VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality
6. Our Holosymbiotic Personal Selves
Mesquita, Batja, et al, eds. The Mind in Context. New York: Guilford Press, 2010. An international cadre scopes out a “systems psychology” to transcend their long reductive focus on behavioral “objects” alone, sans any encompassing, environmental setting. Along with concurrent work such as Markus, Cilliers, Wagman, Gelfand, search herein, once again a relational turn to nature’s actual, ubiquitous complementarity of self and society, person and planet. After a lead chapter “The Context Principle” by the editors (also Lisa Barrett and Eliot Smith), four sections - Genes and the Brain, Cognition and Affect, The Person, and Behavior – scope out a novel contextual milieu for these scalar areas. Among authors are Lawrence Barsalou, Elizabeth Collins, Shinobu Kitayama, and Deborah Prentice. Olaf Sporns’ chapter is noted in Systems Neuroscience.
Metzinger, Thomas. The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. New York: Perseus Books, 2009. In a work which may epitomize our present quandary, the Johannes Gutenberg University philosopher claims that the latest neuroscience implies people have for a long time been fooling themselves into believing they are integral entities. Rather our lives are confined in a narrow slice of reality circumscribed by limited senses. After some 200 pages of evincing such a view, a summary chapter, from which quotes below, initially chides the vicissitudes of human hopes in an indifferent physical cosmos. But it then goes on to say we may not be of no account after all for worldwide communities such as science lately appear capable of a collaborative lucidity and “self-reflective knowledge.” As a result, an “intrinsic potential” to achieve an aware subjectivity is admitted. Well which one is true – is the noonday brilliance of the human instant, (Bertrand Russell) a fated chimera – or can an individuating humankind discover an actual genesis universe? One wishes that editors nowadays would challenge authors to think through obvious contradictions.
We are Ego Machines, but we do not have selves. (208) We could say that the system as a whole (the Ego Machine), or the organism using this brain-constructed conscious self-model, can be called a “self.” A self, then, would simply be a self-organizing and self-sustaining physical system that can represent itself on the level of global availability. The self is not a thing but a process. As long as the life process – the ongoing process of self-stabilization and self-sustainment – in reflected in a conscious Ego Tunnel, we are indeed selves. (208) A “self” in any stronger or metaphysically interesting sense of the word just does not seem to exist. We must face this fact: We are selfless Ego Machines. (208)
Moura, Joelson, et al. Theoretical Insights of Evolutionary Psychology. Evolutionary Biology. January, 2020. Brazilian biopsychologists survey the latest understandings of how human cognition and behavior necessarily are rooted in and are influenced by these long past experiences. The more that this real connection is validly appreciated, it is said the better we can live peacefully today.
In this article, we present the central ideas of evolutionary psychology, and discuss how their assumptions can help ethnobiologists to understand the dynamic relationship between people and their environments. In this sense, investigating this relationship from an evolutionary perspective can bring new empirical evidence about human evolution, also contributing to both evolutionary psychology and evolutionary ethnobiology.
Neher, Andrew. Evolutionary Psychology: Its Programs, Prospects, and Pitfalls. American Journal of Psychology. 119/4, 2006. After some 15 years, dust has settled and a measured assessment of this valid endeavor to seek phylogenetic roots for human mores can be made. A companion paper by Aaron Goetz and Tood Shackleford, Modern Application of Evolutionary Theory to Psychology, likewise contributes an overview to this edition.
Nowak, Andrzej, et al. Society of Self: The Emergence of Collective Properties in Self-Structure. Psychological Review. 107/1, 2000. New insights into how one’s personality is created from a synthesis of diverse elements.
In this sense, the self represents a society of autonomous, yet interdependent and interacting agents. Like a society of individuals, the self can be viewed as a complex dynamical system, with interactions among system elements promoting the emergence of macro-level properties that cannot be reduced to the properties of the elements in isolation. (39) Within the connectionist framework, models of attractor neural networks are especially relevant to formal equivalence between mind and society. In this approach, the brain is modeled as a collection of densely interconnected neurons linked by synapses. Such systems are characterized by multiple feedback loops, in which each neuron influences and is influenced by numerous other neurons. In similar fashion, society can be characterized as a collection of individuals interconnected by social ties. (40)
O'Malley, Maureen. From Endosymbiosis to Holobionts: Evaluating a Conceptual Legacy. Journal of Theoretical Biology. Online March, 2017. Many entries in this section since circa 2013 announce how pervasive and important these reciprocal, advantageous interactions and unions are across cellular evolution and life. But this was not always the case. The University of Bordeaux philosopher of biology reviews the brilliant contributions and persistent advocacy of its founder, the late microbiologist Lynn Margulis (1938-2011), as an overdue recognition. Her original theories about how primary internal and external symbiosis is to prokaryotes and eukaryotes, and onto a healthy global microbiome were often criticized and relegated, e.g. by Richard Dawkins until her passing. Her clear vision is especially being continued by Scott Gilbert, Alfred Tauber, Jan Sapp, and others.
