Evolution of Complex Behavior, Perception, Cognition, Consciousness & the Brain | Paul Cisek | #107
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Paul Cisek 5:46
okay, sure, thanks for inviting me, first of all, um, so I'm a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal. And I study well decision making, but in the context of sort of sensory motor control. So it's this more decisions about which way to run on a soccer field, and not so much as to whether to play soccer or a different sport, not really the abstract decisions, but rather than more sort of concrete moment to moment decisions. And I studied that in in animals and humans. And with experimental work, and also a lot of computational modeling. So I'm actually a computer scientist by background. And then later on, got into sort of theoretical neuroscience mathematical modeling, and then only later came to do experimental work. And now I sort of combine those, those interests in my in my research day to day,
Nick Jikomes 6:44
I see. So you do work on primates, monkeys and humans.
Paul Cisek 6:48
Yes. Monkeys and human humans, yes. And using techniques like neural recordings, functional imaging, well, with colleagues, as well as many behavioral studies, just looking at what decisions people make, how do they act and et cetera? And really, whatever techniques, by that are available to me, that are very open questions and interesting.
Nick Jikomes 7:17
So why do you? Why do you focus on primates? Why not use other model organisms that give you more tools?
Paul Cisek 7:26
Um, well, frankly, it's a bit historical, it's because I started out interested in human cognition, and gradually came to realize that a lot of human cognition is based on sensory motor control. And, and so I address these kinds of questions and the kinds of animals where one addresses these kinds of questions like, like humans, and primates that are sort of have the sophistication to do these things. But I realized now that you know, I could have gone about it very differently and studied fish and studied salamanders and such, because a lot of the questions I think, that I'm addressing, are actually relevant for those animals. And I'm perfectly capable of doing it. If we set up the right kind of experiments, so so it's a bit historical, I sort of I sort of got into this, and sometimes I wonder whether I should go and, and study the amphioxus, which is this really fascinating creature that that was in the water and has a lot of the nervous system that that we we have, but it's much simpler, and perhaps more accessible to really understand. So yeah, it's a bit historical. It's because of my trip, my own training and how I've sort of progressed in learning these things.
Nick Jikomes 8:43
You know, I definitely want to talk about the primate brain. But I think we'll get there later in the discussion. One of the one of the things that distinguishes you from many systems, neuroscientists, neuroscientists who think about things in a computational way who think about how the brain works in a fully intact behaving animal, is you have a lot of phylogenetic and evolutionary knowledge. And you sort of use an evolutionary lens to think about what the brain is doing based on how it evolved and where it came from, basically. And so I'm actually hoping we can start with a discussion, you know, about, maybe you could describe some of the earliest nervous systems that we know about, and what they looked like and how they worked and what they were actually doing for some of those early earlier organisms a long, long time ago.
Paul Cisek 9:31
I'm sure so so I, I've sort of been exposed to ideas that suggest that essentially, behavior, when we think about when we think about behavior, we think about usually our own behavior and relatively complex behavior, where there's a lot of pre planning etc. But a number of people for really over 100 years have been suggest stating that we should really look at behavior as a kind of extension of metabolic control basic physiological control that all living animals are engaged in. That essentially is about maintaining your internal state in a desirable state where you have the nutrients you need, and you're not, you know, your temperature is correct, you're not being eaten. And behavior is an aspect of that, it's just that an aspect that rather than employing machinery within the body extends out into the environment, at least briefly. And so for example, if to control certain nutrients, or certain compounds within a cell, there's certain chemical pathways that can do that, like the Krebs cycle, and other kinds of physiological pathways. But to control your nutrient state, you could also just move around in the world, like, if you're in a place where there isn't a lot of some nutrient that you need, will just move around, swim around randomly, and you'll find yourself you're likely to find yourself in a place where there's more of whatever it is that you need. And so the the idea of acting so as to influence your state is kind of a fundamental feature of all living organization. And, and everybody who studies physiology knows, knows this and talks about this this way. And many animal, many, many people study animals, think this way, psychologists tend not to, because the kind of feedback loop of behavior is kind of hard to see and human behavior. But it's likewise, like the things that I do, ultimately, are ways of dealing with maintaining my state, in a good desirable state, you know, I'm well fed, not threatened, etc. And so many of the things we do, they may be very convoluted very long term. But in the end, it's all about that. So. So in that sense, I would say even before nervous system, there is a fundamental kind of architecture, this kind of feedback control architecture, that is the basis of behavior and physiology. So the nervous systems are an elaboration of that second type of control, the one that extends out into the world. Although, of course, much of the nervous system is also about internal physiological control. So you know, the the whole endocrine system, the enteric, nervous system, these are more internally concerned. But our nervous system and you know, much of the nervous system, expanding sort of out in through the environment becomes very complicated and very sophisticated and convoluted because the environment is so sophisticated in Congo. So in a sense, nervous systems, that's what they fundamentally do, I think they exert control. And the first neurons are actually a specialization of skin of the epithelium. To to sort of maintain certain, certain integrity, for example of the membrane. If you're coming in contact with something you want to withdraw from it. Even single celled organisms do this. But the nervous systems of larger multicellular organisms help to do this in a more coordinated fashion. So the spirit of these early neural nets of early multicellular organisms were specializations of the external layer that did some of this kind of behavioral control. And one would be tempted to call it stimulus response. But in a sense, it's really it's really a control of status, maintaining the status quo against external perturbations and such,
Nick Jikomes 13:44
I see so so we can think of behavior as really being the same thing as metabolic control. It's it's a, it's a way of controlling the internal states ultimately of the inside of an organism cells. So even if we think of mostly immobile single celled organism that can't really move, it can sort of just float around and whatever soup it lives in, it still has to, you know, get rid of waste and ingest nutrients and do the classic metabolic stuff that we think about when we think about cells. And then we can imagine, you know, there's bacteria and little mo tile single celled organisms that have organs like flagella, and they can literally sort of swim around and they're basically following concentration gradients. But again, it's it's for the purpose of, for doing metabolism for keeping.
Paul Cisek 14:34
Like, if you imagine, if you imagine a sort of a freely floating organism of some sort that doesn't have much of a even effective system. It could just inflate slightly and it'll go up. Alright, and water deflate and go down. I mean, there's certain control policies that one can do without much of a nervous system or muscles or anything. So And yes, I think that's it. I mean, it's more complicated now, of course, because there's other things that we do an adjustment tabble ism and there's also reproduction and defense and such. But yes, I think fundamentally, fundamentally, that's what it's all really about. And then everything else is on top of that. And I think, to me, the the point is really well made by the title of William Powers book in the 1970s 1973. entitled, behavior, the control of perception. And what he essentially said is, that's what behavior is about, it's not about responding to the world, it's about controlling your state in the world, and perception as your way of evaluating your state. And action is your way of influencing that state through the world by taking advantage of certain predictable contingencies between what you do and what happens to your state. And so it's sort of complementing the environment, so that the entire system that you are, it maintains itself, and it's again, far from danger and satisfied in terms of nutrients and achieves the things that needs.
