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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

D. An Enhancement of Autonomous Individuality

McShea, Daniel. The Minor Transitions in Hierarchical Evolution and the Question of a Directional Bias. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 14/3, 2001. Rather than a branching bush, the Duke University biologist finds an increase in organic complexity by wholes contained within wholes. Its graphical depiction takes on the generic form of a self-organizing system.

The history of life shows a clear trend in hierarchical organization, revealed by the successive emergence of organisms with ever greater numbers of levels of nestedness and greater development, or ‘individuation,’ of the highest level. (502)

Michod, Richard. Darwinian Dynamics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. This important work noted elsewhere is a resource for the perception of an emergent individuality in evolution.

Michod, Richard. Evolution of Individuality During the Transition from Unicellular to Multicellular Life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104/Supplement 1, 2007. As a case in point, volvocine microbial colonies are shown to complexify into bounded assemblies via altruistic divisions of labor. But while the cycle cited below reflects the common organization of a complex adaptive system, such contextual source is not recognized.

Individuality is a complex trait, yet a series of stages each advantageous in itself can be shown to exist allowing evolution to get from unicellular individuals to multicellular individuals. We consider several of the key stages involved in this transition: the initial advantage of group formation, the origin of reproductive altruism within the group, and the further specialization of cell types as groups increase in size. Our hypothesis is that fitness tradeoffs drive the transition of a cell group into a multicellular individual through the evolution of cells specialized at reproductive and vegetative functions of the group. (8613)

Michod, Richard and Aurora Nedelcu. On the Reorganization of Fitness During Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 43/1, 2003. A further contribution on a constant tendency in multi-scalar evolution to proceed toward a new entity. Cooperative interactions which limit conflicts are crucial so ‘lower-level’ units can be included.

Returning to the various notions of individuality introduced at the beginning of the paper – distinctness in time and space, indivisibility of wholes, genetic homogeneity, genetic uniqueness, and physiological autonomy and unity – we may see how they stem from the processes of multilevel selection and conflict mediation inherent in creation of a new evolutionary individual. (71)

Michod, Richard, et al. Cooperation and Conflict in the Evolution of Individuality. BioSystems. 69/2-3, 2003. The development of life is viewed as a nested series of transitions which depend on mediating conflicts along with mutually beneficial behavior. These recurrent features are seen, for example, in the subject green algal organism Volvox carteri.

The continued well being of evolutionary individuals (units of selection and evolution) depends on their evolvability, that is their capacity to generate and evolve adaptations at their level of organization, as well as their longer term capacity for diversifying into more complex evolutionary forms. (95)

Militello, Guglielmo, et al. Functional Integration and Individuality in Prokaryotic Collective Organisations. Acta Biotheoretica. August, 2020. IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind and Society, University of the Basque Country biotheorists GM, Leonardo Bich and Alvaro Moreno find evidence of a vital relative selfhood even in this primal realm. One could then notice that while bacteria subsist in collective groupings, they yet each retain a reciprocal degree and measure of personal, semi-autonomous identity.

Both physiological and evolutionary criteria of biological individuality are based on the idea that an individual is an integrated whole. However, a good account of functional integration has not been provided so far. To address this, we focus on the organization of two representative associations of prokaryotes: biofilms and the endosymbiosis between prokaryotes. This paper has three aims: first, to analyse the organisational conditions and the physiological mechanisms that enable integration in prokaryotic associations; second, to discuss the differences between biofilms and prokaryotic endosymbiosis and the types of integration they achieve; finally, to provide a more precise account of functional integration based on these case studies. (Abstract excerpt)

In sum, functional integration can be defined as the degree to which the different components of a biological dynamic regime of self maintenance depend on one another for their production, maintenance, activity and reproduction. If we take the eukaryotic cell as the example of new forms of full fledged biological individuality by way of association between prokaryotes, individuality can be understood by the degree, scale and precision of the control and coordination of the parts that collectively make the system a viable functional whole. A cohesive integration between functional tasks is achieved, then, when the differentiation of functions is coordinated at the system level by control and regulatory mechanisms that (1) act across the entities in the association, and (2) are exerted in such a way that the components can contribute through their activity to the maintenance of the system. (22)

Moreno, Alvaro and Matteo Mossio. Biological Autonomy: A Philosophical and Theoretical Enquiry. Berlin: Springer, 2015. After some years of writing papers (search), University of the Basque Country and French National Centre for Scientific Research philosophers of science offer a book length consideration that evolving life’s salient essence and aim could be increasingly distinct, free entities in supportive communities. A chapter list makes the case: Organizational Closure, Biological Emergence, Teleology and Functionality, Agency, Evolution: the Historical Dimension of Autonomy, Organism Levels of Autonomy, and Cognition. In so doing, the work traces this perception from Immanuel Kant to the relational dynamic sciences of Ilya Prigogine, Robert Rosen, Francisco Varela and others about a natural vitality that organizes and individuates itself. Autopoietic self-making is much involved, which spawn nested iterative levels of quickening sentience. See also an essay by Bernd Rosslenbroich in Biology & Philosophy (online June 2016) for an endorsement of organismic autonomy instead of molecular machines.

