GLOSSARY: Art and Organism Terms



being a collection of TERMS as commonly used in ART & ORGANISM

that emphasize connections between biology and art

BUT, also look in on The Tate Gallery’s interdisciplinary glossary of art terms  

(then perhaps consider “an entertaining exercise” at the end of the glossary)


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | K | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | U | V | W | Z


Term Definition
in DEVELOPMENT, according to Piaget, existing structures change to accommodate to the new information. This dual process, assimilation-accommodation, enables the child to form schema. (from: (Jean Piaget: Intellectual Development) (see Assimilation and Equilibration)
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” (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
see esthetics
Most simply, affect is emotion or feeling. It can be inferred in others by outward expressions of posture, expression, or reflexes of the autonomic nervous system. It can “energize” motivation. Along with motivation and cognition constitute a useful “triad” of psychological functions. Associated with the limbic system in the brains of vertebrates.
the signal or information from the sense organs, regardless of the type or cause of sensory stimulation. (see Efference and Reafference)
an alternate form of a gene at the same locus. see gene
maintaining physiological stability by changing set point for regulation. “. . . a fundamental process through which organisms actively adjust to both predictable and unpredictable events. Allostatic load refers to the cumulative cost to the body of allostasis, with allostatic overload being a state in which serious pathophysiology can occur.” (McEwen 2003)
the actions of one individual towards another in which the altruist reduces its own apparent fitness while increasing that of the recipient.
The condition of admitting of multiple meanings or interpretations; uncertainty of meaning or significance. [more, including paredolia and apophenia]  See A&O notes on AMBIGUITY
resemblance in characteristics (e.g., body form, behavior) as a consequence of independent adaptation to the same or similar environmental conditions and not due to common ancestry [more]
Animal Behavior
The wild and wonderful ways in which animals interact with each other, with members of other species, and with the environment
Cognitive unawareness or denial of a deficit such as paralysis on the left side of the body attributable to a right hemisphere lesion. (other syndromes secondary to right hemispher damage are anosodiaphoria, an emotional indifference to the symptoms and neglect, the ignorance of the left hemispace. [more on anosognosia]
the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, forces of nature, and others. (from the Greek words, anthrôpos, meaning human, and morphé, meaning shape or form) Can be adapted to the projection from any relatively well understood system to a less well understood system — as in “homeothermomorphism” projection of traits from warm-blooded to cold blooded animals.
the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena (coined by K. Conrad in 1958 and used by Brugger 2001) [more at ambiguity, paredolia]

“Apperception is the process of learning new information by relating and incorporating it into past knowledge and experience. Perception is experiencing stimuli through our senses. Apperception is taking the information from stimuli (perceptions) and relating or comparing it to information gathered in the past. …. For example, a perception would be seeing a dog and thinking “There is a dog.” Apperception would be seeing a dog and thinking “That dog looks like my friend Larry’s dog.”  (ref)

Since it seems unlikely (and probably not useful) to go directly to a precise definition of art, we must (at least) triangulate: identify a few reference points that suggest boundaries and extrapolate to an understanding of the term. . . . [more]
in DEVELOPMENT, according to Piaget, Assimilation involves the incorporation of new events into preexisting cognitive structures. (see Accommodation and Equilibraton)
Associative Learning
The association of events such as stimuli and responses with positive or negative consequences which leads to a change in behavior. Involves behavioral and its underlying neural plasticity. Associative learning is distinguished from non-associative learning such as change in behavior as a result of habituation or sensitization. See Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning
The distinctive “feeling” that precedes a seizure (typically applied to epilepsy) — may or may not be unpleasant and/or a distinctive sequence of “feelings.” Often allows time to prepare. more about aura
Automatized Action Pattern (AAP)
Sequence of motor patterns established and enhanced in efficiency and effectiveness by repetition (see Fixed Action Pattern, FAP)
Autonomic nervous system
“a division of the vertebrate nervous system serving internal organs such as the heart, blood vessels, lungs, intestines and also certain glands. The sympathetic nerve pathways have an emergency function and become active under stress (the adrenal medulla in many vertebrates is really a part of the sympathetic system). They have the effect of accelerating heart rate, dilating air passages to the lungs, increasing the blood supply to the muscles, reducing the activity of the intestines. (The parasympathetic pathways serve a recuperative function restoring the blood supply to normal and countering the effects of the sympathetic activity.)

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Term Definition
Balanced Polymorphism
the maintenance of two or more alleles for a trait in a population at a more or less constant frequency ratio due to the selective advantage of heterozygotes. For example, the persistence of the sickle-cell trait, deadly in homozygotes is attributable to the advantage provided by the heterozygote.
all coordinated actions and responses of an individual
a movement in psychology that advocates the use of strict experimental procedures to study observable behavior (or responses) in relation to the environment (or stimuli)
 Bias  a tendency based on congenital or acquired influences on behavior based on attention, perceptions, ease of retention, or activation. Based on the abilities or limitations of cognitive structures or processing.   See Wikipedia’s list_of_cognitive_biases  and Framing (below)
The solving of practical problems using whatever materials happen to be at hand. Adapted by Claude Levi-Strauss from the word “bricoleur” –French for the kind of handyman that can brings formidable ingenuity to bear on making difficult repairs by exploiting whatever materials . Evolution often seems to proceed in this way –solving adaptive problems with whatever resources the organism has available. (see “Panda Principle”)