Nick Jikomes 16:13
And so some of the earliest nervous systems, you know, before there were actually brains, we had this sort of organisms had these neural nets that were more diffuse, I guess, you could say. And the first neurons, you said, were actually derived from skin cells. So the nervous system is sort of starting literally at the interface between the organism and the environment. And sort of with that, in the back of our minds, when we think about the most basic, most fundamental behaviors, if behavior is about controlling perception, and it's about the control, the first neurons are literally at the interface between the insight of the organism and the external environment, what are what are the most primitive or basic behaviors, should we should we be thinking about feeding and foraging, when the earliest behaviors,
Paul Cisek 17:01
that would be that would be a big part of it, I think, you know, temperature regulation, and, and sort of, you know, osmolarity, regulation, those, those were part of it too, and they still are, of course, one thing, I'd want to add those that, you know, when when we say neurons appeared as a specialization, I, I, originally, it wasn't so much neurons, per se, it was more that the exterior cells had certain kinds of receptors, that would, let's say, open when there was deformation of the membrane, allowing calcium in. And the the cellular response to that would be to contract the other end of the neuron, the of the of the cell, right. So it really had a both a sensory and a motor role. And these sort of pluripotent cells, sort of were among the, the epithelial cells. And they had this kind of simple sort of withdrawal reflex like function of, but then later, some of them specialize to be really, you know, focus on the sensory, and others on the contractile. And then finally, some of them just to care of the signaling between the two, right. So if you have cells that are specialized for sensation, others that are specialized for contraction, with some channel between them, or some contact between them, eventually apparent that apparently, this is it, I'm just seeing what I've read from other people, the sensory ones specialized further into ones that are just sensory, and others that are just sort of signaling. And those signaling ones then were useful, because they could signal to many, many parts of the body at once and coordinate behavior. And that eventually became that neural net that still diffuse and so so the very distinction between perception and action here is actually emerges out of this dis control function. So, you know, when I say the title of that book, behavior to control, perception, perception there is in a very general sense, it's not nothing like conscious perception. It's nothing like representation of the world. It's just some kind of some kind of state control. I think, fundamentally, that's what what powers and others are getting at. But again, these ideas are much older than that. John Dewey, wrote about this 120 years ago, and I'm sure others have said this even
Nick Jikomes 19:32
earlier. So, you know, one of the things that that you wrote about is, what the fundamental purpose of the nervous system is. And you know, that's basically what we just started to talk about. But you wrote one of your papers that the fundamental function of the brain is not to build knowledge about the world, but rather to complement and counteract the dynamics of the world such that the entire organism dash environment system stays within desirable states and away from undesirable ones. So can you just elaborate on that a little bit more and maybe contrast it with other ways that people often think about the fundamental purpose of nervous systems?
Paul Cisek 20:08
Well, I would say that, I would say that that's essentially, that that phrase is essentially my my way to say, what, what powers and Dewey and Ashby and and cachet, a psychologist said, you know, many years before I was born. Now, within the context of that complimenting the aspect of, you know, how do you compliment the environment? How do you establish that kind of control? Well, you have to take advantage of certain regularities in the environment, certain reliable sort of contingencies that, for example, if you find yourself where there is not a lot of a nutrient, well, then movement, even random movement is likely to be helpful, because the distribution is such that there's probably more elsewhere. So there's certain sort of laws of nutrient distribution or physics that that need to be there in the environment in order for the organism to find that, that control policy. And then, but that's not to say, of course, that brains don't build knowledge, because along the way to, to find and then to use that control policy, knowledge of the world will be useful in many cases, it's just not the origins of it, right? It's not the, it's not where it began with where it begins, it's not the foundation on which it's built, it's built on a foundation of feedback control, again, as many people have said, and then things like, you know, knowledge about the world, abstract thinking and such that's built on top of that, and it never, it's never free of that, it's always within that context. But it still has all of those sophisticate the properties. I mean, there is we do, you know, we do learn languages that convey information in ways that are very indirect. And we, we do learn things that are very much disconnected from day to day activity. But ultimately, all that stuff is built within this context of, of control systems. And again, the thing is, when we study humans, it's might be difficult to, to appreciate that control. But again, that's, that's pretty sophisticated. That's, that's many layers of hierarchy of control systems, away from those really simple animals that just, you know, swing around and get nutrients. And so yeah, you mentioned foraging. Yeah, that's, that's part of it. You know, how do you how do you find yourself in a, in a good place, so filter feeders, do this by sort of floating around, again, rising in the water column, or falling in the water column, depending on the time of day, because that has certain, you know, certain consequences of how much nutrient you'll find. So that's a very simple kind of control that that many animals do without much of a nervous system.
Nick Jikomes 23:11
And so, you know, when we think about the earliest nervous systems, so first of all, just to help orient people in time, you know, when did the nerve earliest nervous systems evolved? And so as we progressed from that period of time to say, the period where centralized brains started to evolve, what were some of the behavioral innovations that were going along with the centralization of the nervous system?
Paul Cisek 23:34
Um, so my understanding is, is that never systems appeared after we diverged from sponges. So that's about 700 million years ago. But there's a lot of, of course, ambiguity and trying to nail down the exact date. In so it's likely that that is, that is when nervous systems filled first, neurons first appeared before a long still be long before a brain. And then brains appeared actually, like a centralized brain appeared a couple of separate times along various lineages along that pathway. Where the vertebrate brain the coordinate brains are one example. But there are other examples among mollusks, among arthropods, etc. Where, where you can say there's a centralized brain of some sort, but that was independent essentially. Now, there's also a very fascinating debate going on these days about comb jellies. I don't know if you're familiar with comedies, but they're amazing creatures. Just look at them, and you'll see why they're there. They look like an alien space. ship with them from somebody with a really good imagination. They're these amazing things. They look like jellyfish, and they have neurons. They have nervous systems, but they're very strange nervous systems. And one. One idea that's that's become prominent in recent years, it's debated highly, is that they develop their neurons completely independently that they actually split off from our lineage before the sponges. And so before anybody had neurons, and they came up with a nervous system on their own a separate nervous system, like, again, like an alien being, except, you know, here on Earth. And there's some good evidence for that. It's highly debated. However, I don't know where I don't know, I don't know what the what the reality is. But it is possible that nervous systems actually evolved twice, once in comb jellies. And once in sort of the, you metazoan are rather bilaterian branch of like, I started that by the time I should say, You midazolam including including jellyfish, and violet, bilateral animals like us, which appeared to have inherited a common nervous system. And he was that's, that's an interesting side bit for those who are interested in really early animals, there's a there's a fascinating series of studies debating this issue. But then the actual centralized brains, again, the the appear a number of times, rather sparsely actually, there's a lot of animals, a lot of branches that don't have centralized sprains, but an our lineage, the lineage that eventually produced humans, it happened in coordinates, at least in coordinates, probably about 650, maybe maybe close to 700 years ago. And, and had the particular again, a particular sort of genetic origins.
Nick Jikomes 27:01
And when we think about those early chordates, so primitive organisms that are in the branch of the evolutionary tree that eventually gives rise to us and other animals, when we think about what they were doing, and we think about their brains, what did their brains start to have, what innovations evolved that earlier nervous systems didn't have, and what things that they lack that we are familiar with, with, you know, our brains, in mammals and animals walking around today?
Paul Cisek 27:27
Um, well, one thing that is, seems to have happened is a notochord, which creates sort of kind of like a spinal cord, essentially a tube structure. So, um, one, one proposal is that early bilaterian, animals along our branch had a kind of a plate on the top surface of the body of neurons, that somewhere along the line folded into a tube. And it's unclear when that happened, exactly. Jelly, starfish actually have something like this, but it's unclear. Whether that's their own invention or such, it is clear that by the time you get to a branch called cephalic, chordates, that a lot of that structure was set in place. So several coordinates are is a branch that split off from us about 650 million years ago, I think. And that includes this creature called the antioxid that I mentioned later, earlier, which is remarkable in having a lot of the structure you will find in vertebrates. And so it has things like a spinal cord, it has a single eyepatch. That isn't it's not eyes, but it's probably homologous to our eyes. But at that time, it was just a single patch of cells, photosensitive cells that projected downstream to the hypothet. What is the hypothalamus like thing, and as well as something that's a bit like what's called the tectum in vertebrates, or the superior colliculus in mammals. And it appears that those structures were there in these very early animals, but not really, the telencephalon. So the telencephalon includes things like the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, a lot of the structures that become really prominent in mammals. And many vertebrates, this, this, the, the cephalic coordinate, doesn't seem to have it, although there was a study a couple of years ago that suggest that some of the cellular precursors are actually there, and they're where you'd expect them to be. If there was something in our common ancestor that eventually sort of mushroomed out. And here's actually I think a very interesting fact that I learned when I read this stuff is that this telencephalon, which again, That includes cerebral cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, etc. It actually is just an outgrowth of part of the hypothalamus. So the hypothalamus was there, it was one of the earliest structures. In fact, there's been Lokali, who studied the amphioxus, a lot described them often as it's a hypothalamus attached to a spinal cord. And again, the hypothalamus, even today is this sort of major source of metabolic control, right, through endocrine secretions. And again, these creatures had a lot of these these systems, but didn't just has a kind of a downstream projection to the spinal cord, which deals with the outside world. And at some point, it developed better control of that, that control the sort of interaction with the outside world through structures like the tectum. And then later, the telencephalon. But it fundamentally, again, that hypothalamic controller was sort of the first. It's really the first recognizable structure that we see in these animals in evolution, that we, that seems to have been there, pretty much, almost as soon as neurons are centralized spraying certainly by the time was centralized, Brian, I think that will be it. So again, and that's that, again, the top level control, maintaining fundamental physiological variables and desirable ranges.
