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

1. Systems Physiology and Psychology: Somatic and Behavioral Development

Oudeyer, Pierre-Yves. Open Challenges in Understanding Development and Evolution of Speech Forms. Journal of Phonetics. 53/55, 2015. The French Institute for Research in Computer Science (INRIA) director is a leading advocate of dynamical systems theories as the way to understand infant and child maturation. In regard, “embodied self-organization” processes are seen to motivate our innate, constant curiosity-driven learning experiences. His publications page lists prior and later papers about self-organizing vitalities at work across evolutionary and individual lives.

Oudeyer, Pierre-Yves. Self-Organization: Complex Dynamical Systems in the Evolution of Speech. Binder, Phillippe and Kenny Smith, eds. The Language Phenomenon: Human Communication from Milliseconds to Millennia. Berlin: Springer, 2013. In this chapter, an INRIA Bordeaux, France, research director achieves one of the most comprehensive syntheses to date of a spontaneously procreative physical cosmos whose properties serve to engender life’s developmental emergence, which can be exemplified by communicative linguistics. The author spent 8 years previous with Luc Steels at the SONY Computer Science Laboratory, Paris. As the quotes convey, a number of large scientific revisions may now be stated. The sections “Physics, the Caldron of Self-Organized Forms” highlights novel theories of nature’s lively materiality by way of nonlinear propensities. “The Impact of Self-Organization on the Origins of Forms in the Living” traces these effects as they generate evolution’s nested transitions of bodily complexity and cognitive sentience. In “Classic Neo-Darwinism,” since this domain was unknown to Charles and most of the past century, selection alone is seen as quite inadequate.

“Self-Organization Constrains the Space Forms to be Explored” explains how these prior lineaments channels both genotype and phenotype in convergent directions. “Self-Organization and the Evolution of Forms and Structures of Language” goes on to show, as if genome and languagome (my word), a recapitulative continuity from ontogenesis to “glossogenesis” and phylogenesis. As a genesis universe seemingly trying to gain a voice and vision through the human phenomenon, homo sapiens thus came to “speech codes” by the same self-organizing incentives at work everywhere else from. In a summary section “A Unified Mechanism for the Self-Organization of Combinatoriality, of the Universals/Diversity Duality, and of Cultural Sharing” can then be broached. In our second decade of the 21st century, through this work and many like contributions, a robust worldwide revolution is in and fills our electronic air, awaiting an evocative, common translation.

Human vocalization systems are characterized by complex structural properties. They are combinatorial, based on the systematic reuse of phonemes, and the set of repertoires in human languages is characterized by both strong statistical regularities—universals—and a great diversity. Besides, they are conventional codes culturally shared in each community of speakers. What are the origins of the forms of speech? What are the mechanisms that permitted their evolution in the course of phylogenesis and cultural evolution? How can a shared speech code be formed in a community of individuals? This chapter focuses on the way the concept of self-organization, and its interaction with natural selection, can throw light on these three questions. (Abstract)

The tendency of many complex physical systems to generate spontaneously new and organized forms, such as ice crystals or galactic spirals, is indeed present as much in the inorganic world as in the living world. Thus, the explanation of the origins of forms and structures in the living can not only rely on the principle of natural selection, but should be complemented by the understanding of physical mechanisms of form generation in which self-organization plays a central role. This applies to the social and cultural forms of the living, in particular to the forms of speech and language. As a consequence, I will begin by articulating in a general manner the relationships between self-organization, natural selection and Neo-Darwinism in explanations of the genesis of forms in the living. (192)

Nature, especially inorganic nature, is full of fascinatingly organized forms and patterns. The silhouettes of mountains are the same, whether one views them at the scale of a rock, a summit, or a whole mountain range. Sand dunes often arrange themselves in long parallel stripes. Water crystallizes into symmetrical serrated flakes when the temperature is right. And when water flows in rivers and hurtles over cataracts, trumpet-shaped vortices appear and the bubbles collect together in structures which are sometimes polyhedral. Lightning flashes draw plant-like branches in the sky. Alternating freezing and thawing of the rocky ground of the tundra leaves polygonal impressions in the earth. The list of these forms rivals many human artefacts in complexity. And yet they are not designed or conceived by anyone or anything, not even natural selection, Dawkins’ ‘blind watchmaker.’ (192)

To summarize, the self-organizing properties of the dynamic system composed by the cells and their DNA brings essential structuring to the phenotypic space by constraining it, making the discovery of complex robust forms by natural selection much easier. (198) To give a simple picture, self-organization provides a catalogue of complex forms distributed over a landscape of valleys in which and between which natural selection moves and makes its choices: self-organization proposes, and natural selection disposes. Obviously this is only an image to facilitate understanding, because with its movements natural selection actually enables new mechanisms, themselves self-organized, to appear, and these in turn structure the space of forms within which it moves; thus natural selection participates in the formation of these mechanisms which help it to move effectively in the space of forms; vice versa, the mechanism of natural selection certainly appeared in the history of life due to the self-organized behaviour of systems which were as yet completely unconnected to natural selection; natural selection and self-organizing mechanisms thus help each other reciprocally in a sort of spiral which enables complexity to increase during the course of evolution. (198)

