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Evolution

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How do we make decisions? Conventional decision theory tells us only which behavioral choices we ought to make if we follow certain axioms. In real life, however, our choices are governed by cognitive mechanisms shaped over evolutionary time through the process of natural selection. Evolution has created strong biases in how and when we process information, and it is these evolved cognitive building blocks—from signal detection and memory to individual and social learning—that provide the foundation for our choices. An evolutionary perspective thus sheds necessary light on the nature of how we and other animals make decisions.

This volume—with contributors from a broad range of disciplines, including evolutionary biology, psychology, economics, anthropology, neuroscience, and computer science—offers a multidisciplinary examination of what evolution can tell us about our and other animals' mechanisms of decision making. Human children, for example, differ from chimpanzees in their tendency to over-imitate others and copy obviously useless actions; this divergence from our primate relatives sets up imitation as one of the important mechanisms underlying human decision making. The volume also considers why and when decision mechanisms are robust, why they vary across individuals and situations, and how social life affects our decisions.

Evolution, Algorithms, and the Brain

Over a century ago, William James proposed that people search through memory much as they rummage through a house looking for lost keys. We scour our environments for territory, food, mates, and information. We search for items in visual scenes, for historical facts, and for the best deals on Internet sites; we search for new friends to add to our social networks, and for solutions to novel problems. What we find is always governed by how we search and by the structure of the environment.

This book explores how we search for resources in our minds and in the world. The authors examine the evolution and adaptive functions of search; the neural underpinnings of goal-searching mechanisms across species; psychological models of search in memory, decision making, and visual scenes; and applications of search behavior in highly complex environments such as the Internet. As the range of information, social contacts, and goods continues to expand, how well we are able to search and successfully find what we seek becomes increasingly important. At the same time, search offers cross-disciplinary insights to the scientific study of human cognition and its evolution. Combining perspectives from researchers across numerous domains, this book furthers our understanding of the relationship between search and the human mind.

Toward an Art of Evolution

Humans have bred plants and animals with an eye to aesthetics for centuries: flowers are selected for colorful blossoms or luxuriant foliage; racehorses are prized for the elegance of their frames. Hybridized plants were first exhibited as fine art in 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed Edward Steichen’s hybrid delphiniums. Since then, bio art has become a genre; artists work with a variety of living things, including plants, animals, bacteria, slime molds, and fungi. Many commentators have addressed the social and political concerns raised by making art out of living material. In Green Light, however, George Gessert examines the role that aesthetic perception has played in bio art and other interventions in evolution.

Gessert looks at a variety of life forms that humans have helped shape, focusing on plants--the most widely domesticated form of life and the one that has been crucial to his own work as an artist. We learn about pleasure gardens of the Aztecs, cultivated for intoxicating fragrance; the aesthetic standards promoted by national plant societies; a daffodil that looks like a rose; and praise for weeds and wildflowers.

Contemporary Issues in Comparative Cognition

Do animals have cognitive maps? Do they possess knowledge? Do they plan for the future? Do they understand that others have mental lives of their own? This volume provides a state-of-the-art assessment of animal cognition, with experts from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ecology, and evolutionary biology addressing these questions in an integrative fashion. It summarizes the latest research, identifies areas where consensus has been reached, and takes on current controversies. Over the last thirty years, the field has shifted from the collection of anecdotes and the pursuit of the subjective experience of animals to a rigorous, hypothesis-driven experimental approach. Taking a skeptical stance, this volume stresses the notion that in many cases relatively simple rules may account for rather complex and flexible behaviors.

The book critically evaluates current concepts and puts a strong focus on the psychological mechanisms that underpin animal behavior. It offers comparative analyses that reveal common principles as well as adaptations that evolved in particular species in response to specific selective pressures. It assesses experimental approaches to the study of animal navigation, decision making, social cognition, and communication and suggests directions for future research. The book promotes a research program that seeks to understand animals' cognitive abilities and behavioral routines as individuals and as members of social groups.

Limited Forms Most Beautiful

Charles Darwin famously concluded On the Origin of Species with a vision of “endless forms most beautiful” continually evolving. More than 150 years later many evolutionary biologists see not endless forms but the same, or very similar, forms evolving repeatedly in many independent species lineages. A porpoise’s fishlike fins, for example, are not inherited from fish ancestors but are independently derived convergent traits. In this book, George McGhee describes the ubiquity of the phenomenon of convergent evolution and connects it directly to the concept of evolutionary constraint--the idea that the number of evolutionary pathways available to life are not endless, but quite limited.
Convergent evolution occurs on all levels, from tiny organic molecules to entire ecosystems of species. McGhee demonstrates its ubiquity in animals, both herbivore and carnivore; in plants; in ecosystems; in molecules, including DNA, proteins, and enzymes; and even in minds, describing problem-solving behavior and group behavior as the products of convergence. For each species example, he provides an abbreviated list of the major nodes in its phylogenetic classification, allowing the reader to see the evolutionary relationship of a group of species that have independently evolved a similar trait by convergent evolution. McGhee analyzes the role of functional and developmental constraints in producing convergent evolution, and considers the scientific and philosophical implications of convergent evolution for the predictability of the evolutionary process.

How Gene Regulation Networks Evolve to Control Development

Each of us is a collection of more than ten trillion cells, busy performing tasks crucial to our continued existence. Gene regulation networks, consisting of a subset of genes called transcription factors, control cellular activity, producing the right gene activities for the many situations that the multiplicity of cells in our bodies face. Genes working together make up a truly ingenious system. In this book, Roger Sansom investigates how gene regulation works and how such a refined but simple system evolved.

