Preparing for the future

At all levels, living systems are in constant activity much of which is in preparation for the future. The reproductive system of a sexually mature woman goes through changes in preparation for the pregnancy that might come about. Multicellular life could not have come about without the prior colonization of the earth by single celled organisms.

The activity and behaviour of groups of organisms have a large influence on the subsequent forms they adopt. Likewise the behaviour of cells and how they manipulate their internal structures including genomes, determine the roles they play within their environment.

Ancestral relationships:

The evolving whole:

The tree of life
So 150 years after the publication of Darwin’s revolutionary book, modern genetics has confirmed its fundamental truth – all life is related. And it enables us to construct with confidence the complex tree that represents the history of life.

The individual person:

All cells in a person’s body are descendants of two cells, the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm. After the egg and sperm join together (fertilization), the fertilized egg is just a single cell. This cell, the zygote, divides many times, and as it divides, the descendant cells develop different characteristics and functions.</blockquote>

 

Growth and differentiation:

The evolving whole:

It began in the sea, some 3,000 million years ago. Complex chemical molecules began to clump together to form microscopic blobs: cells. These were the seeds from which the tree of life developed. They were able to split, replicating themselves as bacteria do and as time passed they diversified into different groups. Some remained attached to one another so that they formed chains – we know them today as algae. Others formed hollow balls which collapsed upon themselves creating a body with an internal cavity. They were the first multi-celled organisms – sponges are their direct descendents.

The individual person:

In mammals, the blastula forms the blastocyst in the next stage of development. Here the cells in the blastula arrange themselves in two layers, the inner cell mass, and an outer layer called the trophoblast. The inner cell mass is also known as the embryoblast and this mass of cells will go on to form the embryo. At this stage of development, the inner cell mass consists of embryonic stem cells that will differentiate into the different cell types needed by the organism.

 

Aquatic life:

The evolving whole:

As more variations appeared, the tree of life grew and became more diverse. Some organisms became more mobile and developed a mouth that opened into a gut. Others had bodies stiffened by an internal rod. They understandably developed sense organs around their front end.
A related group had bodies that were divided into segments with little projections on either side that helped them to move around on the sea floor. Some of these segmented creatures developed hard protective skins which gave their bodies some rigidity. So now the seas were filled with a great variety of animals.

The individual person:

Amniotic fluid surrounds the embryo and fetus during development and has a myriad of functions

 

Terrestrial life:

The evolving Whole:

And then around 450 million years ago, some of these armoured creatures crawled up, out of the water and ventured on to land.</a> And here, the tree of life branched into a multitude of different species that exploited this new environment in all kinds of ways

One group of them developed elongated flaps on their backs which over many generations eventually developed into wings. The insects had arrived. Life moved into the air and diversified into myriad forms. Meanwhile, back in the seas, those creatures with the stiffening rod in their bodies had strengthened it by encasing it in bone. They increased in size and grew skulls. They grew fins, equipped with muscles that enabled them to swim with speed and power. So fish now dominated the waters of the world.
One group of them developed the ability to gulp air from the water surface.</a>

The individual person:

When a baby is birthed down, Valeriana sees the baby stretch out its arms, which in turn expands its lungs for those first few breaths. “The Moro reflex makes such sense!” she adds, referring to the “startle reflex” where an infant throws open its arms (V. Pasqua-Masback, personal communication, January 19, 2010). Additionally, this pause is an important time for the placental transfusion, the return of the volume of blood that has backed up into the cord and placenta with the squeeze through the birth canal, a function that also aids in the transition to lung breathing.

 

Life’s transitions have been prepared well in advance. Tetrapods could only colonize the land if the atmosphere was suitable for breathing, they possessed a suitable respiratory system, and their bodies were able to cope with the additional gravitational forces. Functioning on land involves a different set of challenges from those brought about by a purely aquatic existence.

Evolutionary trajectories are constrained by their history. The tetrapod body form is constrained by the form taken in its primal beginnings. Notwithstanding these limitations in the paths available, this has subsequently given rise to a multitude of forms, many of them being extremely specialized. Due to the early limitations we never see directions taken that might has seemed possible. Such directions as tetrapods growing extra limbs, lung breathing animals reverting to breathing under water, or precocious primates with the ability to fend for themselves immediately after birth.

Another feature that the evolutionary trajectory allows for is the extremely complex central nervous system.. The actions of of organisms leading to the production of substances used to build up nervous systems have very deep origins.

Rational thought, organs necessary to communicate through spoken language, manual dexterity, inventiveness; our creative abilities, both physical and mental are what they are because early earthly life prepared the way. Evolutionary paths could have taken many different directions, which while being very successful at surviving and reproducing, would have precluded the above abilities.

57 thoughts on “Preparing for the future

  1. Future? What future? With the World Homicide Organization to take the lead? Maybe DNA_sock should be promoted to promote big pharmaceutical industry?
    Who cares who dies on the way to “success”? Sh’’t happens to the unfortunate…

  2. J-Mac:
    Future? What future? With the World Homicide Organization to take the lead? Maybe DNA_sock should be promoted to promote big pharmaceutical industry?
    Who cares who dies on the way to “success”? Sh’’t happens to the unfortunate…

    Ancient texts are awash with predictions of future events which, for us, will soon be present realities. Kronos eats his children. Nothing in this world can escape the destruction that time will bring about.

    For instance,

    Matthew 24:6-8:

    You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

    and from the Bhagavad Gita:

    The Supreme Lord said: I am mighty Time, the source of destruction that comes forth to annihilate the worlds. Even without your participation, the warriors arrayed in the opposing army shall cease to exist.

    Evolution has led to the appearance of the ‘I’, the human ego, which is turning us from creatures into creators. And the Ukraine war demonstrates the destructive power of our creations. And this is just the beginning. Anyone who believes the human ego is just an incidental evolutionary byproduct should look closely at its present power of destruction which is only going to increase in the future.

  3. CharlieM: And the Ukraine war demonstrates the destructive power of our creations. And this is just the beginning. Anyone who believes the human ego is just an incidental evolutionary byproduct should look closely at its present power of destruction which is only going to increase in the future.

    CharlieM,
    Are telling me you understand the conflict in Ukraine? Even Putin doesn’t really get it but you do?
    I have to admit. I like you… so whatever you say I will always read.. You are not a stupid guy… 🙂

  4. J-Mac: CharlieM,
    Are telling me you understand the conflict in Ukraine? Even Putin doesn’t really get it but you do?
    I have to admit. I like you… so whatever you say I will always read.. You are not a stupid guy… 🙂

    What I understand is that Ukraine is a recognizably sovereign country. No other country has the right to invade it by force, nor to attempt to influence its system of governance.

