Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Path Dependence and Phylogenetic Incongruity

Giuseppe Penone – The Hidden Life Within

As a thing develops, be it an organism or a building, its path follows a similar pattern wherein the available options diminish with time until it reaches a locked-in phase. At this point, path dependence becomes most evident.

Humans are complex and have many parts, many of them developed at different times in the organism’s phylogeny, or evolutionary history.*

This issue of phylogenetic incongruence arises when one feature, such as olfaction, reaches its locked-in phase before another feature, like language.

And so, it is this way with our sense of smell. Olfaction is the earliest sense to develop. Vertebrates are the first creatures to have an olfactory system. But this is confusing because we can say that plants smell too. Olfaction at its base is chemoreception, requiring only a chemical and a receptor for recognizing that chemical. To think of it, some early, old, simple organism could sense light levels and acoustic/mechanical vibrations, but we would not say they could see or hear. Vision in humans is much more than mere photoreception (isn’t it?). But olfaction is not so much.

All this is to say that the ‘network architecture’ of our olfactory system is so old, so far back to the beginning, that although humans have evolved other parts of themselves as to deprioritize its use, its structure persists. This necessitates the kludge, the chimerical retrofit that is our olfactory-language system. To talk about smells, to generate an empirical, consensual recognition of olfactory experience – which requires language – is like trying to eat an electron. Sure you can say that’s what you’re doing, but is it really?

*The sequence of these developments are reflected in the ontological development, that is the development of an individual from gestation through maturity, and are so vividly illustrated in this chart by the master Ernst Haeckel.

Electron Buffet – bacteria that eat pure energy

Here is a good example of how the sequence of system-design impacts development:

Post Post-Script:
Bose-Einstein condensates, the Matthew effect, and other laws metaphysical

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