- Nov 2021
So to sum things up what caused life's major evolutionary transitions the answer is cooperation major transitions begin when a group of organisms join forces to better survive and reproduce if cooperation continues long enough a new super organism may Emerge one that can then go [on] to reproduce and evolve as a whole and 00:07:42 The pathway that led [to] animals along with humankind [at] least three major transitions have been identified resulting in four layers of Life within your own body
Within this human body, we embed 4 different stages of Major Evolutionary Transitions (MET).
Our human body is the product of billions of years of evolution, embodying various outputs from each major stage of a Major Evolutionary Transition (MET). We are a multi-cellular being, a colony. Yet,at the same time, we have living elements that at one time in history, were independent living beings which were NOT part of a multi-cellular colony!
In the deep history of the evolution of the human body, genes, mitochondria, eukaryotes were all once autonomous living entities, each a biological self with its own boundary separating inner from outer. Virus's helped to catalyze their mutualism over deep time.
Now, over billions of years of evolution, they are all integrated together by the extra-cellular matrix and laminin protein into our multi-cellular human body, replicating as one super, super, super organism.
Finally, inscribed language has allowed us to undergo another kind of transition, a major system transition (MST) where human beings now dominate the entire biosphere, for better and for worse.
Each new layer of Life is the result of what scientists call a major evolutionary transition? What was the cause of these transitions the answer is? Cooperation a Major Transition starts when free living creatures team up to form a cooperative group in the early stages of cooperation Participants are free to come and go as they [please] [if] a group sticks together long enough however 00:04:51 Division of labor will often evolve different participants begin specializing in different tasks as time goes on Individuals may become so specialized that they can no longer survive on their own [if] the entire group becomes locked into cooperation Depending fully on one another to survive and reproduce a new super organism has been forged and they made your evolutionary transition is complete 00:05:16 From this point on the entire group will evolve together as one Models describing natural situations that might promote the evolution of major transitions have been put forth by scientists such as John Maynard Smith [fior] Sonck Mary stuart West and w d hamilton using these models Researchers have been able to Mimic natural scenarios in the lab Allowing us to directly witness the beginnings of major transitions [evolved]
This is the key to Major Evolutionary Transition - a population of free living individual creatures discover that in teaming up, there is a greater resultant evolutionary fitness, mutualism symbiotic relationship emerges. It becomes so strong over time that the many become a self-replicating one.
The biological self is always defined by a boundary between inner and outer, but in this act of mutualism, the many biological selves join to form a new higher order biological self.
In this way, a multi-cellular species like ours is somewhat like one of those nested Russian dolls.
Indeed, Amanda Robins hypothesizes
that our species has undergone what she and Peter Nonacs calls Major System Transition (MST). The cultural artifact of inscribed language has made possible a superorganism / supraorganism that has spread across the globe.
we want to focus on how humans fit into our category goal framework here and we'll use this figure as a roadmap 00:42:18 starting with the center section looking that looks at how events that affect the species and clay level and so what stands out here for humans is our 00:42:28 complex spoken language which greatly enhances our communication and has long been thought of as a met due to leaps in the way that we transmit information between individuals 00:42:40 but this met really wouldn't have been possible without a major competitive transition so the specific regions in the brain that are associated with greater cognition and language ability 00:42:52 and also our larger brain size which is correlated with functionality and our spoken language allows human societies to gather greater amounts of level 3 or learned 00:43:07 information than would ever be possible within any one individual's lifetime and this really turns up the dial on the magnitude at which cultural evolution affects us as a 00:43:19 species and allows us to adapt and construct our environments in different ways cultural innovations are also not dependent on random beneficial mutations but can 00:43:32 arise intentionally and this has major impacts for how quickly and at what level we can affect our ecosystems 00:43:43 so when we come back to the figure and we've layered on complex spoken language now we can look at the level of ecosystem change that's occurred because of this and see if it's enough to bring 00:43:55 us to a major systems transition and here we argue that the answer is no if we would have just stopped at spoken language our global impact would never have reached the level 00:44:07 that it takes to drive an mst but we do argue that this spoken language was actually a facilitating evolutionary transition for events that directly paved the way 00:44:19 for an mst so human spoken language is a facilitating transition for symbolic representation of instructional information so the met and the mechd that make up 00:44:33 complex spoken language are actually a fit for being able to write things down and being able to write things down onto abiotic mediums allows us to increase the amount of information that 00:44:47 we can store the accuracy of the stored information and the efficiency of transmission and this has an especially high impact for oblique transmission because 00:44:59 being able to inscribe information can potentially immortalize it and then individuals far in the future can build upon it and so being able to build upon 00:45:12 uh generations of information through symbolic representation of language is really a key for the expansion of technological innovations that have expanded the realized niche of humans so 00:45:25 we have spread across every continent made major impacts on most ecosystems and a part of what has allowed us to do this is the technology that we've designed uh based upon large amounts of 00:45:39 inscribed language and some of these technologies actually allow us to manipulate or avoid the processes of natural selection and some of the those examples are listed here 00:45:53 and so when we go back to our figure and layer on the potential to inscribe language and then re-look at ecosystem level changes we think that here due to due to the 00:46:06 technological innovations and global expansion that's come with being the only species to store this much level three information that the answer is now yes 00:46:19 and when an mst occurs the context in which this entire cycle takes place completely shifts because now the global ecosystem is playing by a modified set of rules that are 00:46:33 set forth by the mst so this brings us to the question are humans the last mst or are there other mets and mechs forthcoming that will drive a new 00:46:45 major systems transition
Robin argues that spoken language alone, while a MET does not constitute a MST because spoken language could not have resulted in the global spread of ideas that made our current globalized modernity possible. However, it is a Facilitating Evolutionary Transition (FET) which paved the way for inscribed language which did enable the global spread of technology.