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Term Definition
Carrying Capacity
(K) an environment’s maximum persistently supportable load (Catton 1986); a way to characterize the environment in terms of how many organisms it can support
Classical Conditioning
a type of associative learning in which a stimulus comes to affect a preexisting stimulus-response relationship as a result of frequent exposure to it; an organism comes to associate a new (often arbitrary) stimulus (such as a bell) with a well-learned, reflexive, or automatic response (such as salivating when food is presented); e.g., a person who has had painful experiences at the dentist’s office may become fearful at just the sight of the dentist’s office building. Also called Pavlovian conditioning — compare with Operant Conditioning
the process that describes the adaptive changes that occur when two species act as strong selective forces on each other. The evolutionary way the influence each other, particularly in competition. An evolutionary “arms race” (recalling the US/USSR cold war competition to trump each other’s weapons and defenses)
The mental processes coordinated to acquire, organize, and apply information. Sensory information is transformed into perceptions which are then categorized and organized, stored, recovered, abstracted or combined, and used. Cognition includes the use of memory (a “trace” of a past experience) to guide behavior and “thinking” (the retrieval of stored bits of information and its manipulation to ascertain relationships between them and (often) new information). Along with affect and motivation constitute a useful “triad” of psychological functions. Associated with the cerebral cortex in mammals.
 Cognitive Bias
See Bias (above) and complement with Wikipedia on Cognitive_bias
Cognitive Dissonance
The state of possessing inconsistent cognitions (knowledge or beliefs about oneself or the world) which individuals are motivated to minimize or eliminate. People do this by (1) adding new cognitions or (2) change existing cognitions, or (3) expressing behavioral patterns that have cognitive consequences favoring consonance, such as seeking new information. A common dissonance is a mismatch between the model of the world (or self) in one’s mind and the external reality that is not in accord with that model. [Festinger, L.A. (1957): A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press]
Collateral Effect
an unintended or unexpected consequence concomitant with or accompanying another phenomenon; a side-effect. A collateral or side-effect of certain arches in architecture is the spandrel, a feature which is “available” for uses other than the main function of the arches which created them.
Commonplace Book
a unique sort of journal. “Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks.” [more]
“an action on the part of one organism (or cell) that alters the probability pattern of behavior in another organism (or cell) in a fashion adaptive to either one or both of the participants” (Wilson 1975); “the transmission of a signal from one animal to another such that the sender benefits, on average, from the response of the recipient” (Slater 1983). [more]
a “spontaneous” or “provoked” narrative based on “false memories, perceptions, or beliefs about the slef or the environment.” It can also represent a “confusion of imaginiation with memory … or the confused application of true memories.” Often difficult to ditinguish from”delusions and from lying.” Confabulation can result from taking percepts devised or imagined to help bridge a gap in a narrative in order to establish credible coherence, with the interpolated indaes taken to be valid and true. with help from Wikipedia
Configurational stimulus
a specific combination of stimuli that derive their potency to elicit a response by virtue of their specific relationship to each other; typically a pattern of presentation to which a specific reaction pattern is tuned. The mother herring gull’s bill has the red spot and a certain shape.
confirmation bias
a selective attention to information that tends to confirm one’s beliefs and/or a selective inattention, ignorance, or undervaluing information that tends to contradicts one’s beliefs. [more]
Consciousness “the normal mental condition of the waking state of humans, characterized by the experience of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, awareness of the external world, and often in humans (but not necessarily in other animals) self-awareness,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology.  It is (or represents) a  “… graded global integration of multiple cognitive functions yielding a unified representation of the world, our bodies, and ourselves” –Allan Hobson 1999 (A&O notes on CONSCIOUSNESS)
Consilience is when beliefs derived from alternative ways of studying a phenomenon reinforce or corroborate each other. It is literally a “jumping together” of knowledge across disciplinary boundaries; a transcendence which can, like a successful mating dance of mutual accommodation and assimilation, result in a unifying accord that can be one of the supreme experiences of science.The term was devised by William Whewell in 1840 to describe the corroboration of a belief (actually an induction) derived from one class of facts by a belief derived from another class of facts. [more]
Critical Anthropomorphism
critical anthropomorphism is an ethologically informed source of hypotheses about the causes and consequences of behavior in other organisms. Since the minds of other taxa (indeed other humans) are ultimately unknowable, it builds on shared characteristics while remaining to the often profound differences.
Cumulative Selection
most complex behavioral patterns arose gradually from less complex behavioral patterns by a long slow pattern of accretion, or accumulation. (Alcock’s Animal Behavior, 7th edition, 2001:283)

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Term Definition
DEEP ethology
Consideration of the causes and consequences of a behavioral pattern from the converging perspectives of Developmental biology, Ecology, Evolutionary biology, and Physiology. Developmental biology emphasizes ONTOGENY and EXPERIENCE, Ecology emphasizes biotic and abiotic ENVIRONMENT; Evolutionary biology involves transmission of biological information to subsequent generations utilizing GENES and (possibly) MEMES, and Physiology involves the proximate NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL and ENDOCRINE causes of behavior. “Proximate” and “ultimate” causes of behavior are sometimes distinguished depending on the number of intervening steps between a putative cause and an effect. The more steps that intervene, the more problematical the connection. [more]
Dialectics is the science of the general and abstract laws of the development of nature, society, and thought. Its principal features are (from Wikipedia on Dialectical Materialism and Dialectic): “The dialectical method is dialogue between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter by dialogue, with reasonedarguments… Fichtean Dialectics (Hegelian Dialectics) is based upon four concepts: 1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time. 2. Everything is composed of contradictions (opposing forces). 3. Gradual changes lead to crises, turning points when one force overcomes its opponent force (quantitative change leads to qualitative change). 4. Change is helical (spiral), not circular (negation of the negation). The concept of dialectic existed in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who proposed that everything is in constant change, as a result of inner strife and opposition.
Direct Fitness
probability of reproductive success through one’s own offspring
See: Inclusive Fitness, Direct Fitness, Indirect Fitness
Displacement Activity
behavior patterns seemingly unrelated to the behavioral context in which it occurs

