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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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V. Life's Corporeal Evolution Encodes and Organizes Itself: An EarthWinian Genesis Synthesis

A. A Major Emergent Evolutionary Transitions Scale

Sumner, Seirian, et al. Molecular Patterns and Processes in Evolving Sociality: Lessons from Insects. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. February, 2023. In a special issue on Collective Behavior through Time, University College London, Iowa State University and York University, Toronto biobehaviorists proceed to trace life’s recurrent propensity to come together in viable assemblies for better evolutionary survival on to this early invertebrate level

Social insects have provided some clearest insights into the origins and evolution of collective behaviour. Over 20 years ago, Maynard Smith and Szathmáry situated complex insect behavior among the major transitions in evolution. However, the processes that underlie the rise from solitary life to a superorganism remain elusive. We present a framework to see if nonlinear step-wise evolution) or linear (incremental evolution) changes in molecular mechanisms are involved. We assess the evidence for these two modes how this framework can be used to test the generality of molecular patterns and processes across other major transitions. (Abstract excerpt)

Szathmary, Eors. Cultural Processes: The Latest Major Transition in Evolution. Nadel, Lynn, editor-in-chief. Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. London: Nature Publishing Group, 2003. A concise summary of the late John Maynard Smith and Szathmary’s theory of evolution as a sequential emergence from molecular gene to human social levels. This increase in complexity proceeds through a recurrent process of divergence, symbiosis, and epigenesis which goes on to form a “higher” whole entity. Each stage is also characterized by a new genetic template from DNA to language. And this scenario is just what would be found if life’s evolution is in fact a self-organizing complex adaptive system.

Szathmary, Eors. Evolution of Language as One of the Major Evolutionary Transitions. Nolfi, Stefano and Marco Mirolli, eds. Evolution of Communication and Language in Embodied Agents. Berlin: Springer, 2010. The cofounder with John Maynard Smith of this large conceptual advance expands on its current linguistic phase. Since social discourse is appreciated as a main formative agency for hominid group culture, language is to be rightly seen as a “novel inheritance system.”

Major transitions happened a number of times in evolution, and always resulted in a significant increase in complexity. For example, the eukaryotic cell is a result of the coming together and coevolution of some initially independent microbial lineages, or multicellular living being arose either through the sticking together or aggregation of related cells. There are some recurrent themes in the major transitions: (1) Independently replicating units come together to form a higher-level unit. (2) Appearance of novel inheritance systems. (3) Division of labor or combination of functions. (4) Contingent irreversibility. (5) Central Control. (49-50)

Szathmary, Eors. Toward Major Evolutionary Transition Theory 2.0. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112/10104, 2015. A presentation at the October 2014 NAS Sackler Colloquium: Symbioses Becoming Permanent: The Origins and Evolutionary Trajectories of Organelles by the Eotvos University, Hungary, biologist and founder with John Maynard Smith in 1995 of this natural iterative scale. This 20 year review and update of nuances and verifications serves to aver its current mainstream acceptance. From protocells at life’s origin to nucleotides, eukaryotic cells, plastid organelles, organisms, eusocial cooperation onto symbolic human sapience, a nested sequence was facilitated in each case by a novel informational “inheritance system.” Gradual Darwinian selection is not mentioned, presently replaced by this axial oriented emergence, which quite bodes for a genesis synthesis.

From Lower to Higher Level Evolutionary Units The first common feature is the transition from independent replicators to form higher level units: for example, genes ganged up in protocells, prokaryotes joined to constitute the eukaryotic cell, protist cells stacked together to form multicellular organisms, and so on. In order for such a transition to be successful, evolution at the lower level must be somehow constrained by the higher level. I adopt the view of (Andrew) Bourke (search), who suggested that major transitions should typically be cut into three phases: the formation, maintenance, and transformation of social groups. (10104)

Townsend, Cathryn, et al. Human Cooperation and Evolutionary Transitions. Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B. February, 2023. Baylor University anthropologists and psychologists offer their retrospect of how earlier human social, economic, political and national occasions can be viewed in this light as “egalitarian organisms” with mutual private property and shared resources. In regard, a global phase may at last be able altogether to recognize how it came to appear, coalesce, and succeed whereby an ETI perspective can provide a viable explanation.