Nick Jikomes 31:28
Yeah. And so can you talk about the hypothalamus a little bit more, you're already hinted at some of you know, what it's doing and how it's different from, you know, other parts of the brain that we'll talk about that do that are often said to do you know, fancier things, basically. But, you know, it has a lot of endocrine controls built into it, it's using and sensing a lot of different hormones and things like this, can you just talk about some of the basic control mechanisms that even those early hypothalamic structures were engaged in.
Paul Cisek 31:58
So a lot of it was like circadian rhythms already, you know, they're, they're parts of the hypest. By the way, the retina apparently, is also are an outgrowth of the hypothalamus, as well as the pineal gland, which was the sort of original circadian rhythm detector. But mind you, I am not an expert in hypothalamus. So the best I can do is tell you what I think I understand from the people who are experts. And, and so one, one person's work that I found, sort of useful for understanding the evolution of these things is that LeBaron in Germany, who suggests that the original nervous systems had this kind of two parts, a and eight, what he calls the apical nervous system, which was really about endocrine control, but also chemical sensation and photo sensation and et cetera. And what he calls the blast the plural nervous system, and that, which was more synaptic and sensory motor control, and then that the two of these things kind of partially merge, and where they merge is what you where you get the hypothalamus. And, and where they don't merge, the remaining of the sort of blast of oral systems becomes much of the rest of the nervous system. So essentially, what they're suggesting is, is, and it's not just them, but others as well, is that there's a kind of a controller there, that does the endocrine control, which is a lot of it is internal, physiological, as well as some kind of sensory motor control through the environment, via this, in this stage, this mostly just the spinal cord. But then, um, but also, you know, kind of the interaction between the two, like, the control of circadian rhythms is not just control of whether you're going to sort of be very active or not very active, but also what kind of things you may want to you know, what kind of interactions you may want to prioritize. And so one proposal this, this I get from reading Thomas hills and others, is that one of the things about foraging is, there's the world near you, and then there's the world far away. And they're very, they're kind of different, right? The thing that's near you, is the kind of thing that you can ingest by just like sucking in water. And so that's local behavior. And when things are good, when you're in a good state in the world, within your environment, you're in a good neighborhood say, then you kind of want to stay there, you kind of want to stay local. But if the local environment becomes depleted, maybe because you've sucked up all the good nutrients or maybe not that great to start with Then you want to go somewhere else, you want to move more large area, you want to cover a larger area, and hills and other suggests that this was the original role of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which, as, as you probably know, is highly implicated in that a lot of very important reward related processing, reinforcement learning, etc. But they suggest that the original role was not in learning so much, but just regulating when things are good. Keep doing what you're doing, and stay where you are, when things are not so good when the levels of dopamine drop, that's a signal saying things are not so good, go somewhere out there, go out there and explore a little bit try to find a better place. And again, that is a role of fairly sort of hypothalamic, very ancient systems that are hypothalamic. Now, dopamine has taken on many other roles since then. But again, within that context. So So again, that is still you know, and I still think that in the end, the the top of the brain hierarchically, is the hypothalamus, right? I mean, you know, if you can engage in all kinds of sophisticated cognitive speculation, but in the end, if you're hungry, or or, or there's a fire, you're gonna deal with that first. Right? And so, so, again, I think, you know, you can sort of say that there's a part of the hypothalamus that's doing a lot of this fundamental keeping you alive. And there's a part of it, that specializes for keeping you alive through the world, since you've been dealing with what's out there.
Nick Jikomes 36:38
Can you talk a little bit more about some we use this word state, the current state of an organism, you know, how our structures like the hypothalamus, actually, what is the state, what are the things that define the state in terms of what the hypothalamus is, is detecting and naturally, when you just if you just start talking about these things, at all, other concepts very naturally emerge. So for example, you know, if I sort of summarize what you were just saying, you know, very basic aspects of behavior include, you know, sensing the nutrient content of your environment, you know, maybe, you know, I've got cells in my body that are sensing that, you know, sugar is too low, or something is too low, and we need to replenish it, then you obviously want to detect if those things are present outside of the body, so that you can get them inside of the body to change the state, the nutrient composition inside your cells, so they maintain, stay alive and maintain homeostasis. And you know, very naturally, when you deplete these nutrients from the environment, by ingesting them, you have to detect that those nutrients are no longer there. Obviously, when they're there, it's good in the sense that you have something to suck in to replenish what's inside your body, when they're depleted, that's bad. And maybe it's start sending signals, somehow, to say, go somewhere else. And you know, very naturally, when you just sort of think about these very basic things, the metabolic state of the animal coupled to the environment via its sensory apparatuses, you know, naturally leads you to talk about things being good or bad, or behavior being motivated or unmotivated. So how do we think about state and start to connect those concepts together? Well, I
Paul Cisek 38:14
think that that's, that's about right. I mean, there's certain, you know, state is just the word that we use for all the variables that an animal needs to deal with, and what their setting current setting is, and some of them can be in a very wide range, some of them have to be in a very specific range. And the, the challenge is to stay within those desirable regions of that multi dimensional state space. But yes, to do that, you want to you can be a little bit more sophisticated and just say, Oh, my, my stomach is grumbling. You know, you can, again, you can use chemical sensation, for example, to, to tell what's out there, you know, what is what, you know, if I were to go out there and, and ingest, would it be good? Is there anything there worth ingesting with vision, of course, same thing, if you're, you know, some kind of a visually guided for adjure then certain visual cues tell you that you're oriented towards food, go start swimming forward, and open up your mouth or something. And so, there is a you know, the dopamine example is actually kind of an example for it because the dopamine is not so much your your internal state as much as your intake rate, at least according to some hypotheses. So if it's the rate at which you're in taking nutrients is good, then you should keep doing it if you're assuming you actually are hungry, which is an other hormones that will tell you that. So essentially, it's if things are if if things aren't Going well continue doing what you're doing, if things are not going well seek another place, explore a little bit, etc. Now, one of the things that I think I've, I've sort of neglected in the way I've described this, this stuff is just how fundamental predictive control is. So you can think about the animal detects that its state is suddenly depleted, and now it's time to go and find food or, you know, there's, it's, it's getting cold, you need to find a warmer place. In fact, animals can do better than that even very simple. Single cellular animals do a lot of predictive control. And so they can essentially anticipate needs before they actually happen to be needs. Because there are very predictable contingencies out in the world. You know, when you when you drink a glass of water, you feel satisfied long before it could possibly affect your your your bloodstream, right? Simply because it's it's reliable. It's, you know, it's a no brainer, right? That that ingesting food will satisfied hunger, drinking water will satisfy thirst, etc. So a lot of this stuff is actually predictive and Sterling and Lachlan describe this as Aloe stasis. The idea that it's not homeostasis, not just responding to perturbations and maintaining controlled state, but rather Aloe stasis, which is predictive, anticipating changes in state etc. And, and you can see how that's particularly powerful. Once you have a nervous system with sensors that can look out in the world, you can, you can see a fruit and, you know, seeing the fruit doesn't satisfy your hunger, but it tells you what you need to do to satisfy the hunger and so on and so on. And, and I think, you know, Lisa Feldman, Barrett's work really ties that in very nicely to actually what goes on in the nervous system when you when you do these kinds of things, and you deal with these kinds of things. So, but yes, I think this is really what you said, it's motivation for action. This is where the purpose of behavior really comes in is that it actually behavior actually accomplishes these things that are important.
