A&O overview of topics (10-12-2017)



Class notes for 2018


ART and SCIENCE [i]   ART and SCIENCE are catchphrases for distinctive but overlapping configurations of cognitive functions. (localized and distributed coordinated processes in the brain and body that have more-or-less privileged connections with each other that make specific aspects of INPUT « INTEGRATION « OUTPUT more-or-less likely) ARTISTS and SCIENTISTS (and we are all more-or-less both) are highly motivated to make the contents of mind understandable (both to themselves and to others).    Our evolutionary biology has prioritized functions that support MEETING BIOLOGICAL NEEDS (including “to know and to be known.”)  At the right time specific COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS are highly ADAPTIVE and contribute to direct and inclusive FITNESS.




  • SCIENCE [iii]
    • Facts and theories[iv], now and then
      • The best story you can tell with the best facts you have
      • SCIENCE is an engine of MYSTERY
      • The aesthetics of hypotheses
        • “Beautiful” math
        • Experiments, Natural and artificial
      • Biology[v] and Metaphysics
      • Levels of Organization
        • Information must move from lower (simpler) to higher (more complex) levels constrained by the properties that characterize each level.  This involves communication within and between levels (lateral and vertical); the possibilities for each level to detect and transmit information. (for example by means of  cell signaling.
        • Phenotypic Traits are manifest forms that have developed when the latent potential of the genotype is activated. [more in DEVELOPMENT]
        • Physiology, the proximate need
          • Dynamic balance, homeostasis. Needs that are or may be compromised can evoke a stress response
        • Safety
          • Play
          • Art
          • Experiments Natural and Artificial
        • Sociality
          • socialization and individuation
        • Esteem
          • Distinction, arete
        • Self-actualization, the ultimate need
          • To maximize inclusive fitness
          • Transcendence and art
        • How NEEDS and STRESS are related [A real-or-perceived challenge to meeting a real-or-perceived NEED evokes more-or-less of stress response (which “energizes” organism’s resources (motivational systems) to cope with challenge and restore homeostasis]
        • NEED to KNOW; Aristotle, infovory
        • Knowledge is Power.”  “All of us have felt the pleasure of acquiring information—a view of a dramatic landscape, a conversation with a friend, or even a good magazine article, can all be profoundly gratifying. But why is this so? What makes these experiences so pleasurable? // We believe that the enjoyment of such experiences is deeply connected to an innate hunger for information: Human beings are designed to be “infovores.” It’s a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain types of stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences. When the hunger becomes even moderately starved, boredom sets in.”  (Biederman, Irving & Vessel, Edward A. 2006)  Key Word: INFOVORE
        • NEED for ART: including Maslow



DEEP ETHOLOGY  The INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY of BEHAVIOR involves the coordinated activities of four broad areas (as biologists study them): DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY and how they are brought to bear on BEHAVIOR (“DEEP ETHOLOGY”

Experimentation: natural and artificial; Ethologically Informed Design



  • Rationalism/cognitive | reason/logic
  • Dialectic
      • Synecdoche and redintegration—trigger experience, the attractor of hidden dreams, infusing previous experience with new meaning and putting it in the service of coherence, validating a new realization[xii]—all things are connected—
      • tip-of-tongue—Feeling of Knowing–  INTUITION    Intuition presentation
      • FILLING IN: extrapolation[xiii] and interpolation
      • Excerpt on brain processes of filling in


    •  [OUTPUT/ to memory or action]


Position not yet determined:

  • Existential phenomenology: Being; existence versus essence; individuation versus socialization.
  • USELESS KNOWLEDGE. All the consequences of a specific trait may never be known, but the prodigal diversity of consequences is revealed and open to further thought with the support of systems such as DEEP ethology. For example,  The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge [xiv]   Not only have extraordinary breakthroughs emerged from what seemed like idle curiosity but there are multiple CONNECTIONS.
  • Both the PROCESS and the PRODUCT of CURIOSITY move the human race forward [hopefully the urge to CONTROL and EXPLOIT will be better coordinated with the urge to PROTECT and RESPECT or we will be swept away in the failed trophic cascade.]   Just as paranoia might be adaptive at a battle front and devastating other places, our adversarial urges towards nature were adaptive for the small populations of ancestors in hostile environments, but not in contemporary environments.
  • “USELESS ATTRACTOR” is a nickname for a focus for a redintegrative cascade of related useless snips of knowledge the coherence of which was suddenly glimpsed.  (Attractor [xv] is a convenient but not precise metaphor).  The coherence may be apparent OR TOT (“tip of the tongue phenomenon”) OR FOK (“feeling of knowing phenomenon”)
  • DYSFUNCTION; PATHOLOGY – informed by Aristotle’s Golden Mean: the nearer the endpoints along a continuum of a trait, the more likelihood its expression would be dysfunctional.  A trait such as curiosity may be populated by individuals who perform different functions in society and may be valued to the extent that is appreciated.  Occasionally—depending on the stresses of a given environment—populations may seem to need protection: “pure” (as opposed to applied) artists and scientists.
example.  compare to the tension between INDIVIDUATION and SOCIALIZATION—in that each is vital at one level of the NEED HIERARCHY and devastating at others.

