The Role of Cognition in Evolutionary Theory

By F. J. Irsigler, Paardekraal Hospital, Krugersdorp, Transvaal Mankind Quarterly, 33, 06-01-1993, pp 371.

Lynn (The Mankind Quarterly, XXXII, 1-2, 1991: 116) argues that brain size is positively correlated with intelligence in man, and that races show consistent differences in both brain size and intelligence. Intelligence is understood as the ability to solve cognitive problems. It consists of a conscious (rational) and an unconscious (ratiomorphic) component. The first originates from education, the second from the process of phylogenetic learning (a posteriori) but at the same time is an expectation (a priori) for the ontogenetic gain of knowledge (R. Riedl et al. in Evolution and Cognition 2:58, 1992).

I. The Basic Relation

Evolution is based on the functional relation between ontogeny and phylogeny (Schindewolf, Gould). According to the French molecular biologist F. Jacob, the relation allows to convert a series of organizations in space into an isomorphic series of transformations in time, called "La logique du vivant" (Jacob 1970: 162, 318). In structural terms, the relation is equivalent to autonomous morphogenesis (Monod 1972:26), that is, interpenetration (L. Edinger 1909) or interdigitation (H. Braak 1980) of the phylogenetically old and the new cortices, the allocortex (sensu lato) and the neo-or isocortex. In functional terms, the basic relation refers to the conflict between organism and environment in which the organism "always calls the tune (Jacob: 185). This is due to a cognitive state known as "conscious" or "the conscious self" . It is innate in each species (Sperry 1983: 95) and at the base of the autonomy or self-determination characterizing the living belongs in their behavior (Monod: 79). The latter is related to a specific kind of information from the outside world but does not depend on changes in the environment. This information is called "semantic" (Brillouin) or "teleonomic" (Monod). Professor M. Eigen, the Nobel laureate from the Max-Planck-Institutfur biophysikalische Chemie in Gottingen, calls it "Information of selective value with respect to reproduction" (Eigen 1971:517). It provides the "perceived meaning" (Stent) of signs and symbols, also called "the emotional truth" (Cattell). Both are species-typical raising the question how the new evolutionary types or "morphs" originate.

II. Evolution by Law

New species, or subspecific types arise by heteromorph speciation. This means sudden events called "heterochronic", occurring during individual ontogenies and disrupting Haekel's repetition of phylogeny in ontogeny. This is the tenet of the emerging school holding "Evolution by Law" or "Nomogenesis" from the Greek nomos = law (L. Berg 1922/1969, J.C. Willis 1940, C.P. Groves 1989). Heterochronic "jumps" are explained by G.R. de Beer who states in his "Embryology and Evolution" (1930:108): "New characters apply at all stages of ontogeny, and by heterochony they may be retarded or accelerated, so as to appear later or earlier in subsequent ontogenies". This makes phylogeny a function of ontogeny (A.N. Sewertzoff 1931: 365) and leads to evolutionary progress by phylogenetical branching or cladogenesis (B. Rensch 1971: 122). It is exemplified by the split in the hominid lineage during the Late Pliocene (Tobias 1985:135) and the sudden transposition at the time of emergence of the modern and Neanderthal grade (Groves: 60 ff, 304, 317).

Retarded ontogeny results in retention of ancestral "juvenile characters" , formerly called foetalization, now known as "paedo-morphosis/neoteny" .

It is the retention of their juvenile bodily traits into adulthood which makes the South African Kalahari Bushmen or San people a distinct ethnic or racial entity (Tobias 1978: 5). The ancestors of the San, living in richly endowed areas, looked exactly like the present-day desert dwellers. This shows that their paedomorphic traits are not, as formerly thought, an effect of adaptation to the arid environment. The homogenetic school considers adaptation to be a conservative rather than progressive factor in evolution. It holds that our species is geologically young and demic (stenotopic) right from the start.

III. Space-time (Dissipative) Structures

Professor I. Prigogine, of the Free University in Brusselles, has developed a thermo-dynamical theory of evolution which he calls a "Dialogue with Nature". The theory rests on two premises developed in Prigogine's Nobel Lecture in Chemistry (1977). (1) The thermodynamical a state "far from equilibrium" which characterizes the living beings, leads, through a series of instability, to a new "order through fluctuations" .(2) From the instabilities result, through exchange of matter and energy (information) with the outside world, in space-time structures, called "dissipative" (Prigogine 1977: 2.1, 4.5). The exchange is both necessary and irreversible. Dissipativity thus requires the isomorphism of the basic relation (Section I) to be replaced by heteromorphism leading to heteromorph speciation (Section II). The fluctuations play a decisive role in the evolutionary progress. They amplify some initially small variations into behavior related to the specific "Umwelt" to which the living beings belong. This leads Prigogine to the concept of multiple times (Prigogine et Stengers: 13, 431). The group-specific time is represented in the new "time evolution operator" with its "eigen values". It expresses the condition of dissipativity as a (Lyapounof) function > O (Progogine 1977: 7.6) Dissapativity breaks the time-symmetry of the "Classics" and results, through successive bifurcations, to phylogenetical branching (cladogenesis).

There were earlier attempts to conceive homogenization in terms of a series of deviation-amplifying processes. Professor P. V. Tobias, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, refers in his James Arthur lecture on the Evolution of the Human Brain (1969) to Maruyama (1963) and to Holloway (1967) arguing that an initial "kick or push" , such as tool-using in Late Pliocene pongids, may have set in motion a positive feedback" resulting in a cladogenetic split (Tobias 1971:144 ff).

The crucial point is the autonomy of the heterochronic (space-time) transformations in which fluctuations, structure, and function are reciprocally interrelated Prigogine 1977: 4.5).

Dissipative structures mediating the contact between organism and the outside world, are present in animals ranging from reptiles to man. They are called "the reptilian-type and palaeo-mammalian-typebrains" (Maclean 1978: 42). They comprise the olfacto-striate complex and satellite grisea, the so-called "periventricular brain" involved in hormonal feedback regulation (Nieuwenhuys 1985:179 ff), Laborit's "information circulante". It coincides largely, but not entirely, with the limbic or palaeo-mammalian system which undergoes, in the ascending primates, a definite progression in size and differentiation culminating in man (Stephan and Andy 1970, Stephan 1975). The interdigitation between the phylogenetically old and the new cortices (Section I) results from the migratory processes (Schepers 1948:167) characterizing the early stages of cortex evolution in mammals, that is hemispheric rotation around the lateral (sylvian) fossa, and infolding of the allocortex forming a zone of transition where allocortical and isocortical layers are intimately indented (Braak: 38).

If the connecting pathways between the reptilian and palaeo-mammalian formations are destroyed in monkeys, the species-typical, simian behavior disappears. Interpreting these experimental findings in the light of clinical evidence one might say that these structures "provide the avenues to the basic personality" (Maclean:49).

Clinical evidence is available. In the type of presenile dementia first described by A. Pick in 1898 and bearing his name, "the avenues or connecting regions of the olfactory with the limbic system" are the initial and selective targets of the cortical atrophy in the early stages of Pick's disease. It eventually destroys the human character and conduct ("Kern des Menschseins"). This and the fatal outcome are due to the progressive destruction of the orbito-frontotemporal cortices (Spatz' "basale Rinde") including the allocortical regio entorhinalis and Brodmann's "insula ventralis or olfactoria" (Stephan 1975, Irsigler 1989). (Spatz 1937, 1955, 1965, Luers and Spatz 1957, Kahle 1969, Jacob 1979).

Summarizing. problems arising from space-time contact between organism and environment require structures not related to cognition, but controlled by emotions or "drives". These are components of the "conscious self" ranging from animal consciousness to the self-conscious mind of the human species (Popper and Eccles). The "affective unconscious and the cognitive unconscious" of the Piagetian school (1976) is innate in each species and develops onto- and phylo-genetically at different rates, that is, by heterochronic cytogenesis and mylogenesis (Spatz and coworkers). It follows that the Prigoginean "space-time structures" must include al, cortex sensu lato, represented in mammals by the "periventricular or reptilian-palaeo-mammalian"(cholinergic) brains (MacLean, Niewenhuys). It is thus the subcortex and its connecting path with "basal neocortex" the subcortex and its connecting school, not the surface "association" areas which are at the base of the "distributed" cerebral functioning (Pribram). In other words: the correlation between brain size and function (including intelligence) is one of structural (allo-isocortical) interpenetration and functional reciprocity, not one of sheer quantity in the sense of Jacob's "isomorphism" . The determining factor in both phylogeny and ontogeny is group specificity. In man, this means innate individuality "that effectively rules out environment, experience, or known theory of child development or nurturance" (Sperry 1983: 56).

The heterochronic "jumps" (Phasensprunge, Eigen 1988) characterizing the living beings are related to species-typical information with respect to reproduction. These sudden events replace the time parameter of causation with the quasi-timeless parameter of implication (Hormann, Lestienne) or inductive reasoning (Induktion, Riedl 1980). Heteromorph speciation defines the participation of the species in their own evolution.


In man, brain size is determined by the mass of the neo-cortex. This has led to the idea that the higher cortical functions, including consciousness, are neocortical in origin and character, resulting from the cognitive evolution starting "from scratch" after the break- up of instinct (Piaget 1976). However, consciousness, or the conscious self, is innate in each species, amounting in man to "innate individuality" (Sperry 1983). It is a function of a basic relation (A.N. Whitehead 1949), that is, of the group-specific space-time converting "dissipative" structures present in the brain since the Jurassic mammalian-like reptiles including man. Both the conscious and the unconscious components of cognition are related to the "Umwelt" to which living beings belong, (this is K. Lorenz' "evolutionary epistemology" qualified by I. Prigogine' s "irreversible thermodynamics"). It is the species-typical autonomy characterizing the cognitive (intellectual and emotional dimensions of the human personality) that is responsible for the individual and group differences to which Lynn refers between the sexes and the races.


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