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Term Definition
Ecological Homeostasis
A dynamic balance between multiple systems that maintains stability within an ecosystem. Adapted by Odum (1971) from the idea of homeostasis in physiology in which the stability of the internal environment of the body is maintained by multiple systems that are constantly interacting by means of their effects on each other. Ecosystems have powers of self-maintenance and self-regulation –so homeostasis can be said to be true of them also; They resist change and remain in a state of equilibrium
the signal or information that is used to control the motor output, usually represented as a signal in the output side of the nervous system. (see Reafference)

“… from the Greek for the written description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical or literary exercise, often used in the adjectival form ekphrastic. It is a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined.” Wikipedia (e.g., ) …

“Ekphrasis has been considered generally to be a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness.” (Wikipedia)

Emergent property
A property or quality of a phenomenon (such as an organism) that could not have been predicted on the basis of a knowledge of its constituent parts. (see
Endocrine system
combination of neural and glandular mechanisms which control physiological functions/behavior via the secretion of hormones, carried in the blood. Hormones only affect those cells that have specific receptors for them.
Interaction of genome and environment in determining traits, including behavior [more] [examples]
A secondary or collateral phenomenon that results from and accompanies another. Also in medicine, a condition or symptom in the course of a disease, not necessarily connected with the disease. They are often hard to predict. [see collateral effect]
a branch of philosophy concerned with the origin, nature, and limits of knowledge. (for Foucault, an “episteme” represents “the communal presuppositions about knowledge and its nature and limits;” the body of ideas that determine certain knowledge at any particular time. An “epistemic” order was implied by JS Mill in terms of degrees of acceptance -OED) (“-eme” always refers to the smallest significantly distinctive unit of a structure) (Evolutionary epistemology “an approach to the development of human knowledge in evolutionary terms, either as an integral part of natural selection or as an independent process modelled on biological natural selection. Evolutionary epistemology is part of a broader programme of naturalized epistemology. Rather than seeking to secure our knowledge claims against sceptical doubts, naturalized epistemology tries to explain major features of our knowledge as necessary or inevitable features of ourselves as natural beings.”) [more]


“The term was popularized in Phenomenology by Edmund Husserl in 1906. Husserl elaborates the notion of ‘bracketing‘ or ‘phenomenological epoché’ or ‘phenomenological reduction’ in Ideas I.[6] Through the systematic procedure of ‘phenomenological reduction’, one is thought to be able to suspend judgment regarding the general or naive philosophical belief in the existence of the external world, and thus examine phenomena as they are originally given to consciousness.[7] Husserl broke epoché into two distinct categories, “universal epoché” and “local epoché”, the former having a stronger effect than the latter. Universal epoché required leaving behind all assumptions of existence while local epoché requires setting aside only certain assumptions, often of what is being focused on. One such way this could be applied is the act of seeing a horse. By using local epoché the viewer would suspend or set aside all prior knowledge of that particular horse, presenting an objective view.[8] In applying universal epoché, the viewer would suspend all knowledge of all horses, or even of all mammals. This essentially creates a blank slate for the object to be viewed as objectively as possible. Husserl also noted that the very process of using epoché never leads to the complete description of an object. What is subject to change is the relationship between the subject and object through the ever-changing consciousness. Husserl uses the term “intentionality” as new levels of meaning present themselves. Acting as a pre-categorical method of separating the object from the subject, Husserl believed that this process will not have an end when applied correctly as there are infinite modalities we can connect subjects to objects.”[8] (Wikipedia)

