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

1. The Evolution of Cerebral Form and Cognizance

Retaux, Sylvie, et al. Perspectives in Evo-Devo of the Vertebrate Brain. J. Todd Streelman, ed. Advances in Evolutionary Developmental Biology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2014. Institut Alfred Fessard, CNRS, France, neuroscientists contribute to the retrospective discovery that life’s cerebral evolution is a singular embryonic elaboration from a basic neural anatomy in place from the outset. This is strongly stated, bold added, in the opening paragraph next. From its latest global cerebration, how curious that this prodigious progeny can proceed to reconstruct from whence she and he came. Who are me and We and US?

During the last century, neuroanatomists have compared adult brains, their sizes, their forms, their structures, their neuronal compositions, and their hodology. From the Golgi impregnations of Ramon y Cajal to the introduction of modern techniques of immunocytochemistry or molecular histology, the science of comparative neuroanatomy has accumulated evidence that the brains of vertebrates constitute an infinite collection of variations on a common theme. With the advent of the evolutionary developmental approach, the so-called evo-devo, in the 1980–1990, scientists started to search for the embryonic genetic mechanisms at the origin of both the unity and the variations described between brains. It was the time to compare between embryonic brains the expression patterns of dozens of patterning and regionalization genes, and to define models or frameworks in order to interpret these patterns in diverse species. The global picture that came out of these studies was that the brains of vertebrates are built along an amazingly identical plan during embryogenesis, therefore emphasizing the unity among them. This aspect has been reviewed elsewhere and will not be dealt with here in detail. Rather, we will mainly discuss the developmental mechanisms which, within a common Bauplan, allow for variations in brain anatomy. (151)

The vertebrate forebrain has undergone an extraordinary diversification in the course of evolution. For instance, could anyone see that the mammalian cerebral cortex, with its well-known organization into 6 layers, and the so-called everted pallium of teleost fishes, are homologous brain regions? Using an evolutionary developmental approach, we aim to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms which govern the unity (homology) and the differences (diversification) present in the forebrains of various vertebrates. To this end, we study original animal models: the naturally generated cavefish and the phylogenetically important lamprey, in addition to the conventional model, the mouse. (Sylvie Retaux website)

Richardson, Ken. The Eclipse of Heritability and the Foundations of Intelligence. New Ideas in Psychology. Online October, 2012. The emeritus Open University educator cites post-sequence inabilities over the past decade to connect cerebral features with individual genes. Much more seems to be going on both within genomes and via a multitude of epigenetic effects. As his 2011 book The Evolution of Intelligent Systems: How Molecules Became Minds, (search) well explains, life’s vectorial rise of neural cognitive acumen requires and can be better understood by a novel, broadly conceived paradigm of generative nonlinear dynamics.

It is well known that theory in human cognitive ability or ‘intelligence’ is not well developed, especially with regard to sources of trait variation. Roots of theory have been sought in biology, and it is now widely accepted, on the basis of twin studies, and statistical analysis of variance, that at least half of the normal trait variation can be attributed to genetic variation, a correlation known as the trait ‘heritability’. Since the 1990s, methods in molecular biology have been adopted to go ‘beyond’ this mere statistical attribution to the identification of individual genes responsible for trait variation. More than a decade of intense effort, however, has failed to produce unambiguous, replicable findings; explanations for the ‘missing heritability’ are now being demanded; and calls for new perspectives on the roles of genes and environments in development and trait variation are being demanded. Here, I propose a dynamic systems perspective indicating how the processes in which heritability becomes missing are the very ones that provide the roots of new intelligence theory. (Abstract)

This logic of development and metabolism, as dynamic, self-organized systems, suggests radical changes in our view of the nature and role of genes, and the nature and origins of phenotypic variation. It is now clear that offspring inherit far more than their genes from parents, rather they start life as whole developmental systems. Genes are not autonomous units that somehow turn on to initiate and direct metabolism and development, as a gene-centered command system. Rather these are centered in the dynamics emerging through the vast networks of signaling and transcription regulation. (4-5)

As Vygotsky argued, this form of intelligence (human) vastly extends and amplifies the cognitive abilities of primate intelligence. The dynamics between brains interact with those within brains – just as the dynamics of physiology interact with those within cells – emerging as hierarchies of nested attractors exhibiting reflective abstraction. The cultural tool we call science is one of the best examples: a theory is a collective model of part of nature emergent from the dialectics of scientific method, taking us beyond specific empirical experience. It is such socio-psychonomics that have driven human history across millennia so that, instead of adapting to the environment, like all other species, humans have adapted the environment to themselves. (6)

Richardson, Ken. The Evolution of Intelligent Systems: How Molecules Became Minds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. The emeritus Open University psychologist provides a well-written revision of cerebral, cognitive and social encephalization from old reduction methods to a nonlinear, self-organizing, dynamical network approach. As chapters chronicle life’s stepwise neural development from sentient cells to human and onto group cognizances, one gets a sense of a nested, recurrent gestation getting smarter by proto-whole degrees and scales from blastosphere to noosphere.

Much of the excitement (from the systems view) has stemmed from a closer look at the nature of experience in the real world, revealing just how much dynamic structure is there to foster the evolution of complex systems. The new field of dynamic systems (DST), sometimes under other guises such as non-linear dynamics, or the dynamical approach, is also showing that, in realistically changeable environments, with which most systems in living things have to cope, we need to focus on structures, not elements, in experience, in order to understand what has evolved. This has brought exciting new outlooks on living systems generally. In this book, I hope to show how they can portray evolution as a series of bridges or cascades, each responding to the dynamics of complexity in the world. (17)

Robson, David. A Brief History of the Brain. New Scientist. September 24, 2011. Whence a 21st century worldwide Brain can now view in retrospect the entire course of its earthly evolution and development. A succinct article that takes us from rudimentary sensory cells to the ramifying course of more complex and aware cerebral faculties.