Nick Jikomes 42:24
And so when we think about sort of nervous systems becoming more elaborate, and increasing complexity, as we go forward in evolutionary time, and new organisms are evolving, you know, one of the fundamental things that I suspect you'll talk about here is, you know, as an organism becomes more mobile, more able to move through its environment, it's naturally going to encounter a greater diversity of environments, right, so we can imagine very simple organisms, and they're just basically floating around and soup than we can imagine, you know, organisms that can kinda, you know, swim with a little tail structure something into new types of environments that the other organism will never find itself. And, and then eventually, obviously, we get animals in the sort of traditional sense where, you know, they have appendages, or fins, or whatever. And they can travel quite large distances. And so naturally, the longer you can travel, the further you can travel, the more diversity of environments you will encounter. And the more diversity of environments you encounter will then naturally require you to have more and more refined sensation abilities so that you can actually parse what's out in that more diverse set of environments. And so you need that if you're going to have the mobility to actually put yourself in those new environments. And so as we think about some of the earliest coordinates and more primitive organisms that sort of just had a hypothalamus, and some other what we would call more primitive sensory elaborations, as time precedes evolutionarily, and we start getting structures that other people people will have heard of, you know, basal ganglia hippocampus, cortex, the what's going on in terms of the behavioral innovations, and why those structures were necessitated why those structures needed to evolve and what precisely they're doing with respect to motor control, and more and more refined sensory abilities.
Paul Cisek 44:18
So I think one, one concept, which is really useful here is the idea of affordances, which comes from James Gibson, who was a perceptual psychologist in the 70s. And the idea is that the world contains opportunities for action for particular organisms. So for example, a tree branch is a place of support for a bird. But not for me. I mean, let's say it's a really thick branch, it's not too high off the ground. You know, a small hole is shelter for a mouse, but it could be a source of food for a cat. And so, the point is that There are certain things that if an animal is capable of certain abilities, motor abilities, then there are certain things in the world that just are opportunities to do stuff. Now, that's true for very simple animals. Fish, for example, are certain coral formations, maybe a shelter for a small fish, and a source of food for a big fish. You know, the these, the idea that affordances exist, but are specific to an animal is important, because you can now see how very, very simple animals did not have affordances for sophisticated interaction, because they simply didn't have the sensory motor machinery to actually make use of it. But as the sensory motor machinery expands, and its sophistication a little bit, it makes, it sort of enables certain kinds of interactions and therefore, discovers those sort of affordances in the sense of a, a reliable consequence of taking a certain interaction. So for example, a very simple organisms may have interacted with. So when you say, as animals get more mobile, they encounter more complex worlds, I think you meant kind of that, rather than, you know, simple animals sort of stumble into because a simple animal can get stumbled into a complex world and get eaten in seconds. Right? That's not the point. I think the point is that as simple animals get more sophisticated, they discover the complex additional complexities of the world. So there's another concept that's useful here is indwelt, which is early ethologist adjusted, von exclus, suggested that animals live within a certain kind of a world of, of what's meaningful to them, what's relevant to them. And it's very different for fish as for a bird, as for a mammal, on that terrestrial mammal, and it's related, it's the idea that there's a certain set of interactions that are possible for that animal in that particular world. And that is what they use to, to exert control over their state and the environment. Again, the mouse will run into the hole when threatened, because it afford shelter, as long as it's not too small, and not so big that the cat can get in, right. And so animals sort of need to discover the affordances that are relevant for their, the kinds of interactions of which they're capable. And I think what happens in evolution is, this is kind of a gradual, sort of, sort of symbiotic expansion, the nervous system gets more sophisticated, permitting the exploitation of more abstract or more advanced or have wider variety of affordances, which then supports that, and allows more sophisticated things still. So you know, animals can run up a tree and discover a whole world of opportunities, if they're, if they have the right nervous system to take advantage of. And so I think that's essentially what happens. And evolution is the sort of gradual extension of the sort of closed loop control further and further into more complex world and to take advantage of things, you know, you and I perceive a bicycle in a way that because we know how to ride a bicycle, but that's not animals that don't have the the geometry and the motor skills. They don't. It's it isn't that affordance isn't there for them. So I think this concept is really, really fundamental, from very early animals, and it still continues to be fundamental that
Nick Jikomes 49:02
I see. So just to riff on that with a super simplistic example, we'll use the tree example, you know, as there's an organism evolves, and it becomes able to move its body so it can get into a new type of environment. Essentially, it's now in a new niche, there's a new world of possibility that the animals not particularly well adapted to, to exploit it. In fact, it might not even be well adapted to detect what's in the environment to exploit. But as soon as it starts to get into some kind of new environment, some new evolutionary niche, now you have the ability for selective pressure to come into the mix such that its nervous system can learn how to parse that environment on the sensory side, learn how to move through that new environment on the motor side, and then that's going to provide selective pressure for new innovations to evolve. And this process just can happen over and over and over and over again, as animals just expand into more and more and more Robots.
Paul Cisek 50:00
Yeah, and I think one thing that needs to be appreciated is just how many fail, right? So when animals got out on land, part of the part of the advantage of getting out on land is you're getting out of the water, which was teeming with all kinds of predators, but you get out on land, there's all kinds of new challenges now, and, and major innovations have to be developed in order to overcome those challenges. And, and the fact is, you know, many, many species just didn't make it right, we see only the ones that that survived. And it's, so it looks like wow, they adapted they, they said, Ha, we need to have, you know, we need to breathe air, well, let's develop some lungs, we need to enlarge our vision, let's develop a bigger eyes, but but the fact is, that's just the ones that that didn't succumb to the selection pressure that killed off all of the others. And so, so again, it's, it's, it's yeah, it's like pushing the edges, pushing yourself into a new niche. And then, you know, exploring in all kinds of ways, many of them failures, but some of them happening happening to stumbled on on ways of dealing with that new niche, and now, opening up a whole new world of opportunities. In fact, if you look at sort of the sort of, progression of of evolution, you have dramatic periods of, of innovation at certain times, and it's often it's often, you know, often kind of simple, you know, Meteor fell and knocked out all large predators, including old dinosaurs, that creates a lot of opportunities now for mammals to fill those niches. But some of it is harder to tell, you know, sometimes things happen simply because a new predator entered the the environment, or, you know, or climate changed. And, and so, major innovations happen. You know, there's, there's examples of this throughout evolutionary history. And again, I think so I think the animals are doing this all the time, they're always sort of exploring the edges of their niche and slipping into new niches from time to time. And again, I think it's kind of a symbiotic thing where the nervous system and the behavior, and the opportunities kind of have to be approached all at once. Yeah, once you get larger, there are certain things that become possible for you.
Nick Jikomes 52:24
You know, one of the things I want to talk about too, you know, we've talked about foraging and feeding behavior. But another very fundamental behavior that we've only just briefly touched on is defensive behaviors on the one hand and escape behaviors safe from predators. On the other hand, so even even before the animals we normally think about every day evolved before, there were mammals before there were dinosaurs and stuff, you had more primitive organisms, and they still have to follow concentration gradients to find, you know, where the nutrients were in the environment. And they still had to avoid predators. And I'm hoping you can talk a little bit about escape and Predator avoidance in some of the early coordinates maybe, and how that helps us think about, or sets the stage for helping us think about more complex behaviors. So for example, you know, even a very, very simple animal that has the ability to swim through the water, even if it doesn't really have eyeballs in the way that we have eyeballs, even if it doesn't have what we would call the most sophisticated nervous system, it still has to sense danger on one side of its body and then move in the opposite direction. So when we start before we start talking about things like spatial navigation, and cognition and all that, how do some of these early primitive escape behaviors start to set the stage for how some of those more complex forms of mobility?
