Moving and sensing without input and output: Early nervous systems and the origins of the animal sensorimotor organization

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Abstract

It remains a standing problem how and why the first nervous systems evolved. Molecular and genomic information is now rapidly accumulating but the macroscopic organization and functioning of early nervous systems remains unclear. To explore potential evolutionary options, a coordination centered view is discussed that diverges from a standard input–output view on early nervous systems. The scenario involved, the skin brain thesis (SBT), stresses the need to coordinate muscle-based motility at a very early stage. This paper addresses how this scenario with its focus on coordination also deals with sensory aspects. It will be argued that the neural structure required to coordinate extensive sheets of contractile tissue for motility provides the starting point for a new multicellular organized form of sensing. Moving a body by muscle contraction provides the basis for a multicellular organization that is sensitive to external surface structure at the scale of the animal body. Instead of thinking about early nervous systems as being connected to the environment merely through input and output, the implication developed here is that early nervous systems provide the foundation for a highly specific animal sensorimotor organization in which neural activity directly reflects bodily and environmental spatiotemporal structure. While the SBT diverges from the input–output view, it is closely linked to and supported by ongoing work on embodied approaches to intelligence to which it adds a new interpretation of animal embodiment and sensorimotor organization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-331
Number of pages21
JournalBiology & Philosophy
Volume30
Issue number3
Early online date3-Mar-2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Early nervous systems
  • Skin brain thesis
  • Sensorimotor organization
  • Embodiment
  • Input–output view
  • Coordination view

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