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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
Table of Contents
Genesis Vision
Learning Planet
Organic Universe
Earth Life Emerge
Genesis Future
Recent Additions

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

C. Personal Agency and Adaptive Behavior in Supportive Societies.

Hoffmeyer, Jesper. Semiotics of Nature. Cobley, Paul, ed. The Routledge Companion to Semiotics. London: Routledge, 2010. A chapter on a “semiotization of nature” which seeks to impress just how much matter and life are ultimately composed as literacies of sign and signification. In an evolutionary retrospect such a capacity is seen to emerge and ramify as it progressively liberates a communicative individual unto ones own self.

The emergence of this individualization of semiotic freedom initiated a fundamental change in the dynamics of the evolutionary process. Patterns of interactive behavior now became increasing regulated or released by semiotic means, and this induced a new kind of flexibility upon inter- and intraspecific interactions. Innovations more and more would depend on semiotically organized cooperative patterns at all levels from single cells and tissues to organisms and species and, in the end, whole ecological settings. (35)

hohwy, Jakob. The Self-Evidencing Brain. Nous. 50/2, 2016. We cite this paper by the Monash University, Australia cognitive scientist because his self-evidencing phrase has been adopted as a definitive quality for various predictive coding and free energy activities. By this usage it is seen as an apt expression for their self-making, autopoietic behaviors with a purpose so as to constantly sustain and justify themselves.

An exciting theory in neuroscience is that the brain is an organ for prediction error minimization (PEM). Here, I assume the theory, briefly explain it, and then argue that PEM implies that the brain is essentially self-evidencing. This means it is imperative to identify an evidentiary boundary between the brain and its environment which defines the mind-world relation, and makes the mind more inferentially secluded. (Excerpt)

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 input. The brain's objective is to align its internal model with the external world to enhance prediction accuracy. This principle integrates Bayesian inference with active inference, where actions are guided by predictions and sensory feedback refines them.

Jablonka, Eva. Inheritance Systems and the Evolution of New Levels of Individuality. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 170/301, 1994. An early appreciation of the nested stages of emergent individuation due to “epigenetic inheritance systems.”

Jablonka, Eva and Simona Ginsburg. Learning and the Evolution of Conscious Agents. Biosemiotics. September, 2022. This latest essay by the Tel Aviv University and Open University of Israel scholar on their insightful perceptions (search) of life’s central propensity to evolve, develop and grow in learned, informed, aware agency from the earliest minimum to our personal, planetary retrospect here adds a biocommunicative advance in effect along the way. In regard, these thoughtful views contribute to the historic 2020s subject shift from bony bodies to a primary cerebral, cognitive, knowledgeable, collective individuation.

See also in this journal over the past months many luminous commentaries such as The Metaphysics of Living Consciousness: Metabolism, Agency and Purposiveness by Anna Meincke, Energy and Expectation: The Dynamics of Living Consciousness by Michael Trestman nd Questions for Jablonka and Ginsburg Drawn from Lamarck’s Life-Made World by Jessica Riskin. Altogether life's deep occasion, long ascent and 2023 vision is an awakening, informed, learning, world, and ecosmic essence. See also the authors later entry Living and Experiencing: Response to Commentaries herein (December 2023).

The scientific study of aware experience is now an active research program for philosophers of mind, psychologists, cognitive scientists, neurobiologists, evolutionary biologists and biosemioticians. Here we outline our evolutionary approach from two decades which focuses on the early transition to minimally conscious, organisms. We propose that life’s sentience was driven by an open-ended, representational, generative and recursive form of associative learning, which we call Unlimited Associative Learning (UAL). In this present regard, our framework allows the exploration of the evolutionary changes in agency, value systems, selective processes and goals that were involved from a perspective that resonates with the approaches of bio-semioticians. (Abstract excerpt)

Jaeger, Johannes. The Fourth Perspective: Evolution and Organismal Agency. Mossio, M. ed. Organization in Biology. Berlin: Springer, 2022. A Complexity Science Hub, Vienna bioscholar and 2021 co-author herein with A. Roli and S. Kauffman contributes to growing perceptions that one’s own life, and indeed evolution’s long course, can be defined and tracked by an increasing degree of proactive, self-made individuality. (As P. Teilhard wrote long ago Someone is in Gestation). As these findings flow together, they reveal a true ecosmic genesis which brings personal beings and becomings in community into manifest reality.

This chapter examines the deep connections between biological organization, agency, and evolution by natural selection. But I contend here that the basic unit of evolution is not a genetic replicator, rather it is a complex hierarchical life cycle. Understanding the self-maintaining and self-proliferating properties of evolvable reproducers thus requires an organizational account of ontogenesis and reproduction. This leads us to an extended set of minimal conditions such as new principles of heredity, variation, and ontogenesis. An important result is that all evolvable systems are active agents. Novel appreciations of an agential evolutionary perspective on evolution can then complement and succeeding existing structural, functional, and processual approaches. (Abstract excerpt)

Kelso, J. A. Scott. On the Self-Organizing Origins of Agency. Trends in Cognitive Science. Online May, 2016. The Florida Atlantic University, Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences veteran theorist and author (search) makes the point that the vital vector of cerebral and natural dynamic processes that he and colleagues have illumed over two decades seems to be most of all a source of personal empowerment.

The question of agency and directedness in living systems has puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. What principles and mechanisms underlie the emergence of agency? Analysis and dynamical modeling of experiments on human infants suggest that the birth of agency is due to a eureka-like, pattern-forming phase transition in which the infant suddenly realizes it can make things happen in the world. The main mechanism involves positive feedback: when the baby's initially spontaneous movements cause the world to change, their perceived consequences have a sudden and sustained amplifying effect on the baby's further actions. The baby discovers itself as a causal agent. (Abstract).

