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The Descent of Humanity: The Biological Roots of Human Consciousness, Culture and History

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Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM,volume 8)

Abstract

The notion of species-specific modelling allows us to construct taxonomies of mental models, based on the concept of qualia, such as posing ‘invariant requests to neural processes’, supporting networks of which are subject to selective pressures. The selection is based on their respective capacity to differently adapt to behaviour patterns, which neural networks control. For extremely premature births, thanks to foetalization, in Homo sapiens sapiens, specific neural groups are offered for selection in early critical periods of development and in a social environment. As a consequence, far beyond any other primate, new cognitive devices are developed, which lead to a high level of abstract thinking. Therefore, the reproposition of the cultural-historical psychology is important. Foetalization and education are the two pillars that give rise to the human being’s ability to accumulate a perceivable and collective knowledge, which is precluded to other animal cultures. These are the roots both of consciousness and of the specific mechanisms that give rise to transmissibility and variability and adaptability of the human cultures. The key to this evolutionary quantum leap is the advent of a new class of replicators: memes, defined as informational patterns of a signic nature with a metaphorical, relational organization; memes are the basic framework in the structure of personality both in individuals and in social groups.

Keywords

  • Qualia
  • Consciousness
  • Awareness
  • Mental representations
  • Abstract thinking
  • Metaphor
  • Biosemiotic epistemology
  • Conscious and unconscious metaphors
  • Memetics

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Operant conditioning is one of the key concepts in behavioural psychology. It is a form of learning, in which a behaviour is modified, thanks to the reinforcement by the consequences of the behaviour itself.

  2. 2.

    Myelin is an electrically insulating material that forms a layer, the myelin sheath, around the nerve fibres allowing for their autonomy and specificity, functioning as structures for the transmission of the nerve impulse. The larger neural networks (e.g. among two distant cerebral lobes) are possible only when the myelination enables the anatomic and functional connectivity between different brain regions.

  3. 3.

    The word is both used as ‘important’ and ‘able to give a meaning’.

  4. 4.

    The theory of language games has been developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (1953).

  5. 5.

    Labelled as modifications of the nervous system induced by the relations with the environment mediated by the sensory organs.

  6. 6.

    Labelled as a complex synthesis of simple sensory elements in forms containing meaning.

  7. 7.

    Deacon, ibidem p. 329.

  8. 8.

    A transducer conveys energy from one point to another one altering some features, so it ‘converts’ input energy of one form into output energy of another; it ‘transduces’ a signal into another kind of signal. For instance, a microphone transforms variations of air pressure into an electric signal. Each transducer is characterized by a peculiar mathematic function, named a transfer function.

  9. 9.

    In biology, fitness is the estimate of reproductive success (number of offspring) of an individual or a genotype. It is the estimate of the birth rate, as the adaptation shows itself through an increase in birth rate.

  10. 10.

    As can be demonstrated by the independency of the genes’ families that control the various types of ‘eye’.

  11. 11.

    Deacon, ibidem p. 329.

  12. 12.

    The choice of the term awareness, related to this ‘consciousness without an analogue I which narratizes in a mind space’, is due to its explicit use made by the mystical traditions and the religious or laical meditation techniques. These practices tend to a sort of ‘extinction’ of the continuous self dialogue, often pursued by different means that ‘saturate’ the sensory channels with contents towards which the highest concentration is directed. ‘Against’ the pervasiveness of the abstract thought, here, the sensory content is proposed.

  13. 13.

    But not of the perception of space and the orientation within it!

  14. 14.

    ‘There are patterns to human moves. 1.1 Moves are events: they happen, they take time, they begin and end. 1.11 Events are types, not tokens. That is, they can reoccur: the same event can happen repeatedly’ (Bencivenga 1997, pp. 5–6).

  15. 15.

    Damásio defined emotions as publically observable responses, while feelings were private mental experiences (Damásio 1999).

  16. 16.

    In MacLean’s triune brain model, mammals ‘invent’ emotion and the limbic system.

  17. 17.

    Osgood et al. (1957) created the semantic differential technique to identify the different qualitative attributes that are specific to different cultures and that give meaning to abstract concepts. These abstract concepts are assigned an arbitrary score, using a scale from 1 to 7 where the opposite ends of the scale indicate opposing adjectives. For example, on a scale where 1 is good and 7 is bad, where do you place ‘honourability’? By analysing the information gained in questionnaire format using this technique, it was found that the positive or negative values assigned have ‘prevalent’ or ‘dominant’ social tendencies that changed both from culture to culture and even within the same culture.

  18. 18.

    Also known as preadaptation, this is when some trait evolved due to selective pressure to perform one function, but then it unpredictably came to serve a new function. The classic example is a bird’s feather. These originally evolved in dinosaurs as a means of keeping warm, but then their function changed to allow birds to fly.

  19. 19.

    These technical terms are problematic because in the current use of semiotics in scientific practice reference  =  denotation  =  intension, while sense  =  connotation  =  extension. This is different from how they are used in Peirce and in the logical tradition where denotation  =  extension, while intension  =  connotation.

  20. 20.

    Vygotskij assigned language two functions, namely, building a model of the world and then communicating it (Vygotskij 1934, 1978).

  21. 21.

    That is, it can be described using words.

  22. 22.

    In other words, without relational properties.

  23. 23.

    Psychiatry distinguishes between anxiety where this is no object and the fear of something specific.

  24. 24.

    This idea is a moot point as it seems Australopithecus garhi was using tools some 100–200 thousand years earlier.

  25. 25.

    This was the dominant theory in the work of G. H. Mead, who is considered to be one of the founders of social psychology (Mead 1934).

  26. 26.

    Vygotskij and his followers.

  27. 27.

    We refer to ‘cognitive informational patterns’ as explicit declarative memories and ‘behavioural informational patterns’ as implicit-procedural memories. This is a well-known, important technical distinction in psychology.

  28. 28.

    That is, in brain structures.

  29. 29.

    ‘RNA containers’, in other cases.

  30. 30.

    Intersubjective validation based on the local laws of reason can use an original, subjective idea to create an idea that is widely accepted by a community, which adopts it and uses it ‘objectively’.

  31. 31.

    From Ancient Greek γένεσις (genesis, ‘creation, beginning, origin’). Retrieved from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Genesis

  32. 32.

    They do not produce RNA—and indirectly proteins—in this physical state.

  33. 33.

    This is a powerful metaphor from David Grove.

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Recchia-Luciani, A.N.M. (2013). The Descent of Humanity: The Biological Roots of Human Consciousness, Culture and History. In: Swan, L. (eds) Origins of Mind. Biosemiotics, vol 8. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5419-5_3

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