in DEVELOPMENT, according to Piaget, Equilibration involves a balance restored during development between the individual and the environment by assimilation and accommodation. “When a child experiences a new event, disequilibrium sets in until he is able to assimilate and accommodate the new information and thus attain equilibrium. There are many types of equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation that vary with the levels of development and the problems to be solved. For Piaget, equilibration is the major factor in explaining why some children advance more quickly in the development of logical intelligence than do others” (from: (Jean Piaget: Intellectual Development) [see Assimilation and Accommodation]
a “branch of philosophy concerned with the study of beauty and art.” In A&O esthetics also refers to information acquired by means of the senses–“experience” (other information is created by the way this aesthetic information is interpreted in the central nervous system. “Sensation” (the “experience” of the sense organs) becomes “perception” (the experience of the meaning of what is sensed); for our purposes, we can distinguish “aesthetics in the broad sense” (related to the senses) and “aesthetics in the narrow sense” (pushing the boundaries of the competence of our senses and the perceptions they lead to) [more]
comprehensive compilation of the behavioral repertory of a species, a catalogue of actions as complete and precise as possible, generally showing relationships between units (flow charts) and the context(s) in which they occur. Sometimes a simple list of behavioral patterns is referred to as a “catalog” or “inventory” of behavioral patterns, and “ethogram” is reserved for a description of the relationship between the elements of the inventory. [example]
The study of the causes and consequences of behavior from a point of view emphasizing developmental, ecological, evolutionary, and physiological variables. see DEEP ETHOLOGY. Consideration of the causes and consequences of a behavioral pattern from the converging perspectives of Developmental biology, Ecology, Evolutionary biology, and Physiology. Developmental biology emphasizes ONTOGENY and EXPERIENCE, Ecology emphasizes biotic and abiotic ENVIRONMENT; Evolutionary biology involves transmission of biological information to subsequent generations utilizing GENES and (possibly) MEMES, and Physiology involves the proximate NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL and ENDOCRINE causes of behavior. “Proximate” and “ultimate” causes of behavior are sometimes distinguished depending on the number of intervening steps between a putative cause and an effect. The more steps that intervene, the more problematical the connection.
a processes by which living things first appeared on earth and have since diversified and changed. It involves change of gene frequency within populations, which ultimately result in behavioral and phenotypic changes
Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS)
a strategy such that, when common, cannot be invaded by an alternative (mutant) strategy under the influence of natural selection. i.e. a strategy that performs better than any other strategy against itself.
a companion concept for adaptation – this separates historical origins from current utility of a trait – he defined it as “a feature, now useful to an organism, that did not arise as an adaptation for its present role, but was subsequently co-opted for its current function” (Buss et al 1998:539 quoting Gould 1991:47). These “now useful” traits could have originated for some other adaptive purpose – a “co-opted adaptation,” or they could have derived from a non-adaptive by-products or side-effects of an adaptive trait, a “spandrel,” or epiphenomenon, or collateral phenomenon.
An experiment involves operations designed to determine the extent and nature of the causal relation between two variables. The independent variable is varied and its effect on the dependent variable is observed. The aim of experiments is to design them in such a way that the effect of the dependent variable can be attributed only to the manipulations of the independent variable – these are controls. Controls will help to eliminate alternative explanations of the results. Controls can be done by randomization or systematic control of extraneous variables. see Natural Experiment
Extrasomatory Self
external expressions of the state or dynamics of one’s inner self (Howard Bloom e-mail, 2000)

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Term Definition
probability that an animal of a particular genotype and phenotype will reproduce; in game theory models used to judge the success of a strategy (commonly denoted as (w) or EI(J) = expected pay-off to I when playing against J)
See: Inclusive Fitness, Direct Fitness, Indirect Fitness
Fixed Action Pattern (FAP)
coordinated responses (often motor patterns) that have a fixed form and need not be learned. Within a species, different individuals will produce almost identical behavioral responses to a specific sign stimulus; once initiated FAPs continue until completed (=Erbkoordination) [see “motor programs”][see Automatized Action Pattern, AAP]
“optimal experience” of organized order in consciousness which when skills and opportunities for action are evenly matched and focused on realistic goals, allowing one to momentarily forget consciousness. (Csikszentmihalyi 1990)
 When the manner in which information is presented influences our beliefs or decisions (see: the decision lab on the framing bias)

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Term Definition
nuclei acids that faithfully code information needed for synthesis of proteins, the building blocks of all living things: Genes are specific combinations of DNA at a specific site on a chromosome (its LOCUS). They are not simply on/off switches, but can be variable in their expression depending on context, especially the activity of a biochemical support system. They code for cellular processes that affect or eventually manifest themselves as traits. An ALLELE is an alternate form of a gene at the same locus. In February of 2001, the most complete draft of the human genome identified 34,000 genes responsible for directing the assembly of about a million proteins.

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Term Definition
any part of the biosphere where a species can successfully live and reproduce
gradual decline in response after repeated exposure to a stimulus without specific significance; a kind of non-associative learning
see Allostasis
when there are multiple levels or layers of organization, control, or information flow; higher levels emerge out of or are supported by lower ones, but lower levels are then at least partly controlled by the higher ones. Systems of thought, military, ecclesiastical, political, and social systems are typically hierarchical. In the organism, “top-down” (output of integrated information, “thought”) and “bottom-up” (input, sensation) processes are simultaneously active and affecting each other.
The idea that whole entities (like organisms) are greater than the sum of their parts; or that whole entities take their specific natures from the manner in which their constituent parts are interconnected (see emergent property; reductionism)
dynamic balance between multiple systems that seeks stability; maintained by feedback loops such that increases or decreases in one variable evokes a compensating response by another. (more). see heterostasis or allostasis
resemblance in characteristics (e.g., body form, behavior) as a consequence of common ancestry; [more]

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Term Definition
capacity to learn specific types of information at certain critical periods in development
Inclusive Fitness
the sum of Direct Fitness, and Indirect Fitness
Indirect Fitness
probability of reproductive success through non-descendant relatives. see Fitness, Inclusive Fitness, Direct Fitness
Individual distance
defended area surrounding the individual’s own body
unable to be adequately characterized by words, an attribute of a Mystical Experience | more
referring to built-in, inborn, hereditary, it is no longer used and has been replaced by the spectrum of “open” vs. “closed” developmental systems [more] often contrasted with “acquired”
Innate releasing mechanism
see Releasing mechanism
The term strongly implies an inborn, genetically controlled mechanism, but most “instincts” studied closely reveal the influence of learning. [Hailman]. see also “Fixed Action Pattern (FAP). William James begins chapter 24 of the Principles of Psychology (1890) with ” . . . the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the ends, and without previous education in the performance . . . ” and then critically reviews them [complete text]
In the systems view of information processing by an organism, the combining of two or more phenomena or processes. For example, as new sensory information is received and flows through an organism, it may be consciously or nonconsciously combined with information from memory in varying proportions to influence the path of flow and a final outcome. Paths are dynamic, and subsequent expressions of comparable integrative activities are affected by the effectiveness of present ones. In horizontal (or lateral) integration comparable levels of organization may compete or combine for influence (such as two sensory inputs). In vertical integration (sometimes called backward integration) information combines with information at another level along the path to influence outcomes. see Input-Integration-Output
Intention Movement
behavior patterns that precede or prepare for other behaviors
the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group