    Like Trump, Putin is only interested in acquiring as much personal power and wealth as he can get his hands on. He is not interested in furthering the welfare of his own people let alone the welfare of Ukrainian civilians. You do not liberate people by turning their settlements into rubble filled wastelands.

    He made a massive miscalculation when he presumed he could repeat in Ukraine what he was able to do in Chechnya. Nobody in his inner circle had the courage to explain to him the real situation within his military machine and industrial efficiency which had been degraded by corruption and selfishness of the elite. But since he started this act of aggressive barbarism he has no other option but to push on. Taking any other course of action will finish him off and losing what he has accumulated terrifies him.

    We know from history that the likes of him cannot be appeased.

    Thanks for the compliment. I may not be stupid, but I’d say I’m not far from average intelligence, and there are many subjects in which I’m fairly ignorant.

  5. Rational thought, organs necessary to communicate through spoken language, manual dexterity, inventiveness; our creative abilities, both physical and mental are what they are because early earthly life prepared the way. Evolutionary paths could have taken many different directions, which while being very successful at surviving and reproducing, would have precluded the above abilities.

    True enough. But so what? By which I mean, what point do you think you’re making here?

  6. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Rational thought, organs necessary to communicate through spoken language, manual dexterity, inventiveness; our creative abilities, both physical and mental are what they are because early earthly life prepared the way. Evolutionary paths could have taken many different directions, which while being very successful at surviving and reproducing, would have precluded the above abilities.

    Kantian Naturalist: True enough. But so what? By which I mean, what point do you think you’re making here?

    The human mind is capable of creative thinking which, because of our physical attributes, can be communicated to others. Through the power of will and using our manipulative skills this inventiveness can be turned into physical reality.

    The modern world is being shaped by human thinking. And this state of affairs has been in preparation, slowly maturing, from the beginning of earthly life. We have been given this power. Unfortunately we haven’t been given the wisdom to harness it for good.

    It’s been left up to us to gain this wisdom through our own effort, but we’re not making a very good job of it so far. We are like wayward, rebellious teenagers who are abusing their new found freedom.

  7. A few examples of the early preparation of systems which have led to present day humans having such advanced mental and manual dexterity.

    Neurons and neuronal tissue:
    Early evolution of neurons by William B. Kristan Jr.

    ‘Two’ problems, secondary loss and homoplasy, confound the interpretation of evolutionary relationships. For the moment, the only solution to these problems is to compare more genes in more animals to see whether the features that are missing from one species, for instance, can be found in other closely-related species. The purpose of this primer is not to consider the evolution of brains, however, but the more modest goal of determining the evolution of neurons, the information processing cells that compose brains. Even this more limited goal is, at this juncture, beyond our reach, but the journey to this goal has already uncovered some remarkable relationships and has made clearer what are the key questions and how they can be approached.

    further:

    The rich array of external armor and weapons in the fossil record strongly suggests that animals started to prey upon each other. The larger size of these animals put a premium on keeping different parts of the body coordinated, and their predatory behavior favored animals capable of making quick movements to obtain food, and to avoid becoming someone else’s food. Both demands favored the evolution of a fast-conducting system like neurons. The first clear indication of nervous tissue was the appearance of well-formed eyes and faint outlines of nervous systems in fossils from ∼525 million years ago.

    At a molecular level, many of the ‘neuron-specific molecules’ (voltage-gated channels, molecules that form synaptic structures) were already present in all major animal clades before the earliest fossils…

    Evolution of synaptic transmission – Surprisingly, single-celled organisms not only have voltage-gated channels but also have many of the genes for presumed synapse-specific molecules, such as enzymes for producing and releasing transmitters and structural proteins that produce postsynaptic responses to the transmitter.

    Central nervous system:
    Fossil reveals earliest known central nervous system of an animal. Posted by Shireen Gonzaga, October 23, 2013.

    A pristinely-preserved fossil, 520 million years old, has revealed the earliest known central nervous system of an animal. This creature, the first of its kind ever discovered, belonged to a now-extinct group of animals that had a pair of long, forceps-like extensions from the head. They were known as megacheirans, which means large claws in Greek.

    Pentadactyl limb:
    Tetrapod Limbs

    Pentadactyly (having five digits) is, in fact, an accident of evolutionary history…
    That for whatever prehistoric reasons, an ancestral tetrapod had five digits per limb, and all of its descendants did as well. The similarity isn’t restricted to the ends of the limbs — the bones of the arm, forearm, and hand of different vertebrates form a recognizable pattern, even though they have been adapted to different functions. And aspects of the nerves, blood vessels, and other tissues in the limb reveal other homologous structures.

    How a 380-Million-Year-Old Fish Gave Us Fingers: A remarkable fossil reveals that the digits in our hands evolved before vertebrates emerged from the water to colonize land by John A. Long & Richard Cloutier

    New discoveries can necessitate revision of the textbooks. Our recently described Elpistostege fossil, which was unearthed in 2010 at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Miguasha in Quebec, is one such find. It is not a new species of elpistostegalian. Rather it is the original founding member of the band. But this time we have a complete, perfect specimen. And it has led us to propose a different theory of how fingers evolved and gave rise to the vertebrate hand structure that persists in the more than 33,800 species of tetrapods alive today, including humans…

    In addition to upending the received wisdom about when fins became limbs, our discovery of digit bones in Elpistostege bears on efforts to understand the genetic and developmental changes that powered this transformation. Just a few decades ago scientists interested in this question did not have much to go on. Back then, there were only a few examples of fossil fishes with pectoral anatomy transitional between fins and limbs, and they hinted only that the arm and forearm bones evolved gradually. In contrast, it looked as though tetrapods evolved the hand and wrist from the ancestral fish fin all at once. But was it actually possible for such drastic change to occur so abruptly? Or was the seemingly sudden origin of the hand and wrist simply an artifact of an incomplete fossil record?

    See image below

  8. CharlieM,
    You are confusing ‘preparation’ of an organism for the course of its future life, and ‘preparation’ of an organism for the future of life on earth. This happened in your very first paragraph.
    The first form is demonstrable, the 2nd doesnt even make sense.

  9. graham2:
    CharlieM,
    You are confusing ‘preparation’ of an organism for the course of its future life, and ‘preparation’ of an organism for the future of life on earth. This happened in your very first paragraph.
    The first form is demonstrable, the 2nd doesnt even make sense.

    The form of the appendages in early lobed finned fish prepares the way for terrestrial tetrapod support and locomotion. The limbs of horses, crocodiles, birds, primates, beavers, otters, frogs, etc., were all fashioned from the same general form.

    A few of these animal types retained enough flexibility in the form of the limbs so that they could develop into structures capable of manipulating objects. Others such as the horse were denied further progress in that regard. Any return to such flexibility in horses would require so many concurrent bodily changes as to make it practically impossible.