A major evolutionary transition in individuality involves the formation of a cooperative group as it becomes a relative personal entity. Human cooperation then shares principles with multicellular organisms that have undergone an emergence. transitions such as division of labour, communication, and fitness interdependence. A hominins adapted to terrestrial niches, we posit that it set in motion a positive feedback pressure for cooperative sociality, communication, brains, cognition, kin relations and technology. As a result, egalitarian societies with cultural mores were formed. Fast forward, the pace of information, innovation and transmission enabled a homo sapiens population growth with growing abilities to cooperate and compete. Alas, socioeconomic inequality, persistent conflict and much more still subverts potential transition of human groups into evolutionary entities. (Excerpt)

Turney, Peter. Modeling Major Transitions in Evolution with the Game of Life. arXiv:1908.07034. We cite this entry (bio below) as a rate exercise to consider and model a further phase of this iterative, nested emergent sequence as it may reach a worldwise personsphere individuality. See also Conditions for Major Transitions in Biological and Cultural Evolution at by the author at arXiv:1806.07941 and Symbiosis Promotes Fitness Improvements in the Game of Life in Artificial Life (26/3, 2020).

Maynard Smith and Szathmáry's book The Major Transitions in Evolution describes eight events in the evolution of life on Earth and a common theme that unites them. In each case, smaller entities came together to form larger, inclusive stages by way of symbiosis and/or cooperation. Here we present a computational simulation of evolving entities that includes symbiosis with shifting levels of selection. The experiments show that a small amount of symbiosis, added to the other layers, significantly increases the fitness of the population. We suggest that, in addition to providing new insights into biological and cultural evolution, this model of symbiosis may have practical applications in evolutionary computation, such as in the task of learning deep neural network models. (Abstract)

Dr. Peter Turney is a scientist based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. He is currently a Research Scholar with the Ronin Institute since 2018. He was a Senior Research Scientist at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence from 2015 to 2017, a Principal Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) from 1989 to 2014, and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa.

Waring, Timothy and Zachary Wood. Long-term Gene-culture Coevolution and the Human Evolutionary Transition. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. May, 2021. University of Maine sustainability scholars provide a latest, thorough study of how our homocene to anthropocene, local to global, emergence can well be appreciated as a further spherical scale. A bibliography from Alfred Kroeber and Herbert Spencer to current work conveys how such a “superorganic” phase has long been suggested. Herein, a historic passage from genetic to cultural “inheritance,” from genome to memory, is found to be a prime causal rationale. Thus we reach Section 4. Rethinking the Human Evolutionary Transition in Individuality. But as we often say, it would be of much benefit to realize that this planetary progeny appears to be learning and gaining knowledge on her/his own.

It has been suggested that the human species may be undergoing an evolutionary transition in individuality (ETI). But an issue is how to apply the ETI framework to our species, and whether culture is a cause or consequence. Some have argued that culture steers human evolution, while others propose that genes hold culture on a leash. We review the literature and evidence on long-term GCC in humans and find a set of common themes. First, culture appears to hold more adaptive potential than inheritance. The evolutionary impact of culture occurs mainly through organized human groupings of many kinds. Second, the role of culture appears to be overtaking genetic evolution. Altogether, these findings suggest that human GC coevolution constitutes an evolutionary transition in inheritance (from genes to culture) and in individuality (from genetic individual to cultural group). (Abstract excerpt)

Warrell, Jonathan and Mark Gerstein. Cyclical and Multilevel Causation in Evolutionary Processes. Biology & Philosophy. 35/Art.50, 2020. Yale University computational biophysicists and geneticists (search MG) post a 36 page careful consideration of how novel machine learning techniques and models seem able to gain deeper insights about into life’s structured developmental advance, better ways to understand and mitigate diseases and a sense of identities.

