Posts Tagged ‘Brian Key’

IMPROVING BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION

February 10, 2015

Biological evolution creates capabilities that, in turn, add dimensions to the universe in which life blossoms. That makes life more mathematically complex than (known) High Energy Physics (which does not evolve in higher dimensions as time flows).

No, I am not trying to contradict Darwin’s natural selection, nor Lamarck’s various selective evolutionary mechanisms. I suggest to complement them with new evolutionary mechanisms: ecological and social evolution, and FUNCTIONAL evolution. No, I am not day dreaming: I have explicit examples: flight, brain, consciousness.

I have thought of this for years, but the discussion with Brian Key, a neurobiologist, brought it to the fore.

Professor Key argued fishes could not experience pain (or suffering), because they were not conscious. Brian ascertained the latter point from his inability to distinguish structures in fish brains similar to those found associated to consciousness and pain in human.

Similarly, the drunk searching for his keys, below the closest lamp post.

Some Academics Climb the Tree of Academia, Showing their Bottoms Ever More

Some Academics Climb the Tree of Academia, Showing their Bottoms Ever More

Einstein used a higher level reasoning. I used a higher level reasoning.

What is the brain for? Figuring things out. How does that work? Well, in humans, consciousness helps. Ergo, consciousness appeared at some point in animal evolution.

At which point?

That’s an ethological question. A question of behavior.

In the past, I used to think fishes were dumb machines of the sea. Then, as a fisher, I discovered older trouts to be really smart. Recent studies have shown (some) fishes to be incredibly smart. On some tests, some fishes are found to be chimpanzee smart.

Brian Key: “Patrice raises the idea that “common sense” tells us that animal brains have the same general purpose as humans. I challenge readers to go beyond their everyday experiences because sometimes “common sense” can be misleading.”

If animal brains don’t have the same general purpose as ours, what could their purpose be? And how come we developed a different purpose?

What is the purpose of a human brain? Surviving. If animal brains are not for surviving, what are they for?

All and any animal brain is there to do exactly what the human brain is doing.

A case of the function defining the tool.

Conventional evolution theory looks at the evolution of organisms.

But there is a higher level of evolution than the one of organisms: ecological evolution. And an even higher one: the evolution of functions. For example, the function of flying was evolved by insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats.

Once flying had been invented by insects, it created its own ecological niche, its own universe in which at least birds and bats could evolve. Because at least birds and bats could eat insects, if they learned to fly.

The apparition of brain created its own ecological niche, its own evolutionary force.

This is why the brain capabilities of the brainiest species have been on an ascending trajectory.

The octopus’ eyes do what ours do. And they look very similar. Even though they evolved in completely separate fashion, and are inverted.

Vision defines the eye. Specifics follow.

Same for brains: one needs a reward and punishment (pain) system, and consciousness is useful. A question arises naturally, which philosophers have not answered: what is consciousness for?

The case of birds is clear: although their brains are completely different, they fulfill all functions found in humans.

Homo Floresiensis is perhaps even more telling: these 1.1 meter tall hobbits had completely different, much simpler brains. However, they developed sophisticated weapons.

There too the basic functions were satisfied from completely different neuroanatomy.

I am not claiming neuroanatomy plays no role, and that all animal brains can have as many functions as human ones: supposedly cockroaches keep on drinking, even when their throats are cut. Some insects seem perfectly dumb. However, wasps are smart. And they seem to experience pain. (I have experimented with wasps; my anti-wasp method is to hit them. Once hit, or even after a near-miss, they deduct that they better get somewhere else; conversely, wasp will makes it dangerous to approach a wasp nest!)

Socratic Gadfly claimed that wolves do not discuss hunting. Pendantry rightly asked him how he knew. We know little about animal languages.

It was just discovered that “… chimpanzee referential food calls are not fixed in their structure and that, when exposed to a new social group, chimpanzees can change their calls to sound more like their group mates.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150205123016.htm

Drawing massive conclusions, when one knows so little? Is that “scientific”? Is that prudent? Is that wise? Should it be called that intellectual fascism?

Science is not getting animal brains yet.

