The animal sensorimotor organization: a challenge for the environmental complexity thesis

Biology and Philosophy 32 (3):421-441 (2017)
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Godfrey-Smith’s environmental complexity thesis is most often applied to multicellular animals and the complexity of their macroscopic environments to explain how cognition evolved. We think that the ECT may be less suited to explain the origins of the animal bodily organization, including this organization’s potentiality for dealing with complex macroscopic environments. We argue that acquiring the fundamental sensorimotor features of the animal body may be better explained as a consequence of dealing with internal bodily—rather than environmental complexity. To press and elucidate this option, we develop the notion of an animal sensorimotor organization that derives from an internal coordination account for the evolution of early nervous systems. The ASMO notion is a reply to the question how a collection of single cells can become integrated such that the resulting multicellular organization becomes sensitive to and can manipulate macroscopic features of both the animal body and its environment. In this account, epithelial contractile tissues play the central role in the organization behind complex animal bodies. In this paper, we relate the ASMO concept to recent work on epithelia, which provides empirical evidence that supports central assumptions behind the ASMO notion. Second, we discuss to what extent the notion applies to basic animal architectures, exemplified by sponges and jellyfish. We conclude that the features exhibited by the ASMO are plausibly explained by internal constraints acting on and within this multicellular organization, providing a challenge for the role the ECT plays in this context.



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Author Profiles

Argyris Arnellos
University of the Basque Country
Fred Keijzer
University of Groningen

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