VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware
D. A Creative Union of Free Personal Agency in Reciprocal, Supportive Societies
Krakauer, David, et al. The Information Theory of Individuality. Theory in Biosciences. March, 2020. Santa Fe Institute, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and MPI Mathematics in the Sciences scholars including Jessica Flack post a expansion of an earlier version at arXiv:1412.2447 which views a main track of life’s evolution as a nested emergence of agent entities by way of their informational knowledge content and communications. In some kinship with the major transition scale, an advance of aware intelligence is seen to distinguish the long trajectory toward our own collaborative retrospect. A thorough, computational study thus comes forth with an innately self-observant, making, and recognizing personal genesis. But it seems an individual and Earthling act of self-realization still awaits to sustain and continue.
Despite the near universal assumption of individuality in biology, there is little agreement about what individuals are and few quantitative methods for their identification. Here, we propose that individuals are aggregates that preserve a measure of temporal integrity, i.e., “propagate” information from their past into their futures. We formalize this idea using information theory and graphical models which yield three principled and distinct forms of individuality—an organismal, a colonial, and a driven form. This approach considers a Gestalt evolution where selection makes figure-ground (agent–environment) distinctions using information-theoretic lenses. The information theory of individuality allows for their identification at all levels from molecular to cultural. (Abstract excerpt)
Lidgard, Scott and Lynn Nyhart, eds. Biological Individuality: Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. The University of Chicago paleontologist, and University of Wisconsin historian of science, editors gather an array of chapters such as Metabolism, Autonomy, and Individuality by Hannah Landecker, Biological Individuality: A Relational Reading by Scott Gilbert, and Spencer’s Evolutionary Entanglement by Snait Gissis which survey historic and current notices of life’s seemingly insistent tendency to form personal entities, broadly conceived.
Bringing together biologists, historians, and philosophers, this book provides a multifaceted exploration of biological individuality that identifies leading and less familiar perceptions of individuality both past and present, what they are good for, and in what contexts. Biological practice and theory recognize individuals at myriad levels of organization, from genes to organisms to symbiotic systems. We depend on these notions of individuality to address theoretical questions about multilevel natural selection and Darwinian fitness; to illuminate empirical questions about development, function, and ecology; to ground philosophical questions about the nature of organisms and causation; and to probe historical and cultural circumstances that resonate with parallel questions about the nature of society.
Mathews, Freya. The Ecological Self. London: Routledge, 1991. An innovative work by the environmental philosopher, noted more in The Genesis Vision, which articulates a similar personal, planetary and cosmic course of individuation.
The Minor Transitions in Hierarchical Evolution and the Question of a Directional Bias.
Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
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)
Molter, Daniel. On Mycorrhizal Individuality. Biology & Philosophy. 34/Art. 52, 2109. A Weber State University, Utah philosopher provides another take of life’s persistent formation of relative personal entities in communal settings at each and every chance.
This paper argues that a plant together with the symbiotic fungus attached to its roots, a mycorrhizal collective, is a true individual, and further, that this identity has important implications for evolutionary theory. Mycorrhizae in nature usually connect the roots of multiple plants, so their individuality entails overlapping entities. I suggest that the degree of evolutionary individuality in a symbiotic collective corresponds to its probability of reproducing with vertical or pseudo-vertical transmission, which could constitute a fourth parameter of graded Darwinian individuality in collective reproducers. (Abstract excerpt)
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)
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).