In short, it does not seem too far of a stretch of the imagination to propose that evolutionarily constrained processes of self-organization (real organisms coupled to real environments living in the metastable regime of their coordination dynamics) are at the origins of (meaningful) information and agency itself. (8)

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)

The Architecture of Individuality: From the perspective of physics and chemistry, biological
life is surprising. There is no physical or chemical theory from which we can predict biology, and yet if we break down any biological system into its elementary constituents, there is no chemistry or physics remaining unaccounted for. The fact that physics and chemistry are universal — ongoing in stars, solar systems, and galaxies — whereas to the best of our knowledge biology is exclusively a property of earth, supports the view that life is emergent. (1)

Leopold, David and Bruno Averbeck. Self-tuition as an Essential Design Feature of the Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. National Institute of Health, Bethesda neuro-researchers provide a novel vista whereby cerebral faculties, as they form, arise, evolve in both ontogeny and phylogeny, have a primary impetus and need to gain relevant knowledge. In regard, life’s long ascent can thus appear as a processive, cumulative learning and educative advance.

We are curious by nature, particularly when young. Evolution has endowed our brain with an innate obligation to educate itself. In this review, we posit that self-tuition is an evolved principle of basic brain architecture and its normal development. We consider hypothalamic and telencephalic structures along with their anatomic segmentation architecture of forebrain circuits. We discuss educative behaviours, stimulus biases, and mechanisms by which telencephalic areas gradually accumulate knowledge. We argue that this aspect of brain function is of paramount importance for systems neuroscience, as it confers neural specialization and allows animals to attain more sophisticated behaviours than genetic mechanisms alone. (Abstract excerpt)

We posit that the vertebrate forebrain has evolved to support an interplay between brain areas that drives its own education based on a curiosity-driven exploration of the environment. We refer to this process as self-tuition. (1)

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.

Lyon, Pamela, et al. Basal Cognition: Conceptual Tools and the View from the Single Cell. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Volume 1820, January, 2021. With this entry we review two special issues, one above and the other as Basal Cognition: Multicellularity, Neurons and the Cognitive Lens. Volume 1821, March 2021. The editors for both are P. Lyon, Flinders University, Adelaide, Fred Keijzer, University of Groningen, Detlev Arendt, EMBL, Heidelberg, and Michael Levin, Tufts University. They introduce Vol. 1820 in Reframing Cognition: Getting Down to Biological Basics and Vol. 1821 in Uncovering Cognitive Similarities and Differences, Conservation and Innovation.

By way of this diverse, multipart, authoritative collection, life’s sentient qualities can now be steadily traced back to their earliest stirrings. In respect, the phenomenal presence of common, recurrent principles and processes are found to ramify in modular and mosaic forms all the way to our late worldwise phase. Thus life’s long course of an emergent evolution quite appears as a grand learning endeavor unto self-realization, altogether as a quickening, procreative gestation of personal selves.

For some V. 1820 papers see Origins of Eukaryotic Excitability by Kristy Wan and Gaspar Jekely, Grounding Cognition by William Bechtel and Leonardo Bich, and Collective Decisions in Social Bacteria by Celine Dinet, et al. In V. 1821 we note Individuality, Self and Sociality of Vascular Plants by Frantisek Balusha and Stefano Mancuso, Elementary Nervous Systems by Detiev Arendt, Reafference and the Origin of the Self in Early Nervous System Evolution by Gaspar Jekely, et al, Elementary Nervous Systems by Detlev Arendt and Evolutionary Transitions in Learning and Cognition by Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka.

Despite decades of research into the subject, no agreement exists about where cognition is found in the living world. This two-part theme issue on the emerging field of ‘Basal Cognition’ pursues Darwin’s insight that life’s ‘mental faculties’ evolved early with physical embodiment and in parallel with it. Articles in Part 1 (Conceptual tools and the view from the single cell) range from molecules to unicellulars (bacteria, amoeba, slime moulds). Part 2 (Multicellularity, neurons and the cognitive lens) addresses plants, the neural revolution and cognitive cellular behaviour in development and regeneration. A working definition of cognition—a rarity—provides material for endless debate. (Double Issue Abstract)

The evolutionary origin of nervous systems has been a matter of long-standing debate. Earlier studies addressed their origins at the cellular level and vertical sensory-motor reflex arcs. Later work considered the tissue level. Here I will discuss divergent views and explore how they can be validated by molecular and single-cell data. A possible consensus could be: (i) the first manifestation of the nervous system likely was a nerve net, whereas specialized local circuits evolved later; (ii) different nerve nets may have evolved for the coordination of contractile or cilia-driven movements; (iii) all evolving nerve nets facilitated new forms of animal behaviour with increasing body size. (D. Arendt Abstract)

Our evolutionary transition learning capacity scale is based on qualitative changes in the integration, storage and use of neurally processed information. We recognize five major neural transitions: (i) the advance from learning in non-neural animals to the first neural animals; (ii) the transition to animals with elemental associative learning, entailing neural centralization and brain differentiation; (iii) animals capable of unlimited associations, which constitutes sentience and entails hierarchical brain organization and dedicated memory and value networks; (iv) imaginative animals that can plan and learn through selection among virtual events; and (v) human symbol-based cognition and cultural learning. (Ginsberg & Jablonka Abstract)

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.

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)

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