Chapter 6: Gabriela Delgado (Brazil)
What is life? Life is the process of exploring the unknown. When exploring dies, mind and body follow.
— Gabriela Delgado
At Turin Worlds, one thing was clear: Gabriela, you know — that wild Latina sporting looks that kill with those weaponized Terminator legs — was the undisputed crowd favorite. She backed her mojo up with a strong performance in the Clean and Jerk, blew away all the women in The Burn, had another command performance in The Erg, and slipped some in The Climb but remained the women’s leader after each of the middle three events of the Phenomic 5. Leading going into Nemesis, however, was the last image on the highlight reel as she backed up into the bronze medal after Airi, Jōtara and many others past her by the finish line on the mountaintop climax. But showing a little vulnerability only bid up her stock with her fans and it was impossible to tell if there were more men than women or kids than adults that adored her. No matter what country you hailed from, people talked about her, about her wild hair, knockout face, epic chest, rippled abs, majestic lines and, without saying, an authentic, homegrown Brazilian butt of Amazonian origins. Oh, and what about those show-stopping legs and her brash and brazen style! In a lineup of supermodels, your eyes would home in on the wow deer in stilettos while your peripheral vision fades to black disappearing petty distractions. Yes, people emotionally bickered over what body part was best but that is where they got it all wrong; Gabriela’s best body part — by far — was her brain. The folds in her neocortex were Einsteinly voluptuous and her cerebellum was drop dead gorgeous. Her brain was that radical notwithstanding there has never been a female heavenly body with such extraordinarily captivating — even otherworldly — aesthetic possessed with high-octane, 360-functional gürlpower of both mind and body.
Gabriela was born in Campo Grande in Brazil’s southern interior not too far from the border of Paraguay. Right after kindergarten her parents moved to Brasília, the capital of Brazil. Her father was a world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Brasília that had authored or coauthored over 80 peer-reviewed studies in mostly top-tier journals such as Nature Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Neurophysiology and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Gabriela’s brain devoured all of the above like an amoeba’s pseudopod engulfing its favorite morsel and — just like an amoeba — she wanted to divide and conquer the whole Petri dish. Bored with school, she ended up challenging tests that allowed her to move onto greener academic pastures.
At 16 she was a freshman in college at the Federal University of ABC in Santo André, Brazil, a municipality located in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo. She breezed through her undergraduate degree in Biology that was jam-packed with graduate level courses in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, neurophysiology, and biophysics. All of this was preaching to the choir. She started her 5-year PhD program in Neuroscience and Cognition at age 20 under one of her dad’s peers, Professor Claudio Trapé, who was pre-eminent in the sub-discipline of embodied cognition. Embodied cognition is paradigmatically at loggerheads with cognitive science’s majority view of a computational approach. The prevailing view has its roots anchored in computer science and symbolic representation dating back to the modern computer’s origins of Alan Turing’s work on computation and the von Neumann computer architecture circa mid-1940s. This was followed by early efforts in the 1960s by Newell and Simon and then in artificial intelligence like expert systems and neural nets in the 1970s and 80s. Embodied cognition, on the other hand, is based on the idea that cognition is a product of a body having experience grounded in sensorimotor function and has become very popular in both robotics and the evolution of consciousness. In other words, computational neuroscience is disembodied (“a brain in a box”) while embodied cognition is inseparable from the body. Gabriela was excited to change the world but wasn’t sure on a plan of attack. Nothing really moved her yet so she treaded water until the lightbulb went supernova.
In her sophomore year in college she was introduced to a form of hybrid dance/martial art form called capoeira that was started by West African descendants in Brazil in the 1500s. Physiologically it captures elements of gymnastics and plyometrics resulting in an overall package serving as a motor control windfall. Music is an instrumental element of capoeira and Gabriela loved the beautiful flow of human movement enchanted by captivating song and the vibrant feeling of a singing body. She trained in a style called Capoeira Contemporânea and took it very seriously as her budding athletic talent began to emerge in parallel with her brain’s spawning dominance.
She joined a gym and started doing some bodybuilding but then transitioned to heavy weight lifting with some Olympic lifting but not on a formal basis. She liked the feeling of being strong, of moving heavy iron, a feeling that only heavy lifting can bestow, but at the same time craved the feeling of the multifaceted conditioning she absorbed from capoeira. One of her capoeira friends was a hardcore mountain biker and challenged Gabriela to do some long rides in the the rolling hills. She discovered that despite her dedication to exercise, her actual conditioning had big holes; what she was doing wasn’t really training with a razor sharp focus and was way too narrow in scope — she had a feeble backend on the human power spectrum. Her friend kicked her ass on the hills with impunity. That did not sit well; while her muscles twitched her brain switched gears to fitness, she started to seek answers but didn’t know where to begin. The biggest brains know that the mark of a small brain is to know all the right answers to the wrong questions. Gabriela backed up and started to ask questions like:
What is fitness?
What does fitness mean to organisms?
What causes an organism to modify its fitness?
But wait a second. An organism doesn’t know anything about fitness! That is nothing more than a alien abstraction that falls on deaf ears. Ok, so a better question is: if an organism doesn’t know what fitness is then what does an organism know? Distilling it further, isn’t that just another way of asking: what is mind? Only a big brain is up to the task of explaining how and why mind began and what it does. But rest assured, you will never know what training, exercise, or fitness really mean unless you have a deep understanding of the meaning of mind from the organism’s perspective, not yours — this is not philosophy, it is deep biology. In fact, if that’s all you know then you know a lot about fitness, real fitness. Why? Because you need to speak the language of a biological system since that is all it knows or cares about — nothing else matters. To know what it knows you need to know how its mind works and the best starting point for that is the starting point of mind itself — you need to start small with the basic operating principles of the first minds. An amoeba doesn’t have a brain but it has a mind, a brain is just a specialized structure for a more sophisticated mind. Ants, birds, and cats have brains and so do you and on a deep level they all speak the same tongue. The foundation and operating principles of all minds are the same, the degree of sophistication differs.
Gabriela started to drill down and stretch the legs of her brain... Isn’t mind just the subjective experience of being alive? Well, that depends on who you ask. If you ask a unicellular animal like an amoeba you get a different answer than from your typical Homo sapiens. What Gabriela aims to do is connect the dots between the two and learn a lot in the process by identifying those pivotal species that are hockey stick moments in the evolutionary timeline, those species that spawned biological inventions that changed everything that came afterwards. Gabriela desired to piece together the puzzle of what mind means in terms of body through the lens of embodied cognition — what does being alive mean and how does aliveness change from simple to complex? Ergo, how do atoms organize to construct mind and what is the evolution of intelligence? Later, she will then reverse the perspective and examine the life of the body in terms of the mind. That is a big ask even for a big brain. But if you want to know what fitness is then that becomes your calling, all else is noise and blather.
Addressing her question of what is mind? is the flipside of Erwin Schrödinger’s classic book in 1944, What is Life?: The Physical Aspect of Life. Because of its explicit Descartian dualism, a comprehensive definition of life in a Western framework has two dimensions, not one — mind and body is like church and state and oil and water. Schrödinger worked on the physical aspect of the question what is life? and Gabriela was going to pencil out the mental aspect. Both of them had big enough brains to take it on. But when you think about, you can’t truly answer either aspect independently of the other: if you answer the physical aspect without checking in with the mental aspect you end up with a sophisticated zombie machine but if you answer the mental aspect without checking in with the physical aspect you end up with a ghost. A machine or a ghost is an incomplete answer whereas a ghost in the machine is a step in the right direction but will always remain oil and water even though you are forced to mix them together. Gabriela re-read Schrödinger’s What is Life? creating an intellectual mixed drink and then proceeded from there.
What impressed Gabriela about What is Life? was Schrödinger’s focus on putting the essence of biology in terms of energy and information. With his being a pre-eminent physicist that certainly made sense. DNA having a role in genetic inheritance was known in 1943, a year before What is Life? was published, but the structure of DNA was unknown until 1953. He knew that DNA served in an informational capacity and that it was involved with heredity.
Biochemical information, as opposed to symbolic information like a digital computer’s 1's and 0's, is embedded in the structure of specific molecules in a way that constrain the unruly behavior of chemical and physical laws when distinct combinations of molecules interact in very precise ways while always obeying these laws — that is one of the key differences between biology versus chemistry + physics. These series of constraints, in toto, go on to compose a set of biological laws that act on organisms and then another set of constraints act on the next higher order of complexity — ecosystems. The common threads — which intertwine themselves — can always be traced back to energy and information. Gabriela felt that different classes of constraints defined the solar system of living systems with biological order being the net, observable effect of a set of diverse constraints much like how planets orbit the sun due to the constraint of gravity. Gabriela will find out what composes biological gravity, she swore it.
Chemistry and physics in the wild are like a herd of cats whereas biology — organisms — possess the magic tricks to successfully herd cats: Gabriela wanted to reveal the mechanics of the magician.
Schrödinger pointed out that living systems create order from disorder by importing what he called “negative entropy” (i.e. food) while exporting entropy (disorder) to the environment. Thus the physical laws of thermodynamics are obeyed but living systems, through the use of specific informational structures, forge a very clever loophole that manages to create internal order at the expense of useful energy imported from outside itself — herding cats! Gabriela intuited that a big part of life is herding cats on the molecular level. In addition to the cat-herding, import/export entropy pump she also noted the embedded, structural information of enzymes called catalysts that are used in metabolism to speed up the conversion of one metabolite into another. Without these enzyme catalysts, life would neither be energetically affordable or happen in biologically-relevant timeframes. Additionally, these magic catalysts — which are networked together into an elaborately-synchronized assembly line — make available to cells many different kinds of metabolites in addition to making ATP, cellular energy from food. The idea for the assembly line was not Henry Ford’s because the first assembly line — and a far more complex, powerful and ingeniously flexible one — was a biological invention four billion years before Ford’s Model A. Gabriela had known about the importance of biochemical information for some time but information without energy is meaningless, you can’t herd cats without lots of energy. How does a cell produce energy? One big part of that calculus was the network structure of enzyme catalysts commonly called metabolism. But there is one more magical piece of the puzzle. Gabriela figured she could begin to address her original question what is mind? once she had the basics of energy and information stowed away. She was almost there.
Energy. Where does it come from? Is there a watershed event in evolution that earmarks an energy breakthrough for unicellulars that then opens the floodgates to more complex organisms? Gabriela found out that there was. Prokaryotes are cells without a definite nucleus and came first. Bacteria and archaea are prokaryotes. They had a metabolism, the network of enzyme catalysts was in their corner. The watershed event was the merger of aerobic bacteria with archaea creating a form of chimera. This merger is called endosymbiosis and was discovered by evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis and was published in The Journal of Theoretical Biology in 1967 entitled: “On the origin of mitosing cells”. Margulis, the wife of astronomer Carl Sagan, and son Dorion said, “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking”. Thus networking déjà vu.
The result of this synergy opened the door for a more complex unicellular type to evolve called eukaryotes which have a nucleus (the organelle housing the DNA) plus it allowed for many other compartmentalized and specialized organelles to emerge as well — plentiful energy allowed division of labor at the unicellular level to happen and this is a common theme as complexity ramps upward to higher echelons. This complexity was underwritten by the tremendous amount of energy that can be produced by aerobic metabolism by an independent, specialized energy factory called a mitochondrion which formerly was an engulfed aerobic bacterium. The electrical charge (30 million volts per meter (30MV/m)) derived from the chemical process of aerobic metabolism is the same as a bolt of lightning. This energy not only powers movement of the organism (amoeba or you) but is also the energy for mind and maintenance (amoeba or you). Gabriela immediately grokked that endosymbiosis is on the very shortest list of biological inventions that define and dictate fitness whether you are an amoeba or man.
Now she was ready to examine the origin and nature of mind. The first thing she wanted to know was what physical structures in a unicellular animal are responsible for cognition. Is the nucleus — the DNA — the “brain” of a cell? If so, then if you cut of its head it will die. Research on this topic is a century in the rearview mirror. In The functions of the nucleus of the living cell by Vernon Lynch published in 1919, the answer to that question is crystal clear: no. If you remove the nucleus (called enucleation) of an amoeba it goes about its merry way unless two things happen: (1) it needs to make repairs (or structural adaptations) or (2) it wants to divide. Otherwise its behavior — mind and body — are sound — but the clock is running metaphorically speaking, not a biological clock dependent on DNA). If you stress it, an amoeba will die sooner without a nucleus than with it. In other words, DNA is about repairs and reproduction and there is more to life than that (even for an amoeba!) — no genes required. She concluded that the nucleus and its principal content — DNA — is not involved in perception, cognition or responsible for autonomy — that is, it is void of agency, intelligence. This foreshadows the role of the genome as Gabriela continues her quest up the complexity ladder of organisms on her way toward understanding mind, intelligence, life and fitness for organisms of her own kind.
Gabriela’s father exposed her to the philosophy of life before jumping into the science and technology of life. He wanted her to have depth — to understand life — not just blindly categorize, measure, and publish like a mindless, propeller-headed drone. He told her of a branch of philosophy called phenomenology that addresses the nature and structure of experience and its relationship to the body. He had her study Maurice Morleau-Ponty, a French philosopher who was the first to present a well developed explanation of this perspective in his Phénoménologie de la perception published in French in 1945:
“Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.”
Gabriela quickly understood why her dad brought her to Morleau-Ponty first: he had a brilliant approach to breaking the tyranny of Descartian dualism by integrating subjective experience as a function of bodily movement: I move, therefore I am in lieu of: I think, therefore I am. Once her dad saw that she understood the significance of Morleau-Ponty, he steered her toward another philosopher, this time University of California at Berkeley professor Alva Noë, who, along with others, advocates a more developed phenomenology called the enactive approach or enactivism. Enactivism was an origination of Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch but Gabriela’s dad started her with Noë’s Action in Perception in 2006 before venturing into the bowels of embodied cognition in earnest. Noë had taken Morleau-Ponty’s philosophy and made a connection to modern biology, a bridge from our perceived subjective experience to why that experience comes into being through our body:
“[An] implication of the enactive approach is that we ought to reject the idea — widespread in both philosophy and science — that perception is a process in the brain whereby the perceptual system constructs an internal representation of the world. … What perception is, however, is not a process in the brain, but a kind of skillful activity on the part of the animal as a whole. The enactive view challenges neuroscience to devise new ways of understanding the neural basis of perception and consciousness.”
The enactive view — if envisioned — is about motor-sensory rather than sensorimotor, your nonconscious attention (yes, nonconscious attention or “body thinking”) is focused on movement of the body to better explore, adapt, experience and tacitly understand the world — in other words, you autonomously and continuously move to see, not see to move and certainly not think to be. This is what drives a mammal’s background behaviors and it is debatable if that also includes the conscious mind and its consequent, foreground behaviors as well — in other words, the conscious mind may merely be an afterthought on a 250 millisecond time delay, literally. Gabriela made a note of it.
From Morleau-Ponty to Noë and now to embodied cognition, the science and now technology of cognition in living systems is next. Embodied cognition in its most original and simplest form — that is, what is minimally necessary and sufficient — is a unicellular animal, an amoeba (perhaps a bacterium but an amoeba is a superior choice because it is the first bonafide hockey stick species on her tour). So what, then, is responsible for intelligent action — for mind — in amoebas or man? Cognition requires an intimate interrelationship between two capabilities: perception and action. This is called a perception-action loop and the best example is the sensorimotor loop.
Varela, Thompson and Rosch state:
“By using the term ‘action’ we mean to emphasize once again that sensory and motor processes, perception and action, are fundamentally inseparable in lived cognition.”
perception ⇔ action = sensorimotor loop
But perception and action do not happen randomly in living systems: the sensorimotor loop — just like metabolism’s network of catalysts and the nonrandom import of negative entropy and export of entropy creating order out of disorder — the same type of process occurs with cognition: there is a herding-of-cats effect, in this case a pumping function. Cognition, one hierarchical layer of complexity on top of and powered by metabolism, defies spasmodic, random perceptions and actions by a decision process. In fact, Gabriela realized that the import/export pump is also driven by some kind of primordial decision process and when you ponder this deeply you come to the conclusion that the import/export pump is a big chunk of the embodied cognition’s modus operandi! At the organism level (amoeba or you) there is a perception of something (say food) that results in a decision to move toward the food and wrap its pseudopod around it.
perception: sensory input → decision
sensorimotor loop: sensory input → decision → action
Gabriela then deconstructed the physical structure of an amoeba’s mind to see what’s going on…
How does an amoeba perceive? Gabriela figured that first you have to identify how it senses and then how it makes sense of its proximate environment. The equivalent of vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch for an amoeba are assessing temperature, concentrations of chemical gradients, light intensity, magnetic field strength, and vibrational energy from many different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Physically there are receptors on the membrane that take in signals although other forms of signals are assessed by the entire amoeba or by the intricate internal skeleton called the cytoskeleton along with a myriad of other minute fine structures like microtubules. There is a vast network of fibers and microtubules that extends close to the cell membrane and they are involved in many functions including motility (movement).
Just how important is the fine microstructure of an amoeba to its life? Without question it has at least instrumental value to its structural integrity and intelligence to create its behavior. From Nicolas Glade’s paper “Computing with the Cytoskeleton: A Problem of Scale” in the International Journal of Unconventional Computing:
“Microtubules, actin and intermediate filaments serve as simple mechanical elements in the cell structure (tensegrity models of the cytoskeleton). In addition, the cytoskeleton is acting as an autonomous system sensible to external stimuli, conferring very complex behaviours to the cell. Comparing behavioural phenomena at the cellular scale and those that exist at the level of whole organisms is revealing.”
How does cognition work in the amoeba? The seat of intelligence in unicellulars is a primitive communication network. Yeah, there goes that n-word again … networks! Receptors on the cell membrane trigger chemical messengers that then act on targets. In the case of motor control, the concentration of chemicals (the gradient) that attract or repel occupy the membrane receptors and depending on the ratio between the two, cause a net movement toward or away from the gradient while also regulating speed. Chemical messengers triggered by the stimulated receptors release chemical signals internally which target actomyosin (which is what is in muscle but this is long before the biological invention of muscle) that then contract and produce an internal hydrostatic pressure causing movement of a pseudopod.
What is absolute?: cytoskeletal tensegrity has a lot to do with the invention of living systems and is no less important to life than DNA.
Gabriela had a sneaky feeling that cytoskeletal function would show up later on her journey. Even for her, there is a lot going on here and is a lot for her to take in but, nevertheless, is rather important. What does this mean?
Gabriela made a few conclusions in regards to the amoeba mind before moving up the cognition ladder. First, the intelligent behavior displayed by amoebas is strikingly similar to a scientific discipline called cybernetics which dates back to the 1940s in the U.S. and U.K. The term cybernetics was coined in 1948 by Norbert Wiener (1894–1964) from Greek kybernetes “steersman” (metaphorically “guide, governor”). Weiner defined cybernetics as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”. It is a field deeply engaged in feedback loops, control theory, communication and information theory, and prediction based upon past behavior. A common example of cybernetics is a thermostat which showcases a negative feedback loop. A measurement is made of the temperature and compared to the desired temperature. If there is a difference than a change is made to decrease the difference until the difference is zero. In embodied cognition, a perception-action loop is the same idea: an action is taken based on perception and feedback to achieve a desired end.
Gabriela quickly made three conclusions after wrapping up her exploration of the amoeba mind:
1. Embodied cognition builds on the foundation established by cybernetics theory as they are birds of a feather;
2. Most, but not all, of the decision making processes in a primordial sensorimotor loop can be understood and successfully modelled by cybernetic principles; and
3. Information embedded in molecular structures functioning as elements of network architectures (i.e. directed graphs) is the essence of all living systems.
Gabriela learned a lot from amoebas. Feeding back to her original quest about fitness, she now knows about the operating system of the unicellular mind. It is a mind that operates on autopilot based on well established principles. It appears intelligent because the emergent behavior of a system harnessing cybernetic principles can be quite complex. In fact, in robotics many robot designs are based on the principles of cybernetics ⇔ embodied cognition and display behaviors that appear “alive” just like an amoeba. But life is more than the sensorimotor loop.
The sensorimotor loop is just one aspect of the much broader scope of the perception-action loop. In other words, motor function is just one action a living system can take and is the easiest to understand (but is hard to make happen in robots!). The perception-action loop can also result in an adaptive response. Although the journey to explaining what fitness is is still early, Gabriela was well aware that the heart and soul behind exercise is to have an adaptive response to improve strength, endurance, etc. so these concepts of deep biology are vital to understand. She recalled that if you enucleate (remove the nucleus/DNA) in an amoeba it is hunky-dory in its prosaic duties that rely on cybernetic and network principles (metabolism and control systems) but if it perceives something that requires an adaptive structural change it is now dead in the water. Adaptive response requires another structural information network called gene expression. She already knew that genes (i.e. segments of DNA composing chromosomes in the nucleus) are not the brain of a cell. So how do genes fit in given a information driven-cybernetic/network theory perspective?
She intuited that the best way to understand it was to use a library metaphor: if a cell is a library then the perception-action loop part is the librarian (the “brain” is the collective action of embodied cognitive processes) and the hardbound books are genes which are stored in a closed stack room called the nucleus. Additionally, there is huge section of surplus hardbound books (up to 90% of the DNA in the nucleus in some species haven’t been checked out in a long time or maybe ever!) of currently unused books in the closed stack. So what are these books about? They are like molds or patterns to build proteins. That’s it. No magic. They have the IQ of a rock. Genes don’t do anything except get read! But on the other hand they are essential for life to function because the structural components of living systems are composed of proteins. Genes perform a vital job but are brain dead.
The “brain” of a cell — the perception-action loop’s material parts — are mostly proteins and thus are integral to “brain” function. As you can expect, there are more networks that come into play. The books in the library are not used randomly by the cell but are linked together in very elaborate relationships composing gene-gene interaction networks. These networks can be explained by the same principles as other biological networks. They are not magic and there is no homunculus behind the scenes pulling the strings, instead there are nanomachines that do the logistics and heavy lifting. The bootstrapping — that is, the chicken-or-the-egg problem of the librarian requiring books to operate itself — at the amoeba level of complexity is within the aegis of the collective magic of cybernetics, dynamical systems theory, catalyst function, endosymbiosis, and network effects.
Gabriela then looked into the early days of DNA. She discovered that a few years after the discovery and publication of the structure of DNA in 1953 in Nature entitled, “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids” by Watson and Crick [Note: Wilkins also received 1/3 credit of the Nobel Prize in 1962 and Rosalind Franklin should have too], Crick formulated [DNA → RNA → protein] in 1958 and then wrote a seminal paper in 1970 in Nature entitled, “The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology”. The path from DNA to proteins is: [DNA → RNA → protein] and is orchestrated by the librarian and her army of nanomachines that perform the physical work of housekeeping in the cell and reading the books in the closed stacks area. Reading the books, along with DNA replication during cell division, are the most profound structural information pathways in all of biology. The genetic revolution had begun. Gabriela read his remarkable paper and interpreted it in terms of embodied cognition, cybernetics and network theory and tucked it away for later because it is a keeper. The Central Dogma explained how the perception-action loop (the librarian and her army of nanomachine helpers) is able to read the DNA (the hardbound books) and then through the directed graph produce protein building blocks to build stuff the cell needs to adapt given its perceived needs.
