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A penny for your cogitations


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As a preamble ,I have a memory (an indirect one at this stage)  of "struggling" to express a thought but realizing that I  had no words/language ...was I in the womb perhaps or just popped out ?

Again,a year or two later I had a dream whereby I awoke in the middle of the night  and attempted to get out of bed  but each direction (of 4) turned out to be the wall (I went back to sleep)

[/preamble]

 

Anyway,what I want to ask is "What is the evolutionary origin of thought?"

This is my hypothesis.It arose from sensory inputs and was the first living organisms' attempt to make a note of a particular observation.

On its own  any sensory input lacks context and so meaning but if two adjacent sensations can be compared then a direction (and a thought) is created .

 

So that is my thought and question "Could that be how thoughts developed historically?"

 

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36 minutes ago, naitche said:

So basically, A pattern was detected. Information received.

Yup, sounds about right :)

Is information ordered data?

 

Is that what a thought does ?Puts a construction  on, or finds a pattern in  sensory data?

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It must be. In the second trimester of gestation - c. weeks 10-20 - the neurons are forming connections at a furious rate; by the 20th week, all the sensory peripherals are established and feeding information about touch, sound, external motion, body position, balance, temperature, striated and smooth muscle movement into the neural network; even the kidneys are working and the foetus can actually do things voluntarily - like kick and turn and suck its thumb. All of these sensations and activities are processed - that is, placed in an experiential context - long before the mammal is actually born. The template was in the DNA; the pattern is formed by organizing all this early experience in memory. After birth, of course, there has to be another burst of connection-forming as fresh experience floods in. But the pattern already exists for the organization of that new data in the appropriate 'files' and hierarchy of priorities.

Edited by Peterkin
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This is a vast topic.   I agree that memory is a good starting point.   Once an organism can form memories,  it can start to assemble sensory data into a coherent narrative (which narrative evolves because it confers a selective advantage).  

Ate an almond before.   Was bitter.   Barfed.   Not eat almond now. 

And that's actually a pretty sophisticated thought.   Many animals avoid bitter almonds (which all almonds were until a few thousand years ago) through a more hardwired and unthinking process.   

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32 minutes ago, TheVat said:

This is a vast topic.   I agree that memory is a good starting point.   Once an organism can form memories,  it can start to assemble sensory data into a coherent narrative (which narrative evolves because it confers a selective advantage).  

Ate an almond before.   Was bitter.   Barfed.   Not eat almond now. 

And that's actually a pretty sophisticated thought.   Many animals avoid bitter almonds (which all almonds were until a few thousand years ago) through a more hardwired and unthinking process.   

Was the behaviour hard wired in because most of  the survivors happened to be wired that way?

The feeling of volition is just a post factum ordering (complete with coscious or unconscious thoughts )of the hardwired instincts?

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Hi, Geordief

I was talking about animals that don't likely have a feeling of volition,  that operate on instinct and stimulus/response.  My sample thought (the almonds) was something I guessed a higher-order mammal or corvid could have.   I would guess that a lizard avoiding almonds would just not eat them,  out of an instinct hardwired by a long process of natural selection.   It might not choose or reference past almond experiences.  It just wouldn't see them as food.   This is pretty speculative, I know, given how much we don't knkw about animal cognition.  

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23 minutes ago, geordief said:

Was the behaviour hard wired in because most of  the survivors happened to be wired that way?

The feeling of volition is just a post factum ordering (complete with coscious or unconscious thoughts )of the hardwired instincts?

Terminology can be deceptive - or rather, inaccurate terminology tends to lead us to incorrect conclusions.