Paul Cisek 53:43
Well, I'm, so one of one of these major periods of innovation was the Cambrian explosion. And one proposal is that the reason for the Cambrian explosion was prediction that you essentially animals, mobile animals, a number of them stumbled on to the benefits of becoming predators. So jellyfish had been predators already before then, or things like jellyfish, but sometime around the Cambrian, arthropods or certain mollusks and such, it's unclear exactly what they were. But there were some large predators that appear in the fossil record. And that puts a lot of pressure on everybody else, right. And perhaps around that time, you get, well, you get a lot of innovation in the vertebrates. So the cerebral cortex already had an escape reaction, that again, would that single eyepatch, essentially just if a shadow falls on you swim like crazy or hide in the ground or hide in the sand even better, right? And that's a very simple policy that that deals with lots of situations and again, it may be completely benign, but it'd be safe than sorry. So you don't have to be too sophisticated. But in vertebrates, what happens is that the eyepatch split into two that migrated to the sides of the head. So now you can have a differential shadow. And now you can swim away from the shadow, you can now orient yourself away from the shadow. And when one proposal is that, because the projections from the eyes cross in the brain, when they get to the midbrain, the tectum, they cross, and then from then downstream into the spinal cord, they don't cross in the escape system. Now, I didn't know this, when I was studying neuroscience, first I thought things cross on the input and then cross again on the output. And that's true for many systems, but for the escape system, and actually doesn't cross. So now what you have is a system that if you have a stronger stimulus on one side, it's going to cause more contraction on the other side. And so you'll turn away from that stimulus, at least initially, and then you just swim like hell. But because you you orient yourself away from the stimulus, it gives you that extra edge to get away from that predator. Now, of course, the predators are getting better at it too. And they actually have. So the approach says, so the, that's the, that's the avoidance system, the approach system actually is double crossed again. And so now, a stronger stimulus on one side will have you turn towards it. So if you're, if you recognize prey, you use that if you recognize threat, you use the escape system. And this is something that's been documented very well in Lamprey, and fish and birds, mammals, you name it. So these systems exist in all vertebrates, probably through common descent from our common ancestor with Lamprey, which was about 550 million years ago, a Cambrian explosion time. So again, so that's a very simple mechanism. It's not, it's not navigations not really knowledge about the world, it's really relatively simple. You know, reflex like interaction, to again, avoid, avoid a state of threat, essentially.
Nick Jikomes 57:12
And so how do we start to think about the transition from mostly are purely reflexive behaviors that can be very simple in the ways that you just described, you know, detect one type of stimulus at one side of the body? And then simply execute and escape behavior or some other very stereotyped behavior? How do we start to think about the emergence of structures in the brain that have much more refined capabilities? And that start when we start to use words like representation? For example, you know, how do we start to think about this? Well, first of
Paul Cisek 57:43
all, the reflex that I'm describing is actually not again, not the start of behavior so much, but but rather, as a necessary step that becomes particularly necessary once you get big predators roaming around. The fundamental thing is really the motivated sort of internally motivated behavior, like, boy, my nutrients are running low, better get out there and forage. So so that's really the end. That's really why think what a lot of people think about in terms of goal directed motivated behavior as being more sophisticated than reflexive. But again, I think actually, that is really the foundation. Reflexive is just a kind of a special case, this kind of escape reflex is kind of a special case that has to become particularly sort of fast in kind of stimulus response types of scenarios, simply because being eaten is really bad. So, but for more regarding representation now, okay, so now imagine you have these two eye patches that tell you, there's more threat on the right, go to the left, you can do better than that, if you actually have your eye patch, sort of topographically project downstream, so that the particular location in in a particular part of external space is now conveyed downstream. So that you turn away not just from there's more stuff on the right, but exactly where it is right, it actually tells you now turn by this angle, in order to orient yourself away from the threat or turn by a different angle simply by maintaining a topography between the sensor and the downstream and the midbrain. Tech them and then downstream projections to the spinal cord. And so that's you could, you could if you wanted to call that a kind of representation of space, it's kind of like a sensor for threats in particular locations around you. But the distinction between being a sensor versus a motor structure is still not really justified there because it really is a sensory motor control circuit. It's a dynamical system with coupling between variables that essentially just gets the task done. Nevermind whether it's a representation of the stimulus or representation of a motor plan, right, those, that debate is not relevant at that stage. Um, so I think, you know, you can, you can talk about it. So the term representations, as you know, is a real problem in the field. And mostly, I think, because people mean different things by it. What I find useful, and there's, of course, a huge debate, there's camps that believe everything, everything the brain does is manipulation of representations be the symbolic or distributed? And another camp that says, no, no, representations are not allowed, we have to talk about behaviors, etc. I, I don't, I'm sort of in the middle. I think it's useful maybe to think about them as a kind of a continuum. So So on the one end, you can imagine representations are purely descriptive. And so it's things like, you know, when I write something on a piece of paper, a phrase, that's a representation that describes something, only because you know, how to read that language, etc. And you have things in your head that it's sort of, it's it's sort of decodable. You know, it's sort of a code that you know, how to decode. And so it's useful for me to pass messages to you in this way, right. And that's a kind of a descriptive representation, I can draw a picture of something, it's not that thing, right. And so that's the kind of representation that people often talk about, then there's representations that are pragmatic, like, for example, this sort of topographic projections from retina to tech to the spinal cord, right? It's not, it's not about knowledge, per se. It's about getting the task done, right? It's getting the escape behavior working well. And it doesn't matter whether it's decodable or not, right, it doesn't matter, like, like, you would be very hard for a external, you know, a scientist to decode specifically how a particular cell along that pathway encodes location and space, because it's distributed, it's extremely high context dependent, right? It might differ based on the state of the animal. And it's not really decodable. And it but it's certainly not decoded by any other part of the brain. It's just part of a system that accomplishes a goal. It's pragmatic, right? And so I, that's a very different kind of representation, right? It's not about conveying knowledge, it's about it's about covary with the world in a way that produces useful behavior. And so I think, but we can still talk about it as a representation. Because really, that's very often what people mean. So when people neuroscience, you know, recording the brain of a mouse or a human, and they see activity that CO varies with something they say it's a representation. But do they really mean that it's decoded by some other brain region in some way? And there's, there's a language in which it's expressed, or do they really mean that it's that it's just part of a control circuit, I can tell you in the motors in the motor field, people tend to think of it well, now it's, it's, it's downstream activity that activates muscles, it's not, it's not necessarily a decodable trajectory in Cartesian space or something, even if we can decode it, that's not really what the brain is doing. So So that's, that's how some people talk about representations. Others are really talking about much more like a message passing between modules, you know, little bits of knowledge that are encapsulated some way encoded by the perceptual system then sent over to some cognitive executive that decodes it does something with it, and then encodes the motor plan and sends it down downstream. That's a different way of thinking about it. All right. Now, the big question, of course, has to do with where we lie along that, that continuum. Um, and I think it's useful to think about as a continuum because then we can ask the question, which which I I'm interested in is, suppose you have these animals swimming around and running around the world that mostly have pragmatic representations. And that's what they need to do. Ultimately, everything in the brain has to serve some purpose or, you know, or it's a waste. So in the end, you have to do something, even if it's knowledge, right, but how do you go from something which is purely pragmatic, to something that's increasingly descriptive, right? The kinds of things that that do seem to exist in more sophisticated behavior and more sophisticated animals and certainly, by the time we get to language and humans, are you When abstract thinking and such, those things are quite descriptive, but how do you get from one to the other, and I think you have to have a story of how you get there. Because you can't just have cognition pop in suddenly in an evolution and just be connected to all the other systems perfectly, it has to come somehow from from within, right from within a, a, an interacting system. And so for example, just, I can go on and on about this for it for hours. But one example is symbol grounding. So there's a classic problem in philosophy and and sort of cognitive science about if we communicate, if we think if the brain works by manipulating representations that are symbolic, but even non symbolic, how do they how do we attach meaning to those symbols? So you have a word, dog, how is that attached to the meaning of dog all the various aspects of that phrase. And that's a tough problem to solve. But there's a another way of looking at it, which again, comes from things like affordances, and sensory motor control, et cetera. And Giovanni Zullo, calls this the symbol detachment problem. So what he suggests is that, that you have interacting systems that are essentially pragmatic, what I would call pragmatic representation. So there's animals that are interacting with the world, they're making use of affordances. They're they're, they're engaging in closed loop, interactive control, etc. And the question is, and that's meaningful, because it again, it accomplishes those goals like, like maintaining your state. So there's the meaning, is there sort of trivially in the sense that it has purpose for the animal? Then the question is how within the context of these interacting systems, you have part of it specialized to sort of get detached from the moment to moment activity, like, for example, a, a thing in the brain, that doesn't just say, there's a threat on my right, but says, Hey, that's a lion. That's a lion, and it's charging at me right? Now, strictly speaking, to escape the lion, you don't need that knowledge. But we do actually have that knowledge, there is something in the brain that that that sort of describes the situation to us, usually long after we've escaped, hopefully, but but the point is that, that we are capable of this, and how does it get detached? And, and I think that's an interesting question. And I'll
