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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

2. The Evolution of Cerebral Form and Cognizance

Kording, Konrad. Bayesian Statistics: Relevant for the Brain? Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 25/130, 2014. In a special issue on Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience, a Northwestern University biophysicist advocates this approach which is lately coming into use across the sciences for optimal choices from a population of options. A best or sufficient bet is achieved by according new experience and/or responses with prior learned memory. For example, Richard Watson, et al (search 2014) proposes life’s evolution as proceeding this way. See also Automatic Discovery of Cell Types and Microcircuitry from Neural Connectomics by Kording and Eric Jonas at arXiv:1407.4137. The whole issue of some 32 articles, e.g. by Adrienne Fairhall, Stanislav Dehaene, and Leslie Valiant, is a significant entry to an endeavor by worldwise humanity to reveal the creaturely cerebration that brought me and We to be. With “connectome” often cited, the papers seem as if they could equally apply to genomes. Might a better term be a “neurome” equivalent?

Bayesian statistics can be seen as a model of the way we understand things. Our sensors are noisy and ambiguous as several worlds could give rise to the same sensor readings. We therefore have uncertainty in our data and cannot be certain which model or hypothesis we should believe in. However, we can considerably reduce uncertainty about the world using previously acquired knowledge and by interpreting data across sensors and time. As new data comes in, we update our hypotheses. Bayesian statistics is the rigorous way of calculating the probability of a given hypothesis in the presence of such kinds of uncertainty. With Bayesian statistics, previously acquired knowledge is called prior, while newly acquired sensory information is called likelihood. (130)

Neural connectomics has begun producing massive amounts of data, necessitating new analysis methods to discover the biological and computational structure. It has long been assumed that discovering neuron types and their relation to microcircuitry is crucial to understanding neural function. Here we developed a nonparametric Bayesian technique that identifies neuron types and microcircuitry patterns in connectomics data. It combines the information traditionally used by biologists, including connectivity, cell body location and the spatial distribution of synapses, in a principled and probabilistically-coherent manner. (arXiv Abstract)

Laughlin, Simon and Terrence Sejnowski. Communication in Neuronal Networks. Science. 301/1870, 2003. The article reports on a linear relation between cortical white and grey matter for 59 mammalian species expressed by a power law which spans five orders of magnitude from the pygmy shrew to the elephant.

Lefebvre, Louis and Daniel Sol. Brains, Lifestyles and Cognition: Are There General Trends? Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 72/2, 2008. McGill University neurobiologists contribute to the discovery of an amplifying encephalization and erudition being found across the Metazoan kingdoms. Upon reflection, might we consequent embrained, collaborative humans be able to finally perceive the grand learning process of a self-discovering genesis universe?

Comparative and experimental approaches to cognition in different animal taxa suggest some degree of convergent evolution. Similar cognitive trends associated with similar lifestyles (sociality, generalism, new habitats) are seen in taxa that are phylogenetically distant and possess remarkably different brains. Many cognitive measures show positive intercorrelations at the inter-individual and inter-taxon level, suggesting some degree of general intelligence. (135) From apes to birds, fish and beetles, a few common principles appear to have influenced the evolution of brains and cognition in widely divergent taxa. (135)

Lefebvre, Louis, et al. Large Brains and Lengthened Life History Periods in Odontocetes. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 68/4, 2006. Whales and dolphins exhibit the same parallel between cerebral volume and length of life as do other phyla. Upon reflection, one might perceive an evolutionary propensity for life to manifestly grow in cognizance and yearly duration, so as to ramify into a more prominent cosmic presence.

Most of the studies on mammalian life history correlates of brain size have concentrated on primates. In general, the studies show that life span and time to sexual maturity are positively associated with relative brain size. Similar patterns have been found in other groups of mammals, as well as birds, suggesting a general association among longevity, development time and encephalization. (219)

Lopez-Larrea, Carlos, ed. Sensing in Nature. Dordrecht: Springer, 2012. A comprehensive collection across the creaturely scales and their relative cerebration as to how we all are aware, respond, interact, survive, and prevail. The abiding theme is a gradated consistency from the earliest rudiments to reflective humans. See for example Eusocial Evolution and Recognition Systems, Plant Communication, Identifying Self- and Nonself-Generated Signals, onto the Neurobiology of Sociability and Immune Systems Evolution. Concluding chapters The Neural Basis of Semantic and Episodic forms of Self-Knowledge by D’Argembean and Salmon, and Hallmarks of Consciousness by Ann Butler are reviewed separately.