Brains are "wired" in the sense that neurons have long axons and shorter dendrites that reach out from the cell body and look like wires. But they're not physically connected to other cells: it's not actual wiring. And there is no hard-wired anything. There are instinctive responses to the perception of certain sensations and environmental conditions that pass down through DNA from one generation to the next, and are then reinforced by experience. But even the instinctive responses are subject to modification and adaptation, like everything in organic systems. They're slower to change - by a large factor I can't quantify atm - than learned behaviours, because they enhance the species' survival without effort (expenditure of time, attention and energy) on the part of the individual, therefore individuals that have a strong expression of a useful instinct leave more progeny. (When an instinct doesn't serve the organism, it dies out along with the organism it let down.) 

Just sayin' it's more complicated than a circuit diagram.

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21 hours ago, geordief said:

Anyway,what I want to ask is "What is the evolutionary origin of thought?"

I would like to introduce another perspective to the very interesting physiological arguments that have been displayed (as @TheVat said, the topic is vast.) It is the question of evolutionary pressures. That's the way I would tackle this question: What (in evolutionary terms) gave rise to big brains with highly complex relational cortex with its cognitive features?

Big brains are very expensive organs: They're gluttons for energy, and are under very strict detoxification demands due to extremely high oxidation levels.

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Brain growth continues to be the most expensive part of growth until adult brain size is reached. The energy used for brain growth and body growth is inversely related. This means that as the energy used for brain growth decreases, the energy used for body growth increases.

https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/brain-expensive

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The brain is a very expensive organ in metabolic terms. Each unit of brain tissue requires over 22 times the amount of metabolic energy as an equivalent unit of muscle tissue. 

(Leslie Aiello)

https://www.scielo.br/j/bjg/a/FxXZ7LPBDmZxjKKVbPym4Vb/?lang=en

Our ancestors must have had to pay dearly also (in exchange for a brain capable of sophisticated thought) with a high degree of neoteny (delayed development) in human infants as compared to other mammals and, in fact, to other primates. Human infants are notoriously vulnerable and dependent from their family until very late in development.

For developing brains (big enough to implement complex thinking) to pay off in evolutionary terms, there must be a very powerful reason.

A very interesting idea is one authored by Rick Potts, from Smithsonian, that the Pleistocene, with its wildly-varying climate, has been a major trigger of this evolutionary pressure. If there's prey or harvest; year in, year out, exactly where you expect it; you can afford to be dumb. If the world becomes unpredictable, having a big brain pays off.

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35 minutes ago, MigL said:

Would you consider that, the development of imagination ?
 

I'm sure this evolutionary pressure is at its root. The extraordinary rate of development that @Peterkin described is, I'm sure, the primary most immediate biological reason. I also agree that memory must have played a very important part. Memory is the substrate of ideas. But imagination goes the extra mile.

Let me give you an example: We know coral snakes and kingsnakes are easy to confuse. This is at the root of so-called Mertensian mimicry. Kingsnakes are quite harmless, but they disguise themselves as deadly coral snakes because there are potential predators that can't tell the difference. Most predators have this memory that @TheVat pointed out in their almonds example, and helps them avoid both the harmless and the deadly snake. This shows that many animals (corvids excluded) must have some kind of memory-based cognition.

But humans go much further. We even get to the point of coming up with mnemonics to tell them apart:

"Red next to black, friends to Jack; Red next to yellow, kill a fellow"

If you've got imagination, which allows you to produce language, you can exploit harmless kingsnakes to eat, for example; while other predators have to give them up.

Edited by joigus
minor correction
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5 hours ago, joigus said:

Our ancestors must have had to pay dearly also (in exchange for a brain capable of sophisticated thought) with a high degree of neoteny (delayed development) in human infants as compared to other mammals and, in fact, to other primates. Human infants are notoriously vulnerable and dependent from their family until very late in development.

For developing brains (big enough to implement complex thinking) to pay off in evolutionary terms, there must be a very powerful reason.

It's also a self-propagating cycle. In changing and unpredictable conditions, under a variety of threats, or in transit from place to unfamiliar place, intelligence is very useful to survival. Useful enough to pay its own way in metabolic and defense costs. You may have to come up with novel solutions to brand new problems around every corner.  You also need a greater degree of co-operation among the members of the group. More social interaction requires more sophisticated communication - which, in turn, allows for more effective survival tactics - but language takes up a huge amount of brain-space. In turn, the linguistic function develops branches into other kinds of communication, observation, memory sharing and knowledge pooling, which strengthens the social bonds. 