She did a quick summary:
Embodied cognition’s perception-action loop for movement and adaptive response are:
Sensorimotor loop: sensory input → decision → action (movement)
Adaptive response: sensory input → decision → action (structural change)
Perception-action loop + gene expression: Sensory input + decision (librarian) → nanomachines execute: [DNA → RNA → protein] → action (structural change)
The perception-action loop is central to all adaptive responses to stress; it is all about intelligent management of perception to stress because perception determines what books get read or not — ultimately these decisions sum to being the arbiter of life or death. In the evolution of intelligence, this is what constitutes intelligence at this level of complexity and is the foundation of all intelligence to follow.
Gabriela now has accounted for the basics in autonomy at the unicellular level and adaptive response. No, not all the little details are accounted for but the broad strokes for the central tenets of the simplest living systems are penciled in. Now she felt ready to say goodbye to her tiny amoeba teachers and move up the complexity ladder and build on her inventory of biological inventions in her toolbox thus far. Through her mind’s eye, the role of mind in fitness is coming into better focus.
Gabriela now shifted her attention to nerve cells or neurons, a term coined by German anatomist Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried von Waldeyer-Hartz after the groundbreaking work of the Spaniard Santiago Ramón y Cajal and the Italian Camillo Golgi. Ramón y Cajal and Golgi won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906 for Golgi’s staining methods allowing the human eye to see their incredibly intricate structure for the first time and for Ramón y Cajal’s elucidation and incredible medical artistry of neurons featuring their enormous arborizations. In the same time frame of the turn of the 20th century, von Waldeyer-Hartz and Ramón y Cajal proposed “The Neuron Doctrine” which had four major claims but the one that was to matter most was that signals flowed in one direction from the dendrites to the axon, via the cell body. Ramón y Cajal is known as the father of neuroscience for his major accomplishments in understanding both the anatomy (those arborizations!) and physiology (how it works) of the nervous system at the cell-level.
But there was more going on here than the Nobel Prize; Golgi and Ramón y Cajal had competing views on how the nervous system worked: Golgi supported the “reticular theory” which stated that the brain was not composed of individual cells but instead was a “nerve network”, a term he created but was not to be coined for at least 50 years or even much longer. Ramón y Cajal, on the other hand, claimed the neuron was a discrete cell and was the fundamental functional unit. Golgi was an adherent of what was going to become the distributionist camp and Ramón y Cajal a localizationist. This was to become an increasingly hotly contested battleground in the last 65 years as distributionists mind-melded with emergentism and localizationists mind-melded with reductionism. Gabriela, however, realized immediately that the brain was a massive directed graph of unprecedented scale for information flow and had a global electromagnetic field that governed its behavior—Gabriela is an emergentist. Understanding fitness on a deep level is strongly influenced by which side of that fence you are on. You must choose.
Understanding the mind of organisms begins with unicellulars which have no nervous system but do have communication networks based on chemical signalling. The problem is they are slow because they depend on chemical diffusion but work well if the body size is tiny. At the other end of the spectrum, humans have 86 billion neurons between their ears. She moved up the pecking order between amoeba and man to learn about what happens with primitive, rudimentary nerve networks because to do otherwise is a big mistake. There are basic operating principles that must be understood at elementary levels first or else you lose sight of the forest for the trees and will never understand the deep biology of mind and fitness and its origins.
She started with the biological invention of the neuron which first occurred in primitive animals (the animal kingdom is known as metazoa) called cnidaria of which sea anemone and jellyfish belong. As it turns out the emergence of neurons occurred along with the first striated muscle tissue around 580 million years ago in the same primitive animals: jellyfish. In the embodied cognition paradigm Gabriela found that this makes sense: you have a sensorimotor loop composed of a sensory nerve connecting to a motor nerve that connects to muscle — its motor component — how amazing! Muscles are more than motors, they are like the invention of the wheel and motor at once, they grant mobility by efficiently concentrating energy in the service of locomotion. Nerve and muscle is a parsimonious and elegant structural coupling combining two differentiated and specialized cell types in perfect synergy — muscle and nerve are a thing of beauty, the original cast for poetry in motion.
But there is also another biological invention and it is a seismic one: development or what is called developmental biology, ontogeny or ontogenesis. Amoebas don’t have ontogenesis because they are immortal — they divide and divide and divide until they get eaten (or stepped on). There is no developmental process because they just vary in size; there are no embryonic, infant, adolescent, adult, and senescent phases of a lifecycle. In metazoa, because of multiple cell types and complex body plans that change from birth to death, you have the emergence of a new librarian that operates on the organism as opposed to the cell level, a “supervisor librarian” that is responsible for the organism and gives orders to the junior-level librarians that still do their job and control operations at the cell level. The supervisor librarian is in charge of lifecycle management including all organismic-level adaptive processes — ontogeny —while the cell-level librarians continue to address housekeeping and adaptive response within the cell as well as cell-level reproductive duties (mitosis). Ontogeny adds serious complexity if you desire to fully understanding fitness because now training is also dependent upon what lifecycle phase you are in: an adolescent has different requirements and will respond differently than a senescent organism. Gabriela had an inkling that once she dissected adaptive response that the supervisor librarian was going to be the bowels of fitness so she was now on alert to its evolution as her learning tour progressed.
When Gabriela observed jellyfish in action she was immediately taken aback by their movement; no longer the drunken flailing of pseudopodia, now the movement was smooth, synchronous, and rhythmic. Nerves and muscles are perfect dance partners even in their most primordial form in jellyfish 580 mya — jellyfish showoff the first coordinated movement patterns of large-bodied organisms. Coordination = motor control, a cosmic realization of the sensorimotor loop. Motor control is on the shortest imaginable list of what matters in athletic performance (or jellyfish survival 580 mya) and this is where it started.
What about the mind of a jellyfish? Gabriela examined the “brain”. Amoebas have their cell membrane peppered with different kinds of receptors and chemical signalling diffusing from receptors to their targets or hitchhiking on nanomachines as the primary communication means along with the inherent cognition of regulatory feedback loops and all kinds of networks serving as assembly lines for producing energy or making stuff. The librarian, being the locus of control for the communication network, did her thing with her army of nanomachine helpers when the target was gene expression for adaptation or reproductive duties. It all added up to autonomy in the world of a single-celled organism.
The jellyfish had all that plus something new: it had a nervous system in the form of a nerve net. A nerve net is a simple, distributed nervous system but has the seeds of a central nervous system (CNS). A CNS is always situated in close proximity to sensory apparatus and jellyfish have primitive eyes that probably detect changes in light intensity but one species, the box jellyfish, possesses true eyes complete with retinas, corneas and lenses. Thus jellyfish also invented eyes and have the rudiments of a CNS. Additionally, some cnidaria feature an upgrade: ganglia. Ganglia are nerve clusters and become the first true neural circuits where a large fraction of the nerves are neither sensory or motor neurons but are, instead, what are called interneurons, neurons that connect with other interneurons and the sky is limit on the number of connections. They are the foundation of learning and decision making in all metazoans (that includes you). Gabriela had a rapid insight: interneurons, interpreted in the embodied cognition paradigm, become the principle decision-making element in the perception-action loop in more complex metazoans (like honey bees, mice, you). What Uranium-235 is to critical mass, interneurons are to intelligence — mental or body intelligence. She put this together with her other findings of biological inventions created by jellyfish and fellow cnidarians:
perception → action
sensory input → decision → action
sensory input (eyes) → decision (interneuron complexes) → action (muscle)
A lot closer to humans now, yes? But what about that jellyfish mind? Unfortunately, their ability to “know” is not much different than an amoeba’s. Their eyes cannot form images and their memory is not qualitatively better than unicellulars (yes, even amoebas have primitive memory and learn from it). Because of their mobility, they can explore vast regions of underwater space but their ability to learn is very limited. Their nervous system is geared for refined movement of a large physical body operating in extremely large open spaces, not for elaborate cognition. Their decisions — even with a nerve net — are still knee jerks to circumstances. Yes, they are autonomous but are automatons.
Gabriela concluded that jellyfish minds are still very rudimentary but jellyfish are the first step on the complexity ladder to have the seeds to create a qualitatively different mind than all lifeforms that came before because there are now prototype structures in place with profound potential, if taken to their limit, that will dwarf the cognitive abilities of the first minds.
Then she stumbled upon yet another biological invention of the jellyfish’s creation: rudiments of a gut with a gastrovascular cavity including a primitive intestines and digestive enzymes (some may argue that protists invented the digestive tract but they are really complex unicellulars (think amoebas on steroids) and lack key features of a gut). No, it is not an optimal structure considering its anus and mouth are in the same place but it is what opened the door for a true digestive system. This also impacts the role of the supervisor librarian because the gut in more complex classes such as mammals gives rise to another hierarchical layer of endosymbiosis (with bacteria in what is called the microbiome [video]) that have great impact on gene expression. Amoebas, on the other hand, have what is called intracellular digestion because of their means of engulfing food with pseudopodia, well, it is not efficient. Jellyfish can consume much greater quantities of energy which then allows for expansion of much bigger and diversified body plans (think of a blue whale gut!). Gabriela thought about Schrödinger’s cat-herding, import/export entropy pump and the invention of the mitochondrion and realized that the jellyfish’s invention of the gut and extracellular digestion was an energy amplifier extraordinaire of similar stature.
The jellyfish brought everything together like the Manhattan Project’s Little Boy making it the second hockey stick species on her tour. If a jellyfish were part of mathematical evolution it would be the discoverer of the exponential function 2ⁿ but n was limited to 1 whereas with amoebas n = 0. Gabriela wanted to move that exponent atomically from 1 to whatever number it takes to explode to the next quantum step — cognitive critical mass — the sense of self. Her plan was to study the work of three of the world’s most preeminent researchers in neuroscience that had theories of mind that tackled the treacherous but illuminating task of the sense of self. After sorting that out, she would know something concrete about the evolution of mind and intelligence and its Siamese twins relationship to fitness. She figured that if you know the biological underpinnings of the sense of self then that will put her in the catbird seat to complete her doctoral dissertation: “The roles of perception, cognition and motor function in adaptation to physical conditioning”.
So Gabriela closed the book on the father of neuroscience, Ramón y Cajal, and opened the book to a father of modern neuroscience, fellow South American Rodolfo Llinás, a native of Bogotá, Colombia, and a distinguished neurophysiologist at the New York University School of Medicine. Llinás received his MD degree first and then during his PhD studies worked under Sir John Eccles, the Australian neurophysiologist and philosopher who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the synapse. Since then Llinás has published over 500 peer-reviewed papers and published his superb i of the vortex, From Neurons to Self in 2001.
Gabriela, after reading Llinás’ book, understood that not only is he a great researcher but a luminary scientist guided by a powerful faculty of common sense. Einstein and Feynman come to mind as paragons of common sense: common sense → theory, not theory → nonsense.
She homed in on his fundamental operating principles of mind:
- Motricity (movement): Animals move and have a brain whereas plants don’t move so, ergo, don’t need a brain. Theory: the brain plays a mammoth role in motricity.
- Prediction: You need to know where you are going and it is a huge advantage in terms of survival prospects to accurately predict what is going to happen nearby in the near future. Theory: the brain is about making predictions for the purpose of successful (survival!) and parsimonious motricity (highly-coordinated, energy-efficient motor control). (After all, all a brain does — from a black box, outside-looking-in perspective — is issue motor commands!)
- Self = centrality of prediction: The self is the result (an abstraction) of the integration of external and internal information streams while arranging those inputs so they exist with temporal coherence (i.e. the senses make sense). [Note: The self is necessary but insufficient to realize self-awareness, that is a further elaboration in some mammals.]
Gabriela took note of the difference in perception between an amoeba and a jellyfish: not much difference because the jellyfish’s nervous system doesn’t have a CNS yet and the senses were still mostly dealing with molecular-scale phenomena — there was no true awareness of objects “out there”. But when you move up to mammals and examine the mouse, perception is now qualitatively different. The five ordinary senses are very sophisticated and the brain has the memory and cognitive horsepower to form sensorimotor images and make comparisons between past and present experiences to make predictions; the predictive process occurs in neural circuits and the result of this prediction is a decision that affects motricity.
Llinás says it best:
“The functional comparison of internally generated sensorimotor images with real-time sensory information from an organism’s immediate environment is known as perception. Underlying the workings of perception is prediction, that is, the useful expectation of events to come. Prediction, with its goal-oriented essence, so very different from reflex, is the very core of brain function.” p.3
Gabriela’s dad told her about the real purpose of the brain when she was little but she didn’t really get it until studying Llinás. She, like most people, had the knee jerk assumption that the brain is about knowing facts and figures, school stuff — it isn’t. The brain is not about being a bottomless pit for knowledge, that is only a nice side-effect derived from improving predictive prowess for motricity. In other words, smart motricity is the brain’s raison d’être, not memorizing the phone book — it is just that prediction is memory intensive. Once you reach a critical mass of memory capacity and suitable organization for that memory, sensorimotor image formation crosses a complexity threshold that ventures into the brave new world of symbolic representation — language. How did that happen?
There is a transitional grey area between prediction integral to the sensorimotor loop and prediction as symbolic representation: the degree of time and space matters. Gabriela recalled that old saying that: “You are what you eat”. This is true but incomplete: after studying even simple lifeforms she corrected the wisdom to: “You are what you find”; search matters. Prediction deals with space and time: s = 0 and t = 0 means right here and now. No prediction required. Prediction of what will happen in a minuscule, tangible distance from the body and within an infinitesimal, discernible timeframe is on a slippery slope of overreaching the proximal to the distal while crossing the Rubicon separating the immediately perceivable from the abstract, the symbolic, the “future”. Moving beyond the immediately perceivable becomes a class of prediction that roams into a qualitatively different class of cognition, a seemingly innocent transition of using neural circuits to predict for immediate, proximal events in the service of motricity to using the same neural circuits to predict for increasingly distal events in time and space that no longer result in motricity — now they result in some form of symbolic representation that gets stored in the brain for later, not for an immediate motor event. What happens to the integrity of the perception-action loop when later morphs into never?
Over time — eons — a simple brain evolved parts that specialized in performing predictive tasks resulting in motricity now (cerebellum, peripheral nervous system) and then other parts performing predictive tasks resulting in symbolic representation (cerebrum) for motricity later (the cerebrum had other jobs to do before symbolic representation manifested which Gabriela will reveal later). Prediction, when it comes to animals — from amoeba to man — is a universal, ubiquitous axiom. Just like humans, amoebas respond to signals to find prey while sidestepping environments that result in falling into the equitable jaws of natural selection. It is just that mammals have the cognitive horsepower to explore beyond the proximal in time and space. There are huge cognitive differences between predicting what will happen one second from now to tomorrow to who will win the World Series — World Series cognitive stuff is not being piped into the cerebellum, spinal cord, or peripheral nervous system. Knowledge is an epiphenomenon that weaseled its way from doing predictions just out of reach of motricity to the invention of fire, the wheel, E=mc², Fat Boy, and Neil Armstrong moon walking. Gabriela realized that doing all that became possible partly because of more enhanced predictive capability to prioritize and organize an organism’s motricity — improving body intelligence also provided footholds and scaffolding for mental intelligence. Body and mental intelligence feed each other, a synergy with exemplary cohesion.
Connecting the dots from an amoeba looking for an afternoon snack to E=mc² is neither rocket science or magical — the invention of prediction became the womb of invention itself.
Nature and all evolutionary evidence agree with the primacy of motricity but computational neuroscientists (the majority view is the “brain in a box” paradigm and is a stomping ground for localizationists) would not agree. But let’s be fair and balanced and bring in the devil’s advocate: at the end of the day, just like in all emergences and their painstakingly, evolutionary trial-and-error process, human ingenuity is a biological invention that is built on top of all the prior innovations and is dependent upon all of them for its very existence: prediction, muscle, ontogeny, interneuron, gut, endosymbiosis, nanomachines, DNA, tensegrity and enzyme catalysts to name a few. Ingenuity would collapse if you pulled any one of those cards from this house of cards — this is called synergy minus one. Gabriela could live with that conclusion so what she did was embed a chunk of computational neuroscience (her theoretical deliberations above) into the embodied cognition paradigm as a new biological invention (symbolic, rational thought!) and then moved on.
perception → action
sensory input → decision → action
sensory input → decision (proximal) → motricity
sensory input → decision (distal) → memory (symbolic representation) → motricity (later → never)
Now she went deeper into Llinás’ view on brain function:
“[The brain] operates as a closed system to perform sensorimotor transformations. Information is fed into this system from the external world, and the results of the operations are put back out into the external world as active, purposeful movement that is necessary for survival. These neurons are the functional space where movement strategies are generated and then implemented; these neurons are where we think.” p.81
With this, she then made another striking parallel to cybernetics, this time triggered by Llinás’ view on brain function. She pulled out Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future from her bookshelf and read what cyberneticists think the brain is. She already knew that embodied cognition and cybernetics were two peas in a pod but this time we are talking about cybernetics’ interpretation of biological systems at a much higher level of complexity than amoebas, now we are talking about the brain!
“The cyberneticians, then, conceived of the brain as an immediately embodied organ, intrinsically tied to bodily performances. And beyond that, they understood the brain’s special role to be that of adaptation. The brain is what helps us to get along and come to terms with, and survive in, situations and environments we have never encountered before. Undoubtedly, knowledge helps us get along and adapt to the unknown, and we will come back to that, but this simple contrast (still evident in competing approaches to robotics today), is what we need for now: the cybernetic brain was not representational but performative, as I shall say, and its role in performance was adaptation.” p.6
Pickering recognizes the view of computational neuroscientists but makes the claim that the brain is an organ for adaptation to the unknown and its primary job is performative — bodily performances — in other words, motricity.
Gabriela then examined Llinás’ thought on the meaning of self:
“This temporally coherent event that binds, in the time domain, the fractured components of external and internal reality into a single construct is what we call the “self.” … It [the binding] is a convenient and exceedingly useful invention on the part of the brain. It binds, therefore I am! Temporal coherence not only generates the self as a composite, singly perceived construct, but creates a single seat or centralization from which the predictive functions of the brain, so critical to survival, may operate in coordinated fashion. Thus subjectivity or self is generated by the dialogue between the thalamus and the cortex; or to put it in other words, the binding events comprise the substrate of self.” p.126
The self, according to Llinás, is an important biological invention. Gabriela agrees. In fact, the self is a really big deal not just because of what the self accomplishes (making sense of the senses which puts your world together) but equally important is how the brain does it. Going back to the precocious jellyfish and animals a little more complex, what she noticed was that the nervous system, beginning with nerve nets or with a few ganglia (nerve clusters), were able to coordinate the movement patterns of the body by synchronizing the contraction of muscles so that movement was efficient, it flowed. This is motor control where the flow of information is efferent, meaning flow is away from the CNS. Remember, Ramón y Cajal in the “Neuron Doctrine” saying information flows only one way? Here is where that matters. Now with binding what happens is there is a synchronization of afferent information traffic, that is, flow towards the CNS. Neurologically the same structure, but different function. Gabriela intuited that she will see this same process of same structure but different function again (and maybe again and again). Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth Vrba coined the term “exaptation” in 1982 for adaptations that used an existing structure for a different function in their paper in Paleobiology entitled: “Exaptation — A Missing Term in the Science of Form”.
motor binding (motor control): CNS → synchronized efferent information flow → coordinated muscle action
cognitive binding: sensory inputs → synchronized afferent information flow → CNS (assembly of self)
Once again, a breakthrough in body intelligence (motor control) provides footholds and scaffolding for a big jump in mental intelligence (affordance for a leap in perceptual complexity up to the level of self). Could this be the playbook for the evolution of intelligence, the exaptation: body intelligence → mental intelligence?
Cognitive binding is quite miraculous considering the obstacle: the sensory input signals and their neuronal distances do not match up meaning they arrive at the CNS at different times, very asynchronous, a nasty problem. Imagine if what you heard, saw, felt, and smelled were out of sync, like when somebody is talking but the sound frustratingly lags by a 1/4 second (or the flip-side, motor control out of sync resulting in spasmodic movement). Part of the remedy is that the nervous system modulates the conduction velocities so that slower, more distant inputs arrive at the same time as faster, closer inputs in what is called temporal tuning. Llinás, however, addresses the bigger biological invention here which is a global brain inclusive of electrical oscillation phenomenon which transcends the outdated view of brain function entirely. Gabriela at this point passes the baton to the second of three neuroscientists because this is an area where he masterminds: the global electrical field of the brain as an emergent ensemble of vast neuronal populations.
Gabriela turned next to systems neurophysiologist and fellow Brazilian Miguel Ângelo Laporta Nicolelis, MD, PhD, one of the 20 most influential scientists in the world according to Scientific American. What caught her eye (besides being Brazilian) is that he is an intellectual iconoclast impassioned with disrupting the status quo and becoming an icon and national treasure in the process — Gabriela wanted to ditto that in both her mental and physical domains. A trailblazing theorist for sure but, like Llinás, is guided by common sense and the way of nature. But Nicolelis does not stop there. He backs his theories up with bold experiments and not just in some sterile laboratory published in dusty journals for ivory tower academics to ponder but doing them on the world stage for all to see the ramifications — he gets in the face of the sacred cows of neurobiology.
He is most famous for his pioneering work in brain-machine interfaces and tapping into the thoughts of monkeys but Gabriela was equally impressed with his Relativistic Brain Hypothesis as he posited in 2011 in his amazing book Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines — and How It Will Change Our Lives. The reason is simple: no one understands the ABC’s of motor control more than him and motor control is a commanding chunk of fitness for both strength and endurance especially as you reach the long plateau phase of your career. Besides this, his Relativistic Brain Hypothesis also has a unique take on the sense of self, something she will add to cart and check out when her journey towards re-defining the nature of fitness ends.
Gabriela started her understanding of Nicolelis’ Relativistic Brain Hypothesis by first revisiting jellyfish. The reason is that Nicolelis’ research is based on state-of-the-art theories of electrical activity in the brain so she started with the evolutionary origins of electrical activity and that began 580 mya. Cnidarians invented neurons that signalled by electrical conduction which had two big advantages over the more primitive chemical-signal based communication system: speed and specificity of signal targeting. In other words, neuron A connects to neuron B and not C. Chemicals, on the other hand, diffuse all over the place. The next two major discoveries in neuroscience were by Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb in 1949 in his seminal work The Organization of Behavior: Stimulus and Response — and What Occurs in the Brain in the Interval Between Them. In it he proposes:
“When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased.”
This became the eponymous Hebb’s Law or the Hebb synapse: Neurons that fire together wire together.
But Hebb did not stop there and this is where Hebb hands the baton to Nicolelis: like Golgi in 1900, Hebb was an distributionist but his ideas had teeth. Hebb believed that the fundamental functional unit of the brain was cell assemblies, not individual neurons, and that electrophysiology supports the notion of brain activity being a function of electrical fields and gradients:
“The question now is whether gradients and fields are the only mechanism of a selective neural action or whether they are combined with an equally important mechanism of connections and specialized conduction paths.”
What Hebb was saying in 1949 and Nicolelis has taken to a whole new level is that as CNS complexity increased on its way from jellyfish to ants to birds to mammals is that a second-order of electrical activity emerged as well. The old guard of neurobiology understood the first-order, cell-level electrical activity of the action potential’s all-or-nothing firing like a digital signal going through a network of connected neurons but failed to understand the significance of the second-order, global electrical field as the neuron count increased from tiny numbers to thousands to billions in a small volume of extremely dense insulating and conducting elements called the brain.
