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

1. Systems Physiology and Psychology: Somatic and Behavioral Development

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)

Thelen, Esther and Linda Smith. Dynamic Systems Theories. Lerner, Richard, vol. ed. Handbook of Child Psychology. 6th Edition. Vol. 1: Theoretical Models of Human Development. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. The late Esther Thelen, along with Linda Smith, professors of psychology at Indiana University, have been the prime originators since the early 1990s of this prime reconception of how persons self-develop from infancy over both spatial and temporal dimensions. Again refer to copious work herein. In their succinct survey, these two themes recur:

1. Development can only be understood as the multiple, mutual, and continuous interaction of all the levels of the developing system, from the molecular to the cultural. 2. Development can only be understood as nested processes that unfold over many timescales from milliseconds to years. (258)

Van Den Heuvel, Martijn, et al. Comparative Connectomics. Trends in Cognitive Science. Online March, 2016. Based on recent neuroimaging studies of a multitude of species, senior neuroscientists Van den Heuvel, University Medical Center Utrecht, Edward Bullmore, Cambridge University, and Olaf Sporns, Indiana University propose that the relative density and intricacy of cerebral networks, known as a connectome, can be a good way to sort and compare animal and human brains. An evolutionary scale begins to be apparent from simpler to more complex neural anatomies by the number of modular communities, scale-free node and link topologies, and so on. And might we then ask, whomever is this emergent worldwise sapient faculty with similar branching, intensifying, scintillating connectomics of her/his own?

We introduce comparative connectomics, the quantitative study of cross-species commonalities and variations in brain network topology that aims to discover general principles of network architecture of nervous systems and the identification of species-specific features of brain connectivity. By comparing connectomes derived from simple to more advanced species, we identify two conserved themes of wiring: the tendency to organize network topology into communities that serve specialized functionality and the general drive to enable high topological integration by means of investment of neural resources in short communication paths, hubs, and rich clubs. Within the space of wiring possibilities that conform to these common principles, we argue that differences in connectome organization between closely related species support adaptations in cognition and behavior. (Abstract)

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