stop me from going too long, by the way, but there's one example that that I would give for that, and for early Adams, and that's a navigation. So if you're not in a desirable part of the environment, and let's say you can't, you don't have any food around you, then you may want to navigate out around, you may want to swim around and find where there is more food. And as you swim, there are certain cues that you have from the environment, olfactory odor blooms, and such and as well as visual landmarks, that are sort of reliably tied into particular feeding sites. Like I don't know some piece of coral where there's, there's some plant that you might want to, that you could eat, that provides food for you. And so when you're in that motivated, hungry state, you can swim around and incorporate in your hunger satisfaction, behavior incorporate these cues. Such as, for example, if these two visual features are located one to the right to the other, then I need to keep swimming until the one they switch so that I, you know, the it's kind of landmarks can kind of triangulate kind of where you are. And that's and that's, that's a useful sort of transformation in the world. That's pertinent for you to find food when you're hungry, right. And so essentially, the animal could learn, while when it's in the state of being hungry and searching for food, they can learn what are the places in the world that satisfies hunger, and, and it's purely pragmatic. It's not sort of decodable because it's all tied in together, the visual, the olfactory, and the internal state are all mixed up together into this kind of system where it's where it's non decodable right. But now, if you have such a system, that can learn where the food is, it becomes useful to detach the internal state aspect from all the other aspects, right because because there's other aspects like like the look, the relative location of landmarks or odor, prunes are still there even when you're not hungry, right? So that means that even if you're not if if you have the ability to build what's what this is, this is what we call the cognitive map, that you can build a sort of a map of your environment, in and sort of target with this is where there's some food, here's where there's some shelter, etc. In the context of particular, control policies, like find the food or find the shelter, but if you can, if you can detach that internal aspect of it, like I'm hungry, or I'm threatened, and just focus on the external part on those external transformations and such, then you can learn that cognitive map in general, right, you can learn in more general map. And even when you're even when you're swimming around, just sort of swimming around idly, you're not hungry, you're not threatened, you can still use and contend construct that information somehow. And that becomes a kind of knowledge. And so again, you're now detaching, you're detaching sort of the a more descriptive thing that is more like knowledge of the world, from a purely pragmatic thing that was all about satisfying the need for, you know, feeding yourself, etc. So I think that might be an example. And it's probably a very old one, again, early vertebrates probably were capable of doing this kind of context. Not maybe not independent, but more, more and more important attached
Nick Jikomes 1:11:44
from the word detached. Yeah. Let me let me see if I can sort of summarize some of this and riff on it. So if we imagine a primitive organism, like a lamb pray or something, it's got, you know, primitive sensory abilities in the sense that it's not as sophisticated as us maybe can't form images the way we can, an organism that can just sort of detect light or not light, it can detect the presence of a looming shadow, it's got muscles, it can move its body and swim around. So if we imagine the escape system of this animal, then it's doing something like you know, if shadow is present, wiggle the body so that we swim in the opposite direction. And that's escape behavior, it doesn't have anything that we would call a rich representation of what the threat is, it's not identifying, you know, that predator versus another predator, it's simply detecting the presence of a looming shadow, which is present right now in this context. And then it's like a stimulus response reflex, just executing a simple behavior that will reliably move the animal out of harm's way. And that can be a very simple, powerful circuit for a very, for a relatively primitive organism to use to promote survival. And I think one thing that you said it's important is when we think about a circuit like that, and a set of circuits like that, I think what you were saying is, they just need to get the job done. And one thing that that means is that as long as they get the job done, and the animal survives, and that circuit fulfills that basic escape function, there's nothing necessitating that the way it gets the job done, the way that the information is being encoded, is efficiently in the computational sense decodable by other circuits in the brain. And that all of all of that's very different from some of the things that evolve later, where you want to encode things in a way that is decodable. Elsewhere, because it starts to allow you for this detachment of the state from the current context, and that allows for more generalization and new types of learning is that yes, is yes, definitely what you were saying,
Paul Cisek 1:13:51
that's roughly it. And you know, you can you can think that how much more sophisticated we are than Lamprey, but we have that same circuit, if a large vehicle moves into your peripheral vision, you're going to escape, and it's thanks to your superior colliculus that you're going to do that, and you don't care if it's a Ford truck, or a Mack truck, you know, it's a large looming stimulus, and you just get the hell out of there. And that's, that's, you know, that is a fast system. And, and, you know, it's good that it's there. Now, yes, as you say, for other kinds of things, especially generalization, you don't want to have things that are so interesting. So inextricably tied into one particular context, because then of course, by definition won't generalize. So I think so I think that happens in many of these systems. But I wonder whether it happens, and I don't know what the answer is, but I wonder whether it tends to happen by differentiation and specialization. So in other words, you don't want to mess up the system that gets you, that gives you that fast escape, you don't want to mess with that. However, if you duplicate it, and then or, you know, or sort of have a redundant system, then you can keep relying on the old one, while playing around and making the other one more sophisticated. So the telencephalon did not play a big role in early chordates. Well, there wasn't much of it, apparently, in early coordinates. But once you get the vertebrates, you get much of the telencephalic structures there and including what appears to be the, the ancestral part of the cerebral cortex are the precursor. So the basal ganglia is there in lamprey that the Pallium, which includes the hippocampus and cerebral cortex in us, the structures are there, and the circuits are largely there. But they didn't play so much of a immediate role in in controlling behavior, which was more done more by this midbrain circuits. But they'd had a modulatory role. It's kind of like saying, sort of like collecting information about the state and prioritizing those, those other systems in a more sophisticated way, you modulating the sort of priority between doing one thing versus another thing, but not so much controlling the doing of those things. But gradually, certainly in mammals, it took over much of that role. And that's a whole complicated story that again, can only make I think it only may make sense in the, in the context of the actual history that we went through becoming nocturnal. And then and then sort of relying on a different different circuits more than, you know, reptiles that dominated diurnal life. So there's certain sort of things that happened along the way that led to, you know, these parts of the brain becoming elaborate, highly elaborate, and eventually taking over but again, we still have, we still have all the all those escape circuits in there. You know, in some ways, more sophisticated even.
Nick Jikomes 1:17:16
Yeah, so Just to riff on this a little bit more if we use, you know, the lion example, you know, you can imagine a simple, a simple version of ourselves that, you know, a lion jumps out of a bush and you run away. If you just have the sort of basic escape circuit, you're sort of just saying, you know, threat is here, get away from it. But as soon as organisms evolved the ability to start encoding different information in different ways and at different timescales, you you have that detachment of the current state from the stimulus, so now I can, I can get away from the lion, I can reach safety, my flight or flight, state can go away, because now I'm safe. And I can I can say, Hmm, there was this thing that I'm representing as a lion, somehow, I'm representing it in the absence of the thing being there, I'm representing it in the absence of me being in the flight or fight state. And what that actually buys me is the ability to avoid going back into that state in the future, because now I can think, well, if I go over there, that thing might be there, and I better not do that. Is that, you know, am I am I sort of repeating that in? Okay, well, yeah,
Paul Cisek 1:18:24
I think I mean, one very simple sense, you know, that representing, you know, if, if you've just been exposed to a threat, and you got away from it, you may never met, you may want to continue being very sensitive to threats. And, and don't engage in other activities, you know, you just escaped from a lion Oh, and here's a nice fruit to eat now, well, maybe maybe don't eat the fruit just yet. Maybe stay alert a bit, you know, the kind of a state of one might call anxiety, right? You You're sort of predisposed to to continue escaping, in case that predator comes after you or are still there, you know. So I think there's a there's a sort of a kind of a it doesn't have to be very sophisticated it could be simply like a prolonged change in the modulation of different circuits you know, again, and you can imagine this is also physiological right? The heart rate goes up you know, the you know, pupils dilate and cetera I mean, you you you become very alert, etc. Um you know, that doesn't yet require, you know, a detached representation per se. But like in the other example, that I gave, you may you may nevertheless, learn where the lions live, you know, this, this, this hill over there is is kind of off limits because there's danger there. And so you may, you may want to you may, you may want to assimilate that particular scenario, to a larger context that becomes that becomes, you know, different policy, you know, other policies like yes, okay, there's no lion, there's no threat, and I'm hungry. But still, you don't want to go down over that hill. Because, again, that's where threats are. So I think that's, you know, that's part of making behavior more sophisticated. I not sure it's necessarily decodable yet, though, right? I think this is one of the things. So one of the things that have that's going on in neuroscience now is everybody's trying to code neural activity. And, and we can do it when we control everything like crazy, right? When we control every contextual variable, then we can decode. But the problem is it it's there, all mixed variables are all mixed up there in ways that are hard to make sense of so even though you and I might say, well, the brain has to represent the location of the target in order to reach for it? Well, what it really needs to do is reach the target, and the pragmatic circuits along the way, will definitely have to covary in a, in a sort of a lawful way with the location of the target. But they may not be decodable in any straightforward way. And and even if they are that, there's still this aspect of context. Right, which, which is there. And and, you know, I think we won't understand this system, unless we kind of confront that, that that sort of mixed up context dependent, pragmatic way that the brain does that much of the brain activity actually is. This is something I think that again, in sensory motor control people sort of confront that a lot, because because the system because the, the questions are so intertwined. If you study purely sensory systems, you can, you can get by, I think, without confronting the contextual things, but but again, only only so far, I think, people they're also coming to similar conclusions. And again, I think we have this idea of, of brain encoding things and decoding of like a message passing, because a lot of people sort of come come to it with a kind of a metaphor of a computer, where you really do have information encoded and decoded. But there's, there's not that much in the brain. I think that that works that way.
