Cognition and the Evolving Brain


Human cognition has advanced beyond the underlying cognitive frameworks that enabled our species to emerge from three billion years of evolution. However, these frameworks still exert unrelenting pressure on our experience, coloring and triggering how and what we think. The potential for thought liberated from the influence of these underlying frameworks is perhaps limitless. Understanding the role our ancestral cognitive mechanisms play in our perceptual experience, with their advantages and limitations can assist in this liberation.

EVOLUTIONARY LAYERNEUROLOGICAL ORGANCOGNITIVE FORMAT
ALL LIVING THINGSPARASYMPATHETIC / ENTERIC NERVOUS SYSTEMS (GUT BRAIN)REFLEXES
ANIMALSSYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM / BRAIN STEMDRIVES
VERTEBRATESBRAIN STEM / CEREBELLUM/BASAL GANGLIA INSTINCTS
MAMMALSMIDBRAIN/THALAMIC NUCLEI/LIMBICEMOTIONS
PRIMATES NEO-CORTEXEGO

This description is similar to but extends the TRIUNE BRAIN model of Paul MacLean. Here cognition is seen as a function predating the emergence of the central nervous system and nervous system evolution occurring to meet more complex cognitive demands as creatures ventured into dimensionally more complex situations.


REFLEX: Reflexes assess whether a stimulus meets genetically encoded parameters and if a trigger threshold is attained, will respond with a preset genetically encoded reaction. These neurological stimulus/response patterns do not generally pass further into the central nervous system than the spine. Startle (Freeze) is an example of a reflex that is still active in our experience.

DRIVE: Hunger and Sex Drive are good examples. These can be thought of as reflexes framed by an intent (EG: Hungry! -> go eat). Drives are also genetically hard-wired neurological stimulus/response processes managed by the most primitive cognitive mechanisms in the brain stem. They can be modeled mathematically as “If X = True, Then Do Y”.

The “Sex Drive” is so integral to our species persistence that it has an expression in every evolutionary layer, and is not purely a drive. This ubiquitous quality facilitates using our sexuality as one of the best portals into exploring all realms of our awareness as living beings – from our most primal to a direct experience of the essential creative Force of Life. More discussion on this here:
THE PERSISTENCE ARCHETYPE

INSTINCT: Primarily genetically encoded, Instincts integrate sensory information from many more sources, with a much larger array of activity options. Tribalism has an instinctual quality to it. Responses can be moderated by experience, enabling creatures to succeed in a range of settings not accessible by using Drives alone. Anger is more likely an Instinct than an Emotion, as is the action-based fear we call Fight/Flight. Like Drives and Reflexes, Instincts trigger after a certain threshold has been reached. If we find our cognition is in a mode where we are being vigilant (watching) for a threshold to be crossed, we are operating from Instinct.

EMOTION: Socialization is a key attribute of Mammals. A mammal is better understood as an element of its social network than as an individual, each individual adopting a specific role in the group dynamic. These complex social dynamics require complex cognition, which we experience as a range of emotions. Grief is an example of emotion we experience at the loss of an attribute of our social web. Learned responses are a primary element, enabling far greater adaptability than our ancestral genetically hard-wired cognition. Grief, Joy, Bonding, and Love are examples of emotions. CURIOSITY AND BOREDOM. THEORY OF MIND/RECOGNIZING FACIAL EXPRESSIONS/EMPATHY/COMPASSION
PLAY AS MECHANISM FOR SOCIALIZATION

EGO: The ability to edit/regulate the output of all of the underlying cognitive layers is a major leap forward in cognitive capacity. The edit is a learned ability to manage our responses. We can observe both children and adults developing and refining this ability through complex PLAY. An effect of mastering this sophisticated edit function is something which we call Self Awareness (the ability to edit our more innate editing abilities, based on learned, complex models of the world in relation to ourselves). The gestation for Human Beings, where this editing framework is acquired is considered to take as many as 25 years. A key attribute of this is the ability to alter at least to some degree what has been learned, enabling an adaptive ability unlike any other creature on the planet. (Neuronal plasticity)

The ability to edit the output of underlying cognitive processes is a prerequisite for evolving more complex cognition*. Our most ancient, protective Freeze response (All Living Thing, Animals) needs to both trigger (by the Startle Reflex), as it is retained as a highly functional protective mechanism, and then be quickly inhibited to enable the more sophisticated Fight/Flight responses (Vertebrates) to initiate. Fight/Flight is suppressed by the cooperative hunting and survival tactics that our mammalian ancestors evolved. Primates developed sophisticated social organizing structures which maximized safety, and Human Beings have added another layer with codified traditions and laws, where we may feel inclined to break a law, but we do not. More discussion on this here:
REACTION VS. RESPONSE

*This editing function was demonstrated by Sir Charles Sherrington (~1900) who noticed that after spinal section (cutting the link between the spine and the brain) reflexes in primates were inhibited whereas reflexes in dogs were not – suggesting Primate evolution had inserted a cortical override into the Spinal Reflex circuits. The electrical circuit equivalent would be an “AND Gate” at the Spinal Reflex trigger synapse – If trigger threshold for “X” AND “Y” = true, then do “Z”.
A discussion of this can be found here:
ACTIVATION OF REFLEXES

COGNITIVE MECHANISMEXAMPLES OF COGNITIONBIOCHEMISTRY
REFLEXESStartle, Extended/Collective (Pleasure), Contracted (Pain)Thyroid Hormones
DRIVESHunger, Sex, Adrenaline, HPA Axis
INSTINCTSTerritoriality(defensive)
EMOTIONSSocial BondingOxytocin
EGOBuilt WorldElectrical – not biochemical. Manipulation (calibration) of the convergence of data to form information. (Brain wave synchronization.)

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UP TO DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS (COGNITION)