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

1. Systems Physiology and Psychology: Somatic and Behavioral Development

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)

Schwab, Karin, et al. Nonlinear Analysis and Modeling of Cortical Activation and Deactivation Patterns in the Immature Fetal Electrocorticogram. Chaos. 19/1, 2009. As the abstract and editorial comment convey, Friedrich Schiller University computational neurologists achieve a unique insight and quantification into the mental states of a mammalian fetus. Fetuses are actually asleep until birth when they awake. They are also found to be in a dream mode at times. Of course, the research was done on sheep. See On the Emergence of Consciousness by Lagercrantz and Changeux (search) in the 2010 volume The Newborn Brain for discussion.

An approach combining time-continuous nonlinear stability analysis and a parametric bispectral method was introduced to better describe cortical activation and deactivation patterns in the immature fetal electroencephalogram (EEG). Signal models and data-driven investigations were performed to find optimal parameters of the nonlinear methods and to confirm the occurrence of nonlinear sections in the fetal EEG. The resulting measures were applied to the in utero electrocorticogram (ECoG) of fetal sheep at 0.7 gestation when organized sleep states were not developed and compared to previous results at 0.9 gestation. Cycling of the nonlinear stability of the fetal ECoG occurred already at this early gestational age, suggesting the presence of premature sleep states. This was accompanied by cycling of the time-variant biamplitude which reflected ECoG synchronization effects during premature sleep states associated with nonrapid eye movement sleep later in gestation. Thus, the combined nonlinear and time-variant approach was able to provide important insights into the properties of the immature fetal ECoG. (Abstract)

After about seven months growing in the womb, a human fetus spends most of its time asleep. Its brain cycles back and forth between the frenzied activity of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the quiet resting state of non-REM sleep. But whether the brains of younger, immature fetuses cycle with sleep or are simply inactive has remained a mystery, until now. Karin Schwab and a team of neuroscientists at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, have discovered that very immature sheep fetuses can enter a dreaming sleep-like state weeks before the first rapid eye movements are seen. Directly measuring the brain activity of a human fetus in the womb is impossible. What we know about our early sleep habits inside our mothers comes mostly from watching muscle and eye movements. Around the seventh month of a fetus' development, the first rapid eye movements are seen. The brain of the developing embryo appears to cycle every 20 to 40 minutes between REM sleep, in which brain activity rivals that of consciousness, and non-REM sleep, in which the brain rests. Schwab studied sheep, an animal that typically carries one or two fetuses similar in size and weight to a human fetus. The course of brain development is also fairly similar in humans and sheep, lasting about 280 days in humans and 150 days in sheep. The team recorded electrical activity in the brain of a 106-day-old developing sheep fetus directly -- something that had never been done before. (Editor)

Seely, Andrew, et al. Fractal Structure and Entropy Production within the Central Nervous System. Entropy. 16/8, 2014. Ottawa Hospital Research Institute systems physicians carefully show how anatomy and physiology are graced by this optimally efficient self-similar geometry, a fine feature that can serve as a measure of one’s well being. The degree to which this natural topology is maintained or deteriorates can then give indications of health or illness. Indeed real cases are given for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, cancer and more.

Our goal is to explore the relationship between two traditionally unrelated concepts, fractal structure and entropy production, evaluating both within the central nervous system (CNS). Fractals are temporal or spatial structures with self-similarity across scales of measurement; whereas entropy production represents the necessary exportation of entropy to our environment that comes with metabolism and life. Fractals may be measured by their fractal dimension; and human entropy production may be estimated by oxygen and glucose metabolism. In this paper, we observe fractal structures ubiquitously present in the CNS, and explore a hypothetical and unexplored link between fractal structure and entropy production, as measured by oxygen and glucose metabolism.

Rapid increase in both fractal structures and metabolism occur with childhood and adolescent growth, followed by slow decrease during aging. Concomitant increases and decreases in fractal structure and metabolism occur with cancer vs. Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, respectively. In addition to fractals being related to entropy production, we hypothesize that the emergence of fractal structures spontaneously occurs because a fractal is more efficient at dissipating energy gradients, thus maximizing entropy production. (Abstract)

The central nervous system (CNS) is arguably the most complex, remarkable, seemingly impenetrable, not to mention endearing and personal complex system in Nature. The emergent properties of the CNS such as consciousness, memory, coordinated movement, and homeostasis, are as remarkable as the self-organized manner in which they are formed during embryogenesis and childhood. Thus, the CNS is fertile ground to explore concepts regarding the origin of self-organized structure and function in complex systems. (4498)

Sell, Christian, et al, eds. Life-Span Extension: Single-Cell Organisms to Man. New York: Humana Press, 2009. A comprehensive state of the medical science from Yeast, Nematodes, and Flies to Comparative Biology of Aging and Human Aging and Longevity within an Evolutionary Perspective. In retrospect, creaturely longevity and its enhancement is now passing to our collective sapient intelligence. Chapters include Slow Aging: Insights from an Exceptionally Long-Lived Rodent, the Naked Mole-Rat and Growth Hormone and Aging in Mice.

In recent years, remarkable discoveries have been made concerning the underlying mechanisms of aging. This novel work addresses the aging process in species ranging from yeast to man and, among other subjects, features detailed discussions of the naked mole-rat, an exceptionally long-lived rodent; the relationship between dietary factors/food restriction and aging; and an evolutionary view of the human aging process. Single mutations that extend life span have been identified in yeast, worms, flies, and mice, whereas studies in humans have identified potentially important markers for successful aging. At the same time, it has been discovered that the genes and pathways identified in these studies involve a surprisingly small set of conserved functions, most of which have been the focus of aging research for some time. Novel, emerging technologies and the increasingly wide variety of systems that are now used to study aging and the mechanisms of aging provide enormous opportunities for the identification of common pathways that modulate longevity. (Publisher)

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.

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