In her influential 1967 paper, Lynn Margulis synthesized a range of data to support the idea of endosymbiosis. Building on the success of this work, she applied the same methodology to promote the role of symbiosis more generally in evolution. As part of this broader project, she coined the term ‘holobiont’ to refer to a unified entity of symbiont and host. This concept is now applied with great gusto in microbiome research, and often implies not just a physiological unit but also various senses of an evolving system. My analysis will track how Margulis came to propose the term, its current use in microbiome research, and how those applications link back to Margulis. I then evaluate what contemporary use says about Margulis's legacy for microbiome research. (Abstract)
Overton, Willis and Michelle Ennis. Cognitive-Developmental and Behavior-Analytic Theories: Evolving into Complementarity. Human Development. 49/3, 2006. Temple University psychologists view their field as moving toward a “general relational dynamic system perspective” as the integral organismic and mechanistic particulate schools of Piaget and Skinner, with correspondent hemispherical complements, are joined in a “metatheoretical “ synthesis. A rich paper which summarizes Overton’s dedicated work in this regard.
Relational and split metatheories compose the world in different ways; relational metatheory draws the world as systems of dynamic changing part-whole relations, split metatheory draws the world as aggregates of dichotomous elements. (145)
Pfenninger, Karl and Valerie Shubik, eds. The Origins of Creativity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Visionary insights on the evolutionary and cerebral sources of artistic and scientific achievements. In his “The Evolving Brain” chapter, Pfenninger proposes a cognitive hierarchy from autonomous control to instinct, memory, language, and intelligence, crowned by creativity. Benoit Mandelbrot evokes in his “The Fractal Universe” an innate self-similar diversity within a mathematical unity. A summary chapter suggests that associative creativity, “the generation of novel contexts and representations in the mind,” confers a natural participant role for human ingenuity.
The perspective of fractal order in the universe, from natural phenomena to works of art, provides the basis for the thesis that true works of art and science exhibit an inherent order. (230)
Ploeger, Annemie, et al. Is Evolutionary Psychology a Metatheory for Psychology? A Discussion of Four Major Issues in Psychology from an Evolutionary Developmental Perspective. Psychological Inquiry. 19/1, 2008. In this target article, University of Amsterdam psychologists argue that the compass and content of EP ought to include biological and developmental dimensions for a complete theoretical basis. This would rightly involve novel appreciations of self-organizational and system dynamics along with their phase transitions and ubiquitous modularity. Commentaries by advocates such as David Bjorklund and David Buss, among others, elaborate in turn.
The starting point in evolutionary developmental biology is the thesis that new variants emerge before natural selection can do its work. The relevance of natural selection is not disputed, but evolutionary developmental biology provides a better account of the evolutionary origin of new forms that does neo-Darwinian theory. (3) The general idea is that complex systems arise by means of nonlinear interactions among local elements, and these self-organizing processes always occur by means of phase transitions. (11) If complex systems arise by means of self-organization, and thus by means of phase transitions, it would seem unavoidable that individual development is characterized by self-organization and phase transitions. (11)
Prinz, Wolfgang. Open Minds: The Social Making of Agency and Intentionality. Cambridge: MIT Press,, 2012. We enter this pithy volume by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences psychologist with its book announcement and Preface scene setter of Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) initiating a Renaissance humanist autonomy. Centuries later, it can indeed be averred that we compose ourselves, now understood by reflective interaction with other persons, mediated by ones cognitive memories. And Prinz muses in closing that late re-interpretation might accrue for the old Adam and Eve story. By these lights, human beings are compelled, even divinely intended, to strike out on their own, rather than remain in an Edenic nursery. See also Prinz’s 2013 paper “Self in the Mirror” in Consciousness and Cognition.
In Open Minds, Wolfgang Prinz offers the novel claim that agency and intentionality are first perceived and understood in others, and that it is only through practices and discourses of social mirroring that individuals come to apply these features to themselves and to shape their architectures for volition and cognition accordingly. Developing a (social science) constructive approach within a (cognitive science) representational framework, Prinz argues that the architectures for agency (volition) and intentionality (cognition) arise from particular kinds of social interaction and communication. Rather than working as closed, individual systems, our minds operate in ways that are fundamentally open to other minds. (Publisher)
Prinz, Wolfgang. Self in the Mirror. Consciousness and Cognition. 22/3, 2013. The Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences psychologist continues the project of his 2012 work Open Minds: The Social Making of Agency and Intentionality by reaffirming its key themes. Indeed by ones lifelong individual-group reciprocity each person may conceive, form, and hone their own validated identity.
What are mirror systems good for? Several suggestions have been made in response to this question, addressing the putative functions of mirror systems in minds and brains. This paper examines possible contributions of mirror systems to the emergence of subjectivity. At the heart of the discussion is the notion of social mirroring, which has a long tradition in social philosophy and social anthropology. Taking the existence of mirror devices in minds and brains for granted, I argue that social mirroring is a prerequisite for the constitution of mental selves, and, hence, the emergence of subjectivity. However, the fact that self and subjectivity are socially created should not be taken to indicate that they are illusory. They are as real as natural facts are. (Abstract)
Quartz, Steven. Toward a Developmental Evolutionary Psychology. Rauscher, Frederick and Steven Scher, eds. Evolutionary Psychology: Alternative Approaches. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2003. On the need to include ontogenetic factors in the study of how human behavior was formed. Rather than due to modularity alone, cerebral evolution and development is seen to proceed in a hierarchical sequence. A crucial impetus is the “progressive externalization” of symbolic culture which in turn influences brain architecture. Behavioral systems are thus seen as a more appropriate conceptual vehicle than evolved modules.