you are looking at major 00:12:17 evolutionary transitions so one can start with the idea that initially what has to happen is individuals kind of have to tolerate each other so in other words competitors 00:12:31 have to be willing to form into those simple groups and those groups have to have some kind of benefit for their existence and continuance then berkshire said well the next step 00:12:44 in this transition is what can go from formation to maintenance so if you go from a simple group to society again there are there are rules there are maybe individuals that belong to certain 00:12:56 societies and rather than sort of a fission fusion kind of uh coming together going apart these societies maintain themselves these groups maintain themselves over 00:13:08 longer periods of time and there are more benefits and there may in fact be more conflicts that have to be worked out to keep the societies to maintain the societies 00:13:19 finally there would be the step into this group transformation again what what what kuala and strassmann might have called organismality so now that the groups subsume their kind of 00:13:32 individual goals into a collective goal for all of them and again the idea here is that that that one has to happen is conflict has to be somehow managed and reduced 00:13:44 such that the groups can actually transform into this coherent whole single individual and some of the key points in in in burke's sort of 00:13:55 pathway to to to transformation is that the first two steps are can truly be bidirectional in other words uh societies can go back to being simple groups and simple groups can go 00:14:10 back to being competitive just competitors so in other words those aren't sort of absorbing states but the argument is that once once you sort of get to that group transformation that last blue arrow you 00:14:23 have transformed in a way that it is hard or impossible to really go backwards and what burke argued is that that process those those various steps and 00:14:34 particularly that last transformative step is strongly driven often by inclusive fitness kin selection so in other words going back to that continuum 00:14:46 of the types of groups that they can form fraternal groups are much more likely to to transform into these higher level organisms than 00:14:58 uh egalitarian groups
The transition from competing individuals to a coherent unity is a fascinating journey.
Applied to human society at a time of the Anthropocene, these principles of evolutionary biology may be salient to apply to the superorganism/supra-organism of humanity undergoing a process of rapid whole system change.
Professional musicians, concert pianists get to know this instrument deeply, intimately. And through it, they're able to create with sound in a way that just dazzles us, and challenges us, and deepens us. But if you were to look into the mind of a concert pianist, and you used all the modern ways of imaging it, an interesting thing that you would see 00:11:27 is how much of their brain is actually dedicated to this instrument. The ability to coordinate ten fingers. The ability to work the pedal. The feeling of the sound. The understanding of music theory. All these things are represented as different patterns and structures in the brain. And now that you have that thought in your mind, recognize that this beautiful pattern and structure of thought in the brain 00:11:52 was not possible even just a couple hundred years ago. Because the piano was not invented until the year 1700. This beautiful pattern of thought in the brain didn't exist 5,000 years ago. And in this way, the skill of the piano, the relationship to the piano, the beauty that comes from it was not a thinkable thought until very, very recently in human history. 00:12:17 And the invention of the piano itself was not an independent thought. It required a depth of mechanical engineering. It required the history of stringed instruments. It required so many patterns and structures of thought that led to the possibility of its invention and then the possibility of the mastery of its play. And it leads me to a concept I'd like to share with you guys, which I call "The Palette of Being." 00:12:44 Because all of us are born into this life having available to us the experiences of humanity that has come so far. We typically are only able to paint with the patterns of thoughts and the ways of being that existed before. So if the piano and the way of playing it is a way of being, this is a way of being that didn't exist for people 5,000 years ago. 00:13:10 It was a color in the Palette of Being that you couldn't paint with. Nowadays if you are born, you can actually learn the skill; you can learn to be a computer scientist, another color that was not available just a couple hundred years ago. And our lives are really beautiful for the following reason. We're born into this life. We have the ability to go make this unique painting with the colors of being that are around us at the point of our birth. 