Being able to store more memory and teach and learn new solutions and skills also enhances survival capability and extends individual life  - but requires more brain capacity, connectivity and plasticity. So the big-brained children are conceived and the ones that grow up are extremely valuable to the group, so it becomes even more important for the group to be socially connected, which takes even more brain capacity, which can take in even more learning and solve even more complex problems.... etc. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627315007795 and the next thing you, you're organizing a whole encampment of pyramid-building craftsmen and workmen and camels and caterers. 

Of course, each of those capabilities and social connections has its own price. Imagination may have given us an evolutionary advantage and much pleasure, but it's also given us some very heavy - and perhaps fatal - handicaps.

Edited by Peterkin
because reminded of extra thought
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6 hours ago, joigus said:

A very interesting idea is one authored by Rick Potts, from Smithsonian, that the Pleistocene, with its wildly-varying climate, has been a major trigger of this evolutionary pressure. If there's prey or harvest; year in, year out, exactly where you expect it; you can afford to be dumb. If the world becomes unpredictable, having a big brain pays off.

Or predictable but in subtle ways, i.e. more than one or two variables.

I think prediction is the key here, in ways that go beyond a Pavlovian response. The world still follows rules, but the rules might not be simple, which limits the accuracy of prediction (or reconstruction of past events/patterns).

 

 

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13 minutes ago, swansont said:

I think prediction is the key here, in ways that go beyond a Pavlovian response. The world still follows rules, but the rules might not be simple, which limits the accuracy of prediction.

Absolutely. Prediction is the first step in a process that later snowballs, as @Peterkin points out. Prediction is like inverse memory. The first version of this new capability must have been inductive: If B always follow A; whenever you see A, expect B.

Deductive processes and analysis (breaking up the problems into smaller problems) must have come later.

But to think that all these stages must have appeared incrementally, adaptively, is what boggles the mind.

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10 minutes ago, swansont said:

think prediction is the key here, in ways that go beyond a Pavlovian response. The world still follows rules, but the rules might not be simple, which limits the accuracy of prediction (or reconstruction of past events/patterns).

 

So here is another self-feeding, expanding cycle. Memory gives rise to pattern-forming, an ability that confers an advantage. Add imagination and pattern-forming gives rise to prediction - which, if correct, confers a great advantage. Meanwhile, curiosity coupled with intelligence looks for causes, commonalities and rules. So, now we're actively looking for pattern - whether it's there or not. That heretofore useful imagination now fills in all the blanks, invents causative agents and makes up rules.... ^^science vv religion WM art and conspiracy theories ...

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1 hour ago, joigus said:

But to think that all these stages must have appeared incrementally, adaptively, is what boggles the mind.

Makes sense to me that recognizing patterns would be helpful in survival, and being better at it would give a selection advantage. Especially for a medium-sized species that lacks innate "weaponry" and can't run particularly fast. Run that into a feedback loop, and being able to figure out where food will be, how to hunt more effectively, where predators will be, etc. and how to fashion weapons and tools, and be the first to effectively exploit that niche, and you get us.

 

1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

So here is another self-feeding, expanding cycle. Memory gives rise to pattern-forming, an ability that confers an advantage. Add imagination and pattern-forming gives rise to prediction - which, if correct, confers a great advantage. Meanwhile, curiosity coupled with intelligence looks for causes, commonalities and rules. So, now we're actively looking for pattern - whether it's there or not. That heretofore useful imagination now fills in all the blanks, invents causative agents and makes up rules.... ^^science vv religion WM art and conspiracy theories ...

Yes. One of the drawbacks is seeing patterns that aren't there, but then again, discretion is the better part of being devoured by a predator.

