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VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

1. Systems Physiology and Psychology: Somatic and Behavioral Development

Ivanov, Plamen. Focus on Network Physiology and Network Medicine. New Journal of Physics. May, 2014. The Boston University and Harvard Medical School systems physician introduces an ongoing series of papers on these integral appreciations of health and well being. Here is another example of this grand unification of soma and cosmos by way of this ubiquitous phenomena just now gaining its physical basis. Please see Amir Bashin herein for more.

The scope of the (ongoing) issue encompasses both network physiology and network medicine, where new concepts and approaches derived from recent advances in the theory of Complex Networks are applied to provide insights into physiological structure and function in health and disease; from the genetic and sub-cellular level to inter-cellular interactions and communications across integrated organ systems. Of particular interest will be new and little-explored areas of network science including the following. Studies on structural and dynamical aspects of physiological systems that transcend time and space scales.

Ivanov, Plamen, et al. Focus on the Emerging New Fields of Network Physiology and Network Medicine. New Journal of Physics. 18/100201, 2016. In this follow up to a 2014 posting by Ivanov herein announcing the special collection, Boston University and Bar-Ilan University scientists summarize the 26 entries about sub-cellular to organismic phenomena. Some entries are Co-controllability of Drug-Disease-Gene Network, Complexity Matching in Neural Networks, and Spreading of Diseased through Comorbidity Networks Across Life and Gender. Nature’s universal network physics can indeed revolutionize how we understand and care for our own somatic selves in sickness and health.

Despite the vast progress and achievements in systems biology and integrative physiology in the last decades, there is still a significant gap in understanding the mechanisms through which (i) genomic, proteomic and metabolic factors and signaling pathways impact vertical processes across cells, tissues and organs leading to the expression of different disease phenotypes and influence the functional and clinical associations between diseases, and (ii) how diverse physiological systems and organs coordinate their functions over a broad range of space and time scales and horizontally integrate to generate distinct physiologic states at the organism level. Two emerging fields, network medicine and network physiology, aim to address these fundamental questions. Novel concepts and approaches derived from recent advances in network theory, coupled dynamical systems, statistical and computational physics show promise to provide new insights into the complexity of physiological structure and function in health and disease, bridging the genetic and sub-cellular level with inter-cellular interactions and communications among integrated organ systems and sub-systems. (Abstract)

Jirsa, Viktor and J. A. Scott Kelso, eds. Coordination Dynamics. Boca Raton, FL: Springer, 2004. These studies of how the activities of bodies and brains become synchronized lead to theories of a universal “coordinative” tendency in complex systems. By this view, an evolutionary vector is indicated toward individual, goal-directed agency.

A central hypothesis of Coordination Dynamics is that spontaneous self-organizing coordination tendencies give rise to agency; that the most fundamental kind of consciousness, the awareness of self, springs from the ground of spontaneous self-organized activity. (ix)

Kelso, Scott. Principles of Dynamic Pattern Formation and Change for a Science of Human Behavior. Lars Bergman, et al, eds. Developmental Science and the Holistic Approach. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2000. Complexity science is applied to functional development to reveal how the perception of a figure/ground, behavior/environmental context reciprocity is crucial to its understanding.

One of the most profound impacts of the ‘new sciences of complexity’….is that the key to understanding ourselves lies in the complementary nature of objective physical description and the no-less-fundamental, apparently subjective context-dependence of living systems. The sciences of life and mind rest on this complementarity. (67)

Klaczynski, Paul. Analytic and Heuristic Processing Influences on Adolescent Reasoning and Decision-Making. Child Development. 72/3, 2001. Two modes of cognition are in effect which can be categorized by “decontextualized” analysis or “contextualized, content-laden representations.”

Kokis, Judite, et al. Heuristic and Analytic Processing: Age Trends and Associations with Cognitive Ability and Cognitive Styles. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 83/1, 2002. In this work, the reciprocal holistic or detail, longer or shorter term memory, faculties reported in Part VI, A Complementary Brain and Thought Process are found to appear both in evolution and development. In each case, the automatic, integrative mode emerges first. By these theories and experiments, the general Paigetan scale is confirmed. But this duality is not associated with a neural architecture even though these findings match the properties and sequence of the right and left brain hemispheres.

