Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why sea dwellers have less need for layers of abstraction

This post has been prompted by more thoughts connected to the book “The First Word,” by Kristine Kenneally, as well as the book “Evolutionary Consciousness” by Robert Ornstein.

What I've been thinking about are the considerations one might apply to understand why dolphins, who's brains are larger than ours, don't have the same degree of language that we have. This is probably not that new, but it certainly is a fresh perspective for me.

It boils down to only 4 broad categories:

  1. Movement in three dimensions within a gravity well.
  2. The differences in the ongoing physical variations between sea and land based environments.
  3. The differences in species food chain integration because of the first two categories.
  4. The fact that, also because of the first 3 above, you would have had no need, let alone ability, to create fire, or tools, in the first place.

Let's look at these one by one.

The first consideration is obviously significant when you think about it in terms of adaptation strategies concerning movement up and down, as well as forward and back, when gravity is a prominent factor. Not only do plant species have to be quite clever in the competition for light, as well as to get their seed more widely dispersed, animals have to be at least as clever in negotiating a landscape of these plant variations, as well as the other animals moving within the same arena.

One could well argue that the sensory integration with motor skills, in this context, would be greater than that required for simply thrusting through a medium where relative degrees of buoyancy more effectively counters gravity than air does. Certainly the processing required for echo location under water is significant, as signified by a dolphin's brain. In air, however, processing sight and sound, as well as integrating the more varied motor skills demanded by gravity, would not only be an absolute necessity, it would require its own uniquely capable processor; especially if the creature was ever to develop higher amounts of mass to allow for more strength, size (in the sense of height for better seeing distance), as well as a bigger brain.

Wings certainly have an inherent limit. Multiple legs have advantages and limits, especially when having flexibility for a wide range of environmental conditions are desired. Two legs and two arms, however, with feet that provide subtle balance and leaping abilities, as well as hands that can grasp, with arms that can lift or carry, is quite another matter.

This, in and of itself, would demand a brain with huge amounts of neuronal plasticity so that sensory data could be quickly approximated in one abstracted grouping, so that other groups could have set, very complex motor responses, at the ready for instant reactions.

The second consideration concerns how much continuous variation is a given in a land based, as opposed to a sea based, environment. In this do we see how boundaries that are always in flux will favor the species with the most adaptability. If you think about the explosion of brain size that occurred at about the time of homo erectus; creating a brain able to do so many things that hadn't even been invented yet, in the light of providing maximum plasticity for any combination of physical environments, and the specific sets of unique, neuronal abstractions each would require, perhaps its not so surprising after all.

This is where we can now segue into the third consideration. For it is here that, given the complexities of different, constantly changing, environments, that integrating successfully into whatever given food and risk situation that might be at hand, being able to address the problem with the coordinated action of a group would be undeniably advantageous. It also illustrates why higher orders of motor skills become quite beneficial; especially when you consider how throwing (the first utilization of ballistics) a rock might evolve into throwing a spear, as well as why we were suddenly able to think of making extensions of our faculties with tools in the first place. At that point, grasping, and having a handle on things began to explode. From there coordinated action, in league with ever more abstraction, would lead to task division, and skill specialization.

In all of this do we see the ever present layering of abstractions; first in the grouping of neuron connections to approximate sensory data into instantly recognized bits of experience. Experience that has been associated with set elements of fear, joy, or curiosity. These then access other neuron groupings that experience as has indicated as a successful motor response. Because we then start cooperating, shared experience is given a common reference; at first with gesture and primitive sounds, but with each generation passing things along, giving the benefit of experience already associated to the new generation, and they then building on from there, I don't see that much reason for surprise at all for why we ended up with a language ability that is as amazing as it is now.

The last consideration is simply a logical result of what we've already summed up to this point. As with tools, and extending our various physical faculties, there is no better metaphor for the idea of becoming an effector, and manipulator, of your environment than the mastery of fire. Would there have been alchemy, and then any kind of science, if we first didn't start lighting things up as it were? Would there have been the smelting of metals? Would there have been any kind of applied power beyond that of muscle?

The interesting thing in my mind that still begs a questioning mind is why all of this ended up with an entity so self aware, and contemplative. The individual point of perceptive reference that puts the sentient into consciousness. I'm pretty sure that it has to do with the creation of so many external boundaries that an inner sense of self, separated from everything external, was inevitable, but that's certainly only an opinion. It's an assertion that deserves a lot more observation and consideration.  

#Cosmolosophy #MyCosmosPhilosophy

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