[i] Art is I: Science is We

[i] “scientific abstraction liberates us from the slavery of facts” (Walter Kaufmann. 1958:93.  Critique of Religion and Philosophy.  Harper & Brothers Chapter 32 (Common Sense)

[ii] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, 980a.21. 350 BC  http://www.classicallibrary.org/aristotle/metaphysics/index.htm

[iii] Science consists of facts and theories. Facts and theories are born in different ways and are judged by different standards. Facts are supposed to be true or false. They are discovered by observers or experimenters. A scientist who claims to have discovered a fact that turns out to be wrong is judged harshly. One wrong fact is enough to ruin a career.

Theories have an entirely different status. They are free creations of the human mind, intended to connect facts and thereby provide an understanding of nature. Since our understanding is incomplete, theories are provisional. Theories are tools of understanding, and a tool does not need to be precisely true in order to be useful–they are more-or-less true, with plenty of room for disagreement. A scientist who invents a theory that turns out to be wrong is judged leniently. Mistakes are tolerated, so long as the culprit is willing to correct them when nature proves them wrong.  (Freeman Dyson’s review of   Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio.   NYRB  Mar 6 2014:4-8)

[iv] “Physicists have come to see that all their theories of natural phenomena, including the ‘laws’ they describe, are creations of the human mind; properties of our conceptual map of reality, rather than of reality itself.  This conceptual scheme is necessarily limited and approximate, as are all the scientific theories and ‘laws of nature’ it contains.  All natural phenomena are ultimately interconnected, and in order to explain any one of them we need to understand all the others, which is obviously impossible.  What makes science so successful is the discovery that approximations are possible. . . . This is the scientific method; all scientific theories and models are approximations of the true nature of things, but the error involved in the approximation is often small enough to make such an approach meaningful.” (Fritjof Capra 1975 in The Tao of Physics, p. 287).

[v] Biology occupies a position among the sciences at once marginal and central. Marginal because‑‑the living world constituting but a tiny and very “special” part of the universe‑‑it does not seem likely that the study of living beings will ever uncover general laws applicable outside the biosphere. But if the ultimate aim of the whole of science is indeed, as I believe, to clarify man’s relationship to the universe, then biology must be accorded a central position.” (Jacques Monod Chance and Necessity Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1971, p xi.)

[vi] Infovory.  Biederman, Irving & Vessel, Edward A. (2006) Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain. American Scientist. 94(3), 247-253. [PDF] http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/num2/2006/3/perceptual-pleasure-and-the-brain/1 A neurobehavioral elaboration of Aristotle: “All men by nature desire to know.” (Metaphysics, Book 1)

[vii] Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”—W.H. Auden,1963)[vii]

[viii] Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1973, in the American Biology Teacher, volume 35, pages 125-129. (Dobzhansky first published the title statement in a 1964 article in American Zoologist, “Biology, Molecular and Organismic”, to assert the importance of organismic biology in response to the challenge of the rising field of molecular biology” – Wikepedia

[ix] ADAPTATION—copes with change.   An adaptation is a trait that contributes to fitness, BUT the term also refers to the process by which that trait has come about. “The processes by which organisms or groups of organisms maintain homeostasis in and among themselves in the face of both short-term environmental fluctuations and long-term changes in the composition and structure of their environments.” (Rappaport, 1971) Its several definitions are all unified by the idea of compensation for change, either short-term (such as a stimulus or life experience) or long term adaptations (such as Other (complementary) definitions are: “an adaptation is an anatomical, physiological, or behavioral trait that contributes to an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce (“fitness”) in competition with conspecifics in the environment in which it evolved” (Williams, G. 1966. Adaptation and Natural Selection Princeton). and “a regulatory or advantageous change in response to an environmental stress by an individual or by a species in the course of evolution”


