Cognition and Decision in Nonhuman Biological Organisms

My edited volume, Cognition and Decision in Nonhuman Biological Organisms, has just been published as part of the new Living Books About Life series from Open Humanities Press.

I’m excited about the entire Living Books About Life series. It represents a new form of collaboration between scientists and scholars in the humanities. And it is entirely open access as well. Each volume contains a number of crucial science articles, collected (or curated) and introduced by a humanities scholar.

My own volume covers topics such as “free will” in fruit flies, moods and emotional tones in bees, and more generally processes of affect, cognition, and decision found not just in animals, but in other sorts of organisms (trees, slime molds, bacteria) as well.

When the biologist and science fiction writer Joan Slonczewski, in her recent novel The Highest Frontier , envisions plants that display a sense of humor, and that can learn to resolve “Prisoners Dilemma” situations with mutual cooperation, she isn’t extrapolating all that much from what we actually already know about “mental” operations even in entities that have few or no neurons.

2 thoughts on “Cognition and Decision in Nonhuman Biological Organisms”

  1. The book sounds fascinating, Steve–I’m looking forward to reading it! (And incidentally, I’ve always wanted to see more dialogue between science and the humanities.)

  2. This is great, Steven. Since I’d already read Trewavas’ excellent “Aspects of Plant Cognition”, I focused (yesterday) on Ben-Jacob, Shapira, and Tauber’s “Seeking the Foundations of Cognition in Bacteria”.

    The end of this article highlights the lingering issue of teleology in object-oriented ontologies:

    Any theorist who still thinks of ‘teleology’ as somehow involving ‘theology’ is only hobbling themselves with illusions. It’s not a simplistic matter of Self & Other, One & Many (these are the concerns of a theological negative logic ;( rather “global generativism” is “related to nested generation of meaning on all levels”. This is, of course, the dreaded “relationism” of OOO – and what Whitehead was getting at with his abstract notions of prehensions & actual occasions. The author’s final statement, a quote from Democritus, rebukes all Transcendental Rationalism in favor of Immanent Empiricism: “Poor Intellect, do you hope to defeat us while from us you borrow your evidence? Your victory is your defeat”.

    Well, back to reading Joan Slonczewski’s THE HIGHEST FRONTIER (which initially struck me as a bit Harry-Potterish, but your comments suggest there’s more hidden magic to come 😉

    Thanks, Mark

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