The engine of evolution is geared to overproduce and selectively eliminate. How do biological systems confront, adapt, and survive an ever-changing world?
This is the central question that defined Charles Darwin’s scientific journey. In Episode #4 of NATURALIZING CONSCIOUSNESS - the premiere event for the new podcast "On Consciousness with Bernard Baars" - neuroscientists Bernard Baars, David Edelman, Jay Giedd, Jeff Krichmar, professional magician Mark Mitton, and editor Natalie Geld unpack the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS) and make the case that this theory lays out tractable biological ‘first principles’ for building a brain that learns, remembers, and experiences.
160 years after On the Origin of Species, Natural Selection provides a framework for understanding adaptation at many different scales of biological organization, from protein translation (e.g., ribosomes acting as mRNA message ‘filters’ which determine final protein products), to the immune response (i.e., ‘recognition’ of foreign agents or pathogens by antibodies), to organismal development (e.g., morphogenesis; embryogenesis, etc.), to the origin of species and dynamics of vast ecologies (e.g., rainforest canopies, grasslands, island biogeography, etc.).
Could the very same Darwinian principles help explain how complex nervous systems adapt? It seems like a strange thought.
BUT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO, GERALD EDELMAN PROPOSED NEURAL DARWINISM, or the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS), to account for the development and function of the human brain. Neural Darwinism proposes that the functional circuitry of the brain is determined by selective forces operating during development and throughout the life of an organism. It provides a robust biological framework for understanding brain function, including consciousness--the most complex and mysterious of all brain processes. In a nearly six decade long career, Gerald M. Edelman’s research spanned diverse areas of biological science, including immunology, developmental biology, and neuroscience. The common thread running through all of Dr. Edelman’s pursuits was an enduring interest in the relationship between biology and human experience. Neural Darwinism represents the culmination of his efforts to reconcile the two.
SIMILARLY, COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGIST BERNARD BAARS HAS SOUGHT TO LINK FUNDAMENTAL BRAIN PROCESSES and conscious human experience. His Global Workspace Theory and Edelman’s Neural Darwinism naturally complement one another. Both theories propose that the conscious brain supports numerous unconscious processes which together yield a single, coherent stream of experiences.
Through recent neuroscientific advances, we have begun to lift the veil of mystery surrounding consciousness. In this open-minded discussion, our roundtable experts explore Neural Darwinism and Global Workspace in the context of these advances and make the case that together, these complementary theories provide a rich biological roadmap of subjective experience.
COGNITIVE NEUROBIOLOGIST BERNARD J. BAARS, Author of "ON CONSCIOUSNESS: Science & Subjectivity - Updated Works on Global Workspace Theory"
NEUROSCIENTIST DAVID EDELMAN, PHD, Visiting Scholar, Dept of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College
NEUROSCIENTIST DR. JAY GIEDD, Director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Rady Children's Hospital; Professor of Psychiatry, UCSD School of Medicine