Nicolelis says that the fundamental unit of brain activity is the neuron like a musician in a orchestra but behavior and thought are the collective outcome of large groups of the orchestra’s musicians which then composes a cerebral symphony, not a solo neuronal performance. When populations of vast ensembles of neurons fire simultaneously they create a second-order, electrical field effect and it is this phenomena that determines behavior and constitutes thought — the functional unit of brain activity is composed of a dynamic electrical field produced by the aggregation of large populations of firing neurons and is called distributed neuronal coding. From this fact, he discredits the notion that specific neurons, like the grandmother neuron (or Halle Berry neuron!), are the sole proprietor of specific bits of information. Instead, he posits as one of his 10 principles of The Relativistic Brain Hypothesis:
THE DISTRIBUTED CODING PRINCIPLE
“Any type of information processed by the brain involves the recruitment of widely distributed populations of neurons.”
Gabriela knew the significance of this in terms of motor control: muscles are recruited by motor nerves and when a nerve fires it fires all the muscle cells in that specifically innervated motor unit. Now this idea applies to nerves as well as muscles: neurons are dynamically recruited from a large neuron pool resulting in behavior (motor control and bodily movement) or thought.
“By relativizing this neuronal space-time continuum, the primate brain has found a way to constantly and optimally select viable options for what is known to be a typical inverse problem: that is, given an observed behavioral outcome, what finite combination of brain activity should one choose out of a gargantuan set of options to produce the desired outcome. … From an outside observer’s point of view, a sequence of arm movements may look pretty much identical. Yet from the brain’s point of view, the neural ensemble firing patterns that generate this movement will be similar but never the same.” p. 293
It is possible, even likely given the vast number of combinations, that a cyclist will never use the same nerve and muscle fiber combination in even something as repetitive as one revolution of the crank out of millions in a career in cycling!
But that was just the preamble for what Nicolelis brings to the table for motor control. Next he addresses neural plasticity and the brain’s infinite capacity to incorporate tools into the brain’s intrinsic map of the self:
“…a series of studies suggests that as monkeys and humans acquire proficiency in the use of artificial tools, their brains assimilate these tools as true and seamless extensions of their own biological bodies. That implies that part of the process of becoming an exceptional violinist, pianist, or soccer player involves the gradual incorporation of specialized tools of the trade, such as violins, pianos, and soccer balls, as add-ons to the neuronal representations of fingers, hands, feet, and arms that exist in the brain.” p.70
Gabriela knew the importance of practice but it is perfectly executed practice of the same movements with thousands of repetitions over the years where you can achieve mastery with smooth, energy efficient, movement patterns. The Olympic weightlifting bar, mountain bike, rowing machine and other training apparatus eventually becomes assimilated into your expanded sense of self on the deepest imaginable level — you become one with your tools and movement patterns if you train with them enough with proper technique. Gabriela began to wonder, “Is this a layer of rationale for the selection of the movements and conditions defining the Phenomic 5, both for Phenomic Games’ training and precise competitive assessment?”
Evan Thompson, co-author of The Embodied Mind that jumpstarted embodied cognition and co-creator of enactivism, is now a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He wrote in his more recent book Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind in 2007:
“In the case of animal life, the environment emerges as a sensorimotor world through the actualization of the organism as a sensorimotor being. The organism is a sensorimotor being thanks to the nervous system. The nervous system connects anatomically distant sensory and motor processes, subsuming them in operationally closed sensorimotor networks. Through their coherent, large-scale patterns of activity these networks establish a sensorimotor identity for the animal — a sensorimotor self. In the same stroke, they specify what counts as “other,” namely, the animal’s sensorimotor world.” p. 59
Gabriela put these two biological phenomena together and was stunned! Thompson is saying an organism knows what it is because its sensorimotor identity signals the difference between “self” and “non-self” (i.e. IF NOT “self” THEN “other” | “universe” -“self” = “non-self”) but this is not a constant for primates. In primates (or a few other tool-bearing, non-primate species), according to Nicolelis, if you use a tool long enough — that is, practice for many hours the same way long enough — then the plasticity of the brain creates a change at the deepest level that modifies the very nature of who you are from the perspective of the brain, that there is a change in the body schema (i.e. a map of what you are in brain-speak). You evolve into: [self + x = new sense of self] and then [new sense of self + y = newer sense of self…] where x and y are tools. And there is no limit. Deep down primates can change the very nature of their identity and function through the assimilation of tools and this is not just on the level of belief but is burnt into the sense of self and motor function, into the inner recesses of the autonomic, the nonconscious, the involuntary autopilot dynamics of the primate operating system. Gabriela thought about this in terms of embodied cognition and wrote it down as another biological invention to add to her bulging list:
perception → action
sensory input → decision → action
sensory input (repetitive with tool) → decision (expand body schema and sense of self) → action (enhanced with tool having contiguous neuron/motor pool usage indistinguishable from intrinsic body parts)
Nicolelis has more to offer. Gabriela has only scratched the surface of his pièce de résistance: The Relativistic Brain Hypothesis. There are certain limits imposed by physical laws that dictate what the brain can and cannot do but the brain is very clever on how it works around these constraints to accomplish most tasks. Gabriela is most interested in gaining a deeper understanding of motor control, particularly in its application to maximal force development like in strength sports such as Olympic lifting. In the West, until now, only shaky theories founded on obsolete models of nerve-muscle interaction have been proffered. She wanted to be the one to move the needle. Nicolelis opened a door to that and more.
Nicolelis is world famous for his experiments of monkeys using body-machine interfaces (BMI). A monkey is on a treadmill with wires attached to its brain that then plug into a computer that converts her brain output (in brain-speak) to robot-speak that then commands the robot to mirror what she is doing. She is watching a video monitor for feedback of what the robot is doing (completing the sensorimotor loop) and quickly figures out that she is in command and is running the robot. Then something quite remarkable happened, she figured out that merely her motor thoughts control the robot, that the treadmill part is irrelevant:
“We have learned from Aurora [name of female monkey] that the utilization of a BMI could allow a subject to change simultaneously the normal scale of three physical parameters involved in the generation of primate motor behaviors: space, force, and time. By directly controlling the movements of a robot arm located far away from her body, Aurora had increased dramatically the spatial reach of her voluntary motor intentions. Since the robot was capable of generating stronger forces than those normally produced by her own arm, Aurora also scaled up the force that resulted from her motor thinking.” p. 182
So Gabriela learned in this radical experiment that motor thinking is not limited by the physics and biology of the body’s intrinsic toolset, that in the three parameters of space, time, and force it is possible to control an extrinsic tool (robot) that has very different tool capabilities for reach, for limb speed, and for force production. To access these different tool properties all you have to do is change the motor thinking (tapping your heels together three times with emerald green slippers helps jumpstart it). The brain is an amazingly plastic structure that molds to any tool environment, you just have to know how to plug into it. Does this have consequences with the limbs you have? It does. Motor control, motors (muscles) and mental training mind-meld into training methods, Gabriela thought. It is all about the conditioning of motor thinking and forgetting the limbs; they are just robotic appendages that adapt, plug in and go along for the ride — what happens when you start playing around with motor thought level with your own robotic limbs? Gabriela investigated this deeply with further leads from Nicolelis:
THE NEURAL DEGENERACY PRINCIPLE
“A particular brain outcome — whether a motor action, a perceptual experience, even complicated behaviors produced by the brain such as singing or solving an equation — can be generated by a large variety of distinct neuronal spatiotemporal patterns of activity.” p.189
Gabriela realized that at the second-level of electrical activity in the brain — that is, the dynamic energy field produced by large ensembles of neurons rather than individual neurons — that any of the brain’s possible behavioral outcomes can be manifested by a myriad of mind-boggling neuronal combinations, that there is more than one million ways to skin a cat. Furthermore, that any given mental state, which also constitutes perception of the world, is the result of a merger between the present brain state and the inbound sensory information stream, all in the form of a dynamic electrical field. Context matters — both internally and externally — and matters a lot. You can be in the same environment and have very different experiences. Gabriela could see that physical performance in athletic endeavors is strongly influenced by your brain state and that proper mental training can manipulate ones brain state to provide a context conducive to peak performance.
Finally Gabriela explored the deep end of the Relativistic Brain Hypothesis:
“If single or multiple cortical neurons increase their firing rate instantaneously, an equivalent mirror image reduction in firing is soon produced by other members of the neural ensemble so that the overall energy budget of the brain stays constant over the long run.” p.271
Your brain is forced to toe the line, there is a strict energy budget! This also has ramifications for mental training for strength applications. In order to execute motor thought into overdrive mode for super-strength feats, there could very well be a rob Peter to pay Paul dynamic that can be conditioned so there is an efficient means to consistently create a stable brain state — given the sensory input stream — to have a brain state context capable of producing motor commands on command with superhuman force outcomes. Aurora could do it with robotic limbs that could easily scale large force levels but in the chain of motor command given the premotor cortex, cerebellum, and peripheral nervous system, this is not a walk in the park given the biological limitations of primate musculature and their lever systems.
When it comes to producing force that applies torque to a limb through its rotating joints, there are muscles that allow the movement (agonists), muscles that oppose the movement (antagonists) and the motor control element that features combinations of excitatory and inhibitory neurons that regulate movement trajectory and the applied torque. There are virtually an infinite number of possible nerve and muscle motor unit combinations to produce a given trajectory, speed, and torque. Theoretically, there is a vast difference between what torque a movement could produce (“limit strength”) and what you can produce voluntarily today with the lion’s share of upside being adaptations to motor control function — nerves, not muscles. This is precisely a juicy topic of Gabriela’s PhD dissertation that is sautéing in her nonconscious mind. The relativistic brain hypothesis shreds previous theories in this neck of the woods which were on life support from the get-go:
“In this [space-time] continuum, functions and behaviors are allocated or produced respectively by recruited chunks of neuronal space-time, according to a series of constraints, among which are the evolutionary history of the species, the layout of the brain determined by genetics and early development, the state of the sensory periphery, the state of the internal brain dynamics, other body constraints, task context, the total amount of energy available to the brain, and the maximum speed of neuronal firing.” p.285
Gabriela was pleased to see another view of the sense of self, this time from the perspective of the brain from the inside-out manifesting a projection in the cosmic theatre of being, a dynamic electrical field produced by billions of individual firing neurons with their collective behavior consummating in a state of mind giving rise to a grand illusion of a sovereign, sacred space — a self — engulfed by a perceived world out there.
Amoeba cognition cannot be explained in terms of organelle behavior.
Human cognition cannot be explained in terms of cell biology.
Crowd behavior — social cognition — cannot be explained in terms of individual psychologies.
Cognition scales by bootstrapping and leveraging itself with an unpredictable and dramatic emergent process driven by the coalescence of different constraint classes.
The essential biological operating principles internally scale from amoeba to man to civilizations with a fractal pattern that is reflected externally with a similar fractal pattern: if you watch an amoeba through a microscope and then a man or population of ant-sized humans from a 30,000 foot view, they appear freakishly indistinguishable in their circular, repetitive spacial and temporal behaviors — the same rudimentary biological needs dictates these actions. This is the scale-free nature of the perception-action loop.
The epiphenomenon of a dense volume of neurons producing a dynamic electromagnetic field encompassing spacial and temporal dimensions that constitute mind is not explainable from examination of the constituent parts but is explainable after the fact. Nicolelus did so with a cogent explanation paired with an equally sublime experiment while still leaving the door open for reasonable means of and opportunity for falsification. It is pretty cool, Gabriela thought. But, hey, you still need a bold amoeba to get the ball rolling!
Next on Gabriela’s list of preeminent researchers is Portuguese neuroscientist and neurologist Antonio Damasio. Like Llinás and Nicolelus, he is a holder of MD and PhD degrees and — like them — a vanguard of embodied cognition. Damasio is best known for his seminal contributions of the roles that emotion, feeling, and thought play in the construction of the conscious mind from an evolutionary perspective. Gabriela did not want to suffer mission creep by venturing off into the deep end of consciousness research (which is very easy to do with Damasio…) but instead remained focused on topics relevant to fitness and athletic performance. As it turns out, Damasio is the most knowledgeable person on the planet when it comes to the co-evolution of cognitive processes involving the endocrine (chemical communication) and nervous systems (electrochemical communication) and consequent qualitative gradations in levels of mental function, intelligence and consciousness. Damasio says, “No, we are not thinking machines but feeling machines that think.” How did he arrive at that, a seeming strange answer? Gabriela backed up in time by a few billion years to set the stage for Damasio’s splendid insights.
In the amoeba, the librarian perceives and communicates with chemical signals. Eukaryotes like amoebas had the librarian to manage intracrine (interior cell signalling) and very primitive exocrine (signalling outside the cell body with other unicellulars) communication. The basic building blocks for hormone signalling (steroid metabolites and nuclear steroid receptors) were invented by eukaryotes millions of years before jellyfish.
From Lovejoy’s Neuroendocrinology: An Integrated Approach:
“Our hypothetical early cell has clearly defined intracrine and exocrine signalling mechanisms largely due to the partitioning of the cytosolic and biotic components from the external mostly abiotic environment. … Endocrine-type signalling has yet to evolve. Exocrine signalling capability however was essential for autocrine and paracrine signalling to evolve. Autocrine signalling occurs when the chemical released from the cell binds to a receptor on itself or an identical cell, whereas paracrine signalling involves the chemical binding to a receptor on a different type of cell.” p.57
Gabriela had a quick insight: The amoeba librarian had been practicing for millions of years the mechanics for the job that the supervisor librarian will assume in metazoans! The library’s closed stack room (nucleus) already had books for proto-hormones. Autocrine and exocrine signalling is merely kindergarten for graduating to hormonal communication via the endocrine system in metazoans. She had the feeling that this was the beginning of something really big like baby steps to what drives adaptive response in the fitness world.
In primitive metazoans, a “protoendocrine” system came first followed by a circulatory system, a simple nerve net with ganglia and then a “proto-CNS”. From there, the “proto” training wheels come off and the endocrine and nervous system co-evolve as Siamese twins — the neuroendocrine system is born. The supervisor librarian, the controlling agency for metazoans at the organism level of complexity, is the global supervisor for every cell in the animal body with the exception of some local autocrine/paracrine function and is integrated with the neuroendocrine system. It is wildly wrong to think that only primates or mammals are in the good graces of a sophisticated neuroendocrine system; the neuroendocrine system is extremely elaborate in insects because the supervisor librarian is the boss of ontogeny and ontogeny, especially when it comes to morphology (the form of biological structure) of body plans has enormous complexity to manage in insects. Rest assured by the time reptiles, birds and then mammals came along the supervisor librarian had over 100 million years of experience under her belt working the bugs out of bugs!
Before deep diving right into Damasio, Gabriela felt like she was missing a step and didn’t want to leapfrog from bugs to apes without making a pit stop in-between so she stopped off with reptiles, early mammals and Paul MacLean’s The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions published in 1990. This is the classic book that everybody has talked about for over 20 years with references to the lizard or reptile brain and how it influences CEOs and NFL linebackers with their obnoxious, snake-in-the-grass behaviors. MacLean published in the scientific literature as early as 1952 about the limbic system (also known as the paleomammalian brain which came after the reptile brain (think early mammals like rodents) and is the seat of emotions) and although he was not the discoverer of the limbic system it was he that put it together as a major integrated brain function with his early theory on how it played a role from a evolutionary perspective on later structures like the neocortex as described in his classic book 38 years later.
Although the triune brain theory is no longer in vogue, MacLean made a D-Day-like beachhead in neuroscience by laying the foundation for the following being the seeds of higher cognition: (1) reptilian-brain autonomic functions (like breathing and heart rate management); and (2) the limbic system (emotions → fight or flight). Emotions came long before thought and the incipient, neural-circuit structures that would birth thought had to grow from fertilizer composed of emotion (chemicals!) and, because of this, emotion is inseparable from higher brain function in a Gordian knot fashion. Gabriela could plainly see that MacLean handed the baton to Damasio because autonomic function and emotions are precisely the fountainhead of his brilliant insights. In many ways she pictured this next adventure as MacLean 2.0.
With Damasio, the story begins with keeping the body machinery alive and well and this is integral with the modus operandi of embodied cognition: the perception-action loop. The body needs to know what is happening on the inside and what is happening on the outside in the immediate proximity. The inside part is called homeostasis and its conceptual origins go back to ancient Greece and Heraclitus and also finding roots in (Henry Louis) Le Châtelier’s Principle in 1884 of dynamic equilibrium in chemical systems. In modern times, these ideas were founded on the work of French physiologist Claude Bernard in his masterpiece Introduction à la médecine expérimentale published in 1865. He coined the term milieu intérieur which was later re-coined as homeostasis in 1926 by American physiologist Walter Cannon. This approach then was evolved by Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye in his seminal paper in the British Medical Journal in 1950 entitled, “Stress and the General Adaptation Syndrome” followed in 1956 with his book The Stress of Life. The most recent evolution is marrying homeostatic principles to dynamic systems theory resulting in homeodynamics. Gabriela knows it is impossible to consider herself knowledgeable about fitness without deep understanding of this vein of thought because fitness stringently orbits around these concepts. In Bernard’s words in English:
“I think I was the first to urge the belief that animals have really two environments: a milieu extérieur in which the organism is situated, and a milieu intérieur in which the tissue elements live. The living organism does not really exist in the milieu extérieur (the atmosphere it breathes, salt or fresh water if that is the element) but in the liquid milieu intérieur formed by the circulating organic liquid which surrounds and bathes all the tissue elements; this is the lymph or plasma, the liquid part of the blood which, in the higher animals, is diffused through the tissues and forms the ensemble of the intercellular liquids and is the basis of all local nutrition and the common factor of all elementary exchanges. A complex organism should be looked upon as an assemblage of simple organisms which are the anatomical elements that live in the liquid milieu intérieur.”
Gabriela put this together in the blink of an eye. Cognition began with amoebas needing to know what is going on outside themselves to find food and avoid fateful stimuli like the heel of a boot. On the inside the chemical regulatory networks and feedback loops acted like thermostats to keep relative balance by staying within tight ranges for a myriad of different chemical concentrations and for enzyme catalysts to stay in viable functional ranges. The librarian did her job and cybernetics and network theory explains a lot of it and the Central Dogma explains how the library is used for making repairs or reproduction given the army of tireless nanomachines. Now add in the signal-type layer for regulation and the action part of the perception-action loop: intracrine signals on the inside and exocrine for the outside. Does an amoeba prioritize its actions? Yes and no. No, it is not a true cognitive process of decision making but yes, what is most important for survival is addressed because any given threat causing something to be out of whack but governed by a negative feedback process would be steered in the direction of balance until negative feedback = 0. If there are conflicting or multiple signals out of whack they all work it out on a chemical feedback basis with help from the library if necessary until there is reasonable stability. On a unicellular level it all works out fine, after all, the librarian has had well over a billion years to tweak it. But what happens in reptiles or mammals?
Gabriela saw the immediate parallels with simpler lifeforms but with larger bodies and multiple, specialized cell types new problems rear their ugly head, literally. The perception-action loop of embodied cognition on the next level of biological complexity is the same in principle and is firmly rooted in signal processing of internal and external signals — the nervous system becomes pivotal. She proceeded to flesh that stuff out:
reptiles & mammals: (1) interoception (inputs about: pH, temperature, concentration of many biochemicals, tension of muscles of internal organs (i.e. smooth muscle)); and
(2) proprioception (input about knowing where the body is in time and space (joints, muscle spindle cells in striated muscle, etc.))
reptiles & mammals: exteroception (sensory information streams)
Now this is the part where Damasio, Llinás, MacLean, and Bernard et al come together. Arriving at a net beneficial action given the sum of the perceptual signals (intracrine + exocrine) is a straight-forward task for an amoeba librarian but not for, say, a cobra supervisor librarian. Why? Gabriela went back to the basic principle of embodied cognition and put together the next complexity level:
perception → action
sensory input → decision → action
unicellular: sensory input (intracrine + exocrine) → decision (cybernetics + nanomachines + [DNA → RNA → protein]) → action (movement, adaptive response, feeding, reproduction)
reptile: sensory input (interoception + proprioception + exteroception) → decision (cybernetic + nanomachines + [DNA → RNA → protein] + “x-factor”) → action (movement (locomotion, fight, flight)), adaptive response, feeding, sex/reproduction, development, autonomic regulation (breathing, heart rate, temperature…), communication (pheromones, hissing (i.e. protolanguage?))
The reason the cobra has a headache figuring out what to do is because survival makes additional demands: fighting, flight, sex, communication, and the additional overhead costs of managing a more complex machine (autonomic regulatory duties + development); these are new problems to deal with. The answer is in the middle part of sensory input → decision → action: decision. A decision process — call it the “x-factor” — is needed to make it all work. Without the x-factor modules installed you have a rudderless snake missing a chunk of its operating system. Enter the reptile brain plus a primitive, simplistic, de facto limbic system (not a true limbic system anatomically but has a limited emotional repertoire functionally while foreshadowing the paleomammalian limbic system) to address the two most primitive emotions first evident in reptiles: sensory perceptions that are internally expressed as hormonal signals triggering aggression and fear that rapidly manifest externally as the motor actions fight or flight. How could reptiles have emotional content without a limbic system? Because emotions are intertwined with homeostasis. They must be there and there is even some evidence of emotions in insects. From Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness:
“Curiously enough, emotions are part and parcel of the regulation we call homeostasis. It is senseless to discuss them without understanding that part of living organisms and vice versa.”
Now for the white knight to the rescue — Damasio — and his secret weapons to bridge Bernard and MacLean over to Llinás and the self on the evolutionary road to consciousness and beyond!
From Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain:
“In, essence, adjusted for body size, the basic design of the human brain stem dates back to reptilian times. … Because of its mastery role of life regulator, the brain stem has long been the recipient and local processor of the information needed to represent the body and control its life. And as it discharged this ancient and important role, in species whose cerebral cortex was minimal or absent, the brain stem also developed the machinery required for elementary mind processes and even consciousness, via the protoself and core self mechanisms.” p.250
“The pathbreaking novelty provided by consciousness was the possibility of connecting the inner sanctum of life regulation with the processing of images. Put in other words, it was the possibility of bringing the system of life regulation — which is housed in the depths of the brain in regions such as the brain stem and hypothalamus — to bear on the processing of the images which represent the things and events which exist inside and outside the organism. … Consciousness allowed the connection of the two disparate aspects of the process — inner regulation and image making.” p. 24
Llinás, Nicolelis, and Damasio (and they are not alone) make use of the terms map, image, representation or neural pattern as a fundamental concept of advanced cognitive function and the terms tend to be used interchangeably. Damasio makes the distinction: “When maps are experienced, they become images”. Nicolelis in Beyond Boundaries uses the terms “map” and “image” 40 times each and uses “simulation” 15 times, which is the use of “still” images/maps in the mental streaming video of the nonconscious mind. Now for a definition. Gabriela liked Llinás’ version in i of the vortex:
“But what is an image? An image is a simplification of reality. Our brain is making a simplification of reality. It is making a simplification of the external world, but a very useful one. An image is a simplified representation of the external world written in a strange form. Any sensory transduction is a simplified representation of a universal arising from the external world.” p.108
Images are made in the brain not just for exteroception but also for interoception and proprioception — they are not at all limited to visual input “images”. Images are the main currency of mental activity from insects to the most abstract, symbolic cognition of E=mc². In reptiles, this would include hissing, perhaps a proto-language, as well as the waggle dance in honey bees and rational or conceptual thinking— these are forms of symbolic expressions albeit primitive.
If you think that image-processing bug brains have nothing to do with human fitness you couldn’t be more wrong.
Before going any further Gabriela realized that mental maps/images are a whopper of a biological invention to add to her list. Jellyfish can’t create them whereas insects can but reptiles depend on them as an essential function of their operating system. Now she needs to connect a few dots first to get setup to solve for the x-factor. To do that she is going to apply Damasio’s ideas to connect emotion to feeling via images and also upgrade interoceptive signalling to image format.
From Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind:
“Emotions are complex, largely automated programs of actions concocted by evolution. The actions are complemented by a cognitive program that includes certain ideas and modes of cognition, but the world of emotions is largely one of actions carried out in our bodies, from facial expressions and postures to changes in viscera and internal milieu.” p.109
“Feelings of emotion, on the other hand, are composite perceptions of what happens in our body and mind when we are emoting. As far as the body is concerned, feelings are images of actions rather than actions themselves; the world of feelings is one of perceptions executed in brain maps. But there is a qualification to be made here: the perceptions we call feelings of emotion contain a special ingredient that corresponds to the primordial feelings discussed earlier. Those feelings are based on the unique relationship between body and brain that privileges interoception. […] interoception dominates the process and is responsible for what we designate as the felt aspect of these perceptions.” p. 109–110
Gabriela saw three inputs to sort out:
- Feeling = map of emotion
- Primordial Feelings
Emotions are a neuroendocrine event that are rapidly transported globally by chemicals (e.g. adrenaline) in the body via the circulatory system — fight or flight! The result is rapid lifesaving action and is a great emergency system to escalate the body from a resting state to combat posture pronto. The interoceptive + proprioceptive traffic is constantly monitored and mapped in the brain stem and cerebral cortical regions culminating in a baseline, felt-body state (primordial feelings + body feelings) which includes a body image (i.e. feelings of where the body is from proprioceptive input) as well as part of this body awareness network packaging the pleasure-pain axis. Informationally the net result of all these images is a great reduction of the massive, raw signal bandwidth down to something manageable in brain currency — image format. Damasio says:
“Images of an organism’s internal state constitute primordial feelings. Images of other aspects of the organism combined with those of the internal state constitute specific body feelings”.
One dimension of those other aspects is the integration of the baseline, primordial feelings (images) of what’s happening in the body with the feeling of emotions (more images). Feelings of emotion add color accents and highlights to the primordial feeling canvas but the lion’s share of the realtime painting most of the time is color from the primordial feelings which is always on-going given the sources of its originating signals. When someone asks you, “How do you feel?” this composite, realtime set of mental images represents precisely how you feel and is quite different than what you think about how you feel.
Feelings are a communication channel direct from a multitude of body mechanics (think of a pit crew talking to the team command center) in the pits that are summarized into poignant bullet points addressing what is going on in realtime and, additionally, through a red idiot light — pain, hunger, thirst… — tells you when something isn’t quite right or is broken. Pleasure, on the other hand, is a green idiot light, all-systems go signal.
Gabriela reflected on this idea and realized that a significant means of enhancing (any!) performance is to develop ones ability to tune into feelings because feelings are an internally generated channel specifically for informing you about the state of body affairs right now — feeling is a perceived sense no different internally than eyes or ears, it is the sense of feeling and is a biological invention of high stature. The difference is that the sense of feeling is a internal channel about the body as opposed to the five ordinary senses which inform you about what is happening “out there.” Develop it, exploit it, succeed because of it. It is a new responsibility of the supervisor librarian given her overall mission statement of keeping the ship afloat and seaworthy until reproductive duties have been achieved.
The potential synergy between an athlete’s training decisions, performance, and exploitation of “know-thyself-via-feelings” cannot be overestimated.
Image making is quite profound. Its primary function is being a big input for the decision making process for insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. How so? The realtime sum of sensory input bandwidth (interoception + proprioception + exteroception information streams) is overwhelming. Much of the sensory information is simplified to image form compacting the gross bandwidth to what can be processed. Yes, true, but processed how?
What is the significance of images in the big picture?
From Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind:
“…the images in our minds are given more or less saliency in the mental stream according to their value for the individual. And where does the value come from? It comes from the original set of dispositions that orients our life regulation, as well as from the valuations that all images we have gradually acquired in our experience have been accorded, based on the original set of value dispositions during our past history. In other words, minds are not just about images entering their procession naturally. They are about the cinemalike editing choices that our pervasive system of biological value has promoted.” p. 71
and now from Llinás:
“What if the control panel of a modern fighter jet had, instead of all those complicated instruments, a little face that tells you how everything is, at that moment, by its expression? … You need an apparatus that can direct one to focus and choose — and that is consciousness! The face is transforming all the incoming information into one coherent event. Because operating from a single event is always easier, it is far more powerful than continuously having to take into consideration an ever changing set of variables within an ever changing point of governance. This is why there is but one set of prediction, and thus consciousness. … The issue of over-completeness then becomes absolutely central, as in the issue of speed of execution, from both the perceptual and motor points of view.” p. 169
The biological value of images is about making decisions derived from overwhelming volumes of raw information in time frames relevant to immediate survival and is achieved by two processes: (1) simplification and consolidation of input and output signal streams into images; followed by (2) editing out images not relevant to survival by comparing present circumstance to realtime predictions. This begs the question: So, is what we perceive, what we see “out there” a true representation of reality or is it something entirely different? The key to answering that question is knowing that images are radical simplifications like icons on your computer’s desktop metaphorical interface (not even close to a true representation of what that cute little blue trash icon does when it actually deletes a file!) and the images, through evolution, are about predicted value to organism success, not about accurate replications of the messy complexities of reality.
Perception and consciousness are about making judgements relative to fitness, about immediate, proximal utility, not about rendering reality. Yes, Gabriela thought that this is hard to swallow but it must be that way, that is how perception and then consciousness evolved from the amoeba onward. Professor Donald Hoffman from the University of California at Irvine has spent three decades studying the nature of perception from the perspective of evolutionary fitness and says the probability of our senses re-creating reality is zero [study]. His view is aligned with Damasio and Llinás in that perception and consciousness are about simplification of sensory input into some kind of symbolic shorthand in the form of images that is highly refined to make decisions to improve survival prospects given our past experiences.
Remember cybernetics: the brain is an organ for adaptation to the unknown and to do that requires a lot of small neural circuits or neural assemblies picked from a massive circuit pool dynamically on the fly while operating in a parallel-processing circuit architecture doing image crunching of what is predicted to be relevant given past experience and present circumstances. That is what the brain is for, why it does it, and how it does it.
Gabriela recalled Schrödinger’s cat-herding, import/export entropy pump only this time the cat herding is about herding information via image construction and editing. Biological inventions and breakthroughs tend to address massive qualitative leaps in either energy or information processing driven by evolutionary demands to survive in increasingly more complex and treacherous environments. Gabriela next shifted her attention to the self. She already examined concepts of the self from Llinás and Nicolelis. Damasio has several evolutionary steps to the self concept beginning with the protoself. He says:
“The protoself is the stepping-stone required for the construction of the core self. It is an integrated collection of separate neural patterns that map, moment by moment, the most stable aspects of the organisms physical structure. The protoself maps are distinctive in that they generate not merely body images but also felt images. These primordial feelings of the body are spontaneously present in the normal awake brain. … The basic state of the protoself is an average of the interoceptive component and its sensory portals component.” p. 190
Llinás said the self is the outcome of the integration of external and internal information streams while arranging those inputs so they exist with temporal coherence (i.e. the senses make sense). Nicolelis’ sense of self is the result of a merger between the present brain state and the inbound sensory information stream, all in the form of a dynamic electrical field. Damasio’s protoself is an integration of the felt-body state (primordial feelings + body feelings) along with the sensory portals component. Gabriela concluded that they are all saying the same thing in regards to the necessary and sufficient elements to compose the sense of self.
Ok, given that, do an amoeba, jellyfish, honey bee, and cobra have a sense of self and, if not, what do they have? An amoeba and a jellyfish really are automatons with the additional capabilities of self-repair and reproduction. Is it fair to say that their respective librarians do not make decisions of any consequence above the laws of biochemistry? For the amoeba, yes. The jellyfish, however, has motor control decisions that move into a realm way beyond biochemistry. Ditto for the jellyfish’s primitive ontogenetic issues, these do mandate a kindergarten-level supervisor librarian. But does a jellyfish have the elements spelled out by Llinás, Nicolelis, and Damasio? No. A jellyfish doesn’t need them and nature is extremely parsimonious.
The honey bee is a much tougher puzzle because it is much more complex and has a social life that includes division of labor. Gabriela thought that the way to answer this question is: does it need a sense of self? Does it need to integrate sensorimotor information streams? Yes, it could not fly without doing that. What about all types of feelings, that is, making maps of: emotions, proprioception signals, and inputs from organs and critical chemical concentrations? Surprisingly, that is a tough call! The argument to say no is on very precarious, hard-to-defend turf. A savvy lawyer would not earn a living litigating that position. What about integration of sensory and current brain state electrical fields à la Nicolelis? Nobody knows that one. Gabriela concluded that the honey bee lacks a true sense of self but has some of the key assets in place and are functional on a laboratory, proof-of-concept, early-prototype basis.
Now for the cobra. A cobra does have a full-fledged sense of self. Gabriela stopped at the word “sense”. Sense of sight, check. Sense of feeling, check. But sense of self? Looking through an evolutionary lens Gabriela looked at senses in general. All senses start somewhere and then evolve as the bugs get worked out via the mortal combat between variation and natural selection. Eyes started with jellyfish and were pretty crappy. The first feathers had nothing to do with flight. Neurons started as epithelial tissue. The sense of self is not a YES or NO question! Not at all. Most people would say insects don’t have a sense of self because they read too much into it (sense of self doesn’t mean self-awareness or imply advanced symbolic thought) and are clueless to the bottomline needs of the honey-bee, supervisor librarian which shoulders a pretty scary, complex job description.
This opened a door in Gabriela’s mind. What does the sense of self do? What is it, really? Going back in her notes on Evan Thompson, he said that the nervous system through patterns of behavior establishes an identity for the animal — a sensorimotor self — it draws a line in the sand between “self” and “other”. Nicolelis made the major point that the sense of self is quite malleable, that it assimilates tools into its ongoing identity so that what was once “other” is now “self”. He, and others, through experiments of illusion, have shown that the brain is easily tricked into believing a sense of self that is preposterously wrong.
Ok, so what does the sense of self do? Gabriela integrated the fruit of the collective labor and wisdom from Llinás, Nicolelis, and Damasio and penciled out her take on the sense of self:
Functions and Responsibilities for the Sense of Self in Primates
- Defines and modifies an organism’s identity in terms of “inside” or “outside” boundaries created by the brain’s abstract, assembled sense of self and is extensible beyond the scope of the physical body.
- Simplifies and consolidates the body’s inputs and outputs into brain map format.
- Synchronizes and coordinates input and output maps in a time-space continuum to make sense of all the senses given the dynamic, oscillatory, electrical field produced by large ensembles of firing neurons.
- Prioritizes organism behavior for survivability in terms of optimizing motricity given current brain state and comparison of input maps to predictive maps vis-à-vis a dynamic editing process.
- Has a priority override signal for pain, hunger, thirst, etc.
Now Gabriela recalled from earlier:
reptile: sensory input (interoception + proprioception + exteroception) → decision (cybernetic + nanomachines + [DNA → RNA → protein] + “x-factor”) → action (movement (locomotion, fight, flight)), adaptive response, feeding, sex/reproduction, development, autonomic regulation (breathing, heart rate, temperature…), communication (pheromones, hissing (i.e. protolanguage?))
A big chunk of the “x-factor” in reptiles = Functions and Responsibilities for the Sense of Self minus the primate enhancements (extensible self not included!).
Whew! Gabriela takes a breather here and intuits that she has come full circle at this point. She recalls the original questions at the start of her discovery process of the meaning of fitness which began at the beginning — the origins of the first minds.
What is mind?
If an organism doesn’t know what fitness is then what does an organism know?
To know what training, exercise, or fitness are you must have a deep understanding of the meaning of mind from the organism’s perspective, not yours.
You need to speak the language of a biological system since that is all it knows or cares about — nothing else matters.
Those questions and statements have serious fangs now, don’t they? Now those fangs are going to bite down really deep. The rigor is mandated to bear those fangs. The calm will come after the storm.
Once you work way up from an amoeba’s mind and connect the dots to defining the sense of self for primates, you find yourself in an ideal position to explore consciousness, a deeper understanding of “reality”, ontogeny, aging, artificial intelligence, robotics, language, or evolution. Pick one. Gabriela’s big brain is excited by her findings so far and isn’t ready to stop, she is just getting warmed up and in the groove. To answer the deep questions of fitness from this locale, where do the clues lead? Gabriela knew the answer to that without hesitation: ontogeny.
Why ontogeny? Because:
In a Western scientific framework, any means of affecting physical or mental conditioning is 100% governed by an organism’s “phenotypic plasticity playbook”: ontogeny. There are no exceptions to this and there can never be any exceptions.
The first half of her tour was: Mind in terms of body. The purpose was to show the origin and rise to prominence of the librarian over two billion years by periodically adding synergistic, biological inventions. When we use the term “mind”, what is meant is the librarian because it alone gives meaning to life through its agency and creative, death-defying adaptation to the unknown. The body is the means to those ends — the librarian learns by indefatigable exploring but without acting on known high-risk prospects. It is the further progression of the self that eventually makes the claim “I am”.
The second half is: Body in terms of mind. The purpose is to show how the librarian controls the body through its agency and plastic prowess over a single, complete, human lifecycle.
So you better get to know your supervisor librarian on an intimate basis or else your Icarian pursuit of potential will crash and burn. But Gabriela was getting ahead of herself. A brief tour of the history of ontogeny and biological form is needed before making the deep connections leading to new visions of fitness and beyond.
As always, the Greeks seem to ask the big questions that we end up struggling to answer. So it is with forms. Plato and Archimedes come to mind. The Archimedes spiral is an iconic biological form. The first classic work in modern times on biological form is On Growth and Form by Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson from 1917. Thompson’s masterpiece is not about chemistry; it is an explanation of biological growth and the forms such organisms manifest in physico-mathematical terms — what Louis Sullivan’s axiom “form follows function” was to architecture, On Growth and Form is to biology. It is about how physical forces shape and constrain biological possibilities in a Pythagorean-Newtonian mind-meld fashion. It is a tour de force on the shortest short list in the biological genre. Gabriela has profound appreciation for his insights which govern form on the level of physics.
Flash forwarding to recent times she examined Susan Oyama’s foundational work in developmental systems theory: The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution published in 1985. This book was a mushroom cloud across the bow to the notion that genes somehow are intelligent little homunculi that selfishly dictate biological outcomes; it is a cornerstone in evo-devo and eco-evo-devo [more…] counterweights to the gene-centric tyrant that currently reigns. Gabriela, being in the embodied cognition camp (not computational neuroscience), is also an interactionist like Oyama and eco-evo-devo advocates, along with having a holistic view (anti-reductionism), an emergentist view (Stephen Jay Gould, Stuart Kauffman) (anti-gradualism), and a distributionist view (e.g. Golgi, Nicolelis) (anti-localizationist). All of these views are the same if viewed from the perspective of an organism’s life and mind, the opposing views only make sense to detached, sterile observers of a living system.
Oyama’s worldview is deeply entrenched in Gabriela’s belief system:
“What we are moving toward is a conception of a developmental system, not as a reading off of a preexisting code, but a complex of interacting influences, some inside the organism’s skin, some external to it, and including its ecological niche in all the spatial and temporal aspects, many of which are typically passed on in reproduction either because they are in some way tied to the organism’s (or its conspecifics’) activities or characteristics or because they are stable features of the general environment. It is in the ontogenetic crucible that form appears and is transformed, not because it is immanent in some interactants and nourished by others, or because some interactants select from a range of forms present in others, but because any form is created by the precise activity of the system.” p.39
Gabriela couldn’t agree more. Ontogeny in some circles refers only to cell differentiation (creation of different cell types like neurons, muscle cells, hepatocytes, etc.) or is only about development from embryonic to adult phases as opposed to developmental biology which encompasses all possible phenotypic expressions by a single organism. Oyama prefers to use the term ontogeny in the broadest sense, an inclusion of all possible ontogenetic events throughout the lifespan. This is also the meaning when one speaks of phylogeny and ontogeny in the same context; phylogeny refers to the species and ontogeny refers to an individual organism of that species inclusive of all of its encounters and responses to the environment. Additionally, “fitness” is a term that only applies at the species level whereas “conditioning” is the proper term at the organism level. “John is really fit” is incorrect as well as saying “XYZ Fitness System”; those don’t apply to individuals in a single lifetime. “Adaptation” is a species level term while “phenotypic plasticity” is for organisms and is the technically correct term for humans doing training/exercise. “Adaptive response” is an acceptable ontogenetic term. The entire “fitness industry” only can affect phenotypic plasticity. These distinctions may seem trivial or rhetorical but they are not: “fitness” tactics and strategies only have veracity if they can be connected to the root processes and mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity, all else is squandered efforts. Gabriela is going to keep this in mind from here and the wise will follow her lead.
Given those clarifications Gabriela began with the 800 page bible of phenotypic plasticity, Developmental Plasticity and Evolution, by Mary Jane West-Eberhard; this book is a singular accomplishment of the highest merit. This tome exhaustively defines and offers copious concrete examples of every class of phenotypic expression imaginable along with its means of expression. It is mind boggling! Gabriela took the time to read it cover to cover (that is a long time even for her) and came away with an important insight that sheds blinding light on fitness:
The entire universe of “fitness” is so minuscule in stature when compared to the vast scope of the realm of phenotypic plasticity in the animal kingdom that it is often ignored entirely or only mentioned as a footnote in an afterthought back page given the known range of ontogenetic possibility.
Why is this so? (And it is so.) There are only 8 references to “exercise” in West-Eberhard’s work with none having to do with humans. The reason is because the range of phenotypic plasticity for any given individual Homo sapiens is pretty damn narrow, and well, not very enlightening either given other species in the animal kingdom; there is nothing to showcase or write home about — boring! Given environmental stresses like temperature, humidity, weird light-dark cycles, nutritional changes (“dieting”), and movement patterns (“exercise”), we have nothing special to offer. Other species grow wings, hibernate, change color, eat their brain, make cocoons, or undergo radical behavioral changes. We don’t have a lot of range compared to the superstar species or the ones with wild transformations in body plans. The strength of Homo sapiens is spectacular behavioral plasticity (“…one giant leap for mankind.”), not physical plasticity — that means we adapt by neuronal/synaptic plasticity of the brain, not phenotypic plasticity of the body.
So why does this matter? The point of this is that we are 100% governed by the biological mechanisms and processes that engender changes in form and function to living systems during development, that is, as a function of possible phenotypic expressions during the human lifecycle. “Physical fitness” is a subset of those possible phenotypic expressions. If you don’t know what those mechanisms and processes are then you have no understanding of “fitness” at all. Zero.
Knowledge of “fitness” = knowledge about phenotypic plasticity. Anything other than that is either wrong, of marginal utility, or is derivative of this knowledge.
Now it is time to bring back the supervisor librarian, the overlord of phenotypic plasticity, your inner boss. Only she can change your state of fitness but only if you speak her tongue and play 100% by her rules because your rules are irrelevant. Such is life: death, taxes, and a very discriminating supervisor librarian.
Beneath your conscious mind is your real mind, the powerful mind, the nonconscious mind. That mind is the supervisor librarian, your silent powerful partner. In metazoans, the sense of self is an extension of and embedded in the supervisor librarian. The sense of self, or its antecedents, evolved and manifested for the first time from existing supervisor librarians as an upgrade (nothing unusual or mystical at all about that).
If you want to change your body it is accomplished in terms of the mind, the mind of the supervisor librarian. It is the regulator of the body meaning it controls phenotypic plasticity. It dictates ontogeny — cradle-to-grave. If it doesn’t what else could? Hint: it ain’t genes, genes are just dumb books waiting around to get read by nanomachines and their wingmen in the closed stacks of the library one-flight down!
How does “fitness”, the supervisor librarian, and ontogeny fit together?
Everything so far has led Gabriela to these conclusions:
brain + endocrine system = supervisor librarian
supervisor librarian → phenotypic plasticity
intelligent training + recovery → supervisor librarian → phenotypic plasticity (change in physical conditioning) → +ΔP (which means a change “delta” in performance P)
really intelligent training + recovery → supervisor librarian → phenotypic plasticity (change in physical + mental conditioning (i.e. neuronal/synaptic plasticity) → +(ΔP)²
dumb training + recovery ↺ supervisor librarian → nil
In the world today, most training efforts are: dumb training ↺ supervisor librarian → nil. That means effort with no positive results. This is mostly because the supervisor librarian is befuddled by what you are trying to do (i.e. ↺ meaning no fitness benefit) and, therefore, doesn’t trigger a desirable response but it can also be because phenotypic plasticity cannot manifest due to inadequate nutrition or poor quality sleep. The closer you are to your phenotypic ceiling (e.g. advanced athletes or old athletes with suppressed ceilings due to senescent phase signalling) the more likely supervisor librarian → nil occurs or, even worse, supervisor librarian → -ΔP meaning detraining or injury.
Gabriela was satisfied with her progress so far but now wanted to understand how the supervisor librarian works on a deeper level because fitness begins and ends there.
Gabriela totally understood why the supervisor librarian 100% controls the fate of her fitness endeavors. Any stimuli that is perceived by the body is mapped and image processed by the supervisor librarian for further review at her discretion: that is the essence of the story of body in terms of mind in metazoans beyond jellyfish. The centralization of: perception, prediction, feeling and homeostasis → supervisor librarian, end of story. If you have fantastic genetics she decides if those genes are expressed — or not. If they aren’t you might as well not have them at all. Genes can’t do shit unless she says so. She can even layoff the army of nanomachines; she says that all that gene-centric nonsense is the Emperor’s New Clothes. It pays to pay attention to the language of the supervisor librarian.
The evolution of more enhanced predictive capability to prioritize and organize an organism’s motricity led to greater intelligence of the organism with intelligence being a measure of the survival-time performance in the role as an autonomous, adaptable, robust actor. Gabriela observed this progression in her tour of mind in terms of body: [amoeba → jellyfish → honey bee → cobra → mouse → monkey → human].
Remember Pickering in The Cybernetic Brain?:
“The cyberneticians, then, conceived of the brain as an immediately embodied organ, intrinsically tied to bodily performances. And beyond that, they understood the brain’s special role to be that of adaptation. The brain is what helps us to get along and come to terms with, and survive in, situations and environments we have never encountered before.”
This is true but possesses far more general powers for change than the cyberneticians realize if “brain” is expanded to include the complete endocrine system. In that case, it is true for actions way beyond decision making and navigation for intelligent motricity; it is also the agency for governance of all phenotypic plasticity and development (lifecycle management).
Yes, the brain is an organ for adaptation to the unknown and the process of phenotypic plasticity is underwritten for most tasks by map making.
Gabriela wrote down a list of maps so far:
tactile sensation processing
emotions → feeling
thoughts | language elements | symbols/semiotics → representations
Gabriela had an insight:
If I were a metazoan, then what are the differences between homeostatic functions, phenotypic plasticity, and lifecycle morphological change? Aren’t they on a continuum of regulation and adaptive response in the context of a lifecycle? If they are, then the decision process evolved together and are just a bunch of nested layers.