We develop here a general theoretical framework for analyzing evolutionary processes drawing on recent approaches to causal modeling developed in the machine-learning literature, which have extended Pearls do-calculus to incorporate cyclic causal interactions and multilevel causation. We show how our causal framework helps to clarify conceptual issues in the contexts of complex trait analysis and cancer genetics, including assigning variation in an observed trait to genetic, epigenetic and environmental sources in the presence of epigenetic and environmental feedback processes, and variation in fitness to mutation processes in cancer using a multilevel causal model respectively. Finally, we consider the potential relevance of our framework to biology and evolution, including supervenience, multilevel selection and individuality. (Abstract excerpt)

Watson, Richard, et al. Design for an Individual: Connectionist Approaches to the Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.. March, 2022. This entry to a Major Evolutionary Transitions issue (Nonacs) by RW, University of Southampton, Michael Levin, Tufts University and Christopher Buckley, University of Sussex contributes a quantified affirmation that each subsequent level of life’s emergence does constitute a new personal entity. As the authors (search) have noted, this long oriented course can now define trace a stirring neural cognizance from its basal, minimum origin. As a result, as life and mind evolves and learns, an early connectionism model can gain credible utility. A graphic displays how isolate entities become interactive to an extent that they deepen and form a new, higher relative personal group. The collegial paper achieves a broad, 2020s verification of this nested scale, with all it implies for a personsphere sapience.

From our late year, we might view evolution not how it makes individuals better adapted, but how it creates organisms themselves. All such entities are made of parts that used to be units by themselves. In these “evolutionary transitions in individuality” the component elements (cells) work together to form new organismic entity upon which selection can act. Here we seek to explain by way of adaptive principles in learning systems such as connectionist neural networks. By this model, functional relationships between components integrate information integration and act collectively action, can result via distributed and unsupervised methods. We explore interactive structures necessary for (a) evolutionary individuality (b) organismic individuality and (c) non-linear connectionist networks. (Excerpt)

West, Stuart, et al. Major Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112/10112, 2015. A paper for the 2014 NAS Sackler Colloquium entitled Symbioses Becoming Permanent: The Origins and Evolutionary Trajectories of Organelles about confirmations of life’s communal emergence as due to pervasive symbiotic unions. In accord with Eors Szathmary’s presentation at this meeting (search), this nested, manifest scale could be seen as regnant, liberated persons in relative communities.

The evolution of life on earth has been driven by a small number of major evolutionary transitions. These transitions have been characterized by individuals that could previously replicate independently, cooperating to form a new, more complex life form. For example, archaea and eubacteria formed eukaryotic cells, and cells formed multicellular organisms. However, not all cooperative groups are en route to major transitions. How can we explain why major evolutionary transitions have or haven’t taken place on different branches of the tree of life? We break down major transitions into two steps: the formation of a cooperative group and the transformation of that group into an integrated entity. We show how these steps require cooperation, division of labor, communication, mutual dependence, and negligible within-group conflict. We find that certain ecological conditions and the ways in which groups form have played recurrent roles in driving multiple transitions. In contrast, we find that other factors have played relatively minor roles at many key points, such as within-group kin discrimination and mechanisms to actively repress competition. More generally, by identifying the small number of factors that have driven major transitions, we provide a simpler and more unified description of how life on earth has evolved. (Abstract)

Wilson, David Sloan, et al. Multilevel Selection Theory and Major Evolutionary Transitions. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 17/1, 2008. As this synthesis gains acceptance, human persons can be seen poised for a further integration into various organism-like group assemblies which can take on a modicum of their own cognition and mind, surely an occasion of import for psychologists.

When between-group selection dominates within-group selection, a major evolutionary transition occurs. The social group becomes a higher-level organism and the members of the group acquire an organ-like status. This idea was first proposed to explain the evolution of eukaryotic (nucleated) cells, not by small mutational steps from prokaryotic (bacterial) cells but as highly integrated symbiotic associations of bacteria. The idea was then generalized to include other major transitions, including the first cells, multicellular organisms, social insect colonies, and even the origin of life as groups of cooperating molecular interactions. (7)

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