Nick Jikomes 1:22:52
Yeah, I mean, I certainly remember, you know, when I was doing neuroscience, many, many, many people have had the experience where, you know, you set up an experiment you record from neurons. And, you know, you you're trying to understand, you're trying to decode what the neurons are doing, there's a sort of expectation sort of baked in and often just sort of brought it out as assumption that everything should be decodable. But what you're saying is that much of it probably isn't in the sense that we might find convenient.
Paul Cisek 1:23:22
Yeah, I mean, mostly in the sense that it's, it's mixed, right? So if you control if the if, let's say you have a pragmatic system, and it's an it's coupled to the environment in a way that accomplishes some relatively sophisticated complex go. It's going to covary, with many, many variables. And if you control let's say, covariance, a 10 different variables that one can conceive, if you control nine of them, then you'll be able to decode the tense Yes, but But in natural behavior, that's usually not the case. The things actually all covary they're not actually constant, the other variables are not constant. And so, you know, when we, when we look at this, when we record in the brain, we very often find very nice correlations between neural activity and some externally definable quantity, sometimes very, very external, like, physically, like a physical variable like movement. But sometimes there's a conceptual variable, like let's say, the value, the reward value of performing a certain movement. But the fact is, these things are all mixed up, and often in ways that are hard to hard to make sense. And I think one of one of the reasons, again, that it's hard to make sense of this is we start with a model that is incorrect, that we think that the brain is composed of modules that are sort of sending coded messages to each other. And if we could just decode them we would understand it but that's not really what's going on at all again, like in In that escape circuit, it's not coded messages. It's, it's, it's, you know, it's interactions. You know, I, you know, I sometimes joke that we know exactly what every neuron in codes, you know, whatever the action potential encodes and encodes the, the in synaptic input to the next neuron, right? The problem, of course, is that there's millions of those next neurons, they're all linked together and in a recurrent network. And so, you know, it's not a very useful thing to say after after that. But I think if we have models of, first of all, what the system is really doing, what what task it's really accomplishing, then we can start, you know, making experiments that say, Well, why should this thing be mixed up in this way? And it turns out that often it is, you know, and this is, I think, what I get excited about is if, if, if we can develop a model that, let's say, says, well, so I'll give you an example from from our work, where we look at the sensory motor control of reaching movements in the context of making decisions, right. And we see things for example, that covary, with the direction of a movement that a monkey is about to make, but it also co varies with the reward that the monkey is likely to receive for performing that movement. But only when there's a decision to be made, right. So in in the part of the region that we're talking about here, premotor cortex, your neural activity that CO varies and predicts the movement that an animal will make. And in the case of a situation where he's making a decision between two, two different movements, it co varies with the reward associated the relative reward of a movement. So cells that prefer this movement will be more strongly active if that movement is more rewarded than another. And so you could say it encodes movement direction, and encodes reward size, right. But if you have only a single target, then these very same cells completely don't encode the reward. So the monkey, of course, still cares about whether he receives one drop of juice or three drops of juice, but the neurons no longer report it. They don't correlate, they don't encode that variable. And why is that? Well, because I don't think they're ever really encoding variables, I what I think is that they are implementing a system that that implements a competition, essentially, between different actions, and that competition is biased by all the things that that would make you want to go one way versus another including reward. But because that comp, and when that competition exists, you're gonna see that biasing, but when there's a single target, there's no competition. And so you just go to that target. And so the the encoding now of reward is gone. And, you know, it's not, it's not mysterious in any way, once you describe it that way, right? It's kind of like obvious Well, sure. It's, it's going to covary with these variables, because what it's doing is the pragmatic thing, right, which is, of all the places I could go, but my arm, I could move my arm, which is the place that I want to move my arm. And that's going to depend on reward effort, you know, what's available, etc. And again, it's not, it's not representing, it's, it's doing right, it's, it's, it's not trying to describe the movement to somebody, it's just trying to send this input to the next neurons down the line, such that the arm happens to go in that good direction, in the best direction.
Nick Jikomes 1:28:42
Let's I'm using this behavioral example from monkeys, I want to talk about so the way that many people talk about the brain that many people naturally think about the brain is we sort of, you know, completely parse it into these different functional segments, you've got some circuits that are sensory, then they give us sensations. And then some circuits after that, you know, they grab that information from the sensory neurons, and then they do perception, they create our perceptions. And then our perceptions go on to other circuits and cognition happens. And eventually we make a decision. And then those cognitive circuits handed off to the motor neurons. And then a behavior is executed this sort of, you know, serial model of very functionally distinct types of circuits, you know, one after the other doing these different types of operations. And I think what you're saying is, that's, that's a poor way to think about it. So can you talk about that a little bit more, and maybe, maybe reiterate the monkey reaching experiments we're talking about?