00:13:36 But in the process of life, we also have the unique opportunity to create a new color. And that might come from the invention of a new thing. A self-driving car. A piano. A computer. It might come from the way that you express yourself as a human being. It might come from a piece of artwork that you create. Each one of these ways of being, these things that we put out into the world 00:14:01 through the creative process of mixing together all the other things that existed at the point that we were born, allow us to expand the Palette of Being for all of society after us. And this leads me to a very simple way to go frame everything that we've talked about today. Because I think a lot of us understand that we exist in this kind of the marvelous universe, 00:14:30 but we think about this universe as we're this tiny, unimportant thing, there's this massive physical universe, and inside of it, there's the biosphere, and inside of that, that's society, and inside of us, we're just one person out of seven billion people, and how can we matter? And we think about this as like a container relationship, where all the goodness comes from the outside to the inside, and there's nothing really special about us. 00:14:56 But the Palette of Being says the opposite. It says that the way that we are in our lives, the way that we affect our friends and our family, begin to change the way that they are able to paint in the future, begins to change the way that communities then affect society, the way that society could then affect its relationship to the biosphere, and the way that the biosphere could then affect the physical planet 00:15:21 and the universe itself. And if it's a possible thing for cyanobacteria to completely transform the physical environment of our planet, it is absolutely a possible thing for us to do the same thing. And it leads to a really important question for the way that we're going to do that, the manner in which we're going to do that. Because we've been given this amazing gift of consciousness.
The Palette of Being is a very useful idea that is related to Cumulative Cultural Evolution (CCE) and autopoiesis. From CCE, humans are able to pass on new ideas from one generation to the next, made possible by the tool of inscribed language.
Peter Nonacs group at UCLA as well as Stuart West at Oxford research Major Evolutionary Transitions (MET) West elucidates that modern hominids integrate the remnants of four major stages of MET that have occurred over deep time. Amanda Robins, a researcher in Nonacs group posits the idea that our species of modern hominids are undergoing a Major Systems Transition (MST), due specifically to our development of inscribed language.
CCE emerges new technologies that shape our human environments in time frames far faster than biological evolutionary timeframes. New human experiences are created which have never been exposed to human brains before, which feedback to affect our biological evolution as well in the process of gene-culture coevolution (GCC), also known as Dual Inheritance theory. In this way, CCE and GCC are entangled. "Gene–culture coevolution is the application of niche-construction reasoning to the human species, recognizing that both genes and culture are subject to similar dynamics, and human society is a cultural construction that provides the environment for fitness-enhancing genetic changes in individuals. The resulting social system is a complex dynamic nonlinear system. " (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048999/)
This metaphor of experiences constituting different colors on a Palette of Being is a powerful one that can contextualize human experiences from a deep time framework. One could argue that language usage automatically forces us into an anthropomorphic lens, for sophisticated language usage at the level of humans appears to be unique amongst our species. Within that constraint, the Palette of Being still provides us with a less myopic, less immediate and arguably less anthropomorphic view of human experience. It is philosophically problematic, however, in the sense that we can speculate about nonhuman modalities of being but never truly experience them. Philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote his classic paper "What it's like to be a bat" to illustrate this problem of experiencing the other. (https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/study/ugmodules/humananimalstudies/lectures/32/nagel_bat.pdf)
We can also leverage the Palette of Being in education. Deep Humanity (DH) BEing Journeys are a new kind of experiential, participatory contemplative practice and teaching tool designed to deepen our appreciation of what it is to be human. The polycrisis of the Anthropocene, especially the self-induced climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic have precipitated the erosion of stable social norms and reference frames, inducing another crisis, a meaning crisis. In this context, a re-education of embodied philosophy is seen as urgent to make sense of a radically shifting human reality.
Different human experiences presented as different colors of the Palette of Being situate our crisis in a larger context. One important Deep Humanity BEing journey that can help contextualize and make sense of our experiences is language. Once upon a time, language did not exist. As it gradually emerged, this color came to be added to our Palette of Being, and shaped the normative experiences of humanity in profound ways. It is the case that such profound shifts, lost over deep time come to be taken for granted by modern conspecifics. When such particular colors of the Palette of Being are not situated in deep time, and crisis ensues, that loss of contextualizing and situatedness can be quite disruptive, de-centering, confusing and alienating.
Being aware of the colors in the Palette can help us shed light on the amazing aspects that culture has invisibly transmitted to us, helping us not take them for granted, and re-establish a sense of awe about our lives as human beings.
- Amanda Robins
- Major Evolutionary Transition
- What it's like to be a bat
- Thomas Nagel
- Gene culture coevolution
- Stuart West
- palette of being
- Deep Humanity
- Major System Transition
- Cumulative Cultural Evolution
- peter nonacs
- BEing Journey