    We witness creativity in primates, rodents and birds that we don’t see in horses. Creativity such as nest building and the like. And primates can be really smart in the way they use whatever is to hand

    The combination of advanced central nervous systems and superior manipulative skills are attributes which give their possessor by far the most creativity amongst all of the forms of life on earth. This is what turns creatures into rational creators.

  10. This is interesting.

    Ancient viruses emerge as unexpected heroes in vertebrate brain evolution

    Scientists have uncovered a fascinating link between ancient viruses and the development of myelination, the biological process crucial for the advanced functioning of the nervous system in vertebrates, including humans. This discovery sheds light on the evolutionary puzzle of how complex brains and sophisticated nervous systems evolved in animals…

    The advent of myelination was a significant evolutionary development, coinciding with the emergence of jaws in vertebrates.

    And in itself the evolution of the articulated jaw led to the appearance of the mammalian jaw which is a defining feature of the group. A study of the changes required and all that is entailed in the development of this type of jaw from the reptilian jaw is very telling.


    Several changes need to have occurred in order for the new anatomy of the mammalian TMJ (temporomandibular joint) to evolve from the basal amniote condition.
    The first likely change was the rearrangement of the muscles of mastication. Next, the dentary expanded to form both the condylar process and the attachment sites for the muscles of mastication. This was achieved by changes in the pattern of intramembranous ossification of the dentary, as well as by the important contribution of secondary cartilages (Anthwal & Tucker, 2012; Shibata et al., 2013; Shibata & Yokohama‐Tamaki, 2008; Vinkka, 1982). The squamosal then needed to form a fossa, to work with the condyle as the site for articulation in the cranial base, and finally, or possibly concurrently, the TMJ disc formed.

    These changes cannot have occurred in isolation, and the development of each is partially dependent upon one or more of the other processes.

    At the same time the auditory system became isolated from the jaw structure allowing for more acute hearing, and it opened up the potential for animals to exploit a much wider range of food sources.

    Mastication allowed for the process of digestion to begin before the food was even swallowed.

    And of course this novel jaw arrangement became a very important feature in the ability of human speech. With our advanced nervous system and senses we were able to acquire spoken language and have auditory systems which could discern the subtleties of their sounds impinging on our ear drums.

  11. More of the same:

    Only in recent years has it become apparent that several lineages of synapsids, including mammals, replaced their quadrate-articular jaw joint with a dentary-squamosal joint. We don’t fully understand why these changes happened. Some evidence suggests that the change in the quadrate-articular complex improved hearing. Other evidence suggests that these changes were a byproduct of early mammals’ increasing brain size. These ideas are not mutually exclusive, of course, and more research is needed. Whatever the functional advantages may have been, the pattern of evolution in these features clearly shows another example of exaptation: the incorporation of the dentary and squamosal bones into the jaw joint, originally alongside the quadrate and articular, eventually allowed the latter two bones to acquire a completely different function and to leave the jaw articulation altogether.

    Accompanying image below.

  12. The evolution of earthly life is about the survival of populations into the future. But it is also about a path towards individual freedom from the womb of the earth.

    Increasing sense awareness of the environment and having greater homeostatic control over external variables. The ability to function in environments that would have been extremely hostile to one’s ancestors. Manipulating the local environment for the benefit of the self, whether that self be individual populations, colonies or single organisms. These are signs of life progressing towards greater freedom.

    The evolutionary trajectory leading to extant hagfish, herons and humans has taken the same amount of time. In survival terms they have all been equally successful. But in terms of becoming more free of their environment hagfish have been far more static than both herons and humans.

    On the other (less than impressive😊) hand theropods, an extreme example of which is Koleken inakayal, had more dynamic evolutionary history than hagfish, but they became much too specialized to survive an ever-changing world. This is a consequence of the extremely one-sided way in which both their forelimbs and their hindlimbs evolved.

  13. CharlieM,

    It seems to me as if your entire line of argument relies on a confusion between

    1. If X had not happened, Y would not have happened.

    and

    2. X happened in order for Y to happen.

    The difference is that (1) is a counterfactual causal claim: Y has X as a causal antecedent, so if X hadn’t happened, then Y probably wouldn’t have happened either. But (2) is saying that the reason why X happened is that it allowed Y to happen.

    Those are really distinct ideas — as logically distinct as the distinction between causes and reasons itself.

  14. This is related, in my somewhat addled mind, to the Drake equation and the likelihood of alien civilizations.

    There seems to be a widespread belief that evolution has a trajectory. That civilizations are inevitable.

  15. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM,

    It seems to me as if your entire line of argument relies on a confusion between

    1. If X had not happened, Y would not have happened.

    and

    2. X happened in order for Y to happen.

    The difference is that (1) is a counterfactual causal claim: Y has X as a causal antecedent, so if X hadn’t happened, then Y probably wouldn’t have happened either. But (2) is saying that the reason why X happened is that it allowed Y to happen.

    Those are really distinct ideas — as logically distinct as the distinction between causes and reasons itself.

    It’s not my intention to claim that X came about in order to produce a future Y. I am more interested in letting the facts speak for themselves, to see where it leads us.

    We can study extant tetrapods directly. We can get an idea of which features are derived, which are novel, which are unique. We can get an understanding of how features develop over time and how novel features come about by the way in which ancient features and attributes develop and combine in various ways to bring about novelty.

    Below I have provided some actual examples of what X and Y may represent. These are all major developments in tetrapod evolution. They show how various tetrapods have made use of the potential available through development of characteristics found to have been present in their early ancestors.

    X1 – The potential to build complex nervous systems
    Y1 – The possession of complex nervous systems which allow for higher mental capacities with the ability to learn and retain knowledge – examples: apes, crows, cetaceans and humans.

    X2 – The potential for terrestrial life with complex two-way communication
    Y2 – The possession of respiratory systems whereby vibrations in the air can be transmitted and received in a meaningful way – examples: higher mammals, birds and humans.

    X3 – The potential for organisms to function over a wide variety of environmental conditions.
    Y3 – Endothermic life forms – examples: non-human mammals, birds, and humans

    X4 – The potential for organisms to possess limbs which are capable of manipulative skills without the burden of providing support and/or a means of locomotion.
    Y4 – Bipedal organisms – example: humans

    X5 – The potential to combine all of the above attributes in a single organism.
    Y5 – Thinking, social, resilient, creative individuals – example: humans

    Only humans make an appearance in Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4, Y5. I encourage anyone to compose their own list of major developments in tetrapod evolution so that it can be scrutinized. Choose whichever tetrapod you want as the central player, and whichever major development. I think that would open up an interesting discussion.