Rosa-Molinar, Eduardo, et al. Hindbrain Development and Evolution. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 66/4, 2005. A special issue on the organization of the nervous system as the vertebrate hindbrain evolves into cerebellum, pons, and medulla.

Roser, Matthew and Michael Gazzaniga. Automatic Brains – Interpretive Minds. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 13/2, 2004. An agreement with the popular view that unitary consciousness, our constant personal narrative, is constructed from a complex integration of distinct, local, simpler modular processes.

Roth, Gerhard. The Long Evolution of Brains and Minds. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013. As only now possible, the University of Bremen neurobiologist traces the ancient parallel course of neural and cognitive ramification from the earliest bacteria, archaea, and protozoa to human beings. Chapters such as Mind and Intelligence, The Language of Neurons, Invertebrate Nervous Systems, Invertebrate Cognition, Vertebrate Brains, Animal Consciousness, and Evolution of Brains and Minds convey a sensory stirring and elaboration unto reflective awareness. A tacit theme is then becomes evident as a long phylogeny of embryonic development. See Roth's paper Convergent Evolution of Complex Brains and High Intelligence in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (370/20150049, 2015) for a good synopsis.

Roth, Gerhard and Mario Wullimann, eds. Brain Evolution and Cognition. New York: Wiley; Heidelberg: Spektrum, 2001. An extensive volume by international researchers on the anatomy, physiology, development, and function of invertebrate, vertebrate, and human brains. As a general theme, a continuity by degrees of encephalization and subsequent conscious awareness is recognized. Human beings are now entering an extrasomatic cerebral realm through language.

Roth, Gerhard and Ursula Dicke. Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 9/5, 2005. An enhanced cerebral capacity has evolved independently in vertebrate classes of birds and mammals, and also in different orders of cetaceans and primates. By this view, a single ‘orthogenetic’ line leading to homo sapiens is ruled out, but a persistent advance in relative intelligence is evident.

The outstanding intelligence of humans appears to result from a combination and enhancement of properties found in non-human primates, such as theory of mind, imitation and language, rather than from ‘unique’ properties. (250)

Roumazeilles, Lea, et al. Longitudinal Connections and the Organization of the Temporal Cortex in Macaques, Great Apes, and Humans. PLoS Computational Biology. July, 2020. By way of advanced brain scan techniques, sixteen researchers based at Oxford University, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging and Radboud University, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, can compare neural architectures across the range of our primate forebears. Our philoSophia vista then wonders what kind of Ecosmic to Earthosmic course proceeds to arduously evolve an intelligent, collaborative species whom altogether can reconstruct how they came to be. What is the nature of this “accumulated knowledge repository” (geonome?) which could serve to begin a second genesis cocreation?

The temporal association cortex is considered a primate specialization and is involved in complex behaviors such as language, a particular characteristic of humans. The emergence of these behaviors has been linked to major differences in temporal lobe white matter in humans compared with monkeys. It is unknown, however, how the organization of the temporal lobe differs across anthropoid primates. We systematically compared the organization of the major temporal lobe white matter tracts in the human, gorilla, and chimpanzee great apes and in the macaque monkey. We show that humans and great apes exhibit an expanded and more complex occipital–temporal white matter system. (Abstract excerpt)

A hominid is a member of the family Hominidae, the great apes: orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. ... A human is a member of the genus Homo, of which Homo sapiens is the only extant species, and within that Homo sapiens sapiens is the only surviving subspecies. (Wikipedia)

Roumazeilles, Lea, et al. Longitudinal Connections and the Organization of the Temporal Cortex in Macaques, Great Apes, and Humans. PLOS Biology. July, 2020. By way of advanced brain scan techniques, sixteen researchers based at Oxford University, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging and Radboud University, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, are now able to compare neural architectures across the range of our primate forebears. Our philoSophia vista then wonders what kind of Ecosmic to Earthosmic course arduously evolves and develops to an intelligent, collaborative species whom altogether can reconstruct how they came to be. What is the nature and purpose of this “accumulated knowledge repository” (geonome?) which could serve to begin a better genesis co-creation?

The temporal association cortex is considered a primate specialization and is involved in complex behaviors such as language, a particular characteristic of humans. The emergence of these behaviors has been linked to major differences in temporal lobe white matter in humans compared with monkeys. It is unknown, however, how the organization of the temporal lobe differs across anthropoid primates. We systematically compared the organization of the major temporal lobe white matter tracts in the human, gorilla, and chimpanzee great apes and in the macaque monkey. We show that humans and great apes exhibit an expanded and more complex occipital–temporal white matter system. (Abstract excerpt)

A hominid is a member of the family Hominidae, the great apes: orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. ... A human is a member of the genus Homo, of which Homo sapiens is the only extant species, and within that Homo sapiens sapiens is the only surviving subspecies. (Wikipedia)

Sadtler, Patrick, et al. Neural Constraints on Learning. Nature. 512/423, 2014. A team of neuroscientists with multiple postings at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University achieve another quantification of how new experiences are better accommodated if they can be assimilated with prior memory. See also Hava Siegelmann 2012 and Richard Watson, et al 2014 for similar findings in neural networks and life’s evolution.

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