If it were, it would get ours.

However, from this we got a conclusion: biology does not just evolve, it evolves its environment. The invention of flight by insects incited other species to “invent” flight. The invention of brains made the evolution of consciousness in (some) other species more likely.

Biology is an engineer, a scientist, a thinker.

Systems of thought, and systems of moods, have lives of their own. So does life itself. Life has a life of its own (to speak like Lacan). Life, as it evolves, adds not just complexity, but, outright, new dimensions. The Multiverse may not happen in physics, but, with life, it does, with a vengeance.

A very speculative question in physics (raised by no less than Paul Dirac) has been the permanence of physical laws. Tests have actually been made to test whether physical laws changed (they have been found not too, so far).

However, with life, the laws do change. Biological evolution evolves its own universe (and do not forget that the devil in the details is Quantum mechanical).

Patrice Ayme’

 

 

 

Why & How Humans Think

February 7, 2015

To answer why humans think is often conducive to find out how they think.

Human beings, when they think creatively, can think bottom up, or top down.

Most of the time, of course, humans do not bother to think creatively: they just learn by rote what they have heard, and sounds good to be integrated in the peer group that presents itself, or that they have chosen.

Bottom up thinking is thinking from practice: the hand makes the brain (even Heidegger figured that one out).

Animals Too Can Fight For Freedom Beyond What Most Humans Would Do

Animals Too Can Fight For Freedom Beyond What Most Humans Would Do

Top down thinking starts from axioms. It’s creative, but only if one makes one’s own axioms. It is intellectual fascism, if the axioms are given by fascist thought system (one animated by the Leader Principle).

We need guinea pigs to experiment on. The best subjects are those who think for a penny, the professors who grace academia. As their final product is supposed to be thinking, thinking they are supposed to exhibit.

They know this, so they try to hide, by drowning the fish in the water: a typical scientific, psycho, socio, medical or philosophical paper tends to use hermetic jargon, rich with a barrage of references, automatically obscure (by contrast, Einstein’s breakthrough papers had basically no references).

Our subject here is going to be Brian Key. In his essay “Why Fishes (likely) Do Not Feel Pain”.

Professor Key started, with axioms setting up the mood he wanted us to have: animals are machines; wolves’ behavior can be duplicated with computer programs, fishes don’t suffer pain, because they fight the hook, whereas clever mammals trapped, give up.

Pop ethology presents with silly axioms. Predators trapped by a leg have been known to chew it off.

Fish on a line do give up in the end, when they have no more will (although they still have some strength, as they flap around when brought on a boat and speared).

Brian Key claims one needs a cortex to suffer pain. Reptiles and birds have no cortex, and they suffer pain. http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2010/09/ancient-origins-of-cerebral-cortex.html

How did Brian’s brain get so silly? Because he reasoned top down that “it does not feel like anything to be a fish”, as he put it. So then he looked for structures in fish similar to those known to be associated to pain in humans.

Naturally, he did not find them. Birds have brains that are organized completely differently from ours, although our common ancestors are around 240 million years ago. Fishes, separated by another 200 million years more, are going to be even more mysterious.

The cortex is over-valued: conductivity modulation by glial cells occur along axons, for example. That means that “white matter” also “thinks”.

It has been notoriously difficult to find out how birds’ brains work. Still, some bird species score possibly higher in some mental ways than any primate, but man.

Generally, understanding life is difficult. It’s even impossible without Quantum Physics: a plant captures sunlight in one femtosecond. The rapport of a femtosecond to a second is the same at the rapport of one second to 31 million years. Crucially photosynthesis depends upon electrons being in many places, at the same time.

So, Brian, please, don’t tell me how it feels to be a fish. You don’t know. As many academics, you are more busy posing to advance your career. It’s OK, it helps, but it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Attributing to animal brains the same general purpose that our brains have is just common sense. It is not forming the world according to man (anthropo-morphizing). It is just the most natural explanation, the most economical one, too (“Ockham Razor”).

Telling us one can think of wolves differently, like machines, show a will to impel on us the mood to the notion that animals are machines. When human hunters go out after game, they use the same tactic, as described by Brian, not because we can think of them as simple computer program, but because it is the smartest strategy to follow.