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Yeah, except pretty soon, we begin to rely on the prognosticators, instead of our own senses and reason, and pretty soon after that, if the predictions are incorrect and the expectations are disappointed, we start throwing babies off towers to bribe gods to send rain.... because too many of the blanks were filled in with guesses, projections, wishes and mushroom dreams. 

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57 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Yeah, except pretty soon, we begin to rely on the prognosticators, instead of our own senses and reason, and pretty soon after that, if the predictions are incorrect and the expectations are disappointed, we start throwing babies off towers to bribe gods to send rain.... because too many of the blanks were filled in with guesses, projections, wishes and mushroom dreams. 

We've done and we do that, so...

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1381.jpeg

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The researchers’ next question was whether the cockatoos had each figured out how to do this alone – or whether they copied the strategy from experienced birds. And their research published Thursday in the journal Science concluded the birds mostly learned by watching their peers.

“That spread wasn’t just popping up randomly. It started in southern suburbs and radiated outwards,” said Major. Basically, it caught on like a hot dance move.

Scientists have documented other examples of social learning in birds. One classic case involves small birds called blue tits that learned to puncture foil lids of milk bottles in the United Kingdom starting in the 1920s – a crafty move, though less complex and physically demanding than opening trash bins.

 

https://apnews.com/article/business-science-environment-and-nature-7844af19c7975f12c2a98cc5bd83fb60

Just offering as a sidebar to the discussion. 

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I see your cockatoos and contribute some crows.

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Over time, more crows joined in on scolding the masked researchers. In a little more than a year, over 30 percent of encountered crows reacted, and by three years, about 66 percent did. That percentage has continued to increase.

https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/grudge-holding-crows-pass-on-their-anger-to-family-and-friends

Looks like everybody is smarter than we give them credit for.  Especially the bird-brains.

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On 7/22/2021 at 6:29 PM, swansont said:

Especially for a medium-sized species that lacks innate "weaponry" and can't run particularly fast.

For a particularly creative way of using our running skills, look up 'persistence hunting' and research thereof. Very interesting way of sophisticated thinking* making up for lack of speed.

*Foreseeing the consequence of a chain of consecutive actions, rather than 1st-order causal thinking --the immediate consequence of an action.

On 7/23/2021 at 1:29 AM, TheVat said:

Just offering as a sidebar to the discussion. 

On 7/23/2021 at 3:20 AM, Peterkin said:

Looks like everybody is smarter than we give them credit for.  Especially the bird-brains.

Corvids and psittaciformes!!

I think @Peterkin's link partially overlaps with very interesting talk by author mentioned in mentioned link --John Marzluff:

https://youtu.be/1Wp_R0Eo-NE?t=1183

(Ends at 38' 10''.)

 

In the second Marzluff video, he mentions the observed conclusion that crows hold grudges --and pass them on culturally-- against their particular villains. I've set the starting time to when he starts mentioning that.

The experimental method involves adding radioactive markers to glucose that reveals brain activity. Homologous areas like amigdala, cortex, and hippocampus reveal different circuitry being activated depending on kind of stimulus, and whether experience is first-time (hippocampus significantly involved) or later experiences (amigdala).

 

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The first time I read about such behaviour in corvids was from Conrad Lorenz, who was scolded by jackdaws simply for walking down to the river with his black bathing trunks in his hand - and not, when he wore it. They suspected him of being a black-bird killer. Even though he didn't hunt them, other humans and predatory animals did.

Lorenz was my early introduction to the study of animal behaviour, on which subject, he was more sound than his contemporaries. (In other areas of life, alas, he wasn't.  Don't you sometimes wish you hadn't learned personal details about people you admired?)

 

 

 

Edited by Peterkin
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36 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Don't you sometimes wish you hadn't learned personal details about people you admired?)

Yes. Konrad Lorentz is one example. Another is Werner Heisenberg --also a Nazi. And I'm not crazy about Pauli either --physics is my background.

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