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Term Definition
Key Stimulus
see Sign Stimulus
Kin Selection
selection for traits that lower an individual’s personal fitness, but raise a relative’s fitness
non-directional orienting reactions in the presence of a particular sensory stimulus. Animals which suddenly find themselves in an unfavorable environment (e.g. with regard to humidity, temperature, or salt concentration) may change direction by trial and error. By such a method paramecia or woodlice become hedged in an area with favorable environmental conditions, see Homing, Navigation, Orientation, Piloting, Taxis

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Term Definition
Law of Effect
behaviors that are followed by a positive outcome are repeated, while those followed by a negative outcome or none at all are extinguished (Edward L. Thorndike)
“change in behavior as a result of experience.” Adaptive modification of behavior in response to specific experiences during the individual’s life. Acquiring knowledge or developing the ability to perform new behaviors. kinds of learning are Associative and Non-Associative and (more recently) Perceptual Learning

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Term Definition
A unit of communicable information that might alter the behavior of recipients. “Individual slogans, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical memes. An idea or information pattern is not a meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else. All transmitted knowledge is memetic.” see the Principia Cybernetica’slexicon of memes
the set of all environmental factors that are significant for a species, whether or not they are actually perceptible: “the set of things it might care about, if only it knew about them; the objective universe that impinges on existence •• We would say that the merkwelt is a species’ context: the more complex the creature’’s contextual sensitivity, the more complex its structure.” Term coined by von Uexküll in the 1920s see Umwelt
seasonal (typically annual) movements of animals from place to place, usually the same places each season. It allows animals to take advantage of different sites with different qualities- such as seasonally available food, safety from predation (especially when breeding) or conserving energy by finding a climate that does not require as much energy to cope (particularly when food resources become scarce). [more]
Processes that account for the direction, intensity, and persistence of effort expended to meet needs or attain a goal. Along with affect and cognition constitute a useful “triad” of psychological functions. Associated with the hypothalamus in the brains of vertebrates.
Motor Program
chained sequence of specific (discrete) reflexes or motor responses; often seen in FIXED ACTION PATTERNS (FAPs)
Multiple parallel processing
the simultaneous movement (or activation) of information through more than one “information pathway.” For example, there are multiple (sensory) sources of information about the world operating simultaneously, approximately in parallel. At certain points, these paths sometimes compete with each other to dominate behavior. The idea is important also in computer science.
“. . . a repository for the preservation and exhibition of objects illustrative of antiquities, natural history, fine and industrial art, or some particular branch of any of these subjects, either generally or with reference to a definite region or period.” (OED) “A museum has always been the “seat of the Muses,” a place to contemplate and perhaps be moved by the Muses. In Roman times, the museum, was more like a university –for example, the Museum at Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I Soter early in the 3rd century BC. had a college of scholars and a library.” more
Mystical experience
attributes includes ineffable, noetic, transience, and passivity. more|greenberg 2003 (forum notes)
The “interlocking stories, rituals, rites, and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community, or culture. [. . . Organizing beliefs of a culture that provide] a world picture and a set of stories that explain why things are as they are, creates consensus, sanctifies the social order, and gives individuals an authorized map of the path of life. A myth creates the plot-line that organizes the diverse experiences of a person or a community into a single story . . . ” [Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey, 1989) [more]

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Term Definition
Natural Experiment
A natural experiment does not involve active manipulation of the independent variable by the experimenter. The variables are manipulated by circumstance — for example, insights about ecological colonization might derive from populations of a species isolated from each other on islands due to rising sea-levels, or the relative effects of genetics and environment on specific traits might be clarified by identical twins separated at birth and brought up in very different environments.
Natural Selection
the process by which environmental effects lead to varying degrees of reproductive success among individuals of a population of organisms with different hereditary characters, or traits. The characters that inhibit reproductive success decrease in frequency from generation to generation
Naturalistic Fallacy
The idea that “whatever is, is right” is an inappropriate equating of a phenomenon with a moral judgement — equating what is with what ought to be (Hume) more
an organism’s survival and growth requires that biological needs must be met. Maslow’s NEED HIERARCHY developed to describe key psychological needs can be adapted to characterize biological needs. Real or perceived inability to meet a specific need is a principal cause of biological STRESS. (NEEDS in A&O)
compound that is released at a synapse and diffuses across the synaptic cleft to act on a receptor located on the membrane of a postsynaptic cell, which may be another neurone, a muscle cell or a specialized gland cell. It is released from nerve endings by nerve impulse activity at morphologically distinguishable synaptic junctions producing suitable changes in the excitability of the postsynaptic membrane, also see Neuromodulator, Neurotransmitter
compound that is released within a localized region of CNS, the receptor for which is not necessarily sited on an anatomically apposed postsynaptic cell. Thus a neuromodulator may affect several postsynaptic cells with specificity conferred mainly by the distribution of receptors. Main action is on second messenger systems, eg. cAMP or inositol triphosphate, presumably affecting protein phosphorylation, also see Neurohormone, Neurotransmitter
compound that is released at a synapse and diffuses across the synaptic cleft to act on a receptor located on the membrane of a postsynaptic cell, which may be another neurone, a muscle cell or a specialized gland cell. It is released from nerve endings by nerve impulse activity at morphologically distinguishable synaptic junctions producing suitable changes in the excitability of the postsynaptic membrane, also see Neuromodulator, Neurohormone
Function of a particular species in an ecological community; all aspects of an organisms existence that enable it to survive and reproduce – see also Fundamental Niche vs. Realized Niche
an attribute of a Mystical Experience | more
Non-associative Learning
a change in behavior as a result of exposure to stimuli that are not associated with positive or negative consequences — examples are habituation and sensitization.
Norm of reaction
The range of phenotypic possibilities for a single genotype, as influenced by the environment