Thus language involves a multitude of components interacting in complex ways in parallel on several timescales: the ontogenetic timescale, characterizing the growth of an individual person, the glossogenetic or cultural timescale which characterizes the evolution of cultures, and the phylogenetic timescale, which characterizes the evolution of species. In particular, language is characterized by complex physical and functional interactions among multiple cerebral circuits, several organs, the individuals who are equipped with them, and the environment in which they live. (200)

Overton, Willis. Developmental Psychology: Philosophy, Concepts, Methodology. Lerner, Richard, vol. ed. Handbook of Child Psychology. 6th Edition. Vol. 1: Theoretical Models of Human Development. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. The past decades of scientific discourse were characterized by a “split metatheory” traceable to a Cartesian atomism. In its stead a “relational dynamic matrix” is proposed which can resolve and join the “identity of opposites” and “opposites of identity” for both personal and social integrity. See also Overton’s significant writings cited herein.

Relational metatheory, emerging from a view of the world as a series of active, ever-changing forms replaces the antinomies with a fluid dynamic holism and associated concepts such as self-organization, system, and the synthesis of wholes. (19)

Overton, Willis. Life-span Development: Concepts and Issues. Lerner, Richard, editor-in-chief. The Handbook of Life-span Development. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. The lead essay for this two volume edition sets out its thematic employ of a “relational developmental systems metatheory.” This “organismic” view is advocated so as to move beyond a mechanistic emphasis, sans any context, on objects alone. Its theme of self-organizing complex adaptive systems is then carried through many articles by authors such as Gary Greenberg, Brian McWhinney, Michael Lewis, and Linda Jarvin. See also Advancing Developmental Science (Routledge 2018) for chapters upon Overton's lifetime contribution.

Parlade, Meaghan and Jana Iverson. The Interplay between Language, Gesture, and Affect During Communicative Transition: A Dynamic Systems Approach. Developmental Psychology. 47/3, 2011. University of Pittsburgh psychologists find a child’s vocabulary spurt to express the same self-organizing dynamics of a young person’s bodily and behavioral maturation.

Complex organisms including developing infants, are composed of multiple interacting parts that self-organize to operate collectively. A myriad of behavioral models of cooperative coordinations are possible depending on the relative stability of each component of the system at given time. An important implication of this view is that instability in one component (e.g., the introduction of a new skill or transformation of an existing skill) will engender changes in the way the system as a whole is organized. (820-821)

Perszyk, Danielle and Sandra Waxman. Linking Language and Cognition in Infancy. Annual Review of Psychology. 69/231, 2017. Northwestern University psychologists explain a parallel reciprocity between an infant’s rapidly developing brain and a facile ability to understand and avail an innate linguistic readiness. In regard, the finding shows how vital it is during a child’s first year to hear and be engaged with conversational speech.

Human language, a signature of our species, derives its power from its links to human cognition. For centuries, scholars have been captivated by this link between language and cognition. In this article, we shift this focus. Adopting a developmental lens, we review recent evidence that sheds light on the origin and developmental unfolding of the link between language and cognition in the first year of life. This evidence, which reveals the joint contributions of infants’ innate capacities and their sensitivity to experience, highlights how a precocious link between language and cognition advances infants beyond their initial perceptual and conceptual capacities. The evidence also identifies the conceptual advantages this link brings to human infants. By tracing the emergence of a language–cognition link in infancy, this article reveals a dynamic developmental cascade in infants’ first year, with each developmental advance providing a foundation for subsequent advances. (Abstract)

Pittman-Polletta, Benjamin, et al. The Role of the Circadian System in Fractal Neurophysicological Control. Biological Reviews. 88/4, 2013. In the earlier 20th century, a basic state of human well-being became known as “homeostasis” – a stable equilibrium. Here Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Harvard Medical School, Oregon Health and Science University, and National Central University, Taiwan, physicians achieve, based on two decades of research studies aided by neuroimaging and computational advances, a robust synthesis that finds that along with steady balances, an organism’s condition is actually a nested intricacy of non-equilibrium, critically poised complex networks. By these insights, a benefit is that a healthy soma can be quantified by the degree of self-similar, invariant topologies. This new capability is seen of especial value for cardiac rhythms, cancer diagnostics and Alzheimer detection, each caused by a decay of such fractality. See also Hu, Kun, et al, and Bashan, Amir, et al, herein for more evidence and references.

Many neurophysiological variables such as heart rate, motor activity, and neural activity are known to exhibit intrinsic fractal fluctuations – similar temporal fluctuation patterns at different time scales. These fractal patterns contain information about health, as many pathological conditions are accompanied by their alteration or absence. In physical systems, such fluctuations are characteristic of critical states on the border between randomness and order, frequently arising from nonlinear feedback interactions between mechanisms operating on multiple scales. Thus, the existence of fractal fluctuations in physiology challenges traditional conceptions of health and disease, suggesting that high levels of integrity and adaptability are marked by complex variability, not constancy, and are properties of a neurophysiological network, not individual components. Despite the subject's theoretical and clinical interest, the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying fractal regulation remain largely unknown. The recent discovery that the circadian pacemaker (suprachiasmatic nucleus) plays a crucial role in generating fractal patterns in motor activity and heart rate sheds an entirely new light on both fractal control networks and the function of this master circadian clock, and builds a bridge between the fields of circadian biology and fractal physiology. In this review, we sketch the emerging picture of the developing interdisciplinary field of fractal neurophysiology by examining the circadian system's role in fractal regulation. (Abstract)

A powerful analogy for fractals in physiology comes from modern statistical physics, where fractal fluctuations have been explained in the context of so-called critical systems – systems undergoing a transition from one stable state to another. (2) A key feature of critical systems is that they are made up of a population of many simple interacting units. The richness of the collective behavior of this population, exemplified by the presence of fractality, cannot be derived from the properties of the individual units. Rather, it emerges from systemwide interactions. (3) What is clear is that the understanding of fractal patterns in physiology cannot be obtained with traditional reductive approaches that focus on individual physiological processes operating at a single timescale. Elucidating the principles governing fractal fluctuations in physiology will require an integrative, holistic, systems-level approach, based on a network view of multiple component processes and their interactions. The mechanism producing fractal patterns are not the simple homeostatic control mechanism of Claude Bernard and Walter Cannon, designed to maintain constant conditions through negative feedback regulation, but new kinds of fractal control and fractal regulatory mechanisms. (3)

Rochat, Philippe. Five Levels of Self-Awareness as They Unfold Early in Life. Consciousness and Cognition. 12/4, 2003. The Emory University psychologist proposes a scale of Differentiation, Situation, Identification, Permanence and Self-consciousness, generally akin to Piaget, as they relate to a child’s degree of recognition in a mirror. As adults, we constantly scroll through this sequential emergence for our conceptual identity.

A natural history of children’s developing self-awareness is proposed as well as a model of adult self-awareness that is informed by the dynamic of early development. Adult self-awareness is viewed as the dynamic flux between basic levels of consciousness that develop chronologically early in life. (717) To end with a garden metaphor, self-awareness develops like onions, layers after layers, in a cumulative consolidation. (730)

Rochat, Philippe. The Infant’s World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. A synoptic text considers self-organization principles to be part of the story but traditional conditioning and built-in reward systems need to be factored in.

Rolls, Edmund. Cerebral Cortex: Principles of Operation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. An Oxford Centre for Computational Neuroscience senior research theorist achieves a 950 page synthesis of the latest advances, see quote next. Some 26 chapters such as Hierarchical Organization, Localization of Function, Recurrent Collateral Connections, Synaptic Learning, Invariant Vision, Evolutionary Trends in Cortical Design, and Genetics and Self-Organization Build the Cortex covers a widest array of features. And once again dual, complementary ventral What (discrete objects) and dorsal Where (spatial context) visual streams are established and contrasted.

The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of neural tissue of the cerebrum of the brain, in humans and other mammals. It is separated into two cortices, by the longitudinal fissure that divides the cerebrum into the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The two hemispheres are joined beneath the cortex by the corpus callosum. The cerebral cortex plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. (Wikipedia)

Sarelsbergh, G., et al, eds. Non-linear Developmental Processes. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1997. Dynamical approachs to how movement, attention, speech, emotion, behavior and so on forms in infants and children.

Scharff, Constance and Jana Petri. Evo-Devo, Deep Homology and FoxP2: Implications for the Evolution of Speech and Language. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 366/2124, 2011. Free University of Berlin ethologists contribute still another example of an ancient lineage of such genetic sources for a wide array of traits, as the Abstract notes, which serve to influence behavioral communications. Again a deep convergence, as if a true embryogenesis is quite implied.

The evolution of novel morphological features, such as feathers, involves the modification of developmental processes regulated by gene networks. The fact that genetic novelty operates within developmental constraints is the central tenet of the ‘evo-devo’ conceptual framework. It is supported by findings that certain molecular regulatory pathways act in a similar manner in the development of morphological adaptations, which are not directly related by common ancestry but evolved convergently. The Pax6 gene, important for vision in molluscs, insects and vertebrates, and Hox genes, important for tetrapod limbs and fish fins, exemplify this ‘deep homology’. Recently, ‘evo-devo’ has expanded to the molecular analysis of behavioural traits, including social behaviour, learning and memory. Here, we apply this approach to the evolution of human language. Human speech is a form of auditory-guided, learned vocal motor behaviour that also evolved in certain species of birds, bats and ocean mammals. Genes relevant for language, including the transcription factor FOXP2, have been identified. We review evidence that FoxP2 and its regulatory gene network shapes neural plasticity in cortico-basal ganglia circuits underlying the sensory-guided motor learning in animal models. The emerging picture can help us understand how complex cognitive traits can ‘descend with modification’. (Abstract)

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