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

C. Personal Agency and Adaptive Behavior in Supportive Societies.

Parker, Sue Taylor, et al, eds. Self-awareness in Animals and Humans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. An evolutionary trend is evident with regard to self-recognition, because of its adaptive value. From invertebrate origins it is seen to rise through mammalian families to prosimians and great apes and on to human knowing, a pathway generally retraced in infants and children.

Potter, Henry and Kevin Mitchell. Naturalising Agent Causation. Entropy. 24/4, 2022. A Trinity College Dublin geneticist and a neuroscientist pick up on the current evolutionary reset whence organisms are no longer passive subjects before selective forces, but self-empowered agents in supportive groupings who can alter and manage external and environmental conditions to their advantage. (If one might then go far afield to a concurrent entry about the cosmologist Renate Loll, this quantum universe is self-organizing in its deepest essence.)

The idea of agent causation — that a living organism can be a cause of things in the world — is often seen at odds with the physicalist thesis that is the core crux of science and philosophy. But into these 202s, we present a framework of eight self-organizing criteria that can overcome the prior issues of agent causality in a naturalistic way: (1) thermodynamic autonomy, (2) persistence, (3) endogenous activity, (4) holistic integration, (5) low-level indeterminacy, (6) multiple realisability, (7) historicity, (8) agent-level normativity. (Excerpt)

To summarise, systems can be agents if they are self-organising and causally insulated enough to persist through time, and out of thermodynamic equilibrium with the environment. To avoid external determinism, they need to be intrinsically active, treating external inputs more as helpful information. The proactivity of these systems entails a holistically integrated structure, in which parts are too interconnected and context-dependent to be understood in a machine-like, decomposable, linear fashion. On top of this, these systems can be driven by meaning and reasons because higher-order organisational patterns are able to coarse-grain over microphysical happenings by virtue of the existence of some degree of indeterminacy at lower levels. (14)

Radzvilavicius, Arunas and Neil Blackstone. The Evolution of Individuality Revisted. Biological Reviews. Online March, 2018. University of Pennsylvania and Northern Illinois University biologists survey how the major evolutionary transitions MTE scale is gaining clarification and validity at each stage as a relative emergence of a personal entity. From genomic origins to eukaryotic cells, multicellularity and collective cooperation beyond, nature’s “hierarchical organization” is becoming well sketched out. As endorsed by Stuart West, Richard Michod and others (search Gissis), a novel Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality ETI model ihas an increasing currency.

Evolutionary theory is formulated in terms of individuals that carry heritable information and are subject to selective pressures. However, an individual is not an indivisible entity, but a result of evolutionary processes that necessarily begin at the lower level of hierarchical organisation. Traditional approaches to biological individuality focus on cooperation and relatedness within a group, division of labour, policing mechanisms and strong selection at the higher level. Nevertheless, a full dynamical first‐principles account of how new types of individuals arise is missing. Here we review some of the most influential theoretical work on the role of individuating mechanisms in these transitions, and demonstrate how a lower‐level, bottom‐up evolutionary framework can be used to understand biological complexity involved in the origin of cellular life, early eukaryotic evolution, sexual life cycles and multicellular development. In this way, individuality can be reconceptualised as an approximate model that with varying degrees of precision applies to a wide range of biological systems. (Abstract excerpts)

Ratcliff, William, et al. Nascent Life Cycles and the Emergence of Higher-Level Individuality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 372/1735, 2018. WR and Matthew Herron, Georgia Tech, Peter Conlin, University of Washington, and Eric Libby, Santa Fe Institute quantify specific course that a “lower” single cell phase might readily evolve and emerge into a distinct multicellular organism.

Evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETIs) occur when formerly autonomous organisms evolve to become parts of a new, ‘higher-level’ organism. One of the first major hurdles that must be overcome during an ETI is the emergence of Darwinian evolvability in the higher-level entity (a multicellular group), and the loss of Darwinian autonomy in the lower-level units (individual cells). Here, we examine how simple higher-level life cycles are a key innovation during an ETI, allowing this transfer of fitness to occur ‘for free’. We show how novel life cycles can arise and lead to the origin of higher-level individuals by (i) mitigating conflicts between levels of selection, (ii) engendering the expression of heritable higher-level traits and (iii) allowing selection to efficiently act on these emergent higher-level traits. By stabilizing the fragile first steps of an evolutionary transition in individuality, nascent higher-level life cycles may play a crucial role in the origin of complex life. (Abstract)

Read, Dwight. Change in the Form of Evolution: Transition from Primate to Hominid Forms of Social Organization. International Conference on Complex Systems. May 16-21, 2004. A presentation by the UCLA anthropologist which argues that biologically based evolution was surpassed when primate societies became increasingly driven by group relations and linguistic communication. As a result, a greater degree of personal individuation occurs as group members socialize. Read’s own website, www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/read. contains several recent papers that explore how mathematics and dynamic systems theory can inform this field of endeavor. An abstract is available at www.necsi.org.

