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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Life’s Cerebral Cognizance Becomes More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

C. Personal Agency and Adaptive Behavior in Supportive Societies.

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)

Friston, Karl, et al. Active Inference and Intentional Behaviour. arXiv:2312.07547. This entry by thirteen neuroscholars with main postings at University College London, VERSES AI Research Lab, Los Angeles, RIKEN Center for Brain Science, Japan and Monash University, Australia as an example of how this popular approach may be gaining actual utility and theoretic veracity. It also uses a “self-evidencing” rationale from Jakob Hohwy (search) to explain. See The anticipating brain is not a scientist: the free-energy principle from an ecological-enactive perspective by Jelle Bruineberg, et al in Synthese (196/6, 2018) for another view

Recent advances in theoretical biology suggest that basal cognition and sentient behavior are emergent properties of cell cultures and neuronal networks as they spontaneously learn structured responses. In this paper, we quantify this kind of self-organisation through the free energy principle as a self-evidencing behavior. We first discuss reactivity and sentience by way of active inference as agents proceed to model the consequences of their actions. Further studies using machine learning benchmarks show how efficiently adaptive behavior emerges under an inductive form of active inference. (Excerpt)

The aim of this paper was to characterise the self-organisation of adaptive behavior through the lens of the free energy principle, i.e., as self-evidencing. We did this by first discussing the definitions of reactive and sentient behavior in active inference, where the latter describes the behaviour of agents that are aware of the consequences of their actions. (27)

In neuroscience, predictive coding is a theory of brain function which postulates that the brain is constantly generating and updating a "mental model" of the environment. With the rising popularity of representation learning, the theory is being actively pursued and applied in machine learning and related fields.

The free energy principle is a theoretical framework suggesting that the brain reduces uncertainty by making predictions based on internal models and updating them by sensory experience. This principle integrates Bayesian inference with active inference, where actions are guided by predictions and sensory feedback refines them.

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.

Gould, Stephen Jay and Elizabeth Lloyd. Individuality and Adaptation Across Levels of Selection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 96/11904, 1999. An interpretation of a stepwise evolution formed by other means than Darwinian mutation and adaptation, with the consequence that species are to be appreciated as true individuals.

Hamilton, Andrew, et al. Social Insects and the Individuality Thesis: Cohesion and the Colony as a Selectable Individual. Gadau, Jurgen and Jennifer Fewell, eds. Organization of Insect Societies: From Genome to Sociocomplexity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. After surveying prior pros and cons about species as superorganisms, a strong claim is made that eusocial insect groups should be considered as true individuals at a “higher” evolutionary scale. See also the ASU conference above.

The individuality thesis says that complex or higher-level biological objects are individuals, rather than that they are like organisms. While the individuality thesis was originally articulated to address a set of issue around the reality and nature of species, we argue that it applies well to colonies and that it frames an important set of questions about colony-level multiplication, variation, and heredity, thus throwing light on the colony as a unit of selection. (573)

Hanschen, Erik, et al. Individuality and the Major Evolutionary Transitions. Gissis, Snait, et al, eds. Landscapes of Collectivity in the Life Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018. University of Arizona biologists including Richard Michod (search) finesse this popular nested scale by noting that each subsequent whole phase results in an enhanced personal liberty in community. For our review, it is evident that nature seems bent on forming such cooperative collectives at each and every stage. One might propose METI, major evolutionary transitions in individuality, by which to represent life’s quickening gestation. The whole volume is reviewed in Anthropo Opus as a consummate contribution.

