Evolution Versus Punctuated Extinction: A Developing Thesis

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Evolution Versus Punctuated Extinction
Binary Cognitive Interpretation
James G. Needham
Psy 410 – Cognitive Development
Portland State University

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A Preface to a Paradigm Shift

“Life is essentially autoregulation” (Piaget, 1970, p. 26)– Piaget’s Guiding Hypothesis.

The autoregulation which Piaget references in his stages of cognitive development is the means of ensuring rhythms, regulations, and operations which ensure both the development of the individual and the adaptation of the individual. Piaget has developed a paradigm for human cognitive development which translates into all the elements of human endeavor. These fundamental principles provide the foundation which Piaget’s successors have based an entire universe of hypotheses upon. The clear evidence of a relationship between stages of cultural development and Piaget’s stages of cognitive development is little more than the logic of realizing that cultures are composed of collections of individuals, and the same principles of cognitive development which applies to individuals would apply to collections of individuals.

Numerous psychologists have noted the correlation between Piaget’s Cognitive Development in children, as it applies in various cultures, and extended this correlation to the development of cultures in and of themselves. The consensus appears to be that there is universality in the fashion in which human development is anthropomorphized to be aptly applied in most all human activities. (Piaget, The Psychology of Intelligence, 1951, p. 173) The self-regulating capacity, expressed within the constraints of chromosomal pairings in the human genome, has endowed our species with extensive capabilities and capacities which transcend all other species. Despite the accepted fact the human genome has remained essentially constant for tens of thousands of years, only relatively recently has our species discovered and incompletely mapped the functions of human DNA. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend how human or other organisms might modify the number or composition of chromosomal pairs which supply the parameters of genetic expression in adaptation.

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The vast variety and characteristics of organisms living on this planet, and the still incomplete identification of differentiated varieties even within species, is quite extraordinary. The uncounted varieties of dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, and even the wide variety of human beings, at least demonstrate the possibility that evolution may have a component composed of a multitude of coexistent varieties. In view of the evident simultaneous existence of such a multitude of variations, it begs the resolution of two questions. Is there a limit to how many varieties may develop and coexist within a species? Did these near-infinite varieties of species and sub-species “evolve” to adapt to a changing environment, or are they simply the survivors of Punctuated Extinctions which have eliminated species variations which are excessively dependent upon a too narrow window of survivability. Do species and subspecies which are unable to autoregulate themselves or their environment simply cease to exist when they no longer have the capacity to autoregulate within environmental constraints? These are the questions which may be resolved through Punctuated Extinction rather than Evolution.

Piaget’s Foundation for Autoregulation as a Dynamic Mechanism for Adaptation

The central theme of Piaget’s theories concerning autoregulation focus upon the human capacity for cognitive development of knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge to each other and to posterity. Piaget suggested that “knowledge is not a copy of the environment but a system of real interactions reflecting the autoregulatory organization of life…” (Piaget, Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations Between, 1971, p. 27). He had a firm understanding and grasp of the essence of human beings which enable them to employ their
cognitive capacities to acquire and transmit knowledge. However, the acquisition and transmission of knowledge, alone, is insufficient to ensure survival of the comprehensive diversity of our species or any other.

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Mankind needed a structure and authority to govern how acquired knowledge and “dominion” should be managed to avoid abuse. There has been much debate over the spiritual component of the human psyche, but the Holy Scriptures have served as a guide and inspiration for human epistemological and moral conduct for millennia. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Holy Scriptures: New Revised Standard Version, 1989).

After Piaget’s encounter with the writings of Bergson, while yet a teenager, his perspectives regarding knowledge, or epistemology, underwent a major evolution. In the subsequent pursuit of knowledge as being biological, he established an understanding of human beings as being the divine manifestation of the very essence of God, inasmuch as the balance of the universe was embodied in the balance within humanity. This was the occasion which he described as the event of reconciling biology with epistemology and the recognition of the human body’s capacity for automatically maintaining homeostasis, or equilibrium, between internal metabolic functions and external influences; the same autoregulation which governed the physical and metaphysical elements of the universe itself (Constructive Evolution: Origins and Development of Piaget’s Thought, 1988, p. 24)

Human beings were continually subjected to environmental changes which necessitate physical adjustments to maintain autonomic functions in response to external changes. With the revelation of Piaget’s guiding hypothesis, he was able to conceptualize Psychology as being the component of science which provided the link between the physiological elements of the human condition with human behavior. Through Psychology, Piaget was able to explain how internal components of the human body could translate the functions which integrated perceptions with

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behaviors and produced knowing, or the awareness of these functions. This autoregulating symbiotic relationship between behavioral sciences and biological sciences, physical and metaphysical, was the cornerstone for explanation and understanding of knowledge itself. Knowledge being a summation of awareness of all behaviors employed in the automatic components of the human body.