    We can discuss subjects such as the pentadactyl limb, ask questions, and dive into specifics such as the difference between the human hindlimbs and forelimbs, and the way their ancient potential was realized. Our hindlimbs have remained extremely specialized since the beginning of quadrupedal locomotion in vertebrates, whereas our forelimbs have made much greater and flexible use of the potential inherent since that era. The human form as a whole has become what it is because one set of limbs has sacrificed itself so that the other set can advance further.

    This advance could only come about by means of major coordinated changes throughout the whole body, not just the limbs in question.

  16. Crows can ‘count’ similarly to toddlers, according to new study.

    It’s the first time scientists have observed the ability outside of humans.

    Down the road, what we learn about crows could help us better understand ourselves. Mathematics is a “defining characteristic” of human cognition, but “it’s not as if we’ve invented ways of thinking that are completely unique,” says Cantlon. “Everything about being human has a backstory, and that’s something we can observe in modern species. If we look at different branches of the evolutionary tree, we can start to trace the history of our own thinking.”

  17. CharlieM: It’s not my intention to claim that X came about in order to produce a future Y.

    We can add “preparing” to the list of words which Charlie uses differently from the rest of the world.

  18. Corneel:
    CharlieM: It’s not my intention to claim that X came about in order to produce a future Y.

    Corneel: We can add “preparing” to the list of words which Charlie uses differently from the rest of the world.

    X is an unknown entity, so how could I possibly claim that it existed in preparation for anything?

    If I knew what X represented then I might give an answer as to what if anything it prepared the way for.

    For example, if X represented the original, generalized pentadactyl limb, then it has prepared the way for a multitude of Ys including wings, flippers, digging implements, supporting structures, etc, etc.

  19. Charliem:
    Could you please put the rest of us out of our misery for God’s sake …
    If some sand falling on the ground ‘prepares’ it for more sand to fall on the top, making a pile, then we understand what you are saying. You are using the word ‘prepare’ in a madly nonsensical way, but at least we now know we can ignore the rest of your post.

  20. CharlieM,

    You once expressed your dismay with the fact that every single OP you started seemed to get bogged down in a discussion “on nuances of word meanings and not on the actual discoveries of life, its history and its relationships.”

    If you are serious about learning a bit about yourself, I suggest that you re-read your OP above and make an honest attempt at figuring out why people have come away with a different understanding of the word “preparing” in the title than the vacuous meaning you claimed to have been using in your previous comment.

  21. graham2: Charliem:
    Could you please put the rest of us out of our misery for God’s sake …
    If some sand falling on the ground ‘prepares’ it for more sand to fall on the top, making a pile, then we understand what you are saying. You are using the word ‘prepare’ in a madly nonsensical way, but at least we now know we can ignore the rest of your post.

    Good point, and worth thinking about.

    The grains of sand are not living and therefore have no intrinsic forces which produce movement. If grains move it is by means of external forces. On the other hand living systems do partake in activities which are in preparation for the future.

    Climatic conditions and tidal movements may cause a sandy beach and sand dune system forms along some coastline. It could be said that these processes were responsible for preparing an area suitable for the living systems which thrive in that type of habitat.

  22. Corneel: CharlieM,

    You once expressed your dismay with the fact that every single OP you started seemed to get bogged down in a discussion “on nuances of word meanings and not on the actual discoveries of life, its history and its relationships.”

    If you are serious about learning a bit about yourself, I suggest that you re-read your OP above and make an honest attempt at figuring out why people have come away with a different understanding of the word “preparing” in the title than the vacuous meaning you claimed to have been using in your previous comment.

    Discussing words and their meaning is fine by me as long as it stimulates further and deeper thinking.

    The way I look at life is that the foundation for all extant lifeforms on earth have their foundation in the single celled life which is believed to have been has been present from the very earliest physical appearance of life. In the same way building construction is dependent on foundations being laid in preparation, so extant life would be impossible without those early forms preparing the path.

    Whether we believer this was just a series of accidental events or if there is more of a set, albeit dynamic, structure to it, each of us must decide for ourselves. I believe that the early appearance of molecules and structures required by more recent advanced organisms, and the ubiquitous convergences which evolutionary research reveals is strong evidence for there being a structure to the whole which is not apparent at first glance.

  23. As much as I´d love to endlessly discuss the myriad of ways the meaning of words can be contorted to avoid ever conceding the point, I too shall be ending my participation in this thread. I will be very busy with preparing for washing my hair.

  24. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not claiming all that I’ve written as fact. What I’m attempting to do is present some facts and offer some of my beliefs about these facts.

    Who would deny that earthly life has reached a level where individual organisms have achieved rational self-consciousness? I believe that this point has been a long time in the preparation.

    Looking at the facts, early terrestrial, tetrapod evolution originated with animals which were orientated in the horizontal position as seen in creatures such as tiktaalic. The general orientation of plant and of humans is vertical. From ancient times this comparison between plants and humans has been observed.

    Plato, Aristotle and acient Hindu leaders all recognized this (see image below). Later writers also spoke about this:

    Andrew Marvell:

    ‘By the River Wharfe’
    Andrew Marvell (1621-78)
    Thus I, easie Philosopher,
    Among the birds and trees confer:
    And little now to make me, wants
    Or of the fowles, or of the plants,
    Give me but Wings as they, and I
    Streight floting on the Air shall fly:
    Or turn me but, and you shall see
    I was but an inverted tree.

    We take our nourishment in through our mouths and it passes down through the body, plants take nourishment in through the roots and it passes up with the sap. Our reproductive organs are down below and those of plants are up at the flowers.

    The evolution of animal forms between early tetrapods and humans is a progression from the horizontal orientation to the vertical. The human spinal column being the closest to vertical when we stand upright or are walking.

    Plants use their energy in continuous physical growth, whereas human growth stops after puberty and much of our energy is taken up by brain processes. Where the planet grows radially outward the human growth ends in the spherical cranium, inside which learning, mental growth and development continues during adulthood.

    I believe these things are worth contemplating. Not judging and coming to premature conclusions, but just letting them occupy our thoughts. Nature might tell us a lot if we learn to listen to it in silence.

  25. In Exploring The Underground Network of Trees – The Nervous System of the ForestValentina Lagomarsino writes:

    When scientists first studied the structure of nerve cells that comprise the human brain, they noted their strong resemblance to trees. In fact, dendrites, the term to describe projections from a nerve cell, comes from the Greek word Dendron, for “tree.” While the connection in the appearance of nerve cells was made to trees, the comparison may have been more apt than originally realized: scientists are starting to uncover that trees have their own sort of nervous system that is capable of facilitating tree communication, memory and learning.