Sansom describes in detail two frameworks for understanding gene regulation. The first, developed by the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, holds that gene regulation networks are fundamentally systems that repeat patterns of gene expression. Sansom finds Kauffman’s framework an inadequate explanation for how cells overcome the difficulty of development. Sansom proposes an alternative: the connectionist framework. Drawing on work from artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind, he argues that the key lies in how multiple transcription factors combine to regulate a single gene, acting in a way that is qualitatively consistent. This allows the expression of genes to be finely tuned to the variable microenvironments of cells. Because of the nature of both development and its evolution, we can gain insight into the developmental process when we identify gene regulation networks as the controllers of development. The ingenuity of genes is explained by how gene regulation networks evolve to control development.

In 1995, John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry published their influential book The Major Transitions in Evolution. The "transitions" that Maynard Smith and Szathmáry chose to describe all constituted major changes in the kinds of organisms that existed but, most important, these events also transformed the evolutionary process itself. The evolution of new levels of biological organization, such as chromosomes, cells, multicelled organisms, and complex social groups radically changed the kinds of individuals natural selection could act upon. Many of these events also produced revolutionary changes in the process of inheritance, by expanding the range and fidelity of transmission, establishing new inheritance channels, and developing more open-ended sources of variation.Maynard Smith and Szathmáry had planned a major revision of their work, but the death of Maynard Smith in 2004 prevented this. In this volume, prominent scholars (including Szathmáry himself) reconsider and extend the earlier book’s themes in light of recent developments in evolutionary biology. The contributors discuss different frameworks for understanding macroevolution, prokaryote evolution (the study of which has been aided by developments in molecular biology), and the complex evolution of multicellularity.

Evolution of the Sensory Self

Chimeras and Consciousness begins the inquiry into the evolution of the collective sensitivities of life. Scientist-scholars from a range of fields—including biochemistry, cell biology, history of science, family therapy, genetics, microbial ecology, and primatology—trace the emergence and evolution of consciousness. Complex behaviors and the social imperatives of bacteria and other life forms during 3,000 million years of Earth history gave rise to mammalian cognition. Awareness and sensation led to astounding activities; millions of species incessantly interacted to form our planet’s complex conscious system. Our planetmates, all of them conscious to some degree, were joined only recently by us, the aggressive modern humans.

From social bacteria to urban citizens, all living beings participate in community life. Nested inside families within communities inside ecosystems, each metabolizes, takes in matter, expends energy, and excretes. Each of the members of our own and other species, in groups with incessantly shifting alliances, receives and processes information. Mergers of radically different life forms with myriad purposes—the "chimeras" of the title—underlie dramatic metamorphosis and other positive evolutionary change. Since early bacteria avoided, produced, and eventually used oxygen, Earth’s sensory systems have expanded and complexified. The provocative essays in this book, going far beyond science but undergirded by the finest science, serve to put sensitive, sensible life in its cosmic context.

Exploring the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems

The work performed by living systems ranges from photosynthesis to prodigious feats of computation and organization. This multidisciplinary volume explores the relationships between work and the study of work across many different levels of organization. By addressing how work gets done, and why, from the perspectives of a range of disciplines, including cell and evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology, electrical and computer engineering, and design, the volume sets out to establish an integrative approach to the study of work.Chapters introduce the biological work of producing energy in the cell; establish inherent tradeoffs between energy and information in neural systems; relate principles of integrated circuit manufacture to work in biological systems; explore the work of photosynthesis; investigate how work shapes organisms’ evolutionary niches; consider the human work of design; describe the effects of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction on work-life balance; and address the effects of environmental challenges (stress) on how humans and animals do work. Finally, editors and contributors draw these studies together and point to future developments.Contributors Alan Blackwell, Gillian Brown, Christina De La Rocha, Kevin Laland, Simon Laughlin, Robert Levin, Michael Lightner, Steven Maier, Joseph Rosse, Stacy Saturay

Human communication is grounded in fundamentally cooperative, even shared, intentions. In this original and provocative account of the evolutionary origins of human communication, Michael Tomasello connects the fundamentally cooperative structure of human communication (initially discovered by Paul Grice) to the especially cooperative structure of human (as opposed to other primate) social interaction. Tomasello argues that human cooperative communication rests on a psychological infrastructure of shared intentionality (joint attention, common ground), evolved originally for collaboration and culture more generally. The basic motives of the infrastructure are helping and sharing: humans communicate to request help, inform others of things helpfully, and share attitudes as a way of bonding within the cultural group. These cooperative motives each created different functional pressures for conventionalizing grammatical constructions. Requesting help in the immediate you-and-me and here-and-now, for example, required very little grammar, but informing and sharing required increasingly complex grammatical devices. Drawing on empirical research into gestural and vocal communication by great apes and human infants (much of it conducted by his own research team), Tomasello argues further that humans’ cooperative communication emerged first in the natural gestures of pointing and pantomiming. Conventional communication, first gestural and then vocal, evolved only after humans already possessed these natural gestures and their shared intentionality infrastructure along with skills of cultural learning for creating and passing along jointly understood communicative conventions. Challenging the Chomskian view that linguistic knowledge is innate, Tomasello proposes instead that the most fundamental aspects of uniquely human communication are biological adaptations for cooperative social interaction in general and that the purely linguistic dimensions of human communication are cultural conventions and constructions created by and passed along within particular cultural groups.

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