Biological systems are an emerging discipline that may provide integrative tools by assembling the hierarchy of interactions among genes, proteins and molecular networks involved in sensory systems. The aim of this volume is to provide a picture, as complete as possible, of the current state of knowledge of sensory systems in nature. The presentation in this book lies at the intersection of evolutionary biology, cell and molecular biology, physiology and genetics. Sensing in Nature is written by a distinguished panel of specialists and is intended to be read by biologists, students, scientific investigators and the medical community. (Publisher)

One of the most important biological discoveries of the past two decades is that most animals share specific families of genes that regulate major aspects of body patterns. In several instances, shared aspects of development and regulatory gene expression reflect the evolution of pre-existing ancestral structures. Cell signalling pathways are constructed from a limited number of component types that rely upon a small number of discrete mechanisms of action. The discovery of this universal genetic toolkit for an animal’s development has had important impacts. Evolution appears to have converged on the same network motifs on different systems, suggesting that they were selected because of their functions.

Lotem, Arnon and Joseph Halpern. Coevolution of Learning and Data-Acquisition Mechanisms: A Model for Cognitive Evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 367/2686, 2012. A Tel-Aviv University zoologist and a Cornell University computer scientist propose an interactive ratchet-like process as creatures find out what is going on around them and their cerebral development for the ability to do so. See also The Evolution of Continuous Learning of the Structure of the Environment by Oren Kolodny, Shimon Edelman, and Arnon Lotem in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface (Online January 2014).

A fundamental and frequently overlooked aspect of animal learning is its reliance on compatibility between the learning rules used and the attentional and motivational mechanisms directing them to process the relevant data (called here data-acquisition mechanisms). We propose that this coordinated action, which may first appear fragile and error prone, is in fact extremely powerful, and critical for understanding cognitive evolution. Using basic examples from imprinting and associative learning, we argue that by coevolving to handle the natural distribution of data in the animal's environment, learning and data-acquisition mechanisms are tuned jointly so as to facilitate effective learning using relatively little memory and computation. We then suggest that this coevolutionary process offers a feasible path for the incremental evolution of complex cognitive systems, because it can greatly simplify learning. This is illustrated by considering how animals and humans can use these simple mechanisms to learn complex patterns and represent them in the brain. We conclude with some predictions and suggested directions for experimental and theoretical work. (Abstract)

Lui, Jan, et al. Development and Evolution of the Human Neocortex. Cell. 146/1, 2011. As many citations here report, novel neuroimaging capabilities, often with 3D streaming video, not possible much earlier, are opening luminous portals on brain anatomy and cognition, not only for humans but across the animal kingdom. With coauthors David Hansen and Arnold Kriegstein, University of California, San Francisco, neuroscientists find our cerebral endowment to be much a “scaled-up primate brain.” Neural growth is then traced and compared via brain cross-sections to elephant, manatee, capybara, ferret, bushbaby, mouse, and brown bat. May we now witness, from our global cognitive vista, life’s long encephalization as if an emergent embryonic maturation of a singular earthly faculty?

Lyon, Pamela. Of What is “Minimal Cognition” the Half-Baked Version? Adaptive Behavior. Online September, 2019. A Flinders University, Adelaide natural philosopher (search) seeks to counter the popular use of this phrase for an early advent of neural faculties. She advises a better appreciation beyond marking any prior time when sensory abilities did not exist or were not present at all. Relative sentience does not and can not spring from insensate nothingness, it must be a natural, incarnate quality. See also Conditions for Minimal Intelligence Across Eukaryota by Paco Calvo and Frantisek Baluska in Frontiers in Psychology and Evolutionary Convergence and Biological Embodied Cognition by Fred Keijzer in Interface Focus (7/20160123, 2017).