    There are a number of obvious similarities between humans and plants and many of them are polar. When important aspects of their lives are compared, such as observed in the above article, the human can be thought of as an upside down plant. Roots are the sense organs of plants whereas our sense organs are focused in our heads. The limbs of trees are orientated in an upward direction whereas human limbs are orientated downwards.

    We learn a great deal when nature by taking it apart to study it in detail but there is a danger of getting caught up in this and holding on to a reductionistic mind set. In trying to understand organisms we won’t get very far if we view them as objects which consist of a compilation of smaller, simpler objects. Seeing objects should be only the initial experience of study. The reality of any organism is not the object in front of us. It can be regarded more as a process which exists over time and through which material passes.

    And the enhanced way of seeing through the Goethean method has practical applications.

    In Goethe’s “Delicate Empiricism”: Assessing Its Value for Australian Ecologists Melanie Bradley writes:

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, recognised as a seminal German polymath, developed a unique approach for investigating nature, termed “delicate empiricism”. Goethe’s approach uses empathy, imagination and intuition to promote a participatory engagement with the world. It goes beyond the dualistic-rationalism that defines “conventional” ecological research and can lead to novel insights. “Delicate empiricism” was applied in an ecologically-degraded agricultural landscape in the Brigalow Belt, Queensland, Australia, and its potential for increasing landscape understanding and providing a basis for land-use design was assessed. It was found that Goethe’s approach led to holistic, qualitative landscape awareness, not ordinarily accessible via “conventional science”

    This way that Goethe acquired knowledge was summarized by Henri Bortoft as active seeing followed by exact sensorial imagination.

  26. What future are you preparing for, my friend, Charlie?
    Are you killing time while retired? It’s not a bad thing… just asking lol

  27. J-Mac:
    What future are you preparing for, my friend, Charlie?
    Are you killing time while retired? It’s not a bad thing… just asking lol

    It’s more like time is killing me. Growing up I was preparing for life but now I’m at a stage where I am preparing for death. The life force I had as a youth is now shrinking and the inevitable grey hair, wrinkly skin, and lack of stamina are all signs of this. I’m slowing down but time seems to be speeding up!

    But I feel that my eagerness to learn is still as strong as ever. I like to put my ideas and thinking out there so that they will be considered, challenged and corrected where necessary. And there have been plenty contributors here who have helped me with this.

    I would hope that I have a love of knowledge rather than a lust for knowledge. My aim is for moral improvement over gaining possessions, but, in retrospect, I’ve been a bit of a failure in that regard.

    As for the planet in general, I do worry about what future we are leaving to our descendants.

  28. Just noticed a broken link from an earlier post

    Here is the corrected link

    “Fossil reveals earliest known central nervous system of an animal”
    Posted by Shireen Gonzaga.

    This fossil is claimed to be 520 million years old, and this has inspired me to look a little deeper into the evolution of the CNS.

    I found this from The Royal Society

    The origin of brains and central nervous systems (CNSs) is thought to have occurred before the Palaeozoic era 540 Ma. Yet in the absence of tangible evidence, there has been continued debate whether today’s brains and nervous systems derive from one ancestral origin or whether similarities among them are due to convergent evolution.

    …congruence between genetic and geological fossil records support the notion that by the ‘Cambrian explosion’ arthropods and chordates shared similarities in brain and nervous system organization. However, these similarities are strikingly absent in several sister- and outgroups of arthropods and chordates which raises several questions, foremost among them: what kind of natural laws and mechanisms underlie the convergent evolution of such similarities? And, vice versa: what are the selection pressures and genetic mechanisms underlying the possible loss or reduction of brains and CNSs in multiple lineages during the course of evolution?

    This article references Moroz & Kohn who propose that neurons have evolved several times independently. And others have come to similar conclusions

    The concluding remarks of this article begin:

    It has been argued that the evolution of the nervous system, its centralization and the emergence of a brain and mind are inevitable events in the course of evolution. While this may sound like a heretical and misplaced reprise of teleology, the proposition does indeed question previous attempts to find basic rules of organization in ‘what unites form rather than divides it’

    It is revealing to ponder on what the early appearance of nervous systems has led to and how it has come about. Those early systems prepared the way for the most advanced individual conscious behaviour and activities on the earth at present.

  29. ‘How I rewired my brain in six weeks’ – BBC News
    Neuroplasticity is not just a feature of the young.

    It is a constant force in shaping who we are. Your mind can change the very substrates of its own operations.

    The brain is moulded by the mind. I can imagine the physical pathways in my brain being altered as I think deeply about that. Mind over matter.

  30. Only endothermic homeotherms have the metabolic capacity to sustain an extremely advanced central nervous system. The bulk of plant energy is used up in the process of physical growth. In contrast higher mammals develop to a point where growth ceases, and this frees up energy which can then be used to further maintain brain processes including those associated with human mental activities.

    Brains are metabolically vulnerable organs that encompass the largest fuel consumption per unit weight of any organ in the body

    And:

    For the average adult in a resting state, the brain consumes about 20 percent of the body’s energy. The brain’s primary function — processing and transmitting information through electrical signals — is very, very expensive in terms of energy use.

    The evolution of physical life has progressed to a stage where the evolution of individual consciousness will become more prominent. This can only come about through the individual having a sense of separation from the living milieu in which it belongs.

    Plants are tightly tied to their external environment and to the earthly seasons. Ectotherms are deeply dependent on environmental conditions being within strict limits. Endotherms have become more liberated from their environment. Humans have the ability to engage in rational and creative thinking in any viable environment. And rather than just acting in the moment relating to a specific time and place, hindsight and forethought can play a part in this thinking.

  31. Humans are technologically and mentally creative beings who are capable of rational thought and able to communicate with each other over planetary distances.

    We have acquired all the necessary attributes which allow us to have these skills. No other organisms possess the complete set of attributes to be able to create in such a conscious way. Their evolutionary history debars them from having the complete set of attributes with very little potential to develop them in their future evolution.

    Birds and cetaceans are two examples of this. Both have demonstrated no lack of intelligence and they can be very social creatures. And birds have the perfectly adequate vocal skills required if they were to evolve the ability to communicate abstract thoughts to the rest of the flock. But neither birds nor cetaceans have any spare limbs to dedicate to creative endeavours. They lack the basic pentadactyl limb which have opposable thumbs and the digits which would give them the skill to delicately manipulate objects.

  32. Below is a screenshot with two images of cities shown on the left.

    Top image – Russian occupied Donetsk City which the Russians say has been constantly hammered by Ukraine forces for 10 long years.
    Lower image – Volchansk City in free Ukraine after three short weeks of Russian hammering.

    This is Putin’s idea of liberating Ukraine.

    A fine example of the power of human technology when it is pressed into the service of evil tyrants who are only interested in their own selfish desires and have not one iota of empathy for the suffering of others.