The most basic one is homeostatic functions. Damasio outlined the anatomical structures and functions and their relationship to mind and the sense of self and Nicolelis and Llinás have the self anchored in homeostasis as well. From the organism’s perspective, phenotypic plasticity is an extension of homeostasis. It comes into play if the normal range of a homeostatic variable is breached beyond a threshold. If so, then the supervisor librarian shifts into another gear and triggers a response that is in most metazoans a structural change in the body. Hans Selye’s The Stress of Life and his General Adaptation Syndrome mentioned earlier is all about this; it just isn’t on the level of the full spectrum of ontogeny — now it is. Gabriela made a note to investigate this idea and surface the evidence. She added it to the map making list:
physical modifications allowable in organism’s phenome | instances/elements of phenotypic plasticity (require gene expression)
Ok, aren’t lifecycle structural changes like embryogenesis and adolescence just like regular phenotypic plasticity changes except they are triggered by biological clocks instead of emergency responses to homeostatic violations? Lifecycle developmental events must include inputs from many different types of biological clocks (the brain has lots of biological clocks with chronobiology being an entire sub-discipline of physiology represented from neurons on the millisecond scale to aging (e.g. telomere signalling) on the lifecycle scale). The means of creating the changes is the same, just the trigger events and the information defining the changes differ. The heart of the process is identical. She added it the map making list too:
lifecycle morphological change maps (embryo → infant → child → adolescent → adult → senescence) | instances/elements of phenotypic plasticity (require gene expression)
Gabriela found these ontogenetic maps and neural-circuit processing difficult to explain in brain-speak yet she knows they are there and are created very rapidly or even instantaneously. Their discovery and means of action will be the equivalent of [DNA + Central Dogma] but on the organism as opposed to the cell level, it will deliver what the gene-centric view has only promised. This will become a new discipline of neuroscience, not an extension of molecular biology. Just up Gabriela’s alley!
It would be logical (and bio-logical) to assume that the greater the number of instances/elements/representations required from cradle-to-grave for morphological development and to address a vast matrix of perceivable stress profiles resulting in gene expression, that the brain volume, particularly the cerebral cortical areas, would increase proportionately from species to species. Given a pie chart of total gross, brain image-processing capacity, the sum of all the possible phenotypic plasticity instances and their continuous demand could eat up a big chunk given a co-existing task roster of reasoning, vision processing, other sensory processing, feelings, etc.
A lot of image crunching is needed. How else could it be accomplished economically? It couldn’t. Evolutionarily speaking, there is a massive investment in image processing given its ubiquity in image-crunching applications on an organism’s task roster; these tasks include the management, simulation (think Nicolelis) and surveillance of the complete body! It would be extremely unreasonable to assume that phenotypic plasticity instances are excluded.
If they weren’t, what possible alternative is there to address such a massive volume of decision-making bandwidth?
Is it possible that processing power for symbolic thought (language and “E=mc²” thinking) is much less than advertised? (suspend disbelief here because you are about to get your world rocked…)
Is there sufficient evidence of causation for the excellent correlation between: [organism’s total neuron count] ⇔ sum of: [range of body complexity in phenotypic permutations + brain complexity] ?
Gabriela grabbed some supporting data:
1m honey bee
6.4b rhesus monkey
267b elephant (but 97.5% (251b) are in the cerebellum)
Gabriela thought about the large cognitive component required after training during recovery to image crunch for optimal outcomes, some kind of nonconscious, “body thinking” process. This provides crucial evidence supporting the brain’s role in increased ΔP (improved performance) due to its influence on the quality and quantity of phenotypic plasticity. This generates a new mental training application to exploit the brain’s potential in this capacity — the use of the mind after training, not just before, or during.
The cognitive process that executes phenotypic plasticity is part of body thinking.
Phenotypic plasticity is image-processing intensive requiring comparison of past, present and future (i.e. prediction a la Llinás/Nicolelis/Damasio) body states that runs in the nonconscious mind 24/7 just like other homeostatic regulatory image processing tasks. This reminded her of her dad telling her about Moravec’s Paradox which states that it is easier in robotics to mimic abstract, logical thought (e.g. Deep Blue vs. Kasparov) than the quality of movement patterns of biological systems but it is impossible to duplicate their maintenance and ontogenetic capabilities. Computational image processing bandwidth for homeostasis and abstract logic are one thing but what would the accounting be for managing phenotypic plasticity for the entire organism over the course of the lifespan? A portion of the problem, as Moravec’s Paradox posits, is that body thinking and its consequent intelligence is a 480-million-year old nonpareil, magnum opus whereas the rational mind and its chess-playing ability is a 100,000-year old Johnny-come-lately (or, if you lower the bar, 3.5mya Australopithecus afarensis), kludgy layer re-tasked and built on the roof of perfected ancestral structures. What is not addressed and has never been addressed, tantamount to the invisibility of a bull in the china shop, are the far more formidable computational tasks of phenotypic plasticity.
Taking that bull by the horns, Gabriela had another flash of insight: What does “thinking” mean? Why do people only associate it with rational thought? … is that valid? No, it isn’t valid at all! Not only is that crap it must be crap!
Thinking had to start somewhere and its origin is not to be had by humans, mammals, birds, or even reptiles. They were the beneficiaries of thought, not the founders of thought. Insects were the first thinkers, long before Rodin bronzed man as the iconic thinker. That’s right, insects because they had a neuroendocrine system, proto-cerebrum and used them for body thought — nonconscious thought. Rational thinking came on the heels of body thinking; the difference between E=mc² thought and body thought is in subject only — on the neuronal level E=mc² is a nexus of images just like vision construction and feeling. The currency of all forms of thought is images independent of their function: images are images, thinking is image processing in neural circuits.
Is part of the ugly truth of Moravec’s Paradox the fact that neural circuits emerged and succeeded in evolution because of their role in body thought, that they were structured from the ground up from day one as computational engines for phenotypic plasticity and motricity, that E=mc² thought is only a retrofitted afterthought late in the game? In other words, another play from the exaptation playbook just like all the others so far: body intelligence → mental intelligence. The answer can be none other than yes and that has great consequence on how we should realistically value the different thought modalities and their functions as well as redress the assumptions and logic supporting the framework for the current thinking paradigm.
Gabriela was excited and dug deeper: neurons in the cerebrum (or proto-cerebrum) can process images of all subject types: interoceptive, exteroceptive, proprioceptive, and rational and — according to Nocolelis in Beyond Boundaries — neurons multitask, they wear many hats and are just guns for hire:
THE NEURONAL MULTITASKING PRINCIPLE
“Individual cortical neurons and their probabilistic firing can simultaneously participate in multiple functional neural ensembles. … Thus, even though in a particular moment in time a single cortical neuron may exhibit sharper tuning to a particular motor or sensory parameter, its spiking may concurrently participate in the encoding of a different parameter, performed by another set of neurons. The neuronal multitasking principle predicts that the entire cortex is capable of exhibiting cross-modal sensory responses, and that individual neurons are capable of encoding multiple motor, or other higher cognitive, parameters.” p. 172
Formally, according to Merriam-Webster, thinking is defined as:
the action of using your mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories, etc.: the activity of thinking about something.
Gabriela examined the scope of Webster’s “decisions” and “about something” in the context of evolution and Nicolelis’ Neuronal Multitasking Principle. First she put together the facts on insects as the first legitimate thinkers. The insect brain architecture does not have a cerebral cortex like mammals but it has a proto-cerebrum. Image processing started here with map making for most of the basic information flows found in higher metazoans: interoceptive, proprioceptive, exteroceptive, and homeostatic. What about primitive emotion → feeling? Insects have a neuroendocrine system, so do they have feeling? They do if they map emotion → feeling. Hard to say. But if they do it would not have the same impact as feeling in reptiles (yes, reptiles do feel “something”) or higher in the pecking order.
What about rational thinking? Surprisingly a knee jerk reaction of NO! is probably wrong. No, it is not E=mc² but it is conceptual. The point here, rather than fruitlessly argue about what the meaning of “is” is, is that neurological structures are in place for primitive conceptual thinking because of their battle-hardened, body thinking credentials; the salient point is more about a capacity issue where certain quantitative and architectural thresholds lead to qualitative leaps. The dogma here, where researchers frequently get mired, is “hardwired” versus “softwired”, instinct versus rational thought (or even free will). Whether insects have free will or not is not the issue; you must be wired first before being hard- or softwired, and insects were the first to have the same elementary wiring structures as all thinkers that followed; not reptiles, not birds, not mammals. Insects.
There is nothing magical about rational thinking at the level of the basic wiring, the magic occurs in the complexity of the wiring and architectural complexity layers built over it; it is a walk before you run progression. Insects perfected walking so that you can run. E=mc² thinking is just another case of same-structure, different-function — exaptation — a bread-and-butter tactic in the evolutionary playbook.
Now what about phenotypic plasticity? This is the whole point of this insect brain exercise. The answer to that is not only absolutely yes but it is likely that the driving impetus for cerebral expansion was first to accommodate image processing demand for ontogeny, that the incessant increase in cerebral neuron count was at first driven by the cognitive overhead cost of executing phenotypic plasticity. The task of insect brains and their proto-cerebrums was to simulate (think of Nicolelis’ use of simulation) their body by making a somatotopic map and that requires a lot of image crunching or body thinking. This is a learning process using the identical structures as learning your ABCs — learning and memorizing anything from phenotypic plasticity to nuclear physics requires neurons that learn via synaptic plasticity and insects learn just like you, or, stated correctly, you learn just like them. Only later did rational thinking in parallel with more phenotypic plasticity demand push the needle into the mammal and primate league.
But before you go ballistic and say that is wrong you better consider something: how else could the supervisor librarian manage the image processing demand for phenotypic plasticity? Do you dare posit that that demand would be processed somewhere else by a different process than homeostasis’ demand on cognitive (yes, cognitive) resources? The information bandwidth for phenotypic plasticity is massive and the prediction capacity (i.e. simulation & surveillance) is massive and increases nonlinearly with the complexity of the organism’s body complexity/cell type/cell count and lifecycle form and function changes — and it is 24/7, just like the “conventional” nonconscious mind. The honey bee mind compared to the amoeba or jellyfish mind is not a simple mind; it is an image-crunching, body-thinking mind without a cobra’s sense of self or your sense of self-worth.
The cognitive demands for homeodynamics + phenotypic plasticity are not only the origins of thought by performing “body thinking” but are also the first application of the nonconscious mind — the formal nonconscious mental function that we all talk about originally just leased space from pre-existing neural circuits and expanded from there. The first to lease space in that mental space were insects. The foundation, origin, and integration of body and mind is body thinking, it is the center of its gravitas, the complementary unity of embodied cognition; it is what guides motricity and is what most characteristically differentiates the living from the nonliving. E=mc² thought is just a superstructural extension of infrastructural body thought, an exaptation mirroring feathers by being metaphorical feathers for the mind that then became wings for loftier thoughts like E=mc².
Gabriela then asked the question, “What species has the greatest display of body intelligence in the world?”
Such an animal would be the poster boy — the exemplar — of embodied cognition with its sensorimotor loop premise and be living proof of astonishing body intelligence. That species is the octopus, Octopus vulgaris, and they accomplish the task without E=mc² thought produced by a dominant CNS, that is, without a cerebrum — they perform very high-level intelligent behavior — including observational learning and mimicry — by thinking primarily with their body. Additionally, their lifespan is typically 1 to 2 years in the wild so their intelligence is not dependent on autobiographical experience, their general intelligence is “built into” their anatomy and physiology. How do they do it?
They have a novel nervous system architecture with a total of 500 m neurons that features a very small central brain (50 m neurons or 10% of total!), a large visual center (120 m) and a highly autonomous, dominant, peripheral nervous system (PNS) (300 m or 60% of total). Essentially you have a central and very large optical center that feeds into a small central brain which also is receiving feedback from the eight arms. After image crunching in the brain, a stream of very high-level commands traversing small bandwidth axon counts (i.e. no low-level motor commands) go to the arms. It is in the arms where the real brains are: 300 ganglia that are very highly integrated in a tight loop with three different muscles orthogonal to each other that afford a virtually infinite number of degrees of freedom from just three different motor control programs: two for direction and one that dictates the extension velocity. Each arm has an enormous image processing capability for sensory and proprioceptive inputs with 38 m neurons (each arm has 75% of the central brain’s neuron count) for coordinating motricity probably using somatotopic mapping.
An octopus is Moravec’s Paradox on steroids.
The gross and fine motor control is the most refined of any species on earth; more fine motor control than in the hands of Vladimir Horowitz (pianist) or Itzhak Perlman (violinist) and greater gross, whole-body motor control than Mikhail Baryshnikov (ballet), Nadia Comăneci (gymnast), or Pelé (soccer). And not even close. Humans learn by manipulating objects with our hands while rats learn about their environment with their whiskers. What hands are to us and what whiskers are to a rat, the whole body is to an octopus. The octopus’ body per se — its arms — which are composed of pure muscle and nerve — is indistinguishable from its means of creating intelligent behavior.
The PNS is embedded in the arm muscle and receives a large quantity of local, sensory tactile and chemical sensory (the complexity of the suckers alone is beyond amazing) and proprioceptive information as input and then, as output, issues motor commands for ultra-fine to gross motor control. Its contextualization of motor strategies (what, where and when), like a cerebellum, is a combination of high-level global commands from the central brain in concert with the 300 distributed ganglia embedded in the PNS. Because octopuses are invertebrates, which means they have no joints or bones that can greatly constrain degrees of freedom for movement, their movement repertoire is radically rich and flawlessly executed with simple motor control heuristics much the way the three primary colors can make virtually any color: three different motor programs address three different muscle geometries that are structured orthogonally. They have the dexterity to play the piano pianissimo with their eight arms or the strength to tear a piece of plexiglass in two. Mammals are no match.
Why is Gabriela deep diving on a species that is not even in the evolutionary pathway from amoeba to primate? The reasons are twofold: (1) to prove — without question — that an organism’s body is capable of extraordinary intelligence without a neocortex or cerebral-like structure and (2) to demonstrate the veracity and viability of alternative, somatic + neuroanatomical architectures serving in full capacity as intelligent agents or sentient beings. The octopus, in other words, is as close as we will get to an alien form of intelligence not unlike E.T. dropping in from Alpha Centauri. Octopuses force us to rethink our knee-jerk meme of the very definition of intelligence in a Ptolemy ⇔ Copernicus fashion: what is the center of intelligence?
Gabriela thought that Thomas Huxley comes to mind at this point in her journey: “The great tragedy of science, the slaying of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact.”
Their ability to execute observational learning is more reliable than with cats or dogs (i.e. you can’t make money betting on a given cat or dog “getting it”) and they do it with 500 m neurons as opposed to 760 m in a cat. The learning performance of such a high-level learning task must be due to image crunching in the distributed PNS, it just isn’t believable that the small central brain is performing the lion’s share of image crunching especially given that that the central brain does not even create somatotopic maps at all. The real brains are distributed in the muscle, muscle and nerve are one, the octopus has a deep mind because of its deeply embedded body-mind. The octopus is another play from the playbook: body intelligence → mental intelligence — only this time it is more like: body intelligence ⇔ mental intelligence. Does an octopus have a sense of self? Most definitely, they blow away reptiles. The real question is how much more than a sense of self they have, are they self-aware like chimps, dolphins, elephants, and European magpies (the family Corvidae which includes ravens or crows)?
One thing is for certain, the octopus proves beyond any shadow of doubt that very intelligent behavior is not dependent on a cerebral cortex or even being a vertebrate — that the body per se can be a source of creative thought and experience very reliable and high-level learning ability capable of solving difficult, novel, real-world problems.
Gabriela knew that everything was leading up to something and this is it; this is a critical juncture about learning about the depths of physical fitness. By studying several different hockey stick species, she now has learned the significance and origins of body thinking and its potential powers — it is no longer tenable to believe that symbolic, rational thought residing in mammals is the only means of producing intelligent behavior and that high-level intelligence not only evolved from body thinking but it can be solely expressed via body thinking. But you cannot truly know fitness without knowing about how the supervisor librarian works for executing phenotypic plasticity because fitness and phenotypic plasticity are one in the same, different in name only. Gabriela leaves the octopus — for now — and moves on to the bowels of phenotypic plasticity. The nature of embodied cognition will now take on a much higher order of meaning as Gabriela lifts the hood on the supervisor librarian.
Gabriela needed to dig down to the bone in regards to how the supervisor librarian controls phenotypic plasticity. This is the heart and soul of fitness and is the boneyard for bone-headed training ideas over the ages — humans have this burning desire to create new training programs but fail to recognize that if the supervisor librarian doesn’t get what you are trying to do you then you will fail without exception. Gabriela, with her big brain, decided to learn what the supervisor librarian responds to first and then create her training protocol.
Humans need to learn the rules of the game first before drawing up the plays, not the other way around.
She beelined for Nelson Cabej because he wrote the owner’s manual (actually three books) for the supervisor librarian. Cabej received his PhD in biology and also holds degrees in chemistry and veterinary science and it is the veterinary science that comes in very handy for command of comparative physiology, ontogeny and evolution. Gabriela came up with the discovery of the importance of the supervisor librarian on her own through the discovery process of the evolution of mind but it turns out that Cabej wrote his first book on this subject in 2004 entitled: Neural Control of Development.
But it was his second book first published in 2008 which is just shy of 900 pages that is the tour de force: Epigenetic Principles of Evolution. It was easy for Gabriela to see why Cabej references West-Eberhard’s classic work Developmental Plasticity and Evolution so heavily, they both see the strong interactionist relationship between the environment and the organism’s plastic adaptive capacities, eco-evo-devo style. But Cabej is about his theory of the nervous system’s control of ontogeny and evolution. Gabriela came up with the term supervisor librarian because that makes sense if you trace the evolution of agency back to its unicellular origins with amoebas. She provided smoking-gun proof on why genes do not control the behavior and autonomy of unicellulars (or anything else) and showed what does and how it does it (don’t forget the army of nanomachines under the thumb of the cell-level librarians). Now she is going to show the same structural and functional logic for metazoans. Cabej doesn’t use the term supervisor librarian, instead he uses the term “integrated control system” or ICS:
“The [ICS] consists of the nervous system and its effector structures. The controller of the ICS is the central nervous system. Adequate experimental evidence shows that the ICS in metazoans is responsible for the maintenance of the homeostasis, comprising morphology, physiology, life history and behavior. To perform all these functions the ICS has to continually:
Monitor the state of the system via the sensory input from interoceptors,
Compare the input on the state of the system with the normal state, implying that the system is in possession of information for the normal state,
Identify and figure out losses of the structural order,
Make decisions and send instructions to the target sites for compensating losses.” p.23
Gabriela could see that the brain’s image processing load to perform body thinking is rather enormous. That is a lot of image crunching! And it is 24/7 and the ICS really cranks up the juice during sleep. She also smelled a lot of Llinás, Nicolelis, and Damasio canons in there. Could nonconscious body thinking load exceed nonconscious E=mc² thinking load? Is it a multiple of it?
Ok. Cabej asks why would evolution use the nervous system as the agent between stimulus (e.g. “training”) and adaptive response (e.g. ΔP)?
“The output of the neural circuit leads to expression/suppression of a gene or a group of genes, which may not be predicted from the viewpoint of the classical mechanism of gene expression. … there is no physical contact and no natural causal relation between the external/internal stimulus and the gene that will be expressed. Whether the gene will be expressed or which genes will be expressed depends not on the nature of the stimulus but on the result of the processing of the stimulus in the neural circuit(s). The observed causal chain of events from the stimulus to the expression of the gene is not predetermined, it is determined by the neural processing and it cannot occur independently of the nervous system. Hence, it is the nervous system rather than the particular stimulus that determines which of the thousands of genes in the genome will be induced in response to the stimulus.” p.87
When it comes to ΔP, perception is reality. If the ICS does not perceive what you are trying to do the way you want, she will diss you (you will get sweaty and sore but that’s it). It takes a lot of stimuli of like nature to elicit adaptive response equating to ΔP. Say good ΔP is developing a thick callus. If you stress your skin in different areas you will get redness in those areas that goes away fast but no calluses (= failure). You must target the same area with a similar stimuli which then results in a callus.
Now for systemic change originating from the ICS, like for (any!) muscle/nerve/connective tissue development, you better be repetitive (similar and progressive stimulus) in a properly synched time window (biological clocks are in play…) to have fruitful ΔP. This is also in agreement with Hebb, Selye and Nicolelis (also exercise physiology (i.e. SAID Principle) but that is a shallow biology whose veracity is solely dependent on its adherence to the rules of engagement for phenotypic plasticity so doesn’t count as a means of validation here). Think of how a gymnast trains. Or a swimmer. Or a Nordic skier. Or a violinist. Or a surgeon. Or a poet. Or a chess grandmaster. (Mind or body doesn’t matter because phenotypic plasticity and synaptic/neural plasticity use the same rule book.) Is there any athlete in any internationally-recognized mature sport (or anything cerebral like chess) that became world class any other way? No. Not possible.
Grok: Perception (ICS) is reality (ΔP). Nothing else matters.
“By determining set points, the CNS, in fact, sets standards for itself on what may and what may not be taken for stimuli. The thresholds are species-specific, but being neurally determined they may exhibit intraspecific variability. Individuals of the same species may exhibit different (within species limits) thresholds or set points and the same individual may change (reset) thresholds and set points within its life time or in response to particular environmental factors.” p. 86
Gabriela immediately recognized this as fertile turf for mental training: set points are not composed of rigid, physical structures but are more like in dynamical system theory and its concept of attractor basins where a behavior or outcome is tightly range bound by a set of variable constraints which can include physical properties. By use of the mind, these constraints can be modified which changes the “locked-in” stability of the attractor basin and sets it free where it is briefly unstable while in transit to a different attractor basin.
mental training → supervisor librarian → influence constraints of a set point → new performance level
Examples of this are body fat “set point” and “muscle memory”. Body fat level is a range-bound attractor basin yet “dieters” disobey (or are ignorant of) phenotypic plasticity and it is deeply entrenched (think amoeba) attractor basins on the bleeding edge of instability that define life. From the outside-looking in this is called a plateau (like training-level plateaus); from the inside-looking out it is an attractor basin. The mind is a tool to change the constraint matrix (don’t forget, this half of the journey is about body in terms of mind). That sounds really heavy but for someone serious about Phenomic Games if you can’t pull it off you won’t get very far. Plateaus limit the phenotypes you can manifest and to win you will need to be able to access the most fleeting, unstable and extreme phenotypes in your phenome. By the way, that is why it is called Phenomic Games, the games are built from the ground up in terms of the evolutionary construction and operating principles of the Homo sapiens’ supervisor librarian in alignment with the stark realities of biological anthropology.
The reason why Gabriela is so intensely focused on (in)stability and attractor basins is that at the end of the day they compose a very robust model for not only what (body) you are but who (mind) you are.
Now how does the ICS work?
“The decision for activation of a particular signal cascade by a neural circuit represents the solution to the problem that a specific input on the state of the system or an environmental agent poses to the neural circuit. The solution results from the processing of the input of electrical spike trains in a number of steps in the neural circuit until the appropriate chemical outcome (a neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, or a neuropeptide) is generated.” p.26
external environment → perceived stimulus → neural circuits in brain → [neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, neuropeptide]
body state surveillance (“simulation”) → perceived stimulus → neural circuits in brain → [neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, neuropeptide]
“Theoretically, any operation that is designed to solve a problem implies a purpose and prediction of the phenotypic result, which precede the solution. There can be no solution per se, a solution is searched and found for the sake of the purpose. The stepwise processing of the input, which comes to the neural circuit as a problem requiring a solution represents essentially a natural algorithm that living systems began to use with the evolution of the nervous system more than a half billion years ago.” p.26
This represents a mammoth jump in bandwidth for body thinking which makes for serious image crunching in the brain of insects (insects do not have a brain stem like reptiles but they have a proto-cerebrum that works just dandy for image crunching) and later, primates.
“The chemical output of neural origin activates a chemical algorithm involving a signal cascade, including the intracellular signal transduction pathway that leads to the final solution that is the activation of a gene or a group of genes.” p.26
External environment → perceived stimulus → neural circuits in brain → [neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, neuropeptide] → gene expression or modification of gene-gene interaction network edges
body state surveillance (“simulation”) → perceived stimulus → neural circuits in brain → [neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, neuropeptide] → gene expression or modification of gene-gene interaction network edges
Summary of ICS (supervisor librarian) process
perceived stimulus (i.e. “training”) by supervisor librarian → image processing in neural circuits (body thinking) → chemical output: [neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, neuropeptide] → perception of stimulus (i.e. neurotransmitter, neuromodulator, neuropeptide) by cell-level librarians → gene expression or modification of gene-gene interaction network edges → phenotypic plasticity in target tissue composed of target cell type featuring optimal nutrient profile + sync with biological clocks (“sleep”/heterochrony) → +ΔP at organism level
That is what “fitness” really means and all it can ever mean.
After Gabriela uncovered all the missing links she now consolidates her findings…
Embodied cognition: perception-action loop
Thinking about and tuning into feelings is a direct conduit to the body.
Attention (consciousness) is not only a direct connection to body thinking or part of body thinking but is evolutionarily derivative of body thinking.
Thinking about body thinking in specific ways like tuning into feelings and visualization are means to change how body thinking establishes the attractor basins (“set points”) in the body.
Thinking deeply about body thinking changes the way you think about thinking entirely.
Body thinking = sum of cognition for: primordial feeling + feeling + voluntary and involuntary motor control + homeostatic functions + phenotypic plasticity + lifecycle morphological change
The evolution of intelligence follows a playbook of the exaptation: body intelligence → mental intelligence
Total “E=mc²” thinking = total organism thinking -(body thinking)
Conscious “E=mc²” thinking = total “E=mc²” thinking -(nonconscious “E=mc²” thinking)
(conscious “E=mc²” thinking)/(total organism thinking) = x% ?
What would peak organism performance (peak P) be if total organism thinking were optimized?
She recalled this from her notes on amoebas:
The perception-action loop is central to all adaptive responses to stress; it is all about intelligent management of perception to stress because perception determines what books get read or not — ultimately these decisions sum to being the arbiter of life or death. This is what constitutes intelligence at this level of complexity and is the foundation of all intelligence to follow.
After that long journey up the food chain and through the labyrinthine evolution of mind nothing has changed for humans:
training process: perception (ICS/supervisor librarian) → action (ΔP)
Gabriela had a question about brain traffic for homeostasis that was initiated by Damasio’s theory of the self. Her question extended beyond the realm of the first level of regulation — homeostasis — into phenotypic plasticity and ontogeny vis-à-vis lifecycle management. How extensive is traffic from the brain stem, thalamus, and hypothalamus into the cortex? As it turns out, it is wild! As Damasio said about the thalamus, “The cerebral cortex cannot operate without the thalamus, the two having coevolved and been inseparably joined from early development.”
In Pamela Lyon’s chapter entitled “Stress in Mind: A Stress Response Hypothesis of Cognitive Evolution” in Developing Scaffolds in Evolution, Culture, and Cognition, she addresses the hypothalamus:
“To get an idea of just how critical the hypothalamus is to the maintenance of vertebrate life, we need to remind ourselves of life’s bottom line. It’s all about energy: getting it, using it as efficiently as possible, and storing it for future need. The hypothalamus is involved in a wide range of critical physiological processes, both voluntary and involuntary, which regulate the organism’s energetic economy, including food intake and metabolism; the sleep-wake cycle; circadian and ultradian regulation of myriad hormones, neuropeptides and neurotransmitters; cardiovascular respiratory, renal, and muscular activity; sexual receptivity and related behavior; mood; and social cognition, including territorial aggression.” p.181
When it comes to phenotypic plasticity and probably lifecycle ontogeny (the hypothalamus is Grand Central Station for myriad biological clock processing), the hypothalamus is a big player simply because it is the endocrine engine of the body and controls the pituitary gland — it is how the supervisor librarian controls all the one-trillion, cell-level librarians. The hypothalamus has the most complex circuitry of any brain region and undergoes a learning process (synaptogenesis) no different than learning geometry except the subject matter is homeostasis. But what about image crunching to achieve these ends? Gabriela checked into the inbound and outbound traffic between the hypothalamus and the cerebral cortex and found it to be massive [circuit diagram, source1, source2]. This makes tremendous sense given the evolution of the vertebrate brain. From Cabej:
“Ultimately, all the neuroendocrine signals released by the hypothalamus result from integration of the various inputs of information it receives from many parts of the brain.” p.377
From the body’s perspective, the hypothalamus’ cortical projections are like subordinate, image co-processing circuits whose outputs are integrated by the hypothalamus so it can then issue commands to the body via the pituitary gland. This is body thinking at its zenith; the sun of the body’s solar system is the hypothalamus, not the cerebrum — the cerebrum, with its rational thinking benefits, is more like Jupiter which, at one time in evolution, was tiny Mercury ascending. The cerebellum is Saturn, it is the planet that image crunches body thinking for coordinating body movement — it thinks just as profoundly as the cerebrum except it is a physical analogue of E=mc² awesomeness. An elephant cerebellum has 251 billion neurons — almost three times the number of a human cerebrum — for thinking deeply about moving a mammoth body deftly to conserve precious energy for survival.
Gabriela concluded this stop of her journey by reviewing the most recent brain architecture and network mapping project in the world (ambitious!!) called the connectome; she discovered that the thalamus-cortical network is one of the 12 most strongly interconnected pathways in the human brain (network structure). Now if you consider Nicolelis once again given these new illuminations, that pulsating electrical field he envisions composed of firing, large populations of neurons — indifferent to motor, rational, homeostatic, or phenotypic plasticity ends—well, the brain just thinks. Not body thinking, not symbolic thinking, just thoughts as if body and mind were one, which they are.
Gabriela is coming close to the end of her long journey. In her visit to the unicellular realm with amoebas she did a reality check to see if in the process of mind in terms of the body is life explainable with known mechanisms and processes. She found that much of life was explainable but repair and reproduction were still out of reach at that point. Now that she has examined the body in terms of the mind with multicellulars and their additional dimension of complexity of ontogeny, it gets even more gnarly. During her entire discovery process, she put together the insights of five luminaries that address understanding life in terms of powerful, unifying principles akin to the discovery of biology’s gravity equivalent. At the start she checked out Erwin Schrödinger’s What is Life? It had insights about energy and information and the set the stage for nature’s creative ways in herding cats, order from disorder. Now as she comes to the end of her mental travels she lines up the last four on her assault of understanding life in insightful, understandable terms: Gregory Bateson, Stewart Kauffman, Harold Morowitz and Alex Wissner-Gross.
Gregory Bateson was one of the greatest minds in the last 100 years. He single-handedly broke down the imaginary boundaries between multiple scientific disciplines with his laser-clarity vision of simple, universal principles. From Bateson’s “Cybernetic Explanation” in his 1967 article first published in American Behavioral Scientist and re-published in his classic work Steps to an Ecology of Mind in 1972 he penned:
“Ideally — and commonly — the actual event in any sequence or aggregate is uniquely determined within the terms of the cybernetic explanation. Restraints of many different kinds may combine to generate this unique determination. For example, the selection of a piece for a given position in a jigsaw puzzle is “restrained” by many factors. Its shape must conform to that of its several neighbors and possibly that of the boundary of the puzzle; its color must conform to the color pattern of its region; the orientation of its edges must obey the topological regularities set by the cutting machine in which the puzzle was made; and so on. From the point of view of the man who is trying to solve the puzzle, these are all the clues, i.e., sources of information which will guide him in his selection. From the point of view of the cybernetic observer, they are restraints.” p.400
Now from the world-renowned theoretical biologist Stewart Kauffman, co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, in an essay from What is Life? The Next Fifty Years: Speculations on the Future of Biology in 1995:
“Conversely, I suspect that the ultimate sources of self-reproduction and the stability requisite for the heritable variation, development and evolution, while requiring the stability of organic molecules, may also require emergent ordered properties in the collective behavior of complex, non-equilibrium chemical reaction systems. Such complex reaction systems, I shall suggest, can spontaneously cross a threshold, or phase transition, beyond which they become capable of collective self-reproduction, evolution, and exquisitely ordered dynamical behavior. The ultimate sources of the order requisite for life’s emergence and evolution may rest on new principles of collective emergent behavior in far from equilibrium reaction systems.” p.83
Next is Harold Morowitz, the Science Board Chair, Emeritus, of the Santa Fe Institute. From his The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex:
“This emergence is so intriguing because it leads us to the enticing question of whether, at higher hierarchical levels, there are not other nondynamical principles that introduce new kinds of behavior. Since all of chemistry emerges from from one dynamical rule, might there be another rule that will illuminate biology, or a rule that will give insight into cognition? The existence of the Pauli [exclusion] principle, which totally organizes the chemical world, is a powerful incentive to look for such rules at higher hierarchical levels. This may be a most useful heuristic. Many years ago, physicist Walter Elsasser suggested that there must be such a principle for biology [biotonic laws]. The search for biotic laws may be a search for pruning algorithms.” p. 56
And finally Gabriela has Alex Wissner-Gross, who holds academic appointments at the Harvard Institute for Applied Computational Science, the Harvard Innovation Lab, and the MIT Media Lab. She comes full circle on the topic of entropy production that began with Schrödinger, only this time entropy as a force in nature that defines universal intelligence. Gabriela discovered his new theory of intelligence, one based on the premise that intelligence, as a general property in the universe not unlike gravitational forces, seeks to maximize future options and avoid containment (from the TED video):
Is there a single equation for intelligence? And the answer, I believe, is yes. [“F = T ∇ Sτ”] What you’re seeing is probably the closest equivalent to an E = mc² for intelligence that I’ve seen. So what you’re seeing here is a statement of correspondence that intelligence is a force, F, that acts so as to maximize future freedom of action. It acts to maximize future freedom of action, or keep options open, with some strength T, with the diversity of possible accessible futures, S, up to some future time horizon, tau. In short, intelligence doesn’t like to get trapped. Intelligence tries to maximize future freedom of action and keep options open. And so, given this one equation, it’s natural to ask, so what can you do with this? How predictive is it? Does it predict human-level intelligence? Does it predict artificial intelligence?
From Wissner-Gross’ and Freer’s paper published in 2013 in Physical Review Letters entitled “Causal Entropic Forces”:
“In conclusion, we have explicitly proposed a novel physical connection between adaptive behavior and entropy maximization, based on a causal generalization of entropic forces. We have examined in detail the effect of such causal entropic forces for the general case of a classical mechanical system partially connected to a heat reservoir, and for the specific cases of a variety of simple example systems. We found that some of these systems exhibited sophisticated spontaneous behaviors associated with the human ‘‘cognitive niche,’’ including tool use and social cooperation, suggesting a potentially general thermodynamic model of adaptive behavior as a nonequilibrium process in open systems.”
Gabriela immediately associated Wissner-Gross’ theory of intelligence with the octopus, the octopus one-ups Houdini’s fabled reputation of escapability from confinement:
Gabriela just married Wissner-Gross’ theory of intelligence as a basic, universal force in the universe with the experimental evidence that an octopus — using body intelligence with a limited CNS and absence of symbolic, logical thinking — is capable, with no prior experience, to maximize its future options by escaping multiple forms of physical confinement with breathtaking deftness. Wissner-Gross’ Maximum Causal Entropy Production Principle — a conjecture formed on the level of physics, not biology, states that intelligent behavior spontaneously emerges from an agent’s effort to ensure its freedom of action in the future, is embodied in the octopus. With theory and evidence united, the octopus is undeniably an extremely intelligent organism and it achieves its ends via body thinking.
The octopus closes the prevailing paradigmatic door of intelligence and opens another, a door opening to a new frontier in intelligence as a function of the body as well as a concrete validation of the embodied cognition school of thought on the origins and evolution of mind and the existential meaning of mind in the broadest sense — a reframing of mind in terms of not only biology but physics.
Now Gabriela puts together the insights of the five luminaries plus adding a few out of her cart from the journey:
Tools and clues: Molecular coding, catalysis, network effects, cybernetic restraints, emergence, pruning algorithms, synergism, dynamical systems theory, Maximum Causal Entropy Production Principle (F = T ∇ Sτ).
Problems: Repair, lifecycle management of ontogeny, memory and informational conflict between neurons and electrical brain field, cognitive process of neural circuits, learning, clock functions.
The problems mostly deal with perception, memory, and decision process. Cabej clarifies the problem space of the relationship between perception and adaptive response and is a major advance; this warrants a new discipline of neuroscience that addresses the role of the ICS/supervisor librarian — the future of medicine lies there, not in tweaking the library books. Nicolelis offers a pathway to understanding information flow, learning and memory at the organism level. Damasio still has the best working model for the evolution of consciousness and aligns with Gabriela’s other findings. Llinás showed the connection between the sense of self, prediction, consciousness, and motricity which overlaps heavily with the body-mind and also the impetus for the emergence of the conscious mind from the locus of predictive cognition to better serve motricity.
Gabriela thought that her research findings embracing and lending depth to her body-mind (body thinking) motif — in Precambrian to Phanerozoic evolutionary neurobiological terms, not psychological terms (“body thinking” is an ancient idea) — is well supported by the work product of Llinás, Nicolelis, and Damasio as well as the cyberneticians — all of these scientists are in the embodied cognition sphere. The octopus’ observational learning and uncanny use of body-intelligent behavior to escape confinement in concert with Wissner-Gross’ theory of intelligence solidly support the premise of intelligence residing within the structure of the body per se, independent of E=mc² thinking and divorced from the notion that intelligence is solely the province and hegemony of neocortical structure. In other words, Gabriela gave the old idea of body thinking real teeth, sufficient to wonder about the bandwidth of E=mc² thinking load relative to body image processing load and — given the preponderance of multiple dimensions of evidence — to easily poke out the eye of the gene-centric cyclops for those souls not infested by confirmation bias.
The cybernetic paradigm and embodied cognition are powerful remedies to the falsity of:
the gene-centric view;
computer science’s procedural coding hardware-software metaphor which has no legitimate standing in biologically-based cognition (particularly dismembered by Nicolelis’ Relativistic Brain Hypothesis); and
the Cartesian scientific paradigm at-large as an insufficient means to explain biological evolution.
Most of the coding metaphor can be replaced by Bateson’s cybernetic view but the Central Dogma remains as some form of molecular code but is demystified as a mechanical process in the molecular-scale realm of physical actions taken by nanomachines. Gabriela then thought about the Turing Test and its use to determine progress in the development of artificial minds. Given the Turing Test, is there an equivalent for progress in artificial bodies or robots? She found something called the Gestural Turing Test but it is more abstract and does not address the mirror image of the Turing Test: can a robot’s physical behaviors — not its communication skills either verbal or nonverbal and not its form — be indistinguishable from an animal’s behaviors?
In a Turing Test for the Mind you are concerned only about the quality of responses and the cumulative effect of those responses over time to a battery of questions and not the physical form that uttered or outputted them.
In a Turing Test for the Body you are concerned only about the quality of motricity and the behavioral patterns that motricity defines over time and not the physical form that produces the motricity.
Gabriela’s Turing Test for the Body — A Different Approach to Answering: What is Life?
If you can build a machine that controls its movement just by using different forms of constraint that are purposely assembled at all spacial scales from molecular to cell to tissue to organ/skeletal level and, consequently, you can’t tell those movements apart from living behavior, then it is alive to a large degree because its ability to simulate life is approaching real life. And this degree of aliveness can be explained with cybernetic-like principles. Body thought, however, is lacking unless the perceptual is integrated with the effortlessly-constrained motor control. Once that is perfected, first-order, primitive body thought is the outcome and authentic life performance is ever closer but a honey bee is still way beyond while the octopus’ behavior is not even a mirage.
Gabriela concluded that an intelligent body, that is, an authentic demonstration of body thinking on the level of a honey bee including ontogenetic function, is a far more distant achievement than an equivalent demonstration of human-level E=mc² thinking prowess. She concurs with the premise of Moravec’s Paradox.
Gabriela closed her notebook on her journey of fitness and in the process dragged to cart an enormous treasure trove to fuel her dissertation: “The roles of perception, cognition and motor function in adaptation to physical conditioning”. She was eager to assemble and present a new theory of evolution given where she left off but was interrupted by a email from John Beasley, a reporter for the London Herald wanting to schedule an interview with her about her strategy for this year’s Phenomic World Championships in Whistler. She Googled him and found out he had a PhD in phenomics. She thought it would make for some highly spirited conversation. Gabriela couldn’t wait!
What is mind?
“The mind is what the brain does.” — Marvin Minsky
brain creates → mind
Great! So what does the brain do?
With body thinking, the brain dynamically determines and modifies what the perceived boundary of the body is and controls and predicts motricity in a pattern resulting in intelligent, efficient behavior while simulating, managing, modifying, and repairing the internal state of the body and its physical form throughout the lifecycle, all of which compositely creates a sense of self that changes on the fly. With E=mc² thinking, which only applies to some species, the brain’s performance results in a more advanced predictive capacity affecting and/or creating an adaptive repertoire that is qualitatively different than with body thinking; this thinking not only has tactical, strategic and social consequences for the organism but also affects others of the same kind, and, even, in the case of Homo sapiens, behavior that can catastrophically breed disruptive, ecological consequences due to the leveraged and synergistic impact of tools wielded in tandem with social structure.
With body thinking, the mind is what the body does.
The playbook for the evolution of intelligence is the exaptation: body intelligence → mental intelligence. Gaining 20,000 feet in altitude, evolution becomes: body creates → mind.
Embodied cognition = perception-action loop.
What is mind, again?
The mind is what [With body thinking…With symbolic, rational thinking…] the body does.
The mind is what the body does!
Does that include its poop?
Yes. The mind is what the body does including all of its outputs, all of its manifestations including waste matter, waste heat and the aftermath of weapons use. Poop is integral to ecological calculus; the mind is interdependent on many minds both within and without, the body is interdependent on many bodies both within and without.
What is body?
The body is the work product of mind while mind is what the body does — mind and body are a Möbius strip, a level of integration beyond a synergy because there is no “they” and there is no dualism. Mind + body is really mind⇔body, a co-identity. To clarify: Not a ghost in the machine, the ghost IS the machine and the machine IS the ghost.
Harming any ecology, in time, recycles forms of harm to your body and mind.
What is life?
universe: disorder (entropy)
life: disorder (outside) → order (inside)
life: disorder (environment)+ cybernetic constraints et al + negative entropy → order (biological system) + disorder (environment)
intelligence: constraint (i.e. confinement) + negative entropy → exploring options for freedom (“octopus”) → consummating maximal degrees of freedom [i.e. F = T ∇ Sτ]
Life is the process of exploring the unknown. When exploring dies, mind and body follow.
— Gabriela Delgado
May 30, 2015
Emailed transcript to the LONDON HERALD for the weekly column:
Portraits of The World’s Fittest Humans: Preparing for The Phenomic Games
Gabriela Delgado, 2014 Phenomics World Championship in Turin, Italy, Bronze Medalist (female, overall); Bronze Medalist (Clean and Jerk); Gold Medalist (The Burn); Bronze Medalist (The Erg)
Dispatch from Beach Cibratel 1, a BMX track in Itanhaem, São Paulo, Brazil
— — — — — —
by Dr. John Beasley, PhD
My mission is to track down the leading contenders for next season’s Phenomic Games World Championship in Whistler, Canada and bring their dreams, beliefs, and training approaches directly to you every Saturday.
Who are the world’s fittest humans?
What do they do to prepare?
Why do they do it?
Phenomic Human Ranking: 43, 3 (female)
Height: 5–6 (1.68m)
Weight: 137 lbs. (62.1kg)
Birthplace: Campo Grande, Brazil
Education: Federal University of ABC in Santo André, Brazil, B.S., Biology
Federal University of ABC in Santo André, Brazil, currently in 5th year of Doctor of Philosophy degree in Neuroscience and Cognition
Background: general weight training, bodybuilding, rowing, hiking, mountain biking
Started training for The Phenomic Games in 2012
Favorite event: The Burn
Most challenging event: Nemesis
Favorite exercise: power cleans
Coach: Sebastião Araújo
Favorite food: Moqueca capixaba (seafood stew)
Current residence: Santo André, Brazil
Note: Coach Sebastião Araújo translated from Portuguese by Araci
Dr. John Beasley: Hello everybody and greetings from Beach Cibratel 1, the BMX track in the city of Itanhaem near São Paulo, Brazil. I have the pleasure today of interviewing the most popular competitor at last year’s Phenomic World Championship in Turin, Italy: Gabriela Delgado. She was the most decorated athlete at Phenomic Games with four medals. She was the female leader after the The Burn, The Erg and the fourth event, The Climb, going into the final event. Before Nemesis, what were you thinking and what did you take away from Worlds?
Gabriela Delgado: I knew I was in trouble after The Climb. Simple as that. I had a commanding lead after The Erg but everything fell apart on The Climb and I lost my big lead and was only holding on by a thread. My major competitors didn’t need to by clairvoyant to predict the final results. I left disappointed but, honestly, I should have expected it. I was in over my head against Airi and Jōtara on the backend.
Dr. John Beasley: You were dominant on the frontend and extended it on The Erg. Everyone thought you were going to run away with it.
Gabriela Delgado: My background being in strength sports and relatively short events did not bode well for Phenomic Games. I knew that so I spent the majority of my time bringing my ultra-endurance up but it is not possible to go from a low level to a competitive level against the likes of them in just 2 years. I am in much better position now to attack the backend. Sebastião, my coach, has the expertise to prepare me for The Climb and Nemesis for Whistler. He has competed in 100-mile runs at altitude for many years as well as ultra-distance mountain bike racing and understands the training process very well.
Sebastião Araújo: Gabriela did not have an endurance mindset when we first met. She tried to use the mental tools she had developed so well over her years in strength sports and apply them to endurance. That doesn’t work. She has caught on incredibly fast because the proper mindset occurs spontaneously when you are in the wild for extended periods. The mind just tunes into a different song, the song of nature.
Gabriela Delgado: That describes what happened to me to a tee. Before I would just plan on doing long bike rides and long hikes as part of a rigid program interspersed with my other training. I would fit in the big climb days. Kind of a regimented, check list mentality. With Sebastião, that went out the window. We would be gone for 5 days at a time with no regimentation, just letting the terrain dictate the effort but never allowing high intensity to intervene. So it was kind of random but with a strict intensity ceiling, sort of an ultra-endurance, multi-day Fartlek.
Dr. John Beasley: How did this affect you?
Gabriela Delgado: The biggest change is that it coaxed me into directing my attention inwardly in a very different way than facing heavy weights; this different way I call body thinking. In my doctoral dissertation “The roles of perception, cognition and motor function in adaptation to physical conditioning”, I have developed a new theory of mind founded on the evolution of mind beginning with the first minds — meaning amoebas, not humans — and ending up with the human mind. As humans we can use our attention four ways: on an object external to us; on an internal object — that is, a thought — which is commonly called “thinking”; by being attentive with no focal point like in meditation; or by turning our attention inward towards a feeling or, even better, visualizing or feeling with feeling — this last way is targeting deep-body thinking.
Before, during endurance events my mind would wander and bounce around between focusing my attention on something visual or by thinking, listening to music, or just daydreaming but, in any case, disconnected from my body. My strength training mental approach was very good at tuning into high intensity efforts and then, once completed, wander off and haphazardly think before the next big effort and that habit just hitchhiked its way to my endurance training. You can’t do that and remain competitive with world class endurance athletes.