  • BIG QUESTION: as information trickles from our senses (or memories) through our brain, at what point is information transformed into consciousness? [I like comparing ice to water to mist and clouds]
  • How does the MATERIALITY of the brain—its cells and tissues—become IMMATERIAL CONSCIOUSNESS? Colin McGinn spoke of turning the water of objective neural activity into the wine of subjective conscious experience? (From Ananthaswamy’s review of Susan Greenfield’s book, A Day in the Life of the Brain” (NS 29 Oct 2016)
  • Susan Greenfield speaks of the “collective activity of brain cells that expand or diminish from one moment to the next to accommodate varying depths of consciousness.” (quoted by Ananthaswamy – and in his terms, transient assemblies, size, and duration determined by external stimuli, levels of neurotransmitters and hormones in brain and body.)
  • (Bullock 1977) sensory adaptation is when receptors are less responsive to stimuli after long term exposure to them –e.g., the smell of food or the feel of clothes. and see exaptation (from A&O Glossary)  compare to habituation


[xi] Sensory Bias:  (pitch to the most responsive system in your audience (or avoid the systems of your adversaries)  – in the sense of “know your demographic” …”know your sense organs” )  (The sensory bias hypothesis (in mate selection) states that the preference for a trait evolves in a non-mating context and is then exploited by one sex in order to obtain more mating opportunities. The competitive sex evolves traits that exploit a pre-existing bias that the choosy sex already possesses.)

[xii] “Redintegration” is “the process of reconstructing an entire complex memory after observing or remembering only a part of it.”  Sometimes, only a tiny fragment of new information will suffice: “It is only necessary to behold the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a point a hair’s breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance …” (Thoreau, Journal 8:44)


[xiii] There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves and transfer to every object those qualities with which they are intimately acquainted and of which they are intimately conscious (David Hume, 1757) [When faced with ambiguity or ignorance, we extrapolate from the next nearest phenomenon . . . as with anthropomorphism] origin of ToM –they think like I do?

[xiv] http://www.nature.com/articles/s41570-016-0001 :  “Abraham Flexner, the founding Secretary General of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, penned in November 1939 a most readable essay on fundamental research1The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge described, in Flexner’s fluid prose, how apparently random experimentation eventually leads to the most important discoveries. He argued vehemently against the need for utility in the promotion of research and the allocation of funding. Instead, Flexner delivered a rousing plea for the “freeing of the human spirit”. His article is an eloquent discourse on the benefits and virtues of freedom in fundamental research. Flexner’s words are music to the ears of scientists who pursue science because they are curious and, in the venerable words of Friedrich Schiller, do not live off science but, above all, for science. Although Flexner’s essay appeared more than 75 years ago, it is still one of the most compelling pieces on the vital role of fundamental research — extolling not only its cultural value, but also its benefit to mankind in general.”

[xv] An attractor is defined as the smallest unit which cannot be itself decomposed into two or more attractors with distinct basins of attraction. This restriction is necessary since a dynamical system may have multiple attractors, each with its own basin of attraction.   Attractor — from Wolfram MathWorld   i.e., http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Attractor.html

An attractor is a set of states (points in the phase space), invariant under the dynamics, towards which neighboring states in a given basin of attraction asymptotically approach in the course of dynamic evolution. An attractor is defined as the smallest unit which cannot be itself decomposed into two or more attractors with distinct basins of attraction. This restriction is necessary since a dynamical system may have multiple attractors, each with its own basin of attraction.

Conservative systems do not have attractors, since the motion is periodic. For dissipative dynamical systems, however, volumes shrink exponentially so attractors have 0 volume in n-dimensional phase space.

A stable fixed point surrounded by a dissipative region is an attractor known as a map sink. Regular attractors (corresponding to 0 Lyapunov characteristic exponents) act as limit cycles, in which trajectories circle around a limiting trajectory which they asymptotically approach, but never reach. Strange attractors are bounded regions of phase space (corresponding to positiveLyapunov characteristic exponents) having zero measure in the embedding phase space and a fractal dimension. Trajectories within a strange attractor appear to skip around randomly.

Also, nicely stated at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attractor  And further developed in a way accommodating to mathophobes at http://schwitzsplintersunderblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/brief-introduction-to-dynamic-systems.html (“The simplest example of an attractor is an attractor point, such as the lowest point in the middle of a pendulum swing. The flow of this simple dynamic system is continually drawn to this central attractor point, and after a time period determined by a variety of factors (the force of the push, the length of the string, the friction of the air etc.) eventually settles there. A slightly more complex system would settle into not just an attractor point but an attractor basin. i.e. a set of points that describes a region of that space.”)  When these guys say evolution they just mean change.