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Term Definition
The study of being; often used interchangeably with Metaphysics; it is concerned with “existence and the categorical structure of reality” (Oxford Companion 1995) — Don’t confuse this with ONTOGENY, the study of the origin and progressive development of an individual organism. (metaphysics is that branch or field of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature, structure, and characteristics of reality. A narrow usage of the term refers to the study of that which lies beyond the physical realm (i.e., the supernatural realm). Metaphysics is sometimes used interchangeably with the term Ontology.)
Operant Conditioning
a form of associative learning in which behavior changes as a result of an action that leads to a specific consequence (e.g. rewarding, noxious), (same as trial-and-error learning, instrumental conditioning); that is, there is a contingency between the response and the presentation of the reinforcer. –compare with Classical Conditioning
Optimality Theory
A way of thinking about the costs and benefits of alternative strategies — used to great profit by behavioral ecologists. It has three parts: a list of possible alternative behavioral patterns; the variable that is valued (such as time or energy; and the constraints that limit an animal’s options) [more]

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Term Definition
Panda Principle
The evolutionary principle using biological traits at hand to solve adaptive problems. Named after Stephen J Gould’s essay about the “panda’s thumb.” The “thumb” is really a wrist bone that functions as a thumb — the first digit was not available to respond to the selection pressure that influenced the evolution of a thumb because in the panda’s ancestors it was incorporated into a foot adapted for running. But, when the nature of the foods available created selection pressure for a thumb (to strip bamboo leaves from stalks), the wrist bone was “available.” (see Bricolage)
A set of beliefs that complement each other to create a model of how the world works or even a comprehensive world-view
Paradigm shift
A change in one’s paradigm precipitated by a growing awareness of inconsistencies within the set of beliefs that supports it. The shift to a new paradigm that better accommodates the most salient of inconsistent beliefs. Beliefs that do not fit within a paradigm are dissonant and can contribute to a growing unease [see cognitive dissonance] that is mitigated by a shift to a more harmonious interpretation or paradigm. Reduced dissonance and harmony of beliefs within a paradigm is promoted by behavioral mechanisms that reduce cognitive dissonance such as selective perception of supportive beliefs and relative insensitivity to dissonance provoking beliefs. [Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions]
The perceptual phenomenon of detecting recognizable pattern in vague and random stimuli. “Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in reverse” [more at ambiguity, apophenia]
the attribute of a behavioral pattern or conscious state unfolding with seeming independence of conscious will, as though a “higher” power were acting through or appropriating one’s body or mind. As such, an attribute of a Mystical Experience | more | In ethology, “fixed action patterns,” once initiated, generally continue to a stereotyped conclusion, apparently by the chaining together of specific reflexes.
Perceptual Learning
A change in the way in which events are perceived as a result of experience; may involve Associative and non-associative learning. more
Elapsed time before a rhythm repeats itself
is the philosophical study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness. … primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of these structures and the phenomena that appear to consciousness.  see IEP entry
limited dispersal where average propagule moves less than 10 home ranges away from natal site
from philosophia, lover of wisdom: the term is applied to any body of doctrine or opinion as to the nature and ultimate significance of human experience considered as a whole. More specifically, the word is properly applied to the critical evaluation of all claims to knowledge – including its own – as well as anything about its own nature and task. In this latter respect of total self-evaluation, philosophy differs fundamentally from all other disciplines. What philosophy is – what methods the philosopher should use, what criteria a person should appeal to and what goals a person should set for themselves – is as perennial a question for the philosopher as any other. Traditionally philosophers have concerned themselves with four main topic areas: Logic – The study of formal structures of valid arguments. Metaphysics – Usually defined with ontology, the study of the nature of Being or ultimate reality. Epistemology – Or theory of knowledge. Sometimes treated as a branch of metaphysics. Axiology – Or theory of value which includes: Aesthetics – the philosophy of taste (especially as applied to the arts), Ethics – moral philosophy and Political Science.” The New American Desk Encyclopedia
The origin and ancestral succession constituting the evolutionary descent of a species, or class of species. It traces the evolutionary origins and transformations by identifying Homologies
Describes a trait at any level of organization that can evoke multiple effects, most commonly at higher levels.  Used most commonly in genetics to refer to “the production by a single gene of two or more apparently unrelated effects.”  And also used sometimes in pharmacology, but in principle applicable in many contexts.  (examples of genetic pleiotropy).  

