitness and adaptation, and group indivisibility, change dramatically. We observe that different kinds of individuals likely exist at different levels of organization (cell and group) in the same species of algae. Future research should focus on the causes and consequences of variation in individuality. (Hanschen Abstract)

Fisher, Roberta, et al. Group Formation, Relatedness, and the Evolution of Multicellularity. Current Biology. Online June, 2013. Together with “A Conceptual Framework for the Evolutionary Origins of Multicellularity” Eric Libby and Paul Rainey in Physical Biology (10/3, 2013), reviewed more in Multicellular Organisms, this major transition from eukaryotes to complex creatures is again considered as an evolutionary advance of relative individuality. In regard, the sequential scale from genetic biomolecules to human societies might be appreciated as a ramification of personal enhancement, but always set within and fostered by reciprocal group settings.

Fitch, Tecumseh. Nano-intentionality: a Defense of Intrinsic Intentionality. Biology and Philosophy. 23/2, 2008. The University of St. Andrews psychologist and linguist finds an evolutionary propensity at every scale for an organism’s proactive motivation. But as immersed in, and inhibited by, science’s conceptual paradigm, such phenomena remains a mechanical materialism, cells are “just a machine.” We are getting closer and but still unable to witness a cosmic genesis manifestly growing in personal volition. An aim of this website is to change the subject and universe.

I suggest that most discussions of intentional systems have overlooked an important aspect of living organisms: the intrinsic goal-directedness inherent in the behaviour of living eukaryotic cells. This goal directedness is nicely displayed by a normal cell’s ability to rearrange its own local material structure in response to damage, nutrient distribution or other aspects of its individual experience. While at a vastly simpler level than intentionality at the human cognitive level, I propose that this basic capacity of living things provides a necessary building block for cognition and high-order intentionality, because the neurons that make up vertebrate brains, like most cells in our body, embody such capacities. (157)

Folse, Henry and Joan Roughgarden. What is an Individual Organism? A Multilevel Selection Perspective. Quarterly Review of Biology. 85/4, 2010. Within the theoretical revision and expansion of life’s evolutionary course into sequential, nested “transitions” and whole stages, Stanford University biologists ponder a persistent tendency toward enhanced individualities.

Most biologists implicitly define an individual organism as “one genome in one body.” This definition is based on physiological and genetic criteria, but it is problematic for colonial organisms. We propose a definition based instead on the evolutionary criteria of alignment of fitness, export of fitness by germ-soma specialization, and adaptive functional organization. We consider how these concepts apply to various putative individual organisms. We conclude that complex multicellular organisms and colonies of eusocial insects satisfy these three criteria, but that, in most cases (with at least one notable exception), colonies of modular organisms and genetic chimeras do not. While species do not meet these criteria, they may meet the criteria for a broader concept—that of an evolutionary individual — and sexual reproduction may be a species-level exaptation for enhancing evolvability. We also review the costs and benefits of internal genetic heterogeneity within putative individuals, demonstrating that high relatedness is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for individuality, and that, in some cases, genetic variability may have adaptive benefits at the level of the whole. (Abstract, 447)

Freeman, Walter. How Brains Make Up Their Minds. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. A life’s work is reviewed in this synthesis of nonlinear dynamics and experimental neuroscience. Freeman’s view of self-organized brain hierarchies and thought processes leads to a strong advocacy of intentional actions and free will. From an evolutionary context, a progressive vector of manifest intentionality, with a nod to Thomas Aquinas, can then be appreciated. As a result, neural activity, personal behavior and the consequent social fabric seek to maintain a balance of semiautonomous individuals and a consensual group stability.

Individual minds, with their isolated meanings, assimilate to each other and create transcendent social entities that enhance and empower the individuals. Some people like to call these entities “group minds.”….The model I propose for social self-organization is an extension of the micro-meso interactions we saw between neurons and populations and between meso-populations and macroscopic, global AM (amplitude modulation) patterns. In each level, the individual retains autonomy but accepts constraint in respect to the embedding surround. (142-43)

Gilbert, Scott and Steven Borish. How Cells Learn, How Cells Teach: Education in the Body. Amsel, Eric and K. Ann Renninger, eds. Change and Development. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1997. On the affinity between organic and mental embryogenesis as homologous biological and social learning processes.

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