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

D. An Enhancement of Autonomous Individuality

Rosslenbroich, Bernd. The Notion of Progress in Evolutionary Biology. Biology and Philosophy. 21/1, 2006. Surely evolution has proceeded with an emergent directionality. How then to seek a middle way between strong claims or their abandonment? After an extensive historical review of ramifying trends – complexity, differentiation, metabolism efficiency, communication, energy usage, neural capabilities, and so on – the most evident advance is said to be individual autonomy from and control over the environment.

Rosslenbroich, Bernd. The Theory of Increasing Autonomy in Evolution. Biology & Philosophy. 24/5, 2009. The University of Witten-Herdecke biologist updates his views on a convergent liberation proceeding from prokaryotic cells to eukaryotes, and onto multicellular organisms by way of the self-contained closure of a symbiotically homeostatic metabolism. By extension, one wonders whether precious planet earth, lately enveloped by a rudimentary biospheric and noospheric personal organism, in all its climate change gyrations is trying to set an equivalent 98.60 homeostasis?

Sagan, Dorion and Lynn Margulis. The Uncut Self. Albert Tauber, ed. Organism and the Origins of Self. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic, 1991. An innovative essay on autopoietic tendences in evolution which start with bacterial domains and serve to create and sustain a bounded “sense of self.”

Salthe, Stan. Development and Evolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993. A biological and philosophical image of nature not ruled by vicarious Darwinism selection but more like a “developmental cosmology.” This scenario is based on the nascent sciences of complexity and nonequilibrium thermodynamics which can reveal a hierarchical emergence of life guided by an “infodynamics.” The primary movement of this integral, dialectical and semiotic process is toward greater individuation.

Sedikides, Constantine and John Skowronski. The Symbolic Self in Evolutionary Context. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 1/1, 1997. Thoughts on the vectorial manifestation of a unique, aware self.

We propose that the capacity for a symbolic self (a flexible and multifaceted cognitive representation of an organism’s own attributes) in humans is a product of evolution. In pursuing this argument, we note that some primates possess rudimentary elements of a self (an objectified self) and that the symbolic self (a) is a trait that is widely shared among humans, (b) serves adaptive functions, and (c) could have evolved in response to environmental pressures. (80)

Sloan Wilson, David and Daniel O’Brien. Evolutionary Theory and Cooperation in Everyday Life. Levin, Simon, ed. Games, Groups, and the Global Good. Berlin: Springer, 2009. David Sloan Wilson has campaigned for many years, both through theoretical assay and literary essay, please search herein, to properly revise and reintegrate an acceptance of group selection, as the quote reflects. This chapter traces a view of nested, ascendant individuals within Individuals unto an emergent, liberating Selfhood on earth, and in the universe. One might then read a complementarity of persons within a planetary Person, at once ethnic and Earthling.

Thankfully, science has a way of correcting itself, even if decades are sometimes required. In evolutionary theory, the concept of major transitions has turned individualism on its head. We now know that evolution takes place not only be small mutational change – individuals from individual – but by groups becoming so well integrated that they become higher-level organisms in their own right – individuals created from groups. (156)

Thibault, Paul. Simplex Selves, Functional Synergies, and Selving: Languaging in a Complex World. Language Sciences. Online April, 2018. A University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway social linguist contributes to a movement in this field, harking to Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), Alain Berthoz, Nigel Love and others, which contends that human beings are most engaged in an evolutionary and development endeavor to enhance themselves as individuals. Thibault dubs this a “selving” process, which is facilitated by our distinctive “languaging” capacities. He views the interactive dialogue as a reciprocity of “autonomy and heteronomy” whence persons grow and flourish as they socialize and communicate. All of which, one ought to note, is a good northern version of African ubuntu wisdom. See also Evolution Lineages and Human Language by Stephen Cowley and Anton Markos for a companion entry in the same journal (April 2018) and Vincenzo Raimondi herein.