Common sense is found in computer programs, written in wolf and human brains, or on paper, because sense is common.

And brains are into making sense. By the way, dear Brian, computer programs are written by humans, and, apparently, wolves. This is all you have demonstrated.

In “Diving Into Truth“, I pointed out that fishes known to be clever, groupers, are found to recruit complementary predators to hunt. Other fishes do this. The idea is to find a predator such as a Moray Eel to get in cracks and caves. The eel understands this, and the grouper makes a suggestive dance and mimic to get the eel into action.

Since I wrote the initial article linked above, other species of fish have been found to also suggest transpacific cooperation to fetch food.

Any trout fisher will tell you that old trouts are very smart. You can put the juiciest morsel in front of them, once they know it’s an ape who proposes dinner, they won’t bite.

Meanwhile, back from the Kremlin, Merkel faulted the Russians in Ukraine. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko exhibited passport and military identification papers of Russian officers, “found inside Ukraine, killing Ukrainians”. The border was now “swarming with Russian tanks, armed personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers and ammunition.” He added: “We find Russian officers, in tanks full of ammunition, who claim to be lost, one hundred kilometers from their border, killing Ukrainians.”

After the talks yesterday in Moscow that the French president and I had, it is uncertain if it will succeed, Merkel said, “but it is my view and the French president’s view [that it’s] definitely worth trying. We owe it to the people affected in Ukraine, at the very least.”

The French president had a less sanguine angle: “If we don’t find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement [accord de paix durable], we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name, it’s called war,” Hollande told journalists in his city of Tulle, in central France.

Putin backtracked right away, in full Hitlerian disingenuous style: “We don’t intend to war with anyone. We intend to cooperate with all.”

Wonderful. How and why we think is at its best, when survival is a stake.

Patrice Ayme’

Pain Is Relative, But Fishes Feel It

February 5, 2015

Armchair philosophers and ethologists are much to be feared. In Scientia Salon, Brian Key, a Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the School of Biomedical Sciences, Head of the Brain Growth and Regeneration Lab, University of Queensland, argued “Why fish (likely) don’t feel pain”.

I will retort that Brian’s thoughts flow from fishy philosophy.

The author uses neuro-anatomy to over-rule ethology. Instead I will start from ethology, starring some actors of the wilderness:

Very Long Horns, And Very Smart Brain

Very Long Horns, And Very Smart Brain

He starts poorly, by demonstrating wolves are not (likely) smart. Says he:

“Resisting anthropomorphic tendencies:

Grey wolves hunt as a pack. They carefully select their prey, and then perform a series of highly coordinated maneuvers as a team, in order to corral their target. Initially, each wolf maintains a safe working distance from other members of the pack as well as from their prey. They are relentless and seemingly strategic with an overall goal of driving the agitated prey towards one wolf. A cohesive group mentality emerges that portrays logic, intelligence and a willingness to achieve a common goal. Eventually one wolf comes close enough to lock its jaws on a rear leg of the prey, before wrestling it to the ground. The rest of the pack converges to share in the kill. There appears a purpose to their collective behavior that ensures a successful outcome.

But is everything as it seems? A team of international scientists from Spain and the U.S.A. has simulated the behavior of a hunting pack of wolves using very simple rules

Their computer models do not rely on high-level cognitive skills or sophisticated intra-pack social communication. The complex spatial dynamics of the hunting group emerges by having the computer-generated wolves obey simple inter-wolf and wolf-prey attractive/repulsive rules.”

This is, simply said, dumb.

Assuming animals are computer programs may work for humans, but it does not resist careful examination in the wild. I have seen snakes being smart.

Once, by accident, I prevented a very large wolf to kill his prey (long story). The wolf could have jumped on me. He was three meters away. It was sunset, high above timberline in the Alps, kilometers from the first road, hours away walking (I was running, of course).

We looked at each other. I could read the yellow eyes of the wolf, he looked as intelligent as a monkey (not at all dull and agitated like a dog would have been in such circumstances). His eyes were saying: ‘What is a human being doing up here at this hour? What the hell! What is this world coming to? And now what?’