  33. CharlieM: It’s more like time is killing me. Growing up I was preparing for life but now I’m at a stage where I am preparing for death. The life force I had as a youth is now shrinking and the inevitable grey hair, wrinkly skin, and lack of stamina are all signs of this. I’m slowing down but time seems to be speeding up!

    But I feel that my eagerness to learn is still as strong as ever. I like to put my ideas and thinking out there so that they will be considered, challenged and corrected where necessary. And there have been plenty contributors here who have helped me with this.

    I would hope that I have a love of knowledge rather than a lust for knowledge. Myaim is for moral improvement over gaining possessions, but, in retrospect, I’ve been a bit of a failure in that regard.

    As for the planet in general, I do worry about what future we are leaving to our descendants.

    I absolutely love what you wrote here… 🙂
    I have a friend, much older than me, with whom I do some activities here and there…
    He seems to be like you; appreciative of what he has, his handshake is like a vise, and grateful for what life brings upon him everyday…
    He has his aches and pains but nothing deters his attitude…

    Keep it up then!

  34. J-Mac:
    CharlieM: It’s more like time is killing me. Growing up I was preparing for life but now I’m at a stage where I am preparing for death. The life force I had as a youth is now shrinking and the inevitable grey hair, wrinkly skin, and lack of stamina are all signs of this. I’m slowing down but time seems to be speeding up!

    But I feel that my eagerness to learn is still as strong as ever. I like to put my ideas and thinking out there so that they will be considered, challenged and corrected where necessary. And there have been plenty contributors here who have helped me with this.

    I would hope that I have a love of knowledge rather than a lust for knowledge. Myaim is for moral improvement over gaining possessions, but, in retrospect, I’ve been a bit of a failure in that regard.

    As for the planet in general, I do worry about what future we are leaving to our descendants.

    J-Mac: I absolutely love what you wrote here… 🙂
    I have a friend, much older than me, with whom I do some activities here and there…
    He seems to be like you; appreciative of what he has, his handshake is like a vise, and grateful for what life brings upon him everyday…
    He has his aches and pains but nothing deters his attitude…

    Keep it up then!

    Thanks for the encouraging compliments. It’s an honour to be compared to your friend.

  35. From the Centre for Genomic Research

    Evolution’s Recipe Book: How ‘Copy Paste’ Errors Cooked Up the Animal Kingdom:

    To this day, more than 7,000 groups of genes can be traced back to the last common ancestor of bilaterians, according to a study of 20 different bilaterian species including humans, sharks, mayflies, centipedes and octopuses….

    With hindsight we can see how prepared early life was to give rise to all of the past and present specialized animal forms.

    Remarkably, the study found that around half of these ancestral genes have since been repurposed by animals for use in specific parts of the body, particularly in the brain and reproductive tissues. The findings are surprising because ancient, conserved genes usually have fundamental, important jobs that are needed in many parts of the body.

    Note: “repurposed by animals for use in specific parts of the body”, words that confirm the fact that genes are resources that are controlled and used by organisms.

    When the researchers took a closer look, they found a series of serendipitous ‘copy paste’ errors during bilaterian evolution were to blame. For example, there was a significant moment early in the history of vertebrates. A bunch of tissue-specific genes first appeared coinciding with two whole genome duplication events. Animals could keep one copy for fundamental functions, while the second copy could be used as raw material for evolutionary innovation. Events like these, at varying degrees of scale, occurred constantly throughout the bilaterian evolutionary tree…

    Note the language used: “copy/paste errors…were to blame”, “serendipitous”

    I have learnt from experience that when I am writing a fairly long post it pays to copy and paste so that I have a back up should anything go wrong. I would not call this a copy/paste error. I would call it a wise move. I blame myself for not doing this on occasion and losing the work that I spent time on composing.

    Rather than “serendipitous”, I suggest that “preparative” would be more fitting.

    By studying the evolution of species at the tissue level, the study demonstrates that changes in the way genes are used in different parts of the body have played a big role in creating new and unique features in animals.

    Again, “genes are used”, is an accurate phrase.

  36. Anyone who studies the development of tetrapod limbs can see that it is a wonderful complex coordinated process of sequential differentiation, densification and reshaping. We witness this as the growing limb emerges from a mass of undifferentiated cells in the bud. The limb is a complex 3D structure and three regions act in synchronicity to sculpt it as explained in the articles linked below.

    How the embryo makes a limb: determination, polarity and identity
    The development of a limb with its rich anatomy is an embryological tour-de-force. A human arm has more than 30 bones and over 50 muscles in addition to tendons and ligaments. It is also innervated and vascularized and covered with skin with characteristic appendages such as nails. This complex structure develops from a small bud of undifferentiated mesoderm cells encased in ectoderm.

    and:

    Establishing the pattern of the vertebrate limb
    Limb buds form at reproducible antero-posterior positions on the flank of the embryo and are composed of a multipotent population of undifferentiated cells derived from the somatopleural layer of the lateral plate mesoderm that are ensheathed by an epithelial layer (Tickle, 2015). Limb bud mesoderm cells differentiate into cartilage, perichondrium, dermis, muscle connective tissues, ligaments and tendons, while the epithelium gives rise to the epidermis of the skin (Pearse et al., 2007). The spinal cord and somites also contribute cells that give rise to major tissue types, including the nerves and muscles, respectively.

    When these limbs first appear in the fossil record is unclear. There is evidence that it could have been as far back as 395 million years ago.

    Extreme specialization only appeared with the coming of mammals. In the beginning land tetrapods had unspecialized limbs and it is believed that they used their forelimbs as the primary means of locomotion. If bipedalism was to make an appearance then this would have to change. And change it surely did.
    In the article, “Evolution From Fins to Limbs: How Forelimb Function Changed As Vertebrates Acquired Limbs and Moved Onto Land”, they write:

    The researchers are closer to reconstructing the evolution of terrestrial locomotion, but more work is needed. They plan to next model the hind limb to investigate how all four limbs work together. It has been suggested that early tetrapods were using their forelimbs for propulsion, but modern tetrapods get most of their propulsive power from the hind limb.

    One group that actually continued to make use of their forelimbs as the primary means of location were the flying birds, but this involved a specialization that severely limited the adaptability of their forelimbs for other functions. Another group that suffers from such restrictions is the order chiroptera (bats). And the evolutionary changes needed to obtain the form of a bat from its primal mammalian ancestor would have been phenomenal. Concurrently with the general forelimb morphing into the bats wing, there is the vast changes that were taking place to produce the creature’s equally specialized but very different hind limbs.

    The human forelimb has been able to retain the general form while breaking free from the burden of providing support or locomotion. This offers a freedom unmatched by any other tetrapod. If anyone can provide counterexamples I’d be happy to hear about them.

