Cellular intelligence: Animal Algorithms reviewed (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 15:24 (17 days ago) @ David Turell

Eric Cassell:


"Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS, and has had a long-time interest in animal navigation. He has more than four decades of experience in systems engineering related to aircraft navigation and safety. He has served as an engineering consultant for NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); has developed computer algorithms for safety systems; and has published numerous technical papers. His academic training includes bachelor’s degrees in biology (George Mason University) and electrical engineering (Villanova University), and a master’s in science and religion from Biola University, which included the history and philosophy of science.


From his essay:

"Research has confirmed that the recognition of prey is innate, and that the stinging behavior, which must be done with precise accuracy to work, is controlled by a motor program — that is, a series of sub-routines ordered in a particular sequence to perform a given movement or task. And no simple one. To grasp this, imagine the software program that would be required to enable an advanced micro-drone to deliver a neurotoxin to the precise location in the honey bee to immobilize it. In assessing the complexity and evolution of this wasp behavior, Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini conclude that “such complex, sequential, rigidly pre-programmed behaviour could have gone wrong in many ways, at any one of the steps… Such cases of elaborate innate behavioural programs cannot be accounted for by means of optimizing physio-chemical or geometric factors.”

"The above examples of innate or programmed behaviors are just a handful of numerous such instances in the animal kingdom. Surprisingly, in many instances the behaviors of what we normally think of as primitive animals can be just as complex as those of more advanced animals, including mammals. Indeed, there is little correlation between the cognitive capacity of animals and their ability to produce sophisticated, apparently innate behaviors. The reason may be that such behaviors really are programmed and therefore innate, so the animals do not require significant cognitive capacity to perform them. What they do require is the specific neural “circuitry” that controls the behavior — circuitry that is quite sophisticated but apparently does not require large brains.

"Effusive descriptions of these behaviors can be found in everything from National Geographic television programs to science books and articles. Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds and Martin Giurfa’s “The Amazing Mini-Brain: Lessons from a Honey Bee” are two examples among many. The world of science is astounded by some of the complex innate behaviors found in the animal kingdom.


"Complex programmed behaviors are evident throughout the animal kingdom, but in these pages the focus will primarily be on less advanced animals. The reason is that more advanced animals, such as primates, have significant cognitive ability, so they exhibit much more of a combination of programmed and learned behaviors, and in such cases the two are not always easily disentangled. It is easier to discriminate between programmed and learned behaviors in less advanced animals, such as bees and butterflies.

"Explaining the origin of these programmed animal behaviors in evolutionary terms is challenging because the behaviors themselves are, in many cases, quite complex and likely undergirded by an extraordinarily sophisticated neurological substrate. Animal behaviors are also strikingly diverse, arguably just as diverse as the breathtaking diversity of physical characteristics we find in the animal kingdom. Those factors alone do not mean the explanatory task is impossible. But it does mean that something more than breezy just-so stories are required to provide a causally adequate explanation for their evolution.

Comment: An essay by Cassell touting his book. I've left out all of his illustrative examples of instinctual behavior. Read them, fascinating. A special quote from Cassell about Darwin:

"In On the Origin of Species the 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin laid out his revolutionary case for common descent by gradual evolution. Darwin could not be faulted for timidity. He pressed his case at nearly every turn. But even he conceded at one point in the book that many instincts are “so wonderful” that their development “will probably have occurred to many readers, as a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.'”

It is sufficient

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