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

1. Systems Physiology and Psychology: Somatic and Behavioral Development

Silbereis, John, et al. The Cellular and Molecular Landscapes of the Developing Human Central Nervous System. Neuron. 89/2, 2016. Yale University School of Medicine neuroscientists provide a latest review from our worldwise vantage of how we peoples came to be able to individually learn and collectively achieve this.

The human CNS follows a pattern of development typical of all mammals, but certain neurodevelopmental features are highly derived. Building the human CNS requires the precise orchestration and coordination of myriad molecular and cellular processes across a staggering array of cell types and over a long period of time. Dysregulation of these processes affects the structure and function of the CNS and can lead to neurological or psychiatric disorders. Recent technological advances and increased focus on human neurodevelopment have enabled a more comprehensive characterization of the human CNS and its development in both health and disease. The aim of this review is to highlight recent advancements in our understanding of the molecular and cellular landscapes of the developing human CNS, with focus on the cerebral neocortex, and the insights these findings provide into human neural evolution, function, and dysfunction. (Abstract)

Skonkoff, Jack and Deborah Phillips, eds. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000. A major public effort involving the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the National Research Council to properly consider an infant and child’s contextual, familial environment along with their individual medical and behavioral concerns. A prime finding is that these settings have an immense positive or negative influence, which then carries over into personal and local responsibility.

Smith, Linda and Esther Thelen. Development as a Dynamic System. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7/8, 2003. A recent review which contends that the fluid, multicausal formation of behavior from infant to adult can be understood through the principles of nonlinear self-organization. A nested fractal-like scale is inferred by a comparison of the large and small self-similarity of coastlines to one’s emotional growth from momentary states to moods to a stable personality.

Smith, Linda and Michael Gasser. The Development of Embodied Cognition. Artificial Life. 11/1-2, 2005. Infants learn by a multimodal, incremental interaction with and exploration of their physical and social environment, which leads to language-based, symbolic communication. This study is a good example of what Suzanne Kirschner (noted in A Symbiotic Self) advocates as a new relational and context-sensitive method for psychology.

The central idea behind the embodiment hypothesis is that intelligence emerges in the interaction of an agent with an environment and as a result of sensorimotor activity. (13)

Soanwane, Abjijeet, et al. Network Medicine in the Age of Biomedical Big Data. arXiv:1903.05449. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston systems physicians provide a good example of a novel holistic, systemic approach which takes in not only parts and a whole but internal, vital interconnections as a major factor for diagnosis and treatment

Speelman, Craig and Kim Kirsner. Beyond the Learning Curve: The Construction of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Psychologists at the University of Western Australia seek innate principles of knowledge and skill acquisition within a broad evolutionary and dynamic frame. The brain/mind ensemble is conceived as a complex adaptive system because as such it expresses the universality by which nature evolves and develops everywhere else.

Spencer, John and Esther Thelen, eds. Connectionist and Dynamic Systems Approaches to Development. Developmental Science. 6/4, 2003. A special issue looks toward a synthesis of these two methods in the field of child psychology. Connectionism involves a neural basis while the dynamic view deals with a more somatic basis, but are similar in kind and contribute to “a unified emergentist theory of development.”

Spencer, John, et al. Moving Toward a Grand Theory of Development. Child Development. 77/6, 2006. Former doctoral students of the late University of Indiana psychology professor Esther Thelen offer a considerate retrospective of her pioneering innovations in the use of dynamic systems theory (DST) to understand the self-organization of a child’s kinetic and cognitive experience. Learning to walk and to learn via DST involves four aspects – a temporal mode, multiple nonlinear interactions, embodiment, and one’s unique individuality. Upon reflection, might one observe that human and universe organize themselves in the same manner, each on the way to self-realization.

Spencer, John, et al, eds. Toward a Unified Theory of Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. By way of a copious convergence of Connectionism, aka Parallel Distributed Processing, generally due to David Rumelhart, and here coeditor James McClelland, and the Dynamic Systems Theory of Esther Thelen and Linda Smith. The first school more involves neural net cognitive processes, while the second is concerned with how a child grows and learns. Now an aim of this website is to gather such various methods, e.g., also complex adaptive systems, autopoiesis, et al, from disparate fields and mentors, and by way of translation to a common lexicon convey how they each and all are trying to explain one and the same phenomena everywhere.

The two approaches conceive of this self-organization differently. For dynamic systems theories, developmental change is an emergent product of interactions among multiple components, occurring on many different timescales. Theories adopting this framework emphasize multicausality and self-organization emerging out of the real-time dynamics of the child’s own activity in a structured environment. For connectionist theories of development, reorganization emerges out of nonlinearities in learning and new structures only emerge from the interaction of the existing structure and environmental input. (269) Central to both connectionist and dynamic systems theories of development, therefore, is the explicit idea that new structures and behaviors are emergent products of multiple, interacting components. (269)

Stella, Massimo, et al. Multiplex Lexical Networks Reveal Patterns in Early Word Acquisition. Nature Scientific Reports. 7/46730, 2017. We cite this entry by systems neuroscientists M. Stella and Markus Brede, University of Southampton, UK, with Nicole Beckage, University of Kansas, as a frontier example of how the latest understandings of network phenomena, namely dynamic multiplex layering, can find apply and veracity in many disparate domains.

Sturmberg, Joachim, et al. The Trajectory of Life: Decreasing Physiological Network Complexity through Changing Fractal Patterns. Frontiers in Physiology. Vol. 6/Art. 169, 2015. Sturmberg, University of Newcastle, NSW, Jeanette Bennett, University of North Carolina, Martin Picard, University of Pennsylvania, and Andrew Seeley, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute write a summary paper about how the wellbeing or lack thereof across a person’s life span can be due to, and tracked by, the quality of their nonlinear dynamic systems.

In this position paper, we submit a synthesis of theoretical models based on physiology, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and non-linear time-series analysis. Based on an understanding of the human organism as a system of interconnected complex adaptive systems, we seek to examine the relationship between health, complexity, variability, and entropy production, as it might be useful to help understand aging, and improve care for patients. While still controversial and under investigation, it appears conceivable that the integrity of whole body complexity may be, at least partially, reflected in the degree and variability of intrinsic biologic rhythms, which we believe are related to overall system complexity that may be a defining feature of health and it's loss through aging. Harnessing this information for the development of therapeutic and preventative strategies may hold an opportunity to significantly improve the health of our patients across the trajectory of life. (Abstract excerpts)

Thelen, Esther and Linda Smith. A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993. The book which set a basic outline and agenda for the field.

Thus, in our approach to fundamental questions of mental life, we invoke principles of great generality. These are the principles of nonlinear dynamic systems, and they concern problems of emergent order and complexity: how structure and patterns arise from the cooperation of many individual parts. (xiii) In the recent past, the biological study of the whole organism has been overshadowed by the remarkable and compelling advances made by reductionist paradigms in genetics and molecular biology. The tide is turning now with the emerging study of complex systems rooted in powerful mathematical and physical principles. (xx)

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