Roli, Andrea, et al. How Organisms Come to Know the World: Fundamental Limits on Artificial General Intelligence. OSF Preprints. November 4, 2021. AR, University of Bologna, Johannes Jaeger, Complexity Science Hub, Vienna and Stuart Kauffman, Institute of Systems Biology, Seattle polyscholars (search each) claim that while advances in AGI continue to be made, it will be unable to match human intelligence due to its algorithmic machine basis. In contrast, biological beings possess an individual agency which conceive active “affordances” in response to variable situations and environments. As Stuart K. advises, our lives move forward into an “adjacent possible.” These behaviors are beyond any AGI, and their evolutionary occasion can track an emergent personal autonomy. That is to say, organic entities have far more engagement with their own life course. As other current works such as The Evolution of Agency by Michael Tomasello (MIT, 2022) attest, a wider, ontogenetic passage from UniVerse to WumanVerse can well be seen as a proactive, self-making individuation. (See also The Third Transition in Science: A Statistical Mechanics of Emergence by Kauffman and Roli at arXiv:2106.15271).

Artificial intelligence AI has made tremendous advances since its inception in the 1950s. However, there are now significant obstacles on this path. General intelligence involves situational reasoning, taking perspectives, choosing goals, and dealing with ambiguous information. Here we note that such characteristics involve an ability to identify and engage new affordances or opportunities as an agent seeks to live forward, which cannot be treated algorithmically. Thus only organisms can do this. Our inferential view also has important consequences for evolutionary theory.. We argue that organismic agency is required for open-ended evolution through radical emergence. (Abstract excerpt)

These insights limit what mechanistic science and engineering can understand and achieve when it comes to agency and evolutionary innovation. This affects the study of any kind of agential system in computer science, biology, the social sciences and onto ecosystems or the economy. In these areas, any formal approach will remain incomplete. This has repercussions for the philosophy of science with respect to learning about the world. If it is divided into a finite set of categories, it is difficult to see altogether and beyond. The evolution of scientific knowledge is then not entailed by no law. (19)

In regard, what would a “meta-mechanistic” science look like? Its concepts and methods are only now being elaborated. But for it will be moved to take agency seriously. It will allow a teleological behavior that is rooted in the self-referential closure of organization in living systems. It is naturalistic but not reductive. Goals, actions, and affordances are emergent properties of organismal agents and their relations to the world of meaning they live in. This radical ascendancy will go beyond predetermined ontologies as it moves into the adjacent possible. This novel worldview could then be seen as a 2020s semblance of r Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy of organism (1929). It sees the world less as a clockwork, and more like an evolving ecosystem, whence open creativities are centered around beneficial affordances. (20)

OSF Preprints is a free, open source web application that connects and supports an active research workflow so to help scientists to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their research. Researchers use OSF to collaborate, document, archive, share, and register research projects, materials, and data.

Rosslenbroich, Bernd. On the Origin of Autonomy: A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution. Heidelberg: Springer, 2014. In this book, I develop the proposal that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase individual organismal autonomy in the sense of emancipation from the environment with changes in the capacity for flexibility, self-regulation, and self-control of behavior. (3) The University of Witten/Herdecke physiologist provides a book-length treatment of his hypothesis that a progressive manifestation of personal liberties, within reciprocal symbiotic groupings, is a main axial trend and vector of life’s episodic emergence. The text opens with an historic and current survey, noting the companion 2015 work of Alvaro Moreno and Matteo Mossio (search). Chapters proceed from major transitions in the early Cambrian to complex dynamic functions across bodies to brains, and onto increasing freedoms in supportive communities. A good review by Daniel McShea in Biology & Philosophy (February 2015) wonders if this feature might be life's most distinctive trend.

In recent years ideas about major transitions in evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. The author states that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase in individual organismal autonomy whereby it is emancipated from the environment with changes in its capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior. The first chapters define the concept of autonomy and examine its history and its epistemological context. Later chapters demonstrate how changes in autonomy took place during the major evolutionary transitions and investigate the generation of organs and physiological systems. They synthesize material from various disciplines including zoology, comparative physiology, morphology, molecular biology, neurobiology and ethology. It is argued that the concept is also relevant for understanding the relation of the biological evolution of man to his cultural abilities. Finally the relation of autonomy to adaptation, niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and other factors and patterns in evolution is discussed.

Rosslenbroich, Bernd. The Evolution of Multicellularity in Animals as a Shift in Biological Autonomy. Theory in Biosciences. 123/243, 2005. An early surmise by the University of Witten-Herdecke biologist that the course of evolution may be seen to proceed towards an enhanced, emergent individuality. Per 2012, a manuscript is now in review with the title On the Origins of Autonomy: A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution

The hypothesis is advanced that major evolutionary innovations are characterized by an increase of organismal autonomy in the sense of an emancipation from the environment. After a brief overview of the literature on this concept, increasing autonomy is defined as the evolutionary shift in the individual system-environment relationship, so that the direct influences of the environment are gradually reduced and a stabilization of self-referential, intrinsic functions within the system is generated. (243)

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.

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