Even as it is used in generics it can become confusing:  see: Paaby & Rockman (2013), The many faces of pleiotropy, and Stearns 2010: History of Pleiotropy (AND See A&O notes on pleiotropy)


Proximate cause (and consequence)
“Proximate” (as opposed to “ultimate”) causes and consequences of behavior are those most intimately associated with the behavior; thus the proximate cause of a reflexive or deliberate movement involves the nervous system; the proximate consequence of neural activation may be a muscle movement. Distance from / proximity to a specific event — tracking a chain of causes or consequences as far as possible can lead to the complexities of real life.
use of behavioral assays to establish sensory capabilities of an individual

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Term Definition
The component of sensory input an animal receives as a consequence of its own movements. (Thus, in the case of movement of the limbs, reafference is the proprioceptive or visual sensation that arises as a direct consequence of the motor act. “process of relaying messages from limbic system via entorhinal cortex to sensory cortices, in parallel with limbic commands to motor systems, serving (1) to compensate in advance for changes in sensory input accompanying actions, and (2) to sustain states of expectancy and attention.” — from Freeman, Societies of Brains) (see Afference and Efference)
Realized Niche
the set of resources and physical habitats actually used by individuals of a species in an area (a subset of the Fundamental Niche)
Redintegration is “the process of reconstructing a memory or the meaning of an idea from a collection of forgotten connections after observing or remembering only a part of it.” Related to Connections and Patterns (and see apophenia, pareidolia, redintegration).   Resembles “synechdoche” in which “the part of it” can come to represent the whole.
the idea that complex phenomena can be explained (at least in large measure) by reducing it to its constituent parts. Some qualities of phenomena do not seem explainable on the basis of its constituent parts — see holism
Releasing mechanism (RM)
a functionally organized, neural circuit that recognizes a specific sign stimulus and produces the appropriate response. previously the RM was called the “Innate releasing mechanism”, see for discussion of “Innate” See Stimulus.
the precision and consistency of data, as well as representation in an appropriate resolution (as opposed to Validity)
“”The sets of sacred beliefs held in common by groups of people and to the more or less standard actions (rituals) that are undertaken with respect to these beliefs” (Rappaport 1971:25) . . . “The clearest opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos can pour into human existence.” (Huston Smith 1955:11) [more]
Resting membrane potential
neuronal membrane with differential conductance for different ions produces unequal concentrations of ions inside and outside the cell. This results in an electrical potential across the membrane with the inside around -70 mV relative to outside
the process by which a functional behavior pattern (a fragment of a motor pattern or an autonomic reflex) or structure is transformed into a communication signal
Romer’s Rule
“the initial survival value of a favorable innovation is conservative, in that it renders possible the maintenance of a traditional way of life in the face of changed circumstances.” (Hockett & Asher 1964:137)

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Term Definition
“Science is neither a philosophy or a belief system. It is a combination of mental operations that has become increasingly the habit of educated peoples, a culture of illuminations hit upon be a fortunate turn of history that yielded the most effective way of learning about the real world ever conceived.” (E.O. Wilson, 1998, Consilience p 45) “Indeed, science itself can be regarded as a cultural extension of the biological process of acquiring knowledge. . . . (Colin Blakemore) [more]
Search image
Restriction of an animal’s interest to a single class of object as a consequence of focused attention on particular stimuli
Selection Pressure
an environmental variable that results in natural selection. It is an attribute of the environment with which an organism must cope in order to maximize its fitness. The “pressure” is for an individual or species to cope with challenges to meeting needs imposed by this variable (e.g., climate, predators, prey).
Selective attention
apparent responsiveness to a subset of all stimuli in principle detectable by an organism
An enhanced responsiveness to a stimulus as a result of exposure to it. e.g., drug-induced sensitization is believed to underlie certain aspects of drug addiction. A kind of Non-associative Learning. [sensitization to an allergen can result in enhanced responsiveness over time; “behavioral sensitization to a drug refers to a progressively increased responsiveness that develops as after repeated exposure and which can remain even after long periods of withdrawal [more]; attributable to changes in the brain; cross-sensitization is when one stimulus makes the organism more responsive to a different stimulus]
Sensory Adaptation
decreased signalling of a peripheral sense organ with continued exposure to a stimulus
sensory exploitation hypothesis
In the evolution of social signals (see “ritualization”), preferences for a specific sensory stimulus often precedes its development into a signal. Most experiments use “supernormal stimuli.” (Basolo 1990 Sci 250:808)
Sensory selectivity
subset of stimuli, which an animal detects and responds to
Sensory transduction
chain of physiological reactions which convert environmental energy presented to the sense organs into electrochemical energy which can be transmitted by the nervous system and affect physiological variables such as the stability of polarized cells (such as neurons)
Sexual Selection
the process by which changes in gene frequencies result from individuals that are better than others at either competing for or at attracting mates — i.e. the evolution of traits based on differences in mating success
Sign Stimulus
small subset of features or complex environmental cues that are sufficient to elicit a FAP, also see Stimulus; a stimulus to which a specific reaction pattern is tuned
Physical coding of a message for transmission through environment. Signals can be discrete or graded (digital (easily distinguished units) or analog (an apparent continuum). They can also be combined to create a new meaning (composite signals are “combinations” of units) or have their meaning altered by varying syntax (changing the order of presentation of units)
Skinner Box
An animal placed inside the box is rewarded with a small bit of food each time it makes the desired response, such as pressing a lever or pecking a key. A device outside the box records the animal’s responses, see Operant conditioning
A state of inactivity during which animals are not responsive to external stimuli. [more]
Social Referencing
the process, evident starting in infancy, of reading the emotional reactions of other people and using this information to guide one’s own behavior in ambiguous situations. In A&O, social referencing extends to critics as social referees of ambiguous information.
A group of individuals of the same species that is organized in a cooperative manner extending beyond sexual and parental care
Sociopathy has also been called “antisocial personality disorder” and “psychopathy.” It is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others, lying, deception, impulsivity, aggressive behavior, lack of empathy, and lack of remorse. In A&O and E&S, sociopaths (and synesthetes) are used to illustrate the difficulty in knowing what another individual is truly feeling (as opposed to what is indicated by their manifest behavior). It appears that there are degrees the deficits sociopaths manifest and clear sociopathy may be the end of a continuum; not all those so constituted are necessarily antisocial. Sociopaths have extremely impaired understanding of the emotional consequences of their actions and they learn how to relate to others by direct consequences; because this appears to impair the intrinsic sense of responsibility, morality, or concern for others they may commit criminal acts, sometimes of an “inhuman” nature. (but not all those deficient in these attributes of consciousness are sociopaths)”
any form of energy that can be detected by the body, requires Sensory Transduction SIGN STIMULUS. Any stimulus that activates an innate releasing mechanism (IRM) responsible for evoking a fixed action pattern (FAP) or species-typical behavioral pattern. (This used to be called key stimulus recalling the idea of lock & key specificity) CONFIGURATIONAL SIGN STIMULUS. A stimulus, the effects of which are dependent upon relationships between its elements. Examples: (a) Hawk-Goose model or (b) human face RELEASER. A sign stimulus emanating from a conspecific Examples: (a) Red spot on gull’s bill, (b) Lizard dewlap display. see Supernormal stimulus
The PHYSIOLOGICAL STRESS RESPONSE is associated with ongoing challenges to safety or comfort — ultimately its is a coordinated way of dealing with real or perceived challenges to its ability to meet a real or perceived NEED ! (A&O on STRESS)
Supernormal stimulus
(in animal behaviour) A stimulus that produces a more vigorous response than the normal stimulus eliciting that particular response. For example, a female herring gull will brood a giant egg in preference to its own eggs, which are smaller. A supernormal stimulus is an exaggerated sign stimulus. (in neurophysiology) A stimulus that is more intense than a normal stimulus and is capable of inducing a response in a nerve fibre during the relative refractory period.
Synaptic plasticity
changes in excitability and transmitter release at synaptic junctions between neurons
In A&O and E&S, synesthetes are used to illustrate the difficulty in knowing what another individual is truly experiencing. Synesthetes possess an atypical blending of the senses: the stimulation of one modality is perceived in a different modality, so (for example) one may hear colors, feel sounds and taste shapes. [more]