As explained in the Introduction, our general stance consists in suggesting that the principle of biological autonomy must be understood in the light of three characteristic dimensions that are conceptually distinct and yet inherently related. Biological autonomy has a constitutive dimension, which consists in its organization’s capacity of self-determination. Biological organization determines itself and, through this determination, grounds normativity, teleology, and functionality in a naturalized way. Biological autonomy also has an interactive dimension through which biological systems promote their own maintenance by acting on their environment. Autonomy is not independence: autonomous systems are not monads, they are inherently agents, engaged in a continuous interaction with their surroundings. (196-197)

Autonomy has a historical dimension: it is not just spontaneous self-organization. Autonomy appears as the result of an entailment of reproductive cycles, starting from self-maintaining chemical systems, which progressively increase their complexity. Reciprocally, the evolution of biological complexity cannot be adequately understood just as the outcome of natural selection, but results from the fundamental interplay between organization and selection. In this respect, the autonomous perspective renews biological ontology by organizing it around units of autonomy instead of units of selection. (198)

Mossio, Matteo and Leonardo Bich. What Makes Biological Organization Teleological? Synthese. Online February, 2015. With many colleagues, French National Centre for Scientific Research and University of the Basque Country philosophers continue a more true to life revision of evolution’s ascent as actually springing from and guided by an inherent agency and vectorial aim. In this view, a growing emphasis upon “self-determination” is achieved through cellular and organismic constraints and boundary closures. By this feature, Immanuel Kant’s advocacy of a natural self-organization is affirmed, setting aside selection alone. This theory is akin to autopoiesis, but with an added sense that self-making systems are facilitated by an independent source. See also The Teleological Transitions in Evolution by Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka in the Journal of Theoretical Biology (Online April 2015), and Mossio’s book with Alvaro Moreno Biological Autonomy (May 2015).

Parker, Sue Taylor, et al, eds. Self-awareness in Animals and Humans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. An evolutionary trend is evident with regard to self-recognition, because of its adaptive value. From invertebrate origins it is seen to rise through mammalian families to prosimians and great apes and on to human knowing, a pathway generally retraced in infants and children.

Radzvilavicius, Arunas and Neil Blackstone. The Evolution of Individuality Revisted. Biological Reviews. Online March, 2018. University of Pennsylvania and Northern Illinois University biologists survey how the major evolutionary transitions MTE scale is gaining clarification and validity at each stage as a relative emergence of a personal entity. From genomic origins to eukaryotic cells, multicellularity and collective cooperation beyond, nature’s “hierarchical organization” is becoming well sketched out. As endorsed by Stuart West, Richard Michod and others (search Gissis), a novel Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality ETI model ihas an increasing currency.

Evolutionary theory is formulated in terms of individuals that carry heritable information and are subject to selective pressures. However, an individual is not an indivisible entity, but a result of evolutionary processes that necessarily begin at the lower level of hierarchical organisation. Traditional approaches to biological individuality focus on cooperation and relatedness within a group, division of labour, policing mechanisms and strong selection at the higher level. Nevertheless, a full dynamical first‐principles account of how new types of individuals arise is missing. Here we review some of the most influential theoretical work on the role of individuating mechanisms in these transitions, and demonstrate how a lower‐level, bottom‐up evolutionary framework can be used to understand biological complexity involved in the origin of cellular life, early eukaryotic evolution, sexual life cycles and multicellular development. In this way, individuality can be reconceptualised as an approximate model that with varying degrees of precision applies to a wide range of biological systems. (Abstract excerpts)

Ratcliff, William, et al. Nascent Life Cycles and the Emergence of Higher-Level Individuality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 372/1735, 2018. WR and Matthew Herron, Georgia Tech, Peter Conlin, University of Washington, and Eric Libby, Santa Fe Institute quantify specific course that a “lower” single cell phase might readily evolve and emerge into a distinct multicellular organism.

Evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETIs) occur when formerly autonomous organisms evolve to become parts of a new, ‘higher-level’ organism. One of the first major hurdles that must be overcome during an ETI is the emergence of Darwinian evolvability in the higher-level entity (a multicellular group), and the loss of Darwinian autonomy in the lower-level units (individual cells). Here, we examine how simple higher-level life cycles are a key innovation during an ETI, allowing this transfer of fitness to occur ‘for free’. We show how novel life cycles can arise and lead to the origin of higher-level individuals by (i) mitigating conflicts between levels of selection, (ii) engendering the expression of heritable higher-level traits and (iii) allowing selection to efficiently act on these emergent higher-level traits. By stabilizing the fragile first steps of an evolutionary transition in individuality, nascent higher-level life cycles may play a crucial role in the origin of complex life. (Abstract)

Read, Dwight. Change in the Form of Evolution: Transition from Primate to Hominid Forms of Social Organization. International Conference on Complex Systems. May 16-21, 2004. A presentation by the UCLA anthropologist which argues that biologically based evolution was surpassed when primate societies became increasingly driven by group relations and linguistic communication. As a result, a greater degree of personal individuation occurs as group members socialize. Read’s own website, www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/read. contains several recent papers that explore how mathematics and dynamic systems theory can inform this field of endeavor. An abstract is available at www.necsi.org.

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