In the Theory of Options we view all human biology as an integrated whole, each part balanced with every other. The relationship of the human hand to the foot say, is a special optimization of function, where four general purpose primate limbs have become optimized into two sets of limbs, one for locomotion and one for manipulation. Many parts of human anatomy form this same optimization. If the new theory is accepted it is hoped that experts will restudy all human anatomy from this perspective to explain it in optimization of function terms.
Even so, the new theory will not be accepted because evolutionary design of the human hand, foot, eye, or face could not be explained any other way. Instead, the most unique of all human anatomical features, the human brain, has become the enabling technology of humanity's shift from its mode of biological to cultural evolution. And it was not just any brain. It was a brain rich with the learning neural circuits of the higher cortex. Specialized reflex neural circuits existed for hundreds of millions of years, but these are costly designs in evolutionary time and effort. Yet when they had been designed once, and all vertebrates but especially higher mammals have them, learning circuits could be multiplied millions of times over for effect. This expediency of evolutionary design is important for two reasons.
Through learning and cultural evolution, it allows the species an alternative to the biological struggle to adapt.
Through the highly flexible circuits of the higher cortex learning allows a breaking the physical chain of cause-and-effect inherent in reflexive thinking. This allows humans such novel thought modes as imagination, abstraction, reason and moral feelings.
But how do brains work? We say that humans possess intelligence, but what is that? Human brains evolved by natural selection. But if the outstanding feature of the human brain, its learning circuits, is just a multiplied effect of an attribute evolved in more primitive brains what makes the human brain unique? The Theory of Options teaches that the human brain is optimized for versatility and intelligence, but how do we know this? The brain remains a great puzzle of human evolution so what can the new theory tell us about the brain, which other theories cannot?
Broadly, a brain is a physical, anatomical entity that does three things.
It centralizes and coordinates nervous functions (a nerve center) much as a telephone exchange might.
It registers a reaction we call sensation, giving rise to consciousness.
It gathers information and makes responses.
All these attributes evolved, and brains, as opposed to just nervous systems did not exist even anatomically until forms of sensation and organized response to stimulus evolved. Microscopic and primitive organisms and plants generally do not register sensation, even if some organisms possess a primitive nervous system. But as the available niches for organisms become filled newer organisms are forced to become mobile, actively seeking nourishment and reproduction. Once obtaining mobility however, organisms encounter a range of effects to which the organism must know how to respond. Rather than program the organism with a response for every effect, it is more efficient to group effects together, such that "this group is harmful" or "this group is beneficial". Sensation gives groups of effects immediate identification by labeling a harmful group with sentient awareness of "pain". This allows a general response such as; "always avoid pain" or "seek things which are pleasurable". This is crucial as organisms became larger, when a large outer surface area might need to react to temperature, texture, or impact. Rather than assign a complex neural response for each nerve receptor on the skin surface, it is efficient design to route the receptor information to a central area classifying incoming signals as a category of sensation, which other circuits would be programmed to respond to.
Use of sensation is not only more efficient design, it increases options of behavior. Without sensation the response is fixed. The receptors receive an input, it is processed by dedicated inter-neurons and motor nerves respond with a muscle twitch. But sensation provides additional steps. The receptor nerves send a signal to the inter-neurons, but while these might respond with a direct signal to motor nerves they also send additional signals to a further set of inter-neurons, stimulating sensation. This sensation in turn becomes an impetus to further inter-neurons, which then might send a signal to the motor neurons for a muscular response. The advantage is that the brain can receive several signals producing sensation and evaluate them comparatively for a best response. An organism say, can be programmed to both seek food and conserve energy, but without sensation it cannot evaluate which response optimizes the opportunity latent in any situation. So, if seeking food is registered as a sensation, and so is conserving energy, this will allow an opportune behavior of seeking food in ways that conserve energy, evaluated by motive.
With behavior driven by motive, rather than direct autonomic reflex, organisms can adjust needs for food, procreation, conserving energy and avoiding danger to the overriding motive of a situation. If an organism faces too great a danger competing for mates it can opt to conserve energy and attempt procreation at a more opportune time. Balancing motives this way rather than responding instinctively broadens the range of selective factors operating on individuals, and speeds up evolution. If an organisms faces danger seeking its usual food source it might expend extra energy to seek an alternative source. Organisms that do not have brains also experiment with alternative food sources, only they do it the hard way by individuals who do not make it going extinct. This requires much longer evolutionary time to evolve variation. Extinction is the selection mechanism among organisms with brains as well, only with brains extinction can select among a greater range of attributes because it can weed out inopportune behaviors rather than just selecting out less specialized designs. This increases rate of variation, which is a fitness advantage in changing environments.
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