After formulating his hypothesis, Piaget set out to explain and elaborate upon the manifestation of autoregulation. He addressed the fashion in which organs in the human body were able to provide the fundamental element of preserving equilibrium despite frequent changes and exchanges in and with the environment. “Cognitive processes seem, then, to be at one and the same time the outcome of organic autoregulation, reflecting its essential mechanisms, and the most highly differentiated organs of this regulation” (Piaget, Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations Between, 1971, p. 26). It was clear, by this statement, that Piaget was aware of the capacity of organs to both be the source of both cause and effect internally. He also was aware of knowledge as being the outcome of these biological functions such that it is not a duplication of autoregulation, but something separate and distinct (Piaget, Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations Between, 1971, p. 27).

As long as the global environment remains relatively stable, as it has since the last mass extinction, it is likely that human and other species will remain relatively stable. Thus, without going into an extensive analysis of Piaget’s understanding of the acquisition and application of knowledge as a means of ensuring environmental and autonomic biological balance, it is sufficient to observe that mankind has employed his cognitive and epistemological capacities to adapt his environment to nearly any conceivable condition. The human species has demonstrated the ability to produce a survivable environment in environments from the depths of the oceans to

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other planets – on a semi-permanent basis, notwithstanding a catastrophic and permanent “punctuated” destruction of a permanent compatible environment.

Piaget’s Approach to “Accepted” Evolution and Cybernetics

“Affective life and cognitive life, then are inseparable although distinct. They are inseparable because all interaction with the environment involves both a structuring and a valuation” (Piaget, The Psychology of Intelligence, 1951, p. 6)

Acknowledging that behavioral and environmental changes are intimately interconnected does not diminish the role of behavior in evolution, but instead emphasizes the need to understand sources of behavioral change in order to evaluate the relative importance of behavioral and environmental changes in driving or inhibiting evolution. Piaget considered cognitive functions and the methods in which organs of autoregulation control all exchanges underlying behavior indispensable in understanding the process of evolution (Piaget, Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations Between, 1971, p. 26). Employing the definition of ‘feedback’ or a ‘feedback-loop’ as generally referring to the returning of some aspect of the output of a system, as information or energy, which is reintroduced as though it were input in order to function as a means of self-regulatory correction or control (Richardson, 2000, p. 12), Dr. Richardson evaluates the indispensability of this element in the cybernetic theory of biological evolutionary processes. Although a good case is made to refute the Natural Selection element of Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian evolution, it would appear that the ‘feedback’ element, alone, is insufficient for application as an indispensable element of evolutionary theory. The case is also substantiated to refute the Weismann Barrier concept of hereditary information moving only from genes to body cells.

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Rather than viewing “evolutionary” changes in organisms as self-initiated genetic modifications, is it possible that various species may possess the capacity for symbiotic survival? There are components of the human body which are essentially independent of the host organism, such as parasitic organisms which may aid human resistance to morbidity. (Velasquez- Manoff, 2008). There has been research conducted by gastroenterologist, Joel Weinstock, regarding the symbiotic benefits of parasitic organisms which assist human beings in resisting pathology or enhancing autonomic stability; autoimmunity. If human beings are able to develop symbiotic relationships with parasitic organisms, there is the possibility that other organisms may do so also, and that these symbiotic relationships may have intergenerational effects in the expression of genetic traits affecting “evolution”.

It is entirely possible that evidence which may substantiate or correlate an evolutionary model in which ‘feedback’ is, invariably necessary exists, but was not discerned at the time of this writing. However, inasmuch as ‘feedback’ mechanisms are believed to provide the information or energy for self-regulatory correction, it would only be relevant if it were sufficient to avoid the result in species extinction. If it were insufficient to prevent species extinction, then it would be essentially little more than biological ‘feedback’ necessary for selfregulatory mechanisms within the organism. The self-regulatory nature of the cybernetic approach to evolution is well supported, and the “Evolution of Evolution” is a process which is clearly demonstrated by the “Theory in Progress”. There seem to be areas of ‘feedback’ and genetic exchanges which compel the questioning of the immutability of “evolution”, rather than Punctuated Extinctions, as being the fundamental element of the origin or survival of species.

Punctuated Equilibriums: The Flip Side of Punctuated Extinctions

The essence of the debate concerning the origin of species has essentially been focused upon two fundamental propositions; either evolution is the result of gradual adaptation or sudden

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and dramatic extinctions. Both of these imply or compel subscription to the belief that organisms adapt themselves to their environment – self-modify. The difficulty with this concept is that there is little, if any, evidence that human beings or other species retain the capacity to redesign the genetic code which defines the parameters of adaptability. However, there is a growing element of scientific evidence to suggest that it is insufficient to believe that all adaptive change in species or organisms is derived from a single source or agency, so a reasonable and prudent person would easily fabricate methods of falsifying hypothesis which rely upon limited options. “New theories such as punctuated equilibrium reintroduced an element of discontinuity, and there was evidence that mass extinctions form genuine discontinuities in the history of life” (Peter J. Bowler, 2009, p. 347).

Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould first advanced the theory of punctuated equilibriums in 1972, when they suggested that gradualism did not account for Darwinian dogma of “gradualism”. Darwinian “gradualism” necessitates the belief that “new species arise from the slow and steady transformation of entire populations. Under its influence, we seek unbroken fossil series linking two forms by insensible gradation as the only complete mirror of Darwinian processes; we ascribe all breaks to imperfections in the record.” (Punctuated equilibria: An alternative to Phyletic Gradualism, 1972, p. 84) Eldredge and Gould, on the other hand, suggest that there are rare catastrophic events which produce total disruption of existing speciation in such a fashion as to produce mass extinctions.

One of the enduring qualities of Piaget’s cognitive theories was the fundamental principles upon which he based his developmental model. Regardless of the ultimate falsification, or failure to falsify, the research and conclusions of Piaget or his predecessors, Lamarck and Darwin, the foundations for scientific explanation of individual and cultural human development and behavior have been firmly and inescapably established. Just as Darwin

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expanded upon, and constructed his hypothesis upon the works of Lamarck, Piaget has constructed and expanded their works so future students of Psychology and human behavior will construct future theorization based upon his conclusions.

“Cybernetics”, by definition “the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine” (Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, 1948, 1961, 1965, p. i), can reasonably be considered the next “evolutionary” step in the collective development of mankind. The evidence and hypothesis submitted by Piaget leads us to reasonably conclude the next level of human development is “cybernetics”. “…[W]e can henceforth think of the three main currents in evolutionary thinking as Lamarckism, neo-Darwinism, and the new ideas emerging from cybernetics” (Piaget, Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations Between, 1971, pp. 26, 122). Once the systems and processes of cognitive and epistemological development in human beings have been established, the principle which ensures organic continuity in opposition to natural forces of inevitable extinction naturally progress from maintaining individual systemic stability to maintaining collective systemic stability.

The essence of Piaget’s cybernetic approach to evolution is the autoregulatory theme of his developmental processes and systems. The autoregulatory function appears to be a fundamental cosmic phenomenon applicable to organisms as well as the material components of the universe itself. The balances which keep stars, planets, and continents from catastrophic chaos also allow organisms to continue production and reproduction processes so long as they have the capacity to preserve their autonomic harmony (balance) with their environment. Of course there are other processes which allow and facilitate this cosmic harmony, but they are the subsystems which manifest the maintenance of the cybernetic processes.

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There is a fundamental phenomenon which distinguish various elements of the known universe from other elements, and that is their behavior. Ancient philosophers speculated about cosmic motion as being the essence of existence and everything was at some stage of motion; slower or faster, closer or further, which led to Zeno’s paradox of infinite divisibility. Although philosophic deliberation is not the point of this dissertation, it does serve to empiric factors of motion as it affects and is affected by behavior. Piaget considered behavior to be a fundamental
element of evolution as applied to natural selection. “Sometimes behavior is viewed as causal in relation to evolution, sometimes as determined by it” (Piaget, 1975). There can be no dispute of the primal importance of behavior in autoregulatory function, for it is imperative that an organism or person be able to avoid existential threats, or modify themselves or their environment to minimize existential threats.

An organism’s ability to respond to, or modify itself or its environment, requires a feedback mechanism. “This ‘feedback’ or circularity in a relation between an animal and its environment is rather generally neglected in present-day evolutionary theorizing” (Waddington, 1975). Although Corning (Corning, 1983) proposes “…It was Lamarck who first proposed that changes in habits-that is, in acquired behavior-were a major cause of evolutionary change”, it has since become clear that natural selection does not simply occur randomly, but is the result of
several factors which are believed to rely upon some means of behavioral feedback. Thus, because the Darwinian concepts of evolution relied heavily upon natural selection which lacked an explanation other than ‘random’ occurrences, it has largely become obsolescent. An explanation for evolution which incorporates Punctuated Equilibriums, or catastrophic events which suddenly and decisively thrust incompatible or unadaptable organisms into extinction, emerge to explain sudden massive species extinctions.

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Although there is no evidence available, at this writing, that there has been research conducted to apply Piagetian stages of development specifically to scientific endeavor, it would seem reasonable to believe there is a structured and progressive development process in effect in how scientific knowledge is developed. Such a hypothesis may be explored at some point in the future, but for now it is reasonable to assume that science has developed to a formal and postformal operations stage that recognizes abstract realities and the need to explore new methodologies to explore these elements. Present scientific consensus recognize the fact that there are processes which dictate factors which preclude ‘random’ organic selection of the ‘fittest’, and mandate consideration of factors of which we are presently unaware. There is growing evidence that genetic assimilation may comprise a primary determinant of organic selection. Understanding of precisely how genetic assimilation factors into organic selection are not completely understood at this point in time. It seems reasonable to believe there are feedback mechanisms which affect the development of species-specific genomes, including that of human beings.