The hierarchy of life is the central landscape of collectivity in the living world-eusocial societies composed of multicellular organisms, multicellular organisms composed of single (eukaryotic or prokaryotic) cells, single (eukaryotic) cells composed of (prokaryotic) cells, cells composed of gene networks, and gene networks composed of replicating genes. The theory of evolutionary transitions addresses how cooperative collectives evolve into new units of evolution, that is, new kinds of evolutionary individuals. In this chapter, we briefly review the major transitions in evolution (MTE) framework as originally formulated (John) Maynard Smith and (Eors) Szathmary, recent revisions to this framework, and the fitness-focused framework, evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETl). (Abstract)

Heras-Escribano, Manuel and Paulo de Jesus. Biosemiotics, the Extended Synthesis, and Ecological Information: Making Sense of the Organism-Environment Relation at the Cognitive Level. Biosemiotics. Online May, 2018. University of the Basque Country and Goldsmith University London philosophers seek to expand the extended evolutionary synthesis initiative by adding an emphasis on bioinformation and communicative code qualities, along with appreciations of enactive and ecological psychology views of creaturely and human personal agency. See also Thinking through Enactive Agency: Sense-Making, Bio-Semiosis and the Ontologies of Organismic Worlds by P. de Jesus in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (Online March 2018) and Interrelationship between Fractal Ornament and Multilevel Selection Theory by Olena Dobrovolska in the above journal (search).

This paper argues that the Extended Synthesis, ecological information, and biosemiotics are complementary approaches whose engagement will help us explain the organism-environment interaction at the cognitive level. The Extended Synthesis, through niche construction theory, can explain the organism-environment interaction at an evolutionary level because niche construction is a process guided by information. We believe that the best account that defines information at this level is the one offered by biosemiotics and, within all kinds of biosemiotic information available. This entanglement of biosemiotics, ecological information and the Extended Synthesis is promising for understanding the multidimensional character of the organism-environment reciprocity as well as the relation between evolution, cognition, and meaning. (Abstract)

Herron, Matthew, et al. Cellular Differentiation and Individuality in the ‘Minor” Multicellular Taxa. Biological Reviews. Online March, 2013. The Keywords for this article are “cellular differentiation, individuality, life history, major transitions, multicellularity, organisms, symbiosis.” University of Arizona behavioral biologists, in consultation with Richard Michod, Aurora Nedelcu and other UA researchers, emphasize the importance of “evolutionary transitions in individuality” as a prime feature of life’s episodic emergence. “Someone is in gestation” wrote Pierre Teilhard in the 1940s (CE, 184) by way of a sequential tandem of organic complexity and personified consciousness. In a new century, contributions such as this article confirm that life indeed evolves on a path of liberating individuation, as if a self-making genesis universe intent on bearing forth EarthKinder children.

Biology needs a concept of individuality in order to distinguish organisms from parts of organisms and from groups of organisms, to count individuals and compare traits across taxa, and to distinguish growth from reproduction. Most of the proposed criteria for individuality were designed for ‘unitary’ or ‘paradigm’ organisms: contiguous, functionally and physiologically integrated, obligately sexually reproducing multicellular organisms with a germ line sequestered early in development. However, the vast majority of the diversity of life on Earth does not conform to all of these criteria. We consider the issue of individuality in the ‘minor’ multicellular taxa, which collectively span a large portion of the eukaryotic tree of life, reviewing their general features and focusing on a model species for each group. When the criteria designed for unitary organisms are applied to other groups, they often give conflicting answers or no answer at all to the question of whether or not a given unit is an individual.

Complex life cycles, intimate bacterial symbioses, aggregative development, and strange genetic features complicate the picture. The great age of some of the groups considered shows that ‘intermediate’ forms, those with some but not all of the traits traditionally associated with individuality, cannot reasonably be considered ephemeral or assumed transitional. We discuss a handful of recent attempts to reconcile the many proposed criteria for individuality and to provide criteria that can be applied across all the domains of life. Finally, we argue that individuality should be defined without reference to any particular taxon and that understanding the emergence of new kinds of individuals requires recognizing individuality as a matter of degree. (Abstract)

Hoffmeyer, Jesper. Code-Duality and the Epistemic Cut. Jerry Chandler and Gertrudis Van de Vijver, eds. Closure: Emergent Organizations and Their Dynamics. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2000. The Dutch philosopher of semiotics describes a textual universe whose development is engaged in a “natural individuation,” which is seen to proceed as its “selfication process.”

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