Dr. John Beasley: How has this new mental approach benefited your performance?
Gabriela Delgado: I don’t get in my body’s way by thinking any more! Body thinking is actually an ancient idea but its evolution and prominence are new if it is married to and defined in terms of evolutionary neurobiology. If you examine the origins of thinking from an evolutionary perspective, you come to the conclusion that insects were the first animals to be able to think in terms of images or maps of sensory signals, proprioceptive signals, and homeostatic and phenotypic plasticity signals. These came long before symbolic, rational thinking.
Image processing is thinking, it is just that in modern times the concept of thinking has been highjacked by symbolic, rational thought which I call E=mc² thinking. E=mc² thinking is a valuable asset but if you let it dominate your existence then it becomes pathological and retards your quality of life. You lose touch with your body and become oblivious of your environment. If you did this in the wild, Darwin wouldn’t select you for his survivor team! In indigenous environments, E=mc² thinking is relegated to the background and used on demand as a survival tool. That was its purpose and utility then and should be still. Now that we are domesticated, body thinking can be ignored without threat of immediate hazard while E=mc² thinking has supplanted it and become pathologically domineering. We, by equating our identity with E=mc² thinking, have become estranged from our bodies.
Dr. John Beasley: That is very provocative, I have never thought about the origins of thinking before or, really, even what thinking really means in terms of neuroanatomy. I got caught up in the dominance of the cerebral cortex, language and reasoning. I see what you are saying. Yes, we are out of touch, I can see that.
Gabriela Delgado: It is our society’s value system and computational neuroscience that has memed its way into getting people to assume that thinking only means E=mc² thinking. I am going to change that in due time. So I put my theory into practice and Sebastião exposed me to an environment very conducive to implementing it. The real key to making it work and then fine tuning it was another aspect of the origins of the nervous system: feelings. Primordial feelings are a combination of emotions being mapped by the brain in combination with felt body states originating from homeostatic function which tell you — the self — what is going on in the body directly from their origins in the body. Damasio’s theory of consciousness is based on that premise. Feeling is a direct communication link between your body and you — you being the self-aware entity that is an emergent property of and extension of the body. Body and mind are one, not two, when the body dies the sense of self dies with the sense of sight.
The conscious aspect of self, that is, the part we are aware of, is the centralization of multiple processes that inform you of the status of your body’s function along with what is valued for survival, all in close to realtime, about 400 milliseconds or so behind reality. So the body can react in realtime but you — the self-aware part — cannot; it is on a slight delay and is an output from the deeper sense of self that is in direct contact with all the body’s inputs. The sense of self is an output like motor outputs for locomotion and speech, it is an information channel like a radio speaker. This deeper sense of self on the nonconscious level is emergent from all the inputs and outputs, there is no recursive homunculus, the buck stops there. Reptiles have that deeper sense of self but they have no self-aware aspect. In other words, they know what is happening on the inside and outside but do not know that they know. They “know they self” but do not know that they know it, they cannot reflect on it. It is just perception happening in a continuous stream of present moments without a perceiver’s identity, that is, “I”-less, nobody’s home.
Dr. John Beasley: So, while you train, you are saying you are directing attention to your feelings instead of elsewhere. Over time of doing that, what have you noticed?
Gabriela Delgado: It changed everything! Consciousness is not magic, it really is a big filter; nonconsciously your brain is editing out what doesn’t immediately matter and letting through what it predicts matters for your survival right now and in the immediate future. In other words, you are not aware of how grand life is if you stub your toe and a bear is coming, that is how consciousness works in a nutshell. So when you tune into feelings with your full attention what happens is the filter — consciousness — recalibrates and you gain greater access to more and more of what is happening inside your body instead of worthless nonsense like what your competitors are doing or thinking about where you are going on vacation. There is a lot going on in your 1 trillion cells if you learn how to listen to them because they are always telling you!
Dr. John Beasley: Give us an example how it affects you for endurance training.
Gabriela Delgado: When you are doing The Climb or Nemesis, your mind merges with body and they become synched if you tune in, not tune out. This has been described as flow but all it really means is that your mind, which is an evolutionary extension of ancient bodies all the way back to honey bees and amoebas, is integrated with body function. In flow, E=mc² thought is long gone and is replaced by body thinking like a dog’s. Dogs are in flow 100% because they cannot be distracted by E=mc² thought — they cannot not be in flow, they have no option but flow. They are totally tuned into their bodies because they cannot think about themselves or think about what other dogs are thinking about them or think about thinking because they lack those capabilities. They don’t know they are a dog, instead, they are 100% being a dog. All their minds are capable of is being in the present moment with brain images derived from sensory, interoceptive, and proprioceptive signalling and primordial feeling that are edited by predictive constraints determined dynamically by regulatory feedback loops. They have associative memory with events that placed their survival in peril — they remember what not to eat or where not to step based on experience but they do not think about their 4th birthday party.
Dr. John Beasley: You don’t like the term flow, do you?
Gabriela Delgado: No, not really. I understand where it came from which is psychology and it makes sense from the angle of from the outside looking in. But I believe people think it is something special, or only a gifted few can achieve it but, the truth is, dogs, reptiles, and birds are in flow as long as they are alive and you aren’t because you haven’t learned where the off switch is to E=mc² thought. If you could do that then you would be in flow just like them and would kick ass just like them. Flow is achieved by subtraction, not by adding something special or turning on some gene or consulting with a shrink guru or sports psychologist.
Dr. John Beasley: What would you call it then?
Gabriela Delgado: Body thinking. Flow is body thinking, nothing more, nothing less. The question is whether you are tuned into it or not. Most people opt out. If you break free of being estranged from your body then you will merge once again with your body and being in flow is part of the deal. There is no limit to the development of body thinking. It is a capacity of great power that the majority of humans leave undeveloped due to ignorance in combination with the belief that thinking only means E=mc² thought, all while the educational process and society rewards one form of thinking and ignores the other far more essential and rewarding forms of thought. You can go deeper and deeper inwardly and you will continually discover more and more signalling layers that you can tap into — you become your body instead of being a body that merely is a life support system for a brain in a vat doing E=mc² thought. I would trust 1 billion years of body thinking experience from the lineage of my 1 trillion cells over the puny 20 or so years of my E=mc² thought, no? But that is exactly what most athletes do, they turn the helm over to their quixotic, enfant terrible self and shut out battle-hardened wisdom and cripple their quest for achieving their potential.
Dr. John Beasley: That is an interesting way to put it! Yes, it is true, people just assume that rational thinking is the only kind of thinking they can do and also assume it is their most valuable asset.
Gabriela Delgado: There is a time and place for E=mc² thinking but competing in Phenomic Games is not that time or place. We have alienated and shut the body out by focusing attention on the abstract mind. The lesson from nature is to re-task the mind as a tool of the body like it evolved and is intended, not use the body as a battery pack for E=mc² thinking whose only possible outcome is poor performance unless it is for coding a computer program or the like.
Dr. John Beasley: The key is to tune into feeling?
Gabriela Delgado: In evolutionary neuroendocrinology, feelings came first, they are the most primordial deep infrastructural vehicle of communication in the body involving neural circuitry that attention can grab on to. Reptiles with their brainstem have this well developed. Most deep feelings are not readily available to consciousness, they are filtered out. Can you retrieve them and become aware of them? Yes, you can.
If you are in touch with and aware of your deepest feelings, then your body has the built-in wisdom to reach your physical potential at that moment which is not the same as your ultimate, theoretical potential. When your focus is 100% dedicated to being aware of your total body feelings — as much as you are capable of now — you will spontaneously converge on the mind-body wavelength of flow, or, as I call it, body thinking. You have gone full reptilian: total awareness of the present moment by being submerged in the continuous feedback-feedforward loop of feeling and motor control on hand’s off autopilot. A reptile is on autopilot and 100% trusts its body to do absurd feats because it cannot not trust — that takes choice and a reptile can only perform at its potential, anything less is a choice and it doesn’t know anything about limits. Trust is a volitional choice: humans have abstract choice and reptiles do not.
We foolishly default 100% trust about our bodies to rational thinking and — perversely — have to decide to allow ourselves to trust our bodies. Reptiles have no free will, no choice but going for it, all in or not acting at all; what does “indecision” mean to a reptile? Reptiles are not lazy when they feel threatened or its lunch time! It is said that a tiger attacks a mouse with its full strength. If there is no “I” there can be no “try.” They do not comprehend the meaning of “I” or “try”, it is only “escape” or “eat”. On Darwin’s turf, trying equates to death because when you try it means you are trying to lose. Very few species are even capable of “I will try”. Yoda was correct about making decisions and commitment: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Yoda ripped that logic off from crocodiles!
Dr. John Beasley: Yeah, funny but true. I never thought of “trying” as an idea, humans just take for granted the option of trying and also thinking about deceiving others of their level of effort to attain unearned reward. That is where symbolic, rational thinking bottoms out. We have enormous capacity of options and decisions for our behavior and a lot of them are very damaging to our performance, health, well-being and society. Choice is a double-edged sword, both a gift and a curse.
Gabriela Delgado: That’s right, John. Laziness is a choice of a self-aware organism, laziness and trying are bad ideas but only have consequences if you decide to do them or they do you. Trust, on the other hand, is an idea that humans need to act on if they truly desire to reach their potential. Animals that aren’t self-aware do not need to trust themselves because that is standard equipment, with us it is optional. But trust is not enough, it takes discipline to dethrone the tyranny of E=mc² thought and the pestilence of trying or our inability to fully commit to trusting ourself. Bad mental training habits are pernicious and are hard to break. E=mc² thought is a curse when it comes to training and competing at the level of Phenomic Games and in my doctoral dissertation I will be the first to prove the validity of body thinking for enhancing maximal strength, endurance performance, recovery, and healing. It all stems back to the evolution of thought in insects; it is deep biology, not shallow biology. Only by studying the evolution of mind in terms of the body can you know what thinking means, what it really is, and how to perfect it. The current paradigm of thought is an obstacle that must be scuttled if you choose to achieve your potential.
As a human, you have to decide to trust the body and allow body thinking to make all the decisions, and that means you must train the E=mc² mind to stand down. Do you honestly believe that your 2o years worth of E=mc² thinking is superior to 1 billion years of body thinking? That is what you trust…really? You wouldn’t be here without body thinking! So, if there is a voice in the head then that means body thinking is totally lost in space somewhere in the nonconscious — you have lost communication, you are operating in the blind with your noisy thoughts highjacking the helm of a very intelligent, voiceless body.
Dr. John Beasley: So where are you going with this? What I mean is, what can be done in terms of applying the theory of body thinking?
Gabriela Delgado: Einstein’s E=mc² thinking equates to an out-of-body experience whereas body thinking is an in-the-body experience. Body thinking at the elite level is being Einstein turned outside-in. The primary reason you train is to perfect body thinking; in a lifetime you still won’t be totally aware of your body — is it possible to gain conscious access to image processing in the cerebellum as some kind of feeling or visualization? The answer to that is not automatically no. The reason is that we have never discussed the ramifications of E=mc² thinking being evolutionarily derivative of the SL [Ed. “supervisor librarian” (neural controlling agency of the organism)] and merely being an extension of, an add-on to, body thinking before; this is tantamount to changing the coordinate system in mathematical topology like from Euclidean to non-Euclidean geometry. Perhaps we gain conscious access to cerebellar motor prediction image processing like in synesthesia, such as seeing sounds in color. Who knows? Tibetan monks have been able to consciously access and modify autonomic functions like breathing, heart rates and body temperature. This demonstrates a means for the conscious mind via the SL to affect the brainstem.
If this is possible I see no reason that manipulation of phenotypic plasticity is impossible, phenotypic plasticity is a superset and extension of homeostasis, not an island apart. The biggest problem here is that no one has mapped the nervous system for phenotypic adaptability. It is virgin territory. Cabej touches on it but that is the area of research that will spawn a new sub-discipline of neuroscience. In any case, the classic view of CNS versus PNS function and autonomic versus voluntary control needs revision. Autonomic is defined as occurring without conscious control, as “beneath” consciousness, and that is wrong. It is difficult to do, but not impossible. That opens the door to the development of methods that are less difficult than pioneering approaches that demonstrated that autonomic functions are subject to volitional access and control like the Tibetan monks. Of course, this impacts far more than athletic performance. It changes the direction of medicine and opens doors to new horizons in developmental biology. I am excited to be part of this, riding the first wave!
Dr. John Beasley: Gabriela, I see what you mean. Much of the message I get is that the function of the cerebrum is no longer the exclusive playground of symbolic, rational thought. There are a lot of unanswered questions and vast potential for a new biology.
Gabriela Delgado: John, in any case, you don’t know what is going on in your body or in your environment when your mind’s attention is out-of-body and that should be frightening. Let’s take a look at cats. It is not that they are anti-social or indifferent to your existence, they may just focus their minds on internal body feelings and sensations while being vigilant to their surroundings in regard to threats and opportunities. Just like fanatics, they are so into what they do that they don’t have time for friends and family. Alas, their consciousness has different priorities which impacts their awareness and, consequently, behavior; we are wrong to pigeonhole them based on our priorities. We are the fools lost at sea, not them. They are at home in their skin.
Dr. John Beasley: My cat perfectly matches that description! What is mind, then, in terms of body?
Gabriela Delgado: The body is the work product of mind while mind is what the body does.
Dr. John Beasley: Given your background in evolution, what are your thoughts on Phenomic Games in evolutionary terms?
Gabriela Delgado: That is a wildly great question! If you look at the animal kingdom, what creatures would win The All-Species Phenomic Games? Army ants here in South America and in Africa can travel great distances daily and can lift several times their bodyweight. They might be the champions of long and strong. Their superpower is an exoskeleton like the Terminator. In mammals it would be cetaceans; whales and dolphins are migratory species expending enormous energy every day with insane endurance capacity and also have the explosive power to breach the surface of the ocean with their entire body. Their superpowers are hydrodynamic sophistication and motor control. Of terrestrial mammals the champion would be the victors of Phenomic Games; humans have the potential to be the fittest due to our greatest physical gift: bipedalism, that is our superpower which most humans squander because of displacement by fossil fuels. Because of bipedalism we can build an incredible backend and are only weak in maximal strength. Elephants might be able to give us a run for our money but on a bodyweight basis the most gifted humans would win.
Dr. John Beasley: If you were to place values on human physical abilities and movement patterns in terms of survival value in the wild, what would they be and their relative weights?
Gabriela Delgado: Great. Let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine you are out in the boonies, alone, and you have no access to fossil fuel. What you will notice is that you walk a lot for hours per day, need high torque from your upper body once in awhile and a strong trunk to apply that torque. If you are truly out in the wild where you are in the upper-quarter of the food chain, a third thing you will notice is a need for high power for 10 seconds to 2 minutes. Flexibility, coordination, and balance will be important and will be rapidly acquired just by doing those things given the random affordances of the terrain. You acquire the agility of an ape really fast because under these conditions you are a bald ape, no need to “exercise” because the means of survival provide all the stimulus required for phenotypic plasticity to manifest those latent abilities. Your body knows what to do spontaneously.
So what does that mean in terms of ranking? Number one is 12-hour specific power at 40%. It is dominant. Without that you are dead meat. Nemesis is king, period. Number two is 1-RM [Ed. relative maximum, 1-RM is what you can do for 1 repetition, maximal strength] in a whole-body movement like the clean and jerk. A tremendous amount of highly coordinated motor control is embodied in Olympic lifting movements and anyone who can do them well will also be very adept at gymnastics fundamentals. Weightlifting in terms of motor control is about management of the body in terms of the physics of external loads whereas gymnastics is about internal loads: bodyweight. Weighting at 25%. Tied for third is maximal aerobic power and anaerobic capacity at 15% each. Fifth is 2-hour specific power at 5%.
Dr. John Beasley: How about mentally?
Gabriela Delgado: 12-hour specific power and the clean and jerk are very different mentally and are equal in value and difficulty. 2-hour specific power is equally difficult and for many may be the hardest. Mind control is at an extreme premium in 2-hour specific power. The Climb is insanely difficult for the mind. Maximal aerobic power and anaerobic capacity are not easy by any stretch of the imagination but are not as imposing as the others. The first three take a lifetime to master and if you do, then the other two are mastered as well.
Dr. John Beasley: Gabriela, if you were starting over from scratch as a 15 year old and had as a goal of winning Phenomic Games as an adult, how would you approach it?
Gabriela Delgado: Getting the mind properly conditioned with the right mental training fundamentals based on body thinking principles for ultra-endurance would be the first order of business. I would begin my physical training with building an endurance capacity base first while learning gymnastics for at least a year before learning really solid Olympic lifting technique with light loads. I would learn track cycling and mountain biking that involved technical riding skills for motor control. Both of those are extremely demanding on whole body coordination. Only after those foundational 2 to 3 years would I start to crank up loads, volumes and distances. At this point, mental training for limit strength moves to center stage. I would learn efficient methods on how to identify and torture my weaknesses… show no quarter, no mercy! That would be my mindset when I turned 18. Stay out of my way when I am training, don’t feed the animal. But when I wasn’t training I would be docile on the outside while cloaking hidden superpowers on the inside just like Shakespeare stated in Henry VI: “Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep” and “The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb”.
Dr. John Beasley: Gabriela, I totally get that! Everyone says you are a fox but you are a real fox, not a show fox. Foxes are carnivores, man-eaters!
Sebastião Araújo: Oh, she is not kidding at all. When she trains she bares serious fangs. Gabriela is no ornamental fox like people think. Her true fans know her from her Olympic lifting and track and BMX cycling training videos, not bikini shots from the beaches of Brazil.
Dr. John Beasley: Ok, speaking of body appearance, what would the ideal Phenomics female champion look like?
Gabriela Delgado: That is a very technical question. Phenomic Games is a prescription of a fitness function that maximizes survivability in primitive times in a nonsocial setting given probabilities of facing likely difficulties. In other words, you are a lone fox. Given the human form and the non-negotiability of physics, ideally your body weight would be zero. So you start there. As you build the ideal structure given the task prescription as defined by the Phenomic 5, you will need internal organs and all the basic internal structures. Next you need to choose a skeleton and that is a tough question. For women, I would say the ideal structure would be in a height range of 165 to 183 cm [Ed. 5–5 to 6–0 ft] and a weight of 54 to 68 kg [Ed. 120 to 150 lb.] with slightly longer arms and legs relative to height than the norm to address biomechanical advantages.
That leaves two key variables, muscle and adipose mass. Adipose mass would be most likely in a range of 7 to 10% of body mass at the time of competition with maybe 1 to 1.5 kg to lose 8 weeks out. This is not bodybuilding, it is about performance, and adipose levels that are too low can impair recovery, immunity and strength. You need to find out how low you can go without performance or recovery problems. Muscle mass would be the absolute minimum to maximize the fitness function. Body weight is the kiss of death given that all performance metrics are on a specific force or power basis or the presence of climbs which is the same thing. The only muscle you want to have is muscle that contributes to the fitness function and it needs to be of the correct slow/fast combination — you can train fast twitch to have some slow twitch properties but not the other way around. I can tell you from experience that The Climb is the destroyer of worlds in the Phenomic 5. Your legs and glutes are monkey hammered for two hours doing hip and leg extension and you can stick a fork in your quads and lumbar musculature by the time you finish. Your mind is toast as well. Then you face Nemesis for over 12 hours. Due to the physics of moving mass in a mechanical system, weight below the knee especially and below the hip joints less so is more costly in terms of oxygen cost on the backend, so legs must be lightweight — they are the moving, weight-bearing parts. If you have big legs, you cannot move at a competitive pace and do so under lipid power and you will be crushed in the last 4 hours.
But the big issue is fatigue and its consequences on velocity. As opposed to a horizontal surface like in a typical marathon where momentum allows a free energy flow of the legs during the swing phase, on a sustained climb you must lift the leg under muscular power like climbing stairs using your hip flexors and they are already fatigued from both muscular and nervous system dimensions from The Climb. So during the course of Nemesis as the hours go by there is a compensatory shift of effort to the leg adductors and that, in time, results in a shortened stride length and before long you are toast and your mind gets cornered and rolls over into the fetal position. So what is the answer? Think carbon fiber. Your legs must be light but strong and also packed with endurance capacity. Legs will need some type IIB fiber mass for the clean and jerk and The Burn but no more than necessary.
The key to making the ideal female body is in the nervous system. The strength training needs to be based on extremely heavy loads similar to Olympic lifting and power lifting and avoiding bodybuilding protocols at all costs. Keep the loads above 5-RM and do eccentric overloading at 125% of 1-RM periodically. The problems with bodybuilding, which results in an increase in cross-sectional area of the muscle fiber, are threefold: (1) a bigger muscle adds weight; (2) there is a dilution of capillary density choking off gas exchange; and (3) decreased O₂ transport from the capillary to myoglobin within the muscle on its destination to the mitochondria. Arterial-venous difference has crucial influence on the backend, it must be maximized like a pronghorn antelope’s, the king of efficient aerobic power in terrestrial mammals. The performance needs to be derived from the nervous system so that muscle mass can be minimized. Physics and biophysics dictate this, ignore this at your own peril.
The premotor cortex, cerebellum, and peripheral nervous system along with body thinking for limit strength can all work together as a unified approach to have minimal motors controlled by both strength and energy efficient neural programs in the same body: extreme 1-RM torque production on the frontend and energy efficiency on the backend. The work of Nicolelis shows the road to the possible. If you achieve it, then muscle mass can be axed to bring you to a true ideal body mass where you fight way above your weight. You are positioned to be the world’s fittest female and maybe the world’s fittest land mammal.
Dr. John Beasley: How did your analysis impact you?
Gabriela Delgado: In Turin I showed up at 64.5 kg (142 lb.). I am 167.5 cm (5–6 ft.). I was very lean but carrying, literally, way too much muscle to be world class, really. That is dead weight on the climbs no different than a backpack and iron leg weights and is dear to specific power. I will show up at 61 kg [Ed. 135 lb.] in Whistler, maybe less. Here is how you determine your ideal body weight, which really means ideal muscle mass because fat becomes a relative constant once you reach your target fat mass range; it has very little variance during an annual training cycle.
There are two variables you need to reconcile relative to the Phenomic pole events: the clean and jerk and Nemesis. The other events will not effect it much if you get these two dialed in. You need to find a range of 1-RM efforts at different body weights at the same level of conditioning as well as a range of 12-hour specific powers. What you will find is that there is a body weight threshold where increases in body weight will decrease specific strength even though you may be getting stronger. It does no good to be absolutely stronger while being relatively weaker. Optimizing specific strength is what matters, not maxing out strength independent of body weight. There is a body weight where relative strength is maximized. If you drop weight too much you will find that you will get relatively weaker; therefore, the target weight is rangebound. The curve is parabolic with a flat top.
The same thing happens in terms of 12-hour specific power or maximal lipid specific-power, which is about the same thing. Now you need to look at those two body weights: your ideal strength-to-weight ratio versus ideal 12-hour specific power. Say my numbers are 62.3 kg [Ed. 137 lb.] and 60.9 kg [Ed. 134 lb.], respectively. I am going to interpolate and set the target at 61 kg [Ed. 135 lb.] and error on the side of endurance because The Climb and Nemesis are wicked. I want to maintain a clean and jerk of 100 kg [Ed. 220 lb.] and do it at 61 kg [Ed. 135 lb.] for a specific strength of 1.64. Last year I did 107.5 [Ed. 236.5 lb.] at 64.5 [Ed. 142 lb.] at a specific strength of 1.67. That 3.2 kg [Ed. 7 lb.] loss of body weight is a really big deal for the other four events at very little cost to one event. That comes out of my muscle mass budget. I need to lose as much of that as possible as type IIB muscle fiber because it is deadweight in several events. A dragster is a poor option when you need a carbon-fiber diesel truck.
Being net catabolic will prioritize loss of muscle fiber that is the least recruited or needed possibly by some kind of tagging process, hormonally that means targeting the greater of two evils which for me most likely will be type IIB but you have no direct control. In the cellular trenches of phenotypic plasticity, it is a battle of signals and receptors in combat to cannibalize or not — muscle you need most will be “passed over” while other muscle is broken down into amino acids. I would assume the wisdom of the body knows the wheat from the chaff, nature is so mind-bogglingly parsimonious! Muscle mass modelling may have a similar dynamic as bone mass modelling with its net effect determined by osteoclast and osteoblast activity. There may be a similar process for muscle. No one has studied this that I know of.
Dr. John Beasley: Most people think that muscle is the key to performance…
[Gabriela cuts him off]
Gabriela Delgado: They are wrong. In nearly every sport but particularly in Phenomic Games, the key is learning how to train the nervous system so that you can reduce bodyweight. Why rely on hypertrophy when you can achieve better net results from neurological recruitment? In the big picture, anaerobic capacity is weight-intensive and should only be part of the organism where its benefits exceed its costs. You must have anaerobic capacity in the lower body even though it it costly there. But in the upper body it comes under close scrutiny. The upper body needs maximal strength say out to 3-RM which can be managed by the nervous system firing a moderate volume of fast twitch at maximal recruitment using the CP-ATP energy system, anything more requiring more mass is not a smart idea given its extreme cost to the backend due to weight.
You have to squeeze blood out of a turnip, that means you do not train anaerobic glycolysis in some movements to stimulate hypertrophy like for the pectoralis major muscle. Strength training is not the same as training for anaerobic capacity. Arms and back, however, need muscle mass because of pulls and rowing under sustained moderate to high force requirements. So there is a lot to consider on this question. But bottom line, weight is the 800-pound gorilla that needs to be pared down to 400 pounds. Get the weight down first using good judgment and then find out functional weaknesses that clearly indicate where you need specific refinement and address them keenly. No different than car racing or making ballistic missiles. Bring the weight of the missile way down below spec, stress test it for structural failure and then reinforce the weak areas with kevlar or carbon fiber. Along those lines, do you know what has the greatest energy flow rate per cm³ in the entire known universe?
Dr. John Beasley: Something like a super nova or quasar I suppose?
Gabriela Delgado: No, it is an Intel Pentium chip! More than the sun, jet fighter, rocket, or blow torch. When you train for Phenomic Games you want to pack the energy flow density of a Pentium. No, that does not mean production of a lot of energy because you have to move a big mass, it is about a high energy density moving a minimal mass smartly; think in terms of energy efficiency instead of lionizing big, useless energy-hogging muscles. Inertia is deadly to high performance. If you are trying to increase the range or velocity of a missile and you can do it by adding more fuel or an extra rocket motor or by improving the aerodynamics then you choose aerodynamics every time. Remember the cartoon Atom Ant? You want to be Atom Ant. To be Atom Ant you need to be wired like Atom Ant and carry no baggage and muscle, like fat, can be baggage. Yes, you need muscle but how much do you need — and where and what type does it need to be — to win Phenomic Games?
The key to intelligent training is focusing only on adaptations to neural recruitment patterns. Shift your thinking from muscle to nerve, from motor to motor control, from hardware to software. This is what animals do, their form follows function. They only carry fat and muscle mass that serves a survival end. Walruses are fat for a reason. They also have great strength and endurance. Bears use their mass during hibernation, they lose tremendous amount of fat during hibernation and can transform urea to amino acids and emerge in the spring with more muscle than they started but at a much lower bodyweight even though they were fasting for months.
Now birds really have it together. Thin skulls, almost hollow bones, and a much higher neuron density and a different architecture in their brain than other species to reduce their weight so they don’t kill their stall speed — gravity is non-negotiable. A peregrine falcon can glide with extremely high energy efficiency but also has the horsepower to goose it and go 150 mph. That is like someone killing Nemesis and smoking The Burn. We need to mimic the ingenious ways of nature and shit-can sacred cow notions like focusing on muscle when optimality is served by tapping into the phenotypic plasticity of the nervous system. You need to account for every single gram of body weight. If it doesn’t pull its weight, dump it. Think Pentium. Think ballistic missile. Think Atom Ant. Think peregrine falcon. Think body thinking. Do you copy?
Dr. John Beasley: Yes, I do. What will you look like compared to last year?
Gabriela Delgado: I will be uniformly smaller and it will be visible but 3.2 kg of muscle is not much volumetrically on my 168 cm frame. I will look denser, have details in places where most women don’t even have places, and my limbs will have more streamlines. I will not carry any molecules anywhere that will just be going for the ride, everyone of them on me and in me is committed to making it happen, from head to toe including between the ears. Every single nanomachine will work its ass off to kick ass for “me” — the self. The result of that is I will look like the world’s fittest woman. I just hope I can back up my looks! The women’s field is stacked with sick talent.
Dr. John Beasley: What would you weigh if you were just weight training?
Gabriela Delgado: My body would be 68 kg (Ed. 150 lb.) or more if I lifted heavy without endurance training. And that would be a very lean 68 kg, not much of a body fat percentage increase. I have Brazilian glutes and legs and they can get meaty on a diet of 140 kg (Ed. 308 lb.) squats. So when I get down to 61 kg that equates to a big loss of muscle mass that I will no longer lug around as surplus rocket motors. The weightlifting and increased calories open up anabolic pathways for muscle mass but then the catabolic shift of ultra-endurance is like a heat-seeking missile that destroys everything that isn’t judged worthy of survival value under those harsh metabolic conditions. Think of anabolic and catabolic forces colliding like a melting glacier carving out a river bed made of granite. What remains at 61 kg is the ideal form in the opinion of millions of years of metazoan phenotypic plasticity. This is very different than getting “cut” for body building, don’t confuse the two. The goal is surreal performance, not starving and feeling weak to have a certain ephemeral look. This process produces a much better aesthetic and it is backed by multi-dimensional function. Don’t think you know more than nature on this one, nature votes with her feet when it decides what is needed and what is not.
If you would just forget about wasting your precious attentional resources on how you look and, instead, 100% focus all your attention on connecting to the SL during training and recovery, then your mind — via the SL — changes the body to its ideal aesthetic and function. Remember, only the SL has the authority to change your phenotype, your wishful thinking has no effect on the phenotype — how could it? For me, at 64 kg and approaching target weight I feel like I am going to explode as opposed to being a weakling — I am at maximal specific strength and 12-hour specific power. Once the weight is stable there my endurance properties hit the sweet spot — my legs will float on the climbs after tapering. At that point, mind and body synergistically built each other. I will be ready; I feel my primordial feelings screaming readiness from the deepest layer of my being that I have earned access to.
Dr. John Beasley: Gabriela, sounds you have taken lean and mean to the extreme!
Gabriela Delgado: Phenomic Games functionally means long and strong and that redefines lean and mean. It establishes a fantastic new aesthetic standard for the human race based on form following function with function strictly adherent to precise evolutionary constraints. Aesthetic standards should not be the contrivance and vagary of E=mc² thinking but, instead, be in the eye of the beholder with the beholder being the emergent sum of the billions of decisions at the hands of phenotypic plasticity under the impartial and wise eye inherent in evolution.
Dr. John Beasley: In your research you said you are studying pathways to improve limit strength in terms of new models of the nervous system. Can you say a few words to that?
Gabriela Delgado: Sure. When I studied the research of Miguel Nicolelis, who is famous for his work with body-machine interfaces with monkeys, he made some salient observations germane to primate maximal strength. There are three independent variables in motor thinking: space, time, and force. Our muscles, from the perspective of our brain’s motor control, are a tool treated no differently than a prosthetic with different motors like in a robotic arm. We are conditioned to use motor thinking for the force variable given assumed limitations of our muscle and appendage structure as well past experience: we limit ourselves to our perceived limits.
This, by itself, however, is not enough to produce greater force, but it does open the door for it. What our bodies can do is predicated on what our brain allows us to do, nothing more. The brain regulates motor programs and their constitution — the muscle/motor-unit matrix — in realtime. Our body’s potential performance is dependent on our present brain state in concert with the inbound sensory information stream; these converge creating a real-time perceived context in a single, dynamic, electrical field produced by the brain’s population of firing neurons. Now, dependent on how that context is interpreted, there are virtually an infinite number of possible nerve and motor unit combinations to produce any given trajectory, velocity, or torque. Given the set of possibilities, there are combinations that can produce torque outputs much greater than you ever produced in the past under normal circumstances. In human history, these rare events under perceived emergency conditions have been called limit strength. Is it possible through mental conditioning using body thinking to access these neural combinations that result in extraordinary torque outcomes? I say yes. That is what I am working on for part of my doctoral dissertation.
Dr. John Beasley: That is fascinating. I have heard so many theories about this but what you are saying is the first explanation in terms of modern models of primate brain function that can be assembled into a real, working model. I think we have covered your body thinking approach, your model of the perfect female body, and limit strength ideas; what else is cooking, Gabriela?
Gabriela Delgado: John, there is a lot more to body thinking, that is just the first wave. Body thinking, in addition to interoceptive, exteroceptive, proprioceptive, primordial feelings, and homeostatic brain imaging, also includes image processing required for ontogeny — all of it. Ontogeny I view as an extension built out of homeostasis, which is updated to the homeodynamics model, with an adaptive response extension addressing the everyday stress response model like Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome but with the proven mechanics provided by Nelson Cabej. Also, the lifespan aspects of development such as embryogenesis, adolescence, maturity, and senescence are tied in. From the organism’s perspective, this is all image processing done by the CNS and then forwarded to the endocrine system just like Cabej outlined in his theory and this is all integrated into body thinking and run by the autonomous agent I call the SL, which is the collective, emergent, self fully integrated with all bodily function. Mind and body are seamless, indistinguishable. And it goes without saying my model is totally homunculus free.
Dr. John Beasley: For humans, how does the conscious self fit in, the self-aware identity part as in “I am John”?
Gabriela Delgado: Consciousness, including self-awareness, along with E=mc² thinking are further evolutions of body thinking. The schism dividing nonconscious body thinking and E=mc² conscious mind is an artificial one, they are actually contiguous. What I mean is you have all this body thinking going on I discussed in the form of image processing which is what any thinking is and then you have nonconscious E=mc² thinking running in the background as more image processing in addition to everything else and then you have the voice in the head we identify with the “I am Gabriela”. The voice-in-the-head is nothing more than a hitchhiking monkey on the back of the nonconscious mind, the SL’s court jester, so to speak.
Ok. Staying with the embodied cognition paradigm of the perception-action loop, your subjective voice-in-the-head is not the SL that actually does something, no, that voice you hear is an output no different than a motor output, in other words, it is like a loudspeaker making sound — it is a sink, not a source. The real thinking is the SL nonconsciously doing the heavy lifting of E=mc² thought, adaptive response, breathing, vision, etc. All of this is backed up with evolutionary evidence as mind in terms of body. Now the part where the SL perceives and makes decisions to change the body, that portion of my dissertation is explained as body in terms of mind. For example, in terms of the body aesthetic, your form is a function of the SL’s perception enacting specific elements of its phenotypic plasticity repertoire given the stress profiles of the Phenomic 5 and the Adjunctive Tool Pool all of which is constrained by available nutrition, sleep quality, etc.
Dr. John Beasley: Are you saying the voice-in-the-head is just a sliver of the overall thinking load of the brain?
Gabriela Delgado: It is infinitesimal! It is only a blip just compared to the nonconscious E=mc² mind. The part we identify with — that conscious voice-in-the-head — is an output that dead ends, not a creative source. It is a cognitive sink like a contracted muscle, nothing more. It is even on a 250 to 400 millisecond delay relative to realtime events. Think of the “you” part being informed as a courtesy call by the SL literally as a steady stream of echoed afterthoughts. The stuff going on beneath the surface as the nonconscious mind is the source which produces many outputs with one of them being the voice-in-the-head. If that channel were turned off you would do just fine. The central purpose of Zen or any kind of meditation practice is to unplug the speaker! I just explained why that has no ill effect; “you” is still there doing just fine, in fact, you are better off without the monkey mind. Now for the major point of all this because it has great impact.
Once you understand the significance of the structure of your mind like I just laid out, you are ready to change your life in big ways. I want to get into ontogeny, which is often called developmental plasticity and it includes all possible changes to the body by phenotypic plasticity. John, you having a PhD in phenomics can appreciate where I am going with this.
Dr. John Beasley: I have a question first. In your thesis, you state that there is a high computational demand for image crunching for phenotypic plasticity. I have never heard of that before. From Damasio he mentions basic homeostasis but never mentions ontogenetic demand. Why do you think this is so?
Gabriela Delgado: I have given that thought and the reason is that the prevailing gene-centric view makes the claim that “genes switch on that gene” or, basically, “genes do this or genes do that”. Well, that view has a glaring homunculus problem, it doesn’t explain the decision process because genes are not the doers — perception, neural circuits, neuroendocrine signals, networks and nanomachines collectively provide agency. Genes only get read by the cell-level librarian that originated in unicellulars. Cabej was the first to explain the mechanics of the process in 2004. What I bring to the forefront is the evolutionary primacy of body thinking by neural circuits performing motricity and ontogeny in a framework of the evolution of mind in terms of the body. It is a synthesis under the aegis of the embodied cognition framework that builds on the work of neuroscience, evo-devo, endocrinology, cell biology and other fields. It all dovetails together to make a fabric of formidable veracity.
Dr. John Beasley: Your logic is there, I can see how it can explain quite a few existing issues in phenomics.
Gabriela Delgado: Ok, I am going to elaborate on my basic thesis that “the body is the work product of mind”. Given that, I want to show how to connect mind to body which really is about attention — deliberate mental focus — gaining access to and affecting phenotypic plasticity consequences via the SL. If you can do that, you are moving in the direction of using the latent power of the mind to guide the form and function of your progressing phenotype with an ultimate objective of realizing phenotypes in your phenome that produce performances in the Phenomic 5 at your performance ceiling. Does that sound like a plan?
Dr. John Beasley: Maybe I missed something here, you say you are going to show how to connect the mind to the body but didn’t you say the mind is what the body does? That is irreconcilable or at least nonsensical.
Gabriela Delgado: You are stealing my thunder, shame on you, John! Yes, you are right but most people have created a de facto dualism of mind and body by erroneously appointing E=mc² thinking as their sole mind which automatically alienates body thinking and the SL to some set of subservient cogs in the body machine under the hood. Thus, they are artificially disconnected and divorced from each other. The first order of business is to fix that because if you don’t then you have no chance of reaching your potential. In other words, most people operate on the physical level of the puppet — the body — and never operate on the level of the puppeteer — the real mind, or the SL — and the SL has total command of any possible physical changes in the phenotype. Ideally, you want to be the puppeteer and deep down that is exactly what you are, you just don’t know it because you have been duped all this time by the voice-in-the-head and cultural memes to that effect. People believe that the voice-in-the-head is them, they identify with it, but if it were to vanish entirely the real you is unscathed. All that means is you disconnected a speaker playing the voice-in-the-head song.
Dr. John Beasley: Got it.
Gabriela Delgado: Ok. If you could just turn the voice-in-the-head off at will you would be able to tune into unbelievably deep facets of your body that are unimaginable to you now. Just imagine that the voice-in-the-head is noise that single-handedly brings the signal-to-noise ratio of listening to your body down to nil. Since you can’t unplug it the next best thing is to train your attention on going deeply into the body. On the surface level — which is the level of attention — you can only do one thing, volitional attention can only focus on one thing at a time. If you go inward that automatically turns off the voice-in-the-head.
Now John, let’s take the thought experiment further. Continuing with the subtraction process, imagine there is no conscious thinking about something more than 5 minutes from now and no memory of events long ago. It would mean you don’t know who you are. If you couldn’t do those things you would be restricted to awareness of what is going on outside and inside right now; you would be super-tuned into the environment and to a kaleidoscope of feeling; and your senses would be heightened both internally and externally. Someone who is blind can hear and smell and touch supernaturally; someone who has no E=mc² thought would be super-tuned into the internal workings of their body. You would be in the ballpark of a horse, dog or cat. And you could perform at a level you can’t imagine now.
Does that make sense?
Dr. John Beasley: Ok…
Gabriela Delgado: Let’s examine attention. Don’t confuse attention or focus with the voice-in-the-head; your total mind minus the voice-in-the-head equals almost the entire mind and that entire mind is all beneath your awareness; do not equate what you hear in your head with what you are thinking below awareness! A reptile has attention defined by cognitive processes that edit out what is deemed not important leaving what remains — this is consciousness at its lowest level, a massive filtering process. You, on the other hand, have what a reptile, horse, cat or dog have but also have a higher level of attention at your disposal. This is the level of attention I am talking about, it can be used as a powerful tool to access many layers of the SL. This mental process — a form of mental training based on body thinking — is the means to realize my thesis of “the body is the work product of mind”.
Dr. John Beasley: Gabriela, so this effectively brings your mind closer to the SL by eliminating rational thinking.
Gabriela Delgado: Not quite. There is aways going to be nonconscious E=mc² thinking going on, it is not in your control. That is how you do strategic planning running in the background. Then, once a solution is created, the SL informs the voice-in-the-head with a memo to that effect such as, “Eureka! I have found it!” What I am saying is you first pull the plug on the voice-in-the-head by using high-level attention to focus inwardly. High-level attention can do only one thing so you implicitly find the OFF switch to the voice-in-the-head by turning the switch ON to another focal point. It is a toggle ON-OFF switch.
Dr. John Beasley: Ok, that makes sense.
Gabriela Delgado: Once you do this you now have entered an entirely different realm where “ body is the work product of mind” is subject to manipulation and amplification by aspects of the mind that can be trained to gain greater access to the SL. You have unlocked the door and can enter the first of many sequential rooms, you are a beginner of a very cool inner journey.
Another thing I must make clear at this beginner level is the use of headphones and music. Don’t get me wrong, being Brazilian and a dancer at heart I love music! But if you listen to music while you train whether it is to block out other people or to motivate you, it doesn’t matter, you are crippling your progress. This is nothing more than substituting or adding another obstacle of equal magnitude as the voice-in-the-head annoyance. If you need motivation from music’s vibe or any external source like a coach screaming in your ear than you are not ready to train on a serious wavelength, any benefit you get from that is superficial at best. All motivation to train should be emerging from deep within, the source of motivation is from the inside-out, not from the outside-in. Listen to music on your own time, not on your body’s time. Your time to train is precious and should be cherished, every time you listen to music while you train is squandering a vital opportunity to train your high-order attention to connect deeper into the SL.
Your attention needs to re-connect to feeling first and then you want to focus on body awareness by connecting to proprioception. In terms of neuroanatomy, there is major traffic from the cortex — where high-order attention lives — to the premotor cortex which traffics into the cerebellum which then routes to the peripheral nervous system. You want to tap into that. Next you want to focus attention on motor thinking as demonstrated by Nicolelis with experiments on body-machine interfaces between monkeys and their control of robots via motor thinking for force, space and time. A monkey can tune into motor thinking and so can you if you put your mind to it — literally. I talked about this earlier on its relationship to limit strength.
Dr. John Beasley: I have a question about the music. Doesn’t music shut off distractions from the outside and be a help in that capacity?
Gabriela Delgado: Yes, but at a cost. Mental training at the level I am discussing is far more difficult to execute than the physical part of training and the last thing I want is music blasting in my ears. Understand that in the context of using your high-order attentional cognitive resources to connect to the different layers of the SL, all that music can be, best-case, is a form of noise that degrades the signal-to-noise ratio of this fragile form of communication. I have no problem blocking out external sound; music could never even remotely improve my performance relative to using my mind to amplify torque output and why make something that is already very difficult to achieve even more difficult? Anyone willing to defend the use of headphones while training is never going to be able to access the SL in any meaningful way. It is a blatantly effective means of self-sabotage like shooting yourself in the foot. Why not use ear plugs instead? That would be smarter. What shoelaces tied together is to the body, headphones with music is to the mind. On the other hand, feel free to disregard my comments on headphones if you see no value in mental training; it only is crucial if that matters to you. Anything you can do to strip away E=mc² thinking or any other distractions interfering with connection between high-level attention and the SL is a display of intelligence.
Ok, this is the approach from the training side of the equation and now let’s flip over to the other side which is the recovery, adaptive side that addresses the SL’s role in controlling phenotypic plasticity.
Dr. John Beasley: I follow you so far at least in terms of the logic. What you are doing is building out approaches to apply your theories on “mind in terms of body” and “body in terms of mind” relative to training, adaptation, and the SL.
Gabriela Delgado: Yes, that is the strategy. On the recovery side is the wide world of phenotypic plasticity as it is perceived and managed by the SL. You want to tune into feeling and tune out the universe. Use your attention to follow feeling all the way down the rabbit hole to the source tissue the best you can. Strengthen the bandwidth of that connection from a goat path to a superhighway. Visualize with feeling adaptive response that improves performance. See it and feel it. In lieu of the voice-in-the-head, tune into all aspects of a healing body. Understand that adapting to training stress — recovery —uses a cognitive process that is much older and more fundamental than E=mc² thinking and you want to eventually remove the barrier you presently have separating your attentional resources from the cognitive process of adapting to stress so that you can directly affect the efficacy of that cognitive process. This consummates “body is the work product of mind”. So develop the habit of defaulting your attention to some layer of the SL and park your attention there. Someday you will remove all obstacles and mind and body will once again be united.
What you need to know is that your attentional faculty evolved from and is part of the SL so, really, tuning attention to the SL isn’t what is happening, not really. It only seems like that because for your entire life you have shrink wrapped your identity and attentional faculty together with the voice-in-the-self at the expense of truly “knowing they self” like a dog or reptile do spontaneously. Over time you may be able to make the big shift from: identifying with and being a puppet of the irrelevant voice-in-the-head; going through a long transition of disciplined focus on the different facets of the SL; to, finally, merging with the SL and becoming the puppeteer causing the voice-in-the-head to be evicted and be relegated to the cheap seats thus on the outside looking in. If you make it there, performance on the extreme edge of your phenome is yours. That is my view.
Dr. John Beasley: So, if you want to build a phenomic body what do you have to do?
Gabriela Delgado: That, John, is tossing me a softball. The body is the work product of the mind, so to build a phenomic body you need to build a phenomic mind. The key to achieving that is to embody the supervisor librarian — the champion of the body, cradle to grave.
Dr. John Beasley: Gabriela, thank you so much for sharing your provocative theory of mind. You have given me much to think about that has profoundly altered my view of myself and the structure of mind. Sebastião, do your best to keep Gabriela on a close leash, she is a beautiful but lethal animal! See you in Whistler!
The World’s Fittest Humans ©2015 James Autio. All rights reserved.
John now is on his way to visit Ji, that mystery man from China
John had fun in Brazil but he has to get ready for another long jaunt and this time it is to visit the 2nd fittest human on the planet, Ji Feng from China. Ji’s training background is 17 years of qigong and this seems so strange compared to the classic credentials of all the other Phenomic medalists. It just begs the question: What is qigong? Of all the interviews that John has done so far, no one has blown his mind…until now. Will Ji blow your mind too? The answer is yes and resistance is futile.
PHENOMIC GAMES and PHENOMIC 5 are trademarks of James Autio.
James Autio | firstname.lastname@example.org