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Term Definition
the act of orienting towards some external stimulus or combination of stimuli. Spatial orientation, aided by different sensory modalities, is described by the corresponding term e.g. relative to light (phototaxis), smell (chemotaxis), sound (phonotaxis), or gravity (geotaxis). If orientation is towards the source, it is called a positive taxis, and away from the source a negative taxis. In such instances individuals move in a directed fashion along a particular stimulus gradient until they reach a perceived optimal range. see Homing, Kinesis, Navigation, Orientation, Piloting
any defended area; area of more or less fixed boundaries from which rival conspecifics are excluded, see Home range
Trial-and-error learning
behavioral plasticity, see Operant conditioning

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Term Definition
Ultimate cause (and consequence)
“Ultimate” (as opposed to “proximate”) causes and consequences of behavior are those most distantly removed from the behavior with which it is associated; thus the ultimate “cause” of a behavioral pattern is often viewed as the selection pressure that first influenced its presence in the organism, possibly in some very remote (ancient, ancestral) evolutionary scenario; the ultimate consequence of a behavioral pattern can only be hypothesized on the basis of its likely contribution to fitness in a future evolutionary scenario.
the unique “sensory world” of a specific organism — the stimuli to which an animal is responsive in a given motivational state. It is often presumed that the sensory receptors and neural apparatus for extracting meaning from sensations (perceptions) has, in any particular species, evolved to respond to those stimuli that are or were relevant to fitness. Term coined by von Uexküll in the 1920s. see Merkwelt [more][more on umwelt]

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Term Definition
Vacuum activity
the performance of consummatory behavior in the absence of any of the stimuli that are normally necessary for its occurrence.
wide dispersal where average propagule moves more than 30 homeranges away from natal site
the accuracy and specificity of data, as well as its applicability to the question being asked (as opposed to Reliability) Validity is often characterized as internal or external depending on whether it applies to the case(s) at hand or to a larger, more general set of case (such as “this individual or all members of the population;” or “this species or all members of the genus”)

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Term Definition
“A recent handbook of wisdom included as many definitions of the concept as there were chapters.” (see A&O web notes on wisdom)
a . . . “cabinet of wonder, where unusual artifacts, natural and man-made, are displayed with no obvious rhyme or reason, no easily discernible method behind the curatorial madness.” [more]

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Term Definition
“time-giver” — cue that triggers an organism’s coordination with an environmental rhythm

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An entertaining exercise: Take any term as generally understood in its “home” discipline of art or biology and build a bridge from one to the other.  If you keep at it, the emerging network of bridges (I always see a Piranesi print in the back of my mind) becomes a SCAFFOLD that can then  enable the construction of some more permanent structure, more deeply situated within one’s self.  (but of course no structure is permanent)  Only such connectedness engenders MEANING.  (and of course we all want that. right?) 

GLOSSARY:  A trail of bread crumbs through a wilderness of words[i] (think of an intrepid explorer forging a path through a seeming impenetrable wilderness (Biwindi jungle or forest)

A diversity—sometimes a bewildering welter—of alternative or controversial meanings for terms severely impedes coherence in understanding principles of phenomenology and their application in practice.  This GLOSSARY represents how these terms have been used by students with interests in diverse theoretical and applied fields as they have navigated the sea of information.   


[i] “a logical positivist and a phenomenologist walk into a bar…” (both sustain a mild concussion.)  (“how?…”  “wow! …”)