Thus, it is assumed in dual-process theories that the heuristic system is an older evolutionary product. A corollary of this assumption is that the heuristic system is also ontogenetically earlier developing – and that the analytic system is both a phylogenetically and ontogenetically later developing system. (27-28)

Kouider, Sid, et al. A Neural Marker of Perceptual Consciousness in Infants. Science. 340/376, 2013. We post for these quantified findings of how smart neonates really are, but also might fetal humankind altogether perceive ourselves as similarly beginning to wake into our own sentience and recognition, if men and tribes only could stop fighting?

In sum, our data indicate that infant perception is organized into a series of stages similarly to adult perception; these include, crucially, a late nonlinear stage that, in adults, systematically accompanies reports of conscious perception and, in infants, correlates with psychophysical thresholds for orienting to masked stimuli. We propose that this late nonlinear response constitutes a new, specific, and objectively measurable candidate marker that putatively reflects conscious perception. (380)

Legerstee, Maria, et al. The Infant Mind: Origins of the Social Brain. New York: Guilford Press, 2012. A major volume that gathers the latest significant research to quantify and qualify how we come into the world so precociously primed to meet and talk to everyone and learn about everything. Part I is Evolutionary, Neural, and Philosophical Approaches to the Social Mind, with a chapter by Robin Dunbar. Further sections cover Gene-Environment Interactions, Dynamic Role of Vision, Memory and Language with Patricia Bauer, Colwyn Trevarthen, and others, Early Experience and Social Development, and Neural Processes of Mental Awareness. At last when it comes to babies, the authors are equally divided between women and men. And reading along one wonders if our nascent humankinder might be likened to an infant planetary progeny just awakening (remember the film 2001) to our maternal and family cosmos?

Lerner, Richard. Developmental Science, Developmental Systems, and Contemporary Theories of Human development. Lerner, Richard, vol. ed. Handbook of Child Psychology. 6th Edition. Vol. 1: Theoretical Models of Human Development. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. This lead article surveys conceptual advances since the 1998 5th edition. Along with chapters by Overton, Gottlieb, et al, and Thelen and Smith cited within, and others, the scientific study of how infants and children develop, learn, behave, speak, interact, has adopted the perspective of self-organizing dynamical systems as much as any field.

Which is worth this comment. If one compares the ratio of men to women on the editorial boards of journals, only in this endeavor does the ratio balance out at 50/50. Physics journals run at 95/5. And maybe as a result, its practitioners seem not typically rent by argument, and can pursue a common approach. A definitive shift from a 20th century reductive, fragmentary, mechanical mode to, one might say, “Systems Child Psychology,” is rightly claimed.

What is then achieved, in further review, is a novel affinity of human and universe. Rather than the Renaissance adult man as microcosmic exemplar, in a 21st century temporally unfolding genesis each individual person over their full gendered life course recapitulates and epitomizes a self-organizing embryonic creation, psychogenesis and cosmogenesis become one and the same.

Lerner, Richard and Janette Benson, eds. Embodiment and Epigenesis: Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Understanding the Role of Biology within the Relational Development System. Advances in Child Development and Behavior. Book 44, 2013. This 400 page edition is a consummate statement of a paradigm shift for this psychology field, underway for past years as this section reports, from an old mechanical reduction to a truer, organic “developmental systems theory” for person, community, and planet. An authoritative paper by Willis Overton “Relationism and Relational Developmental Systems” sets the scenario. In support chapters such as, “Emergence, Self-Organization and Developmental Science” by Gary Greenberg, et al, “The Evolution of Intelligent Developmental Systems,” Ken Richardson, “Embodiment and Agency: Toward a Holistic Synthesis” by David Witherington and Shirley Heying, and others, well confirm. Search these authors for prior work. It is noted that this achievement owes much to its founders Esther Thelen and Linda Smith. A companion 2013 Book 45 covers Ontogenetic Dimensions, e.g., “Developing through Relationships: An Embodies Coactive Systems Framework” by Michael Mascolo. As the Abstracts convey, its essence is to rightly situate individual infant, child, and teenager within expanding familial, educational, social, and environmental contexts whose interactions and influences in turn construct and form ones selfhood. So said, we can enter another instance from physics (Smolin) to theology (Wegter-McNelly) where the missing “relational” mode, a vital yang with yin wholeness, is being recovered and availed.