In this paper, I present selves as simplex structures that construct themselves and are constructed in and through the embodied socio-cognitive dynamics of ‘selving’. Selving arises and takes place in dialogically coordinated languaging activity. In complex social and cultural worlds, simplex selves-in-languaging constitute and stabilise their own and others' experience. Thus, while human subjectivity is foundational, a self emerges from an ontogenetic history – it is a bodily-based time-extended process that generates a sense of its felt agency. The self is thus empowered to enact an embodied and enduring anima that is intrinsic to a living human being: it appears in articulatory acts and, dramatically, when people engage with each other by means of what is generically called ‘languaging’. The analysis shows how, on at least some occasions, selving is a matter of configuring personal meaning and adapting and integrating it to second-order cultural resources in ways that are amenable to a description of languaging activity in terms of a three-part structure. (Abstract excerpts)

Humans enact open dynamic far-from-equilibrium biological systems to select actions that contribute to their recursive self-maintenance – their structural integrity – over time. However, selves are also rather more than this. They develop as ‘time extended processes’ that select actions that will contribute bothe to their own and to others’ recursive self-individuation and, indeed, to the realization of values for the other selves encountered in their social and cultural worlds. (2)

Varela, Francisco. Organism: A Meshwork of Selfless Selves. Albert Tauber, ed. Organism and the Origins of Self. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic, 1991. The late neuroscientist cofounder of autopoietic systems theory illustrates their recursive dynamics of emergent complexity with regard to their self-making capability.

My purpose for bringing up this issue of the self as ‘I’ nevertheless is to emphasize the continuity of the same motif that we discussed at greater length for the cellular and basic cognitive selves. Like a fractal, this motif is repeated over and over again for the various regional selves of the organism. (102)

Varela, Francisco. Patterns of Life: Intertwining Identity and Cognition. Brain and Cognition. 34/2, 1997. An example of Varela's insightful quest for the deep nature of phenomenal mind and body.

Organisms are fundamentally a process of constitution of an identity. (73) The nature of neurocognitive identity just discussed is, like that of the basic cellular self, one of emergence through a distributed process. What I wish to insist upon here is the relatively recent (and stunning!) conclusion that lots of simple agents having simple properties may be brought together, even in a haphazard way, to give rise to what appears to an observer a purposeful and integrated whole, without the need for central supervision. (83)

Wendt, Stephanie and Tomer Czaczkes. Individual Ant Workers Show Self-control. Biology Letters. 13/10, 2017. University of Regensburg, Animal Comparative Economics Lab researchers quantify that even social insects seem to have a modicum of autonomous behavior and contextual awareness. A group, flock, colony interplay of beneficial cohesion along with and maintained by freely active members continues to be nature’s most effective resort of reciprocal me + We = US community.

Self-control can allow humans and animals to improve resource intake under such conditions. Self-control in animals is often investigated using intertemporal choice tasks—choosing a smaller reward immediately or a larger reward after a delay. However, little is still known about self-control in invertebrates. Here, we investigate self-control in the black garden ant Lasius niger. We confront individual workers with a spatial discounting task, offering a high-quality reward far from the nest and a poor-quality reward closer to the nest. Most ants (69%) successfully ignored the closer, poorer reward in favour of the further, better one. However, when both the far and the close rewards were of the same quality, most ants (83%) chose the closer feeder, indicating that the ants were indeed exercising self-control, as opposed to a fixation on an already known food source. (Abstract)

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. See also in the Science journal Evolving New Organisms via Symbiosis by Toby Kiers and Stuart West (348/392, 2015) and How Single Cells Work Together by Jonathan Zehr (349/1163, 2015).

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)

Zimmer, Carl. Expressing Our Individuality, the Way E. Coli Do. New York Times. April 22, 2008. A Science Tuesday report that even for the simplest forms of life such as microbial colonies, individual bacteria are not insensate clones but seem to possess an ability to respond and act in their own, independent ways.

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