VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
1. The Evolution of Cerebral Form and Cognizance
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)
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.
Salas, Cosme, et al. Evolution of Forebrain and Spatial Cognition in Vertebrates: Conservation Across Diversity. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 62/1, 2003. Although the vertebrate brain shows a range of diverse radiations, a common pattern of basic organization is consistently conserved across the long evolution of fish into monkeys.
We analyze here recent data indication a close functional similarity between spatial cognition mechanisms in different groups of vertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles and teleost fish, and we show in addition that they rely on homologous neural mechanisms. (72)
Satterlie, Richard. The Search for Ancestral Nervous Systems: An Integrative and Comparative Approach. Journal of Experimental Biology. 218/4, 2015. A select article in an issue on the Evolution of the First Nervous Systems by a University of North Carolina marine biologist about the latest evidences of life’s insistence from its earliest phases on cerebral learning capabilities. See also Convergent Evolution of Neural Systems in Ctenophores by Leonid Moroz, and Evolution of Basal Deuterostome Nervous Systems by Linda Holland, Elements of a “Nervous System” in Sponges by Sally Leys, and Introductions by its editor Peter Anderson, the University of Florida marine bioscientist.
Even the most basal multicellular nervous systems are capable of producing complex behavioral acts that involve the integration and combination of simple responses, and decision-making when presented with conflicting stimuli. This requires an understanding beyond that available from genomic investigations, and calls for a integrative and comparative approach, where the power of genomic/transcriptomic techniques is coupled with morphological, physiological and developmental experimentation to identify common and species-specific nervous system properties for the development and elaboration of phylogenomic reconstructions. With careful selection of genes and gene products, we can continue to make significant progress in our search for ancestral nervous system organizations. (Abstract)
Savage-Rumbaugh, Sue, et al, eds. Apes, Language, and the Human Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. With regard to the sequential, complementary way brains evolved, its initial primate capacity is seen as a “wholistic intelligence” whence an entire scene is taken in all at once. Later hominids and human beings are characterized by a “hierarchical intelligence,” which is an analytical subset of the earlier global survey.
Schmidt-Rhaesa, Andreas, et al, eds. Structure and Evolution of Invertebrate Nervous Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. This 750 page, 55 chapter tome by European and international neuroscientists is a comprehensive, consummate survey of this research field, which, it is said, was not possible until now. Many entries about classes such as Tardigrada, Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Rotifera, Nemertea, and Scorpiones are interspersed with Perspectives on Evolution of Neural Cell Types (Detlev Arendt), The First Brain, Neural Systems Development, Evolution of Neurogenesis in Arthropods (Angelika Stollewerk), and The Origin of Vertebrate Neural Organization. As one may peruse this reconstruction by Anthropo Sapiens of the many creatures far and near from which we came, as the quotes broach, a constant theme emerges. From the earliest, originally complex, rudiments arose radiating homologies of forms and senses, a recurrent convergence leading onto vertebrate species. In regard, an evolutionary developmental gestation, lately reaching our global phase able to achieve this knowledge is once again clearly evident, just as Darwin’s day intimated.
Inescapably, the stunning presence in basal metazoans of cellular modules that belong to diverse cell types in the complex bilaterians implies that these modules are distributed over relatively few, hence multifunctional cell types. This means that metazoan ancestors likewise possessed few complex cell types, including early neural cells. Thus, metazoan cell type diversification started from multifunctional cells. (19) The transition from a few cell types with multiple functions in early metazoans to many cell types with specialized functions in animals implies that, at least in many cases, cell type evolution involved a differential distribution of functions and modules among emergent sister cells. This process has been referred to as a “segregation of functions” or “division of labor.” (20)
Singer, Wolf. The Evolution of Culture from a Neurobiological Perspective. Levinson, Stephen and Pierre Jaisson, eds. Evolution and Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005. Advances in bipedal gait, labor-sharing societies, agriculture, and language, are accompanied by a ramification of brain size and anatomy. An expanded cerebral cortex by way of iterative, self-similar processes achieves a series of “metarepresentations” through symbolic communication and a sense of what others may think and know.
Smith-Ferguson, Jules and Madeleine Beekman. Who Needs a Brain? Slime Moulds, Behavioural Ecology and Minimal Cognition. Adaptive Behavior. Online January, 2019. University of Sydney neurobiologists contribute to current realizations that an evolutionary continuum is evident from invertebrate rudiments all the way to complex animals. For example, familiar “cognitive” behaviors are found in insects (bees can count) and even for prokaryote bacterial colonies. As our Evolutionary Intelligence section conveys, this rising, cumulative acumen seems quite traces a central track. See also Van Duijn, Marc. Phylogenetic Origins of Biological Cognition: Convergent Patterns in the Early Evolution of Learning by Marc van Duijn in Interface Focus (7/3, 2017) for a similar perception.
Although human decision making seems complex, there is evidence that many decisions are grounded in simple heuristics. Such heuristic models of decision making are widespread in nature. To understand how and why different forms of information processing evolve, it is insightful to study the minimal requirements for cognition. Here, we explore the minimally cognitive behaviour of the acellular slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, in order to discuss the ecological pressures that lead to the development of information processing mechanisms. By highlighting a few examples of common mechanisms, we conclude that all organisms contain the building blocks for more complex information processing. Returning the debate about cognition to the biological basics demystifies some of the confusion around the term ‘cognition’. (Abstract)