Relational developmental systems theory explains that any facet of individual structure or function (e.g., genes, the brain, personality, cognition, or intelligence) is embodied, or fused, with other features of the individual and with the characteristics of his or her proximal and distal ecology, including culture and history. Embodiment means that biological, psychological, and behavioral attributes of the person, in fusion with history, have a temporal parameter. This integration among the levels of organization within the developmental system has implications across both ontogeny and phylogeny. Thus, embodiment provides a basis for epigenetics across generations, that is, for changes in gene–context relations within one generation being transmitted to succeeding generations. Embodiment also provides the basis for epigenetic change within the life span of an individual, that is, for qualitative discontinuity across ontogeny in relations among biological, psychological, behavioral, and social variables. (Volume Preface)

This chapter argues that the Cartesian-split-mechanistic scientific paradigm that until recently functioned as the standard conceptual framework for subfields of developmental science (including inheritance, evolution, and organismic—prenatal, cognitive, emotional, motivational, sociocultural—development) has been progressively failing as a scientific research program. An alternative scientific paradigm composed of nested metatheories with relationism at the broadest level and relational developmental systems as a midrange metatheory is offered as a more progressive conceptual framework for developmental science. (Overton Abstract)

This foray into the place of anomalies and progress in scientific research programs is particularly relevant to the developmental science issues that are the focus of this chapter: the movements (1) beyond classic genetics to a postgenomic world; (2) beyond the evolutionary Modern Synthesis to an evolutionary perspective in which individual development plays a constitutive role in evolution; (3) beyond a cognition and cognitive development perspective that encapsulates mental processes in the brain, and to a position that extends mental processes out into the body and into the technological and cultural worlds; and (4) beyond the sociocultural developmental perspective of the individual and culture as split-off entities and to a view of individual and culture as coconstructed, codetermined and codeveloped. (Overton 36)

Our understanding is that psychology is a biopsychosocial science as well as a developmental science. Behavioral origins stem from ontogenetic processes, behavioral as well as biological. Biological factors are simply participating factors in behavioral origins and not causal factors. Psychology is not a biological science; it is a unique psychological science, a natural science consistent and compatible with the principles of the other sciences. Accordingly, we show in this chapter how principles and ideas from other sciences play important roles in psychology. While we focus on the concepts from physics of self-organization and emergence, we also address the cosmological and evolutionary biology idea of increased complexity over time, the organizing principle of integrative levels, and the epigenetic processes that are in part responsible for transgenerational trait transmission. (Greenberg, et al)

This chapter aims to understand the relations between the evolution and development of complex cognitive functions by emphasizing the context of complex, changeable environments. What evolves and develops in such contexts cannot be achieved by linear deterministic processes based on stable “codes”. Rather, what is needed, even in the molecular ensembles of single-cell organisms, are “intelligent” systems with nonlinear dynamic processing, sensitive to informational structures, not just elements, in environments. This is the view emerging in recent molecular biology. The research is also constructing a new “biologic” of both evolution and development, providing a clearer rationale for transitions into more complex forms, including epigenetic, physiological, nervous, cognitive, and human sociocognitive forms. This chapter explains how these transitions form a nested hierarchical system in which the dynamics within and between levels creates emergent abilities so often underestimated or even demeaned in previous accounts, especially regarding human cognition. (Richardson)

Lewis, Jeffery and Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo. Fictions of Childhood: Toward a Sociohistorical Approach to Human Development. Ethos. 32/1, 2004. The same conceptual shift and correction is underway as in other fields from a particulate gene basis to factor in a holistic, nurturing (or lack thereof) social and environmental context in which a child develops. By this turn, the authors say the controlling Western epistemology can be enriched by non-Western and indigenous cultures.

Lewis, Marc. Bridging Emotion Theory and Neurobiology Through Dynamic Systems Modeling. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 28/2, 2005. The University of Toronto psychologist updates and expands his proposal that the complexity sciences can ground and explain the study of human cognition and behavior. At its core is a view of self-organized cognitive processes that give rise to stable neural and psychological configurations which correspond to or represent external experience. The many peer reviews go on to commend this work as a well-conceived and necessary dimension.

Nonlinear dynamical systems operate through reciprocal, recursive, and multiple causal processes, offering a language of causality consistent with the flow of activation among neural components. (169) Broadly defined, self-organization refers to the emergence of novel patterns or structures, the appearance of new levels of integration and organization in existing structures, and the spontaneous transition from states of lower order to states of higher order. Examples are found in ecosystems, social systems, cortical systems, connectionist networks, morphogenesis and ontogenesis, not to mention tennis, music, and sex. (173)

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