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

1. Systems Physiology and Psychology: Somatic and Behavioral Development

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)

Torre, Kjerstin, et al. Fractal Properties in Sensorimotor Variability Unveil Internal Adaptations of the Organism before Symptomatic Functional Decline. Nature Scientific Reports. 9/15736, 2019. University of Montpelier, France neurophysiologists provide a robust technical illustration to date of how a person’s course from a viable somatic fractal geometry to its debilitating loss can be availed as a good measure of relative health or illness. So it does seem our fates may lie in the same mathematics and geometries that suffuse the stellar raiment.

If health can be defined as adaptability, then measures of this feature are crucial. Convergent findings across clinical areas have established that fractal properties in bio-behavioural variability can express a person’s healthy condition, and its adaptive capacities in general. However, the literature mainly discriminates between healthy vs. pathological states, rather than a course in between. We show that distinct types of fractal properties in sensorimotor behaviour characterize impaired functional ability, along with internal adaptations for maintaining performance despite the imposed constraints. (Abstract)

Trujillo, Cleber, et al. Complex Oscillatory Waves Emerging from Cortical Organoids Model Early Human Brain Network Development. Cell Stem Cell. Online August 29, 2019. A 16 person team based at the UC San Diego, School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital including Alysson Muotri describe how these rudimentary neuron net formations yet appear to attain a modicum of cerebral sensitivities. Intricate graphic displays illustrate how our nascent humankinder sapiensphere seems able to retrospectfully quantify the myriad individual capacities it well arose from. The breakthrough work merited a science review Organoids are not Brains: How are They Making Brain Waves by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times for August 29, 2019.

Structural and transcriptional changes during early brain maturation follow fixed developmental programs defined by genetics. However, whether this is true for functional network activity remains unknown, primarily due to experimental inaccessibility of the initial stages of the living human brain. Here, we developed human cortical organoids that dynamically change cellular populations during maturation and exhibited consistent increases in electrical activity over the span of several months. These results show that the development of structured network activity in a human neocortex model may follow stable genetic programming. Our approach provides opportunities for investigating and manipulating the role of network activity in the developing human cortex. (Abstract excerpt)

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)

Van Geert, Paul. Nonlinear Complex Dynamical Systems in Developmental Psychology. Guastello, Stephen, et al, eds. Chaos and Complexity in Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. The University of Groningen researcher surveys the nascent reconception of how we each grow, learn, move, behave, and socialize by way of a ubiquitous self-organization. And one might add, we are invited to realize that child and cosmos might then be one and the same individuation.

Anyone who has witnessed a newborn baby grow up into a toddler and then a schoolchild, an adolescent, and an adult has an intuitive appreciation of the fact that developmental processes are prime examples of nonlinear dynamical systems. (243) The course of human development over the life span is a prime example of a complex, nonlinear dynamical system. The process of development is recursive and self-organizing. It occurs simultaneously at many levels of organization – for example, the individual person and the person in interaction with others, institutions, and cultures to which the person relates. (271)

Warneken, Felix, et al. Cooperative Activities in Young Children and Chimpanzees. Child Development. 77/3, 2006. From the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, new findings of a human propensity for shared intentionality.

Watanabe, Takamitsu and Geraint Rees. Age-Associated Changes in Rich-Club Organization in Autistic and Neurotypical Human Brains. Nature Scientific Reports. 5/16152, 2015. University College London neuroscientists avail the latest brain imaging abilities to further highlight the presence and importance of network architectures in cerebral faculties and behaviors. A significance distinction between “normal” and “autistic” states could then be explained by the more or lesser quality of neural interconnections.

Macroscopic structural networks in the human brain have a rich-club architecture comprising both highly inter-connected central regions and sparsely connected peripheral regions. Recent studies show that disruption of this functionally efficient organisation is associated with several psychiatric disorders. However, despite increasing attention to this network property, whether age-associated changes in rich-club organisation occur during human adolescence remains unclear. Here, analysing a publicly shared diffusion tensor imaging dataset, we found that, during adolescence, brains of typically developing (TD) individuals showed increases in rich-club organisation and inferred network functionality, whereas individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) did not. Moreover, this typical age-related changes in rich-club organisation were characterised by progressive involvement of the right anterior insula. In contrast, in ASD individuals, did not show typical increases in grey matter volume, and this relative anatomical immaturity was correlated with the severity of ASD social symptoms. These results provide evidence that rich-club architecture is one of the bases of functionally efficient brain networks underpinning complex cognitive functions in adult human brains. (Abstract)

Witherington, David. The Dynamic Systems Approach as Metatheory for Development Psychology. Human Development. 50/2-3, 2007. After some two decades of exploratory discourse this field appears to have reached a point of convergent synthesis. A University of New Mexico psychologist here carefully blends in this context the options of a ‘contextualist’ camp into local detail, and an ‘organismic’ school in search of holistic integration. These archetypes can lately be subsumed within the encompassing phenomenon of nonlinear self-organization. Viable individuation is thus accomplished by a ‘circular causality’ downward and upward amongst personality nested stages. An affirmative peer review follows by Willis Overton, who has worked toward this goal for many years. A wider import of such an advance is another confirmation within a cosmic to humankind genesis of this universal complementary marriage.

As the core idea for the DSP’s (Dynamic Systems Perspective) metatheoretical framework, self-organization provides a model for understanding developmental change rooted in both universals and particulars, in change that is both orderly and irreversible, and variable and reversible. Two general foci mark the conceptual orientation that self-organization provides: (1) a focus on emergence rather than design as the basis for system development, and (2) a focus on the relations among components of a system, rather than the components themselves, as the source of development. (135-136) The DSP offers a ‘grand narrative’ framework for developmental psychology that promises to unite the field through its focus on both stable pattern and local variability, on developmental global order and on the particulars of real-time task-specific contexts. (147)

Wu, Yihan, et al. Characterizing normal perinatal development of the human brain structural connectivity. arXiv:2308.11836. We enter this work by Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School computational neuroscientists as an example 0f life's long knowledge accumulation which can finally into the 21st century be in retrospect fed back to the beings it arose from to heal,salve and mitigate. Thus a overall self-healing, medicating, palliative course becomes evident, such as occurred with viral pandemics, as a salient evolutionary feature.

Early brain development is characterized by the formation of a highly organized structural connectome. The interconnected nature of this connectome underlies the brain's cognitive abilities and influences its response to diseases and environmental factors. Hence, quantitative assessment of structural connectivity in the perinatal stage is useful for studying normal and abnormal neurodevelopment. In this study, we developed a computational framework, based on spatio-temporal averaging, for determining such baselines. We observed increases in global and local efficiency, a decrease in characteristic path length, and widespread strengthening of the connections within and across brain lobes and hemispheres. The new computational method and results are useful for assessing normal and abnormal development of the structural connectome early in life.

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