    Becoming bipedal and the retention of fairly unspecialized pentadactyl forelimb were major contributors in allowing us to be the creative beings we find ourselves to be.

  37. Much as I hate the way some people try to equate the “jaw-droppingly amazing” human brain to a kind of super computer, I think there is some fascinating work being done researching the potential to utilize the attributes of neural systems.

    Human Brain Cells on a Chip Can Recognize Speech And Do Simple Math
    There is no computer even remotely as powerful and complex as the human brain. The lumps of tissue ensconced in our skulls can process information at quantities and speeds that computing technology can barely touch.
    Key to the brain’s success is the neuron’s efficiency in serving as both a processor and memory device, in contrast to the physically separated units in most modern computing devices.

    There have been many attempts to make computing more brain-like, but a new effort takes it all a step further – by integrating real, actual, human brain tissue with electronics.

    It’s called Brainoware, and it works. A team led by engineer Feng Guo of Indiana University Bloomington fed it tasks like speech recognition and math problems such as nonlinear equation prediction.

    It was slightly less accurate than a pure hardware computer running on artificial intelligence, but the research demonstrates an important first step in a new kind of computer architecture.

    Scientists have grown “organoids” out of living cells to make the world’s first “living computer”.

    Computer made out of human BRAINS could solve the world’s energy crisis – here’s the scientist making science fiction reality

    They work much like a traditional computer chip – sending and receiving signals through their neurons that act like circuits.

    But what makes them special is that the living machine uses less energy because living neurons can use over a one million times less energy than the current digital processors currently used.

    When compared with the best computers in the world, such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise Frontier, the scientists found that for the same speed and 1,000 times more memory the human brain uses 10 to 20 watts -compared to the computer using 21 megawatts.

    The human brain is a unique organ within the earthly living world.

    It is easy to see the polarity in the human form. The appendicular skeleton with all the joints and muscles is ideally suited to be the basis for physical mobility, and the axial skeleton focusing on the dome of the cranium houses the brain which, protected from the outer environment, although comparatively immobile, expends much of its energy on cognitive, thinking activity. The muscles are external to the bones and provide mechanical movement. The brain is internal to the cranium and enables active minds.

    In this video Anton Petrov tells us that our brains are unique in the way that they continue to mature well into adulthood. Ape learning seems to stall at adolescence. (see image below)

    Petrov further discusses the complexity of the brain here.

    These videos gives us some idea of the extent of our understanding of the brain.

  38. Science fiction has a poor track record for timelines.

    Asimov and Star Trek placed AI 300 years in the future. We are moving the goalposts to disqualify LLMs.

    And chat is possibly the worst use of LLMs.

    Many decades ago I subscribed to a magazine called Science Digest. It had short articles used to fill otherwise blank space at the end of articles.

    One of them asserted it would take Niagara Falls to power a computer as complex as a human brain. We now have AIs that require as much power as a small city, and they are no where near as complex as a brain.

  39. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM: The human brain is a unique organ…

    Alan Fox: No. Elephants. Cetaceans.

    You have highlighted the fact that my statement above is pretty vacuous. It would have been just as true to say, “The elephant brain is a unique organ”, or The cetacean brain is a unique organ”.

    I should be asking, “in what way is the human brain unique?

    Quantitative uniqueness of human brain evolution revealed through phylogenetic comparative analysis is an article that deals with this question.

    Several non-human primate species exhibited exceptional brain evolution in one trait or another, but only humans showed exceptional brain evolution for multiple brain components.

    Confirmatory evidence of my claim that compared to humans, other animal evolution tends to be more one-sided.

    More from the article:

    A common approach to investigating human uniqueness is to test whether humans fall ‘significantly’ far from a regression line, for example by regressing brain size on body mass. One surprising recent result reported from such an analysis is that the mass of the human brain is only 10% greater than expected for a primate of human body mass However, such non-phylogenetic methods may give misleading results because they fail to incorporate trait co-variation among species that results from shared evolutionary history. Valid analysis requires methods that account for phylogeny both when estimating scaling parameters and when evaluating deviations from scaling patterns exhibited by individual. An additional source of error arises if the species being investigated is included in the regression model particularly when, as for humans, the phenotypic trait lies at the extreme of the distribution for the other species in the analysis. This procedure would reduce the magnitude of deviations from expected trait values for lineages that have undergone exceptional change, and in the case of humans, would bias the results toward failing to detect uniqueness.

    And of course the plasticity of the brain and the effect of being capable of learning throughout the whole of life makes each of us individually unique. No other individual animal of any kind has such a powerful ability to learn.

  40. petrushka: Science fiction has a poor track record for timelines.

    Asimov and Star Trek placed AI 300 years in the future. We are moving the goalposts to disqualify LLMs.

    And chat is possibly the worst use of LLMs.

    Many decades ago I subscribed to a magazine called Science Digest. It had short articles used to fill otherwise blank space at the end of articles.

    One of them asserted it would take Niagara Falls to power a computer as complex as a human brain. We now have AIs that require as much power as a small city, and they are no where near as complex as a brain.

    I take it by LLMs you mean large language models. I don’t know anything about this. Who disqualifies LLMs and why?

    I don’t disagree with much of what you say. I think science fiction should be entertaining without being taken too seriously. Giving food for thought is a bonus.

    Technology has been accelerating at a frightening pace since the start of the industrial revolution. I think that sci fi writers are having a hard job keeping up never mind being ahead of the game.

  41. CharlieM: I should be asking, “in what way is the human brain unique?

    Recent work (see here) indicates that human brains contain the greatest number of non-cerebellar cortical neurons. Elephant brains have more neurons in the cerebellum than we do, but we have more neurons in the cortex than they do, if one excludes the cerebellum.

    In comparing brains across species, it’s important to take into account mass and not just volume. This matters because primates have smaller neurons than other mammals, so primate brains are more dense.

    We also need to consider the role of negative allometry in brain evolution. This means that as body size increases, brain size increases more slowly. (By contrast, some body parts exhibit positive allometry: as the body gets larger, that part gets larger faster. Hence the antlers of the great Irish elk.)

    With this knowledge, a little basic math suggests that an ape with a brain the size of a human being would have a body mass of about 1,000 pounds.

    So the question of hominid brain evolution is, why and how did hominids end up decoupling brain mass from body mass?

    I suspect this happened in many stages, some of which involved increases in body size (esp the Australopithecus to Homo transition) and others involved decreases in body mass (esp the transition to behaviorally modern Homo sapiens).

    CharlieM: And of course the plasticity of the brain and the effect of being capable of learning throughout the whole of life makes each of us individually unique. No other individual animal of any kind has such a powerful ability to learn.