His purported dinner, a chamois, had passed at a high clip, within centimeters of me, going the other way.

It was a magnificent animal, all red, long hair all standing up, with face at least twice wider than a large dog. He was neither panicked nor upset, once the initial surprise was passed. He did not threaten me, and went his way (now the opposite of his initial way).

Anybody who has interacted with fishes know that they behave as if they experienced pain. Another objection: (some) fishes can act in a very clever way. Pain is a big help for intelligence. It’s a more economical hypothesis. Consider:

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/diving-into-truth/

Anti-anthropomorphism sounds scientific, but it is actually a contrived hypothesis, insisting, with the Bible, that man is special. Instead of just an animal.

Once I was in an African National Park. I saw a large antelope (Hypotragus Equinuus), obviously in a panic, dash down a twenty foot embankment, on the other side of a wide river. He landed on the 200 foot wide beach, separated from the river itself by dunes… A large lioness followed down the embankment. Then the lioness took a hard left, from my perspective, instead of following her prey, she went ninety degrees! She went full speed for 400 meters or so, and then angled through the field of dunes, along the river, which was much wider there. Meanwhile the antelope, seeing the lioness was not in hot pursuit, had slowed down. But he was confronted to a new problem: a wide river, full of crocodiles.

From my vantage point, I could see at least a hundred trunks floating in the river, each one a croc. The antelope trotted upstream, knowing full well that to swim across meant certain death. Soon it saw the solution in the distance: shallow rapids. He accelerated. By then the lioness was in ambush near the top of the large last dune dominating the narrows.

The antelope arrived at a very brisk pace, scanning ahead to figure out the optimal point. He was obviously doing some fast thinking on the hoof. The lioness was crouched, observing just saw within the grass hidden by the very top of the dune, which she had craftily put between herself and the direction she knew her prey would come from.

I screamed.

The two beasts sprang into action. The antelope understood that there was an ambush, and bounded in an enormous effort, taking a dangerous short-cut. At the same time, realizing apes were foiling her plan, as apes tend to do, the lioness also charged.

She missed.

The antelope climbed on our side of the river, still pursued by the lioness, who took the time to throw us a very dirty look.

This was not my only encounter with very clever wild animals.

I have encountered lions many times. Lions in good standing resist hunting instinct and pangs of hunger, and don’t attack human beings.

Once I was diving as a child in Africa, spear in hand. I caught a lobster. However the critter screamed in such a heart breaking fashion, I did not renew the experience. Another time, I had caught an octopus, and, although mostly dead and hopeless, it made a point to bite me in protest. Yes, it was clearly a protest, because the creature looked dead, and I was inflicting pain at it, at that particular point. (Meanwhile experiences with octopuses have shown that they are extremely clever, and perfectly capable of the sort of reasoning I imputed them; as a species they are limited with very short lifespans and no possibility to transmit culture.)

So animals have feelings and emotions. If we directly interact with them, it’s blatant.

Brian Key uses poor ethology: he claims fishes fight when hooked in a way that show they don’t feel pain. Whereas trapped bears do (because they stop fighting after a while, when trapped). Actually fishes stop fighting after a while.

Then Brian proceeds to say that sometimes human beings don’t feel pain. Once again, anybody who has lived in the wild knows this is true.

Once a famous solo sailor got his foot torn off. He kept doing what he needed to do to stabilize the situation on his boat that had caused him to lose his foot. He stopped the blood loss. He called for rescue. He secured his boat. Once rescue arrived, he felt the pain.

Anybody who has been outside, broke ribs, arms, lost lots of skin, got injected a lot of painful venom, got burned third degree (all of those personal experiences) knows well that pain is felt only when it is advantageous, or safe, to do so. Bleeding experienced rock climbers will calmly exert maximal pressure on the rock, even when they have no more skin, just where they have no more skin… And barely feel it.

Pain is a relative thing, and evolution has gifted us with strong overrides (for example endorphins).

A fortiori so it is, with fishes.

Patrice Ayme’