“Minimal cognition” is used in certain sectors of the cognitive sciences to make a kind of ontological claim: that a function operating in organisms living today is not a fully fledged version of that function, but, rather, exhibits the minimal requirements for whatever it is, properly conceived. This article argues that “minimal cognition” and “proto-cognitive” were introduced at the turn of this century by researchers seeking to learn directly from evolved behavior, ecology and physiology. An alternative terminology is proposed, based on a phyletically neutral definition of cognition as a biological function; a candidate mechanism is explored; and a bacterial example presented. On this story, cognition is like respiration: ubiquitously present, from unicellular life to blue whales and every form of life in between, and for similar reasons: staying alive requires it. (Abstract excerpt)

Lyon, Pamela. The Cognitive Cell: Bacterial Behavior Reconsidered. Frontiers in Microbiology. Vol.6/Art.264, 2015. The Flinders University, Adelaide cognitive physiologist continues her perceptions of microbial activities as indicative of and distinguished by a deeply abiding intelligence.

Research on how bacteria adapt to changing environments underlies the contemporary biological understanding of signal transduction (ST), and ST provides the foundation of the information-processing approach that is the hallmark of the ‘cognitive revolution,’ which began in the mid-20th century. Yet cognitive scientists largely remain oblivious to research into microbial behavior that might provide insights into problems in their own domains, while microbiologists seem equally unaware of the potential importance of their work to understanding cognitive capacities in multicellular organisms, including vertebrates. Evidence in bacteria for capacities encompassed by the concept of cognition is reviewed. Parallels exist not only at the heuristic level of functional analogue, but also at the level of molecular mechanism, evolution and ecology, which is where fruitful cross-fertilization among disciplines might be found. (Abstract)

Ma, Xiaoya, et al. Complex Brain and Optic Lobes in an Early Cambrian Arthropod. Nature. 490/258, 2012. An international team of Xiaoya Ma and Xianguang Hou, Yunnan University, Gregory Edgecombe, Natural History Museum, London, and Nicholas Strausfeld, University of Arizona, are able for the first time to reconstruct the cerebral anatomy of the invertebrate phylum Arthropoda of insects, arachnids and crustaceans. As a result, rather than finding primitive neural system rudiments, even at this ancient stage an intricate, efficiently developed, neurological apparatus is present.

The nervous system provides a fundamental source of data for understanding the evolutionary relationships between major arthropod groups. Fossil arthropods rarely preserve neural tissue. As a result, inferring sensory and motor attributes of Cambrian taxa has been limited to interpreting external features, such as compound eyes or sensilla decorating appendages, and early-diverging arthropods have scarcely been analysed in the context of nervous system evolution. Here we report exceptional preservation of the brain and optic lobes of a stem-group arthropod from 520 million years ago, Fuxianhuia protensa, exhibiting the most compelling neuroanatomy known from the Cambrian.

Resolving arguments about whether the simple brain of a branchiopod approximates an ancestral insect brain or whether it is the result of secondary simplification has until now been hindered by lack of fossil evidence. The complex brain of Fuxianhuia accords with cladistic analyses on the basis of neural characters, suggesting that Branchiopoda derive from a malacostracan-like ancestor but underwent evolutionary reduction and character reversal of brain centres that are common to hexapods and malacostracans. The early origin of sophisticated brains provides a probable driver for versatile visual behaviours, a view that accords with compound eyes from the early Cambrian that were, in size and resolution, equal to those of modern insects and malacostracans. (Abstract)

MacLean, Paul. The Triune Brain in Evolution. New York: Plenum, 1990. The originator of the famous theory of three subsequent stages of brain development - reptilian, paleomammalian and neomammalian - goes on to propose these are a product of self-organizing, fractal dynamics, which can describe a “fractogenesis.”

Marcus, Gary. The Birth of the Mind. New York: Basic Books, 2004. This work by a New York University neuropsychologist considers how genes influence thought and observes a linear continuity across the entire evolution of brain development as it maintains a basic architecture that expands in size and modular complexity.

Although the nervous system of a flatworm is vastly less complex than ours, the resemblance in overall organization is striking, a consequence of the fact that many of the genes guiding the pattern of the brain of a human relate closely to genes involved in the patterning of the nervous system of the worm. (117)

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