Paul Cisek 1:29:39
Yeah, well, I mean, it's, it's more general than those experiments. There's, there's Yes, you're right. And that's how people are very often approach the problem and it's an it's a traditional way of approaching the problem. And, and I've, I've often wondered why, where does that idea actually come from? I mean, you know, if, if, if we think we you know, we usually like to cite people when we, when we say when we start with some ideas, but who do we cite for that one? I don't. And I actually think this is very pre scientific, fundamentally, that, you know, back when people first started thinking about the mind and the soul, right, they, it was essentially assumed that they're separate, that there is a, there is a mind that separate from the body. Right. And if, if you believe that which pretty much everyone did, you know, at least among the Greeks, like Plato and Aristotle, then you're forced to consider how that mind interacts with the world, it needs an interface, it needs a way for the world, to learn about the world. And that's what perception is, its presents the world to the mind, but also has to exert its will, preferably free will, onto the world through action, right. And so the very concept of perception, and action and, and intention, etc, where we're sort of developed in our thinking, at a time when we're everyone was essentially a duelist. And there was no problem being a duelist, right. And it was really a very long time, until the concept of this non physical mind was eventually abandoned by most not by everyone. But at that point, it was already kind of too late, right? What happened is these these concepts of a perceptual system, and an action system that plays out the wishes, those who are retained, and the non physical mind was just replaced with a physical thing, which which people said, you know, what, we can replace the mind with something like a computer, right, which implements very sophisticated behavior, if you give it the right inputs and produces the right outputs, we can just plug it right in there and replace this thing, because this concept of a non physical mind was very uncomfortable. In in, in, in, you know, in light of physics and science, it said it was not compatible the laws of physics, etc. So it was problematic for psychology, but because they could just replace it with this cognition module. It solved the problem, right? But the problem, but the problem it didn't solve is those interfaces that I think we, you know, we're so ingrained in even the way we talk about behavior, we describe something to each other, it's so ingrained in our way of thinking that it was impossible to let it go, right. And so now we have not only the conceptual boundaries, but they're their specializations. I mean, different people studied different different systems, you know, people who, there are people who study perception, who don't worry about the cognitive issues. And there are people who study motor control, who don't worry about the perceptual issues, etc. And the people who study cognition, who don't worry about, you know, how the input is constructed, they just sort of begin with the assumption that I'm going to receive this really nice model the world. And now my job is to explain how the brain does interesting cognitive things with that model the world. But, you know, if you look at people who study sensory motor control in animals, you know, ocular motor control, or, or, you know, swimming behavior, there's none of that there, right? There's no, there's no real separation, you still talk about sensors and effectors, you still talk about a kind of a specialization for certain kinds of, you know, activity patterns, versus others, you know, there's information that about the world, which is ambiguous as to what you're going to do in the world. But in the end, you can only do one or two things at once. And so in the end, it sort of has to change the more sort of motor related format. But, but you don't have to make, you don't have to draw those borders. And I think what happened in psychology is because psychology became a science at a time that those borders were already pretty much set in stone, in our language of even the, the terminology that we use. That it, it started from that point, and it's very difficult to snap out of it. And this is one of the things that that I think Gibson did, and Bill Powers and Piaget and many others, suggested we need to, we need to get rid of that baggage and start thinking about it as as a system. And then we can talk about how different parts of the system to different things, because you can still talk about things that are, you know, you know, things that are sent, closed loop sensorimotor control in the here and now versus things that are not things that are more, you know, detached, again, from from the moment to moment. So, I think a number of people have been saying that for a long time. And it's, you know, it's penetrated a little bit here and there in the field, but I still think But most people come into the field with such a strong preconceived notion that, oh, I'm going, you know, this mystery of perception is so fascinating. That's what I'm going to study. I can tell you when I got into this, right, I came in from a computer science background. So I was completely Thinking in this way, right. And I was thinking to myself when I when I went to graduate school, and I went to the group of Steve Grossberg was a computational modeler. And I was thinking, I'm gonna address the attention problem. Sorry, the the perception problem, because it's just so interesting, right. But one of the things that I learned from my my professors there is, again, about Gibson and ecological psychology. And it was an omen, gola and Daniel Bullock, they really exposed me to these ideas. And I thought, wow, there's another way of thinking about it, you don't have to think about oh, I'm going to study how perception works and how it produces that internal model of the world. I can talk about sensory motor control, and, and the whole problem of of behavior. Because there is an alternative way of thinking about it, which doesn't require drawing these borders, and then looking for these, these modules. And I think, again, a lot of people have said said this, a lot of people continue to say it. But I still think that there's this prevalent notion out there, that a lot of people just assume it just is the case. And and they don't encounter ideas that that say otherwise.
Nick Jikomes 1:36:36
Yeah, I mean, it is it is very natural to think that way. It is, although, of course, you know, funny enough, if you think about it, you know, when do we have perceptions in the absence of cognition or vice versa?
Paul Cisek 1:36:48
Yeah. People have have noted very much, you know, that, that the border between those two is pretty blurry. And, and likewise, in motor control, you know, if you look at decision making, if you if you look at studies of decision making, very often, if you study decisions about action, it's all right, in the same regions that control the actions, right, in monkeys, or mice, etc. I mean, if you study decisions that are very abstract, then it's, it's rather different, right? I mean, there's, that's not the same type of thing. But if you study decisions about actual activity, they seem to emerge within what one would normally have called the motor system, or, you know, or at least the sensory motor system. And, and not in some purely cognitive thing, right? It's very, the, the borders between these terms in the brain are extremely blurry. And I agree, it's very natural to think that way. But I think we need to, I think we need to just confront the fact that as soon as you look at the brain that just, just think so, you know, I mean, even in functional imaging studies, where there's really very little action, because otherwise, you'll have artifacts, and you won't be able to do your experiment. Even in those studies, you see all these things mixed up in very confusing ways that don't, they just don't obey the traditional psychological distinctions. But again, I would say, you know, if these ideas are so old, you know, what's the chance that they, you know, that the Greeks had it right back then, I mean, they were brilliant, but they didn't have the knowledge that we, we have now that we can use to come up with better terminologies?
Nick Jikomes 1:38:41
What? So what circuits in the brain performing? What kinds of functions do you think are are going to be the most decodable? So in this meaning that you know, what, what circuits in the brain performing what kind of functions have to perform those functions, specifically, so that they can be easily decoded by other circuits in the brain? Where what types of behaviors do you think these are going to be tied to what types of circuits in the brain? Do would you expect us to be able to find things that are supposed to be decoded so to speak?
Paul Cisek 1:39:18
Well, I first I would say maybe none, right? Because there's there's no reason for the brain to decode itself right? The brain in the end its job is to get behavior get on with a task of behavior, right? There is no miss that it's not necessarily true that one part of the brain has to be able to decode another now, so it has to deal with behavior. But I do think that there are some aspects of behavior which have to be at least at the behavioral level Decodable and language would be the most extreme example of that, right. So so, um, language always. Language is a very It's important, and an interesting case for a number of reasons. But, but one, I think the mistake that's often made, in my opinion, a mistake is that we use the question of language to determine how we think about everything the brain does. And so language involves, you know, symbolic communication and certain kinds of rules, and certain and very, very detached from sensory motor. And so, you know, the idea of passing messages between you and me, is then absorbed into the idea of how the brain works, where, you know, the amygdala sends coded messages to the striatum or something, you know, the, the, I don't think one should take that, as, whatever is appropriate for explaining language may not be appropriate for explaining the rest of the brain. And it shouldn't be the basis of our theories. And I say I say all this because it was right. Language was one of the reasons why people abandoned a lot of the ideas of behaviorists and ecologists and went with a more representation, heavy architectures, like, like in cognitive science, and it was able to, because people want to explain. But the other thing I want to say about language is that, that I don't think actually, language itself is really fundamentally a message passing or an information passing system. I actually think language is yet another extension of control just happens to pass through other creatures, right? So so I can control my, my physiological state with internal variables and internal processes, I can control my, my state in the environment by moving around in the environment and acting and pushing on objects and taking advantage of the reliable consequences of performing one action versus another. You know, laws of like, if I move forward things in front become reachable, that's, that's an obvious thing. But there's also laws of interaction, right? If, if I'm a helpless baby, um, I can't control my state, I can't do anything about my state, but but I have a parent there in the next room or next next to me, who will take care of stuff for me, as long as I, you know, utter the correct sound. And frankly, in the beginning, it doesn't have to even be correct, it could just be any sound, the parent will come and figure out what's wrong and figure out what to do for me. And then eventually, I can maybe make a more specific sound to indicate one need versus another need, and the parent will go and happily, you know, fulfill that need and do whatever it takes. And, and, and again, the nice thing about parents is that they're really quite sophisticated, but incredibly easy to control, if you're their baby, right? You can, the baby can make the parent do anything, right. And I know because I have a son, and I've been in his control for a long time now. So the thing is, that's kind of a kind of communication, right, and the parent has gradually gradually shapes the utterances of the baby to, to fine tune that interaction, and that control that the baby has, again, happily, right. But it also extends in any in other situations, you know, a, a animal can make a threatening gesture to another animal. And if that threatening gesture makes that other animal back off, great, then you've exerted control without having to engage in fighting and injuring yourself, you've exerted control over your your rival, and you've accomplished what you wanted, which is, let's say, staying as the alpha male, or getting some piece of food that somebody else was trying to get from you. And so you, you make gestures, or you make utterances to control others. Now, in humans, that just explodes and complexity, right. And so human societies, you know, frankly, Primates to, you know, even monkeys have pretty sophisticated interaction interactions, a lot of gestures, but also utterances that are essentially not about, you know, decoding intentions, it's about persuading the others, it's controlling the others, and thereby, my access to things like food, you know, mates, the nice, nice comfy perch or whatever. And I think that's the foundation of communication and then language really, and then again, we can sort of think about the detachment within that right. So, so I am controlling my account specifics by making various utterances but as my control over those cones specifics, opens, and here again, overwhelmed, right, the idea that once you have these kinds of interactions, and they respond in predictable ