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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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Earth Life Emerge
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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.

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, Aliza, et al. Meaning from movement and stillness: Signatures of coordination dynamics reveal infant agency.. PNAS Nexus. 120/39, 2023. Florida Atlantic University, Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences including Scott Kelso (search) provide a latest affirmation of a deepest propensity to seek and advance ones own way in life along with its occasion due to a natural self-organizing source.

Revamping one of the earliest paradigms for the investigation of infant learning, and reinforcement accounts, we show that the emergence of agency in infants can take the form of a bifurcation or phase transition in a dynamical system that spans baby, brain, and environment. Individual infants navigate functional interactivity in various ways, suggesting that behavioral phenotypes of agentive discovery do exist and dynamics provides a means to identify them. This phenotyping method may also be useful for identifying babies at risk. (Significance)

How do human beings make sense of their relation to the world and their ability to effect change? Applying modern concepts of coordination dynamics, we show that patterns of movement in 3 to 4-month olds may be used to identify states and behavioral phenotypes of emergent agency. By means of a whole coordinative analysis of baby and mobility, we show that this process can take the form of a punctuated self-organizing process, with meaning found both in activity and stillness. (Abstract)

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)

Sultan, Sonia, et al. Bridging the Explanatory Gaps: What can We Learn from a Biological Agency Perspective? BioEssays. 44/1, 2022. Sonia S., Wesleyan University, Denis Walsh, University of Toronto and Armin Moczek, Indiana University biological theorists engage, clarify and advance new realizations that individual entities indeed can have their own motive volition in the course of events. In regard, rather than lumpen dross, organisms actually have a mind and will of their own. See also When the End Modifies its Means: The Origins of Novelty and the Evolution of Innovation in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (August 2022) and An Enactive-Developmental Systems Framing of Cognizing Systems by Amanda Corris in Biology & Philosophy (July 2022).

We begin this article by citing explanatory gaps due to gene-focused approaches to phenotype determination, inheritance, and novel traits. We do not diminish their value but note where their usage has met persistent limitations. We then discuss how many issues can be addressed by an inherent biological agency — the capacity of living systems to participate in their own development, maintenance, and function by regulating their structures and activities. (Excerpt)

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)

Tomasello, Michael. The Evolution of Agency: Behavioral Organization from Lizards to Humans. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2022. After years at MPI Evolutionary Anthropology, the veteran behavioral psychologist and author (search) has returned to Duke University. This is a mid 2023 review after last August when its subject content and treatment appears as a prescient scene-setting for its mid-2023 convergent synthesis. On page 127, e.g., is a Table of Agency Stages from basic goal-direction and later intentions onto rational behaviors and homo societal rules, set in three columns for architecture, directing actions, and their control. Altogether the scheme is dubbed a “hierarchical modularity”. As the quotes then aver, here is an a strong statement going that life’s visceral development, cerebral cognizance and communal behaviors are served by personal proacitivties.

In this volume, a leading developmental psychologist proposes an evolutionary pathway to our human psychological agency. The work outlines four main types in order of emergence: a goal-directed agency of ancient vertebrates, then the intentional agency of ancient mammals, onto the rational agency of great apes, all the way to socially normative homo sapiens. Each new form of psychological organization had more complexity in the planning, decision-making, and executive control of behavior. Altogether, these proposals constitute a new theoretical framework that both broadens and deepens current approaches in evolutionary psychology. (Publisher)

My goal in this book is to reconstruct the evolutionary pathway to human psychological agency. Whereas the number and variety of specific behavioral adaptations across animal species are immense, the psychological mechanisms by which individuals (agents) direct and control their behavioral decision-making are limited. On the evolutionary line to human beings, I propose four types of psychological agency in four taxa representative of important predecessors. They are, in order of emergence, goal-directed agency in ancient vertebrates, intentional agency in ancient mammals, rational agency in great apes, and socially normative agency in early homo sapiens. (7-8)

The human version of conscious experience may have special qualities such as an avail of the experiences of other persons, our use of language, sociocultural norms and more, which altogether could lead to a novel self-consciousness. But for now, the essential points are that basic sentience by way of perceptions of the outside world would be a psychological primitive, and consequent degrees of consciousness involves the organism attending to its own goals, actions and results from a relative executive functions. (66)

In closing – that this newly appreciated presence and quality of creaturely to anthropic activity by virtue of one’s own internal liberties, incentives, choices – ought to be seen as a premier defining essence

van Duijn, Marc. Phylogenetic Origins of Biological Cognition: Convergent Patterns in the Early Evolution of Learning. Interface Focus. 7/3, 2017. The University of Groningen paleoneurologist continues his reconstructive studies of how life gained sensory, information-based, cumulative abilities so as to survive and thrive. See also Principles of Minimal Cognition by van Duijin, et al in Adaptive Behavior (14/2, 2006) for a much cited prior entry, and Slime Moulds, Behavioural Ecology and Minimal Cognition by Jules Smith-Ferguson and Madeleine Beekman in Adaptive Behavior (January 2019). These findings and many others are filling in a embryonic gestation of cerebral capacities from life’s earliest advent to our collective abilities to learn all this.

Various forms of elementary learning have recently been discovered in organisms lacking a nervous system, such as protists, fungi and plants. This finding has fundamental implications for how we view the role of convergent evolution in biological cognition. In this article, I first review the evidence for basic forms of learning in aneural organisms, focusing particularly on habituation and classical conditioning. Next, I examine the possible role of convergent evolution regarding these basic learning abilities during the early evolution of nervous systems. This sets the stage for at least two major events relevant to convergent evolution that are central to biological cognition: (i) nervous systems evolved, perhaps more than once, because of strong selection pressures for sustaining sensorimotor strategies in increasingly larger multicellular organisms and (ii) associative learning was a subsequent adaptation that evolved multiple times within the neuralia. (Abstract excerpt)

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)

Virenque, Louis and Matteo Mossio. What is Agency? A View from Autonomy Theory. Biological Theory. June, 2023. University of Paris researchers (search MM, see website) introduce a Concepts of Agency collection amid new scientific persuasions that a self-assertive liberty is a prime, axial motive and purpose which distinguishes life’s evolutionary development from minimal origins. (We wonder if “semi-“ autonomous within common, vital groupings (flocks) would be a better sense.) See also The Concept of Agent in Biology by Samir Okasha (University of Bristol), What is Agency? A View from Science Studies and Cybernetics by Andrew Pickering (USC), and Biological Autonomy by Maxim Rainsky (University of Illinois).

The theory of biological autonomy provides a naturalized characterization of agency, understood as a general biological phenomenon that extends beyond the domain of intentionality and causation by mental states. Agency refers to the capacity of autonomous living beings (organisms) to purposively and functionally control their interactions with the environment. By so doing they adaptively modulate their own self-determining organization and proactive behavior so as to maintain and foster their own existence. We mention some crucial strengths of the autonomist conception of agency, and issues that it faces. (Abstract)

Virenque, Louis and Matteo Mossio.. What is Agency? A View from Autonomy Theory. Biological Theory. June, 2023. CNRS/University of Paris bioscholars more offer appreciative perspectives as life’s inherent proactive qualities become realized and factored in as a quickening evolutionary developmental course.

The theory of biological autonomy provides a naturalized sense of agency understood as a general phenomenon that beyond the domain of intentionality and causation. Agency refers to the capacity of autonomous living beings to functionally control their interactions with the environment, and to modulate their self-determining behavior so as to maintain their own existence as an intrinsic telos. Here we focus on the intertwined relationships between agency and evolution, as well as on the transition between agency and cognition.

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)

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