    I am skeptical that we know enough about nonhuman animals to say how much plasticity they do or don’t have.

    Regardless, I think this focus on individual learning is misplaced. One of the things that makes human beings unique is our capacity for cumulative cultural learning. Each new generation of a community absorbs what has already been established in that community: its knowledge, customs, ethics, technology, etc. We don’t reinvent the wheel with each new generation.

    Great apes are different. Studies on chimp nut-cracking have indicated that each generation of chimps has to be taught the same behaviors. There’s very little capacity for cumulative improvement in nut-cracking technology. And even if an individual did innovate, she could only teach it to her offspring, and they to theirs, etc. There’s no central clearinghouse for information transmission, which is what we find in almost all human cultures.

  42. Cultural learning is not unique to humans, just as tool making is not.

    Differences in degree are not differences in kind.

    It’s not so much mass that defines complexity. Neuron and connection count are important, and few actual neuron counts have been done.

    Birds seem to have many more neurons per volume, and birds exceed expectations for intelligence.

  43. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM: I should be asking, “in what way is the human brain unique?

    Kantian Naturalist: Recent work (see here) indicates that human brains contain the greatest number of non-cerebellar cortical neurons. Elephant brains have more neurons in the cerebellum than we do, but we have more neurons in the cortex than they do, if one excludes the cerebellum….

    From your link:

    Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies. The human brain uses 25% of all the energy the body requires each day. And it became enormous in a very short amount of time in evolution, allowing us to leave our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right? Wrong, according to Suzana Herculano-Houzel. Humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals, but not because we are evolutionary outliers. The human brain was not singled out to become amazing in its own exclusive way, and it never stopped being a primate brain. If we are not an exception to the rules of evolution, then what is the source of the human advantage?

    The human brain may not be physically exceptional compared to other primates, but it is exceptional in its contribution to our ability to teach, to learn and to create throughout our lives. There are many old age pensioners graduating from various universities these days. What other species contain individuals who can teach their juniors how to manufacture tools which can they can then use for their benefit?

    Most of the learning done by other social animals is a case of watching and following the example of mature members of the group who are focused on the task at hand and not on educating others. Activities dedicated to teaching the young is ubiquitous in humans but not in other animals.

  44. Kantian Naturalist:
    I am skeptical that we know enough about nonhuman animals to say how much plasticity they do or don’t have.

    Regardless, I think this focus on individual learning is misplaced. One of the things that makes human beings unique is our capacity for cumulative cultural learning. Each new generation of a community absorbs what has already been established in that community: its knowledge, customs, ethics, technology, etc. We don’t reinvent the wheel with each new generation.

    No, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But at some point humans did invent the wheel. And individual humans have studied the wheel and from this created all sorts of novel uses for this invention. Individual creativity has taken the general principles of the wheel and taken it much further in multiple ways. What similar examples are there from the animal kingdom. Which animals have proceeded to advance novel activities and discoveries in such a way as humans have?

    I’ve just come across this article: More Older Adults Are Becoming Inventors

    Still exercising their creative talents!

  45. petrushka:
    Cultural learning is not unique to humans, just as tool making is not.

    Differences in degree are not differences in kind.

    It’s not so much mass that defines complexity. Neuron and connection count are important, and few actual neuron counts have been done.

    Birds seem to have many more neurons per volume, and birds exceed expectations for intelligence.

    Tool making isn’t unique to humans, but manufacturing tools which assist in the making of other tools is. Which other animals make blades which they then use to sharpen sticks?

    Yes, birds are exceptionally intelligent. But through the fact that they have wings they have severely curtailed their manipulative abilities. Humans are exceptional in that our forelimbs and our brainpower have both reached a stage in which they have become increasingly free from having to expend the majority of energy on staying alive.

    If we believe that birds gained their wings through natural selection then this evolutionary force has narrowed their abilities in a more general direction. This is a specialization which has had a limiting effect on their further evolution.

  46. CharlieM: What other species contain individuals who can teach their juniors how to manufacture tools which can they can then use for their benefit?

    Teaching tool-use has been demonstrated in chimpanzees and in dolphins.

    CharlieM: Yes, birds are exceptionally intelligent. But through the fact that they have wings they have severely curtailed their manipulative abilities.

    There’s extensive documentation of crows and other birds using their beaks to invent tools to solve problems that they’ve never encountered before.

  47. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM: What other species contain individuals who can teach their juniors how to manufacture tools which can they can then use for their benefit?

    Kantian Naturalist: Teaching tool-use has been demonstrated in chimpanzees and in dolphins.

    CharlieM: Yes, birds are exceptionally intelligent. But through the fact that they have wings they have severely curtailed their manipulative abilities.

    Kantian Naturalist: There’s extensive documentation of crows and other birds using their beaks to invent tools to solve problems that they’ve never encountered before.

    I won’t argue with what you say above, But how much of what offspring learn is done by mimicry rather than active teaching by the parents? Parents do not have to be consciously teaching their offspring. Much of the time youngsters are just doing what they observe their elders doing.

    I would never deny that corvids, great apes and cetaceans are very intelligent. But humans have retained something that both corvids and cetaceans have lost. It’s not that they haven’t compensated for this loss by gaining other attributes.

    In order to acquire the joy of moving playfully through their respective mediums corvids and cetaceans can no longer make use of their digits in a way that is still open to humans.

    And because of this they are prevented from relaying their intelligence in a substantial way to future generations of their kind. Humans have the intelligence and they have the ability, not only express our thoughts and feelings in the moment, but to leave a record which can outlive us. Through the invention of writing and expressive art we have been able to externalize our inner thoughts and feelings. They can be “set in stone” so to speak. Both intelligence and dexterity are required for this.

    By this loss of digits birds and cetaceans have prepared an evolutionary path for themselves which has put severe restrictions on their creative potential. Due to their anatomy the intelligence of corvids and cetaceans are somewhat “locked in”.

    And with great apes, their path is also somewhat restricted by the one-sided way their hands and feet have evolved. In the case of hands there is a fine balance between grasping and dexterity. The hands of great apes have developed excellent grasping abilities, but this is at the expense of greater dexterity.

    Likewise, their feet are more suited to grasping than to bipedal locomotion. Instead of having a division of labour between hands and feet, apes have developed similar uses for both.

  48. Kantian Naturalist,

    I appreciate that the seduction of SIWOTI can be very powerful, but you do realize that Charlie is not actually listening to you but merely using your comments as an excuse to endlessly repeat Steiner-nonsense at you, right?
    The stuff about birds losing the potential to use their forelimbs by giving in to their “desire to fly” must have come up at least half a dozen times before at TSZ and I do not see the slightest indication that Charlie remembers *any* of those exchanges.

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