There is scientific evidence that the human genome is composed of 23 chromosome pairs which establish the physiological parameters within which a human being is capable of adapting to, and modifying, their environment. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of precisely how chromosome pairs are naturally added to, or subtracted from a genome to determine species variations. What is believed, at this point in time, is that the genes which comprise the genome are triggered or suppressed by environmental and physiological changes. There seems to be evidence that genetic proclivities may be modified and triggered by life experiences and subsequently transmitted to offspring, but always within the constraints of the 23 chromosome pairs. There appears to be no evidence of viral or environmental phenomena which will add to or subtract from the 23 chromosome pairs.

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Now that human beings have acquired the ability to modify genes to activate or inhibit genetic expression, it may be only a matter of time before it becomes possible to add or subtract chromosome pairs. However, until such time, it is clear that Piaget’s cybernetic hypothesis is a valid component of evolution which precludes punctuated equilibriums like cosmic, disease, man-made artificial or other catastrophic events.

Summary: Evolution of “Punctuated Extinctions”

Mankind is indisputably a unique organism in the known universe and has firmly established humanity as the dominant form of life in the perceived cosmos. Piaget’s research established a firm foundation for explaining the biological relationship between cognitive and epistemological functions of the brain, the essential functions of which distinguish human beings from other species. All of what we know and think hinges upon our perceptions and our ability to construct neural networks which allow retention, interpretation, and recall of processes and procedures which enable us to autoregulate our autonomic functions within nearly every conceivable environment. Not only are humans capable of applying these perceptive and constructive abilities to preserve homeostasis for ourselves, but for our posterity!

The eternal question which has motivated human acquisition of knowledge is “why”? The capacity to simply seek an explanation or understanding of cause and effect, in conjunction with the ability to communicate through verbal and written language, has endowed us with an acquisition of knowledge and supporting empiric data to permit understanding and explanation of virtually anything we perceive. This entire vast warehouse of information is in terms which may be interpreted by our senses and perceptions. Anything and nearly everything which exists outside the limits of our perceptions remains an unchartered territory which may remain forever locked away from us for want of being unable to even conceive of what may exist beyond our ability to conceive. And the single most troubling element of our vast accumulations of

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knowledge is the nominal knowledge we have of our own abilities to survive and adapt to our environment by virtue of the processes which are operating twenty-four hours a day, every day of our lives.

What we know is that our brains are the engine and the engineer of our thoughts and behaviors. The processes which allow us to perceive and interpret our surroundings and maintain homeostasis are the same processes which limit those functions to anthropomorphizing everything we know. The first binary interpretations of our minds are limited to perceiving everything as good or bad, beginning and ending, and all within the scope of our perceptions of
time and space. Is that all there is? That remains a question which remains to be determined by future events and hypothesizing. We know, however, that we exist, and there is a structure of cognitive development which permits us to “evolve” through the entire conceptual “evolution” of mankind beginning at conception and ending with death. The simple fact is that the entire process of transitioning through our entire epistemological and biological “evolution” is essentially a process of discovering what already existed, but we lacked the capability of

Just as the genes within the human genome are expressed or suppressed in response to environmental or organic changes, so also have we made “discoveries” based upon preceding knowledge and environmental changes. The genes have always been locked into our genome, providing the potential and parameters for expression or suppression. The cosmos, whether known or unknown, have always existed providing the opportunity for illumination or “discovery” as our collective knowledge expanded. Ken Wilber expresses his interpretation of the universe in terms of states of consciousness and stages of development expressed through his Integral Psychograph (AQAL: All Quadrants All Levels) interpretation of everything, based upon his proposition that “everything” lies within some area of his Ego (Individual) quadrants of

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“I” and “We” or Eco (Collective) quadrants of “It” and “It’s” (Ken Wilber, 2001, p. 53). The existence and consciousness of humanity is based upon cosmic conditions which, for the most part, defy logical explanation such as the “Goldilocks Zone” our planet occupies in the solar system; the existence of our moon which controls or affects a multitude of events and conditions on earth, the likelihood of biological and environmental conditions which would be compatible to human beings, etc. ad infinitum.

In conclusion, Human beings are on the earth in essentially the same genetic condition as they were in when they originated. Human beings have adapted to their environment largely within the same genetic constraints which apply to other species. Countless species have existed and become extinct since the origin of human beings with extinction being the imminent outcome of all organisms. All species are subject to extinction under punctuated equilibriums, and if human beings do not further develop and express their genetic potential to exist in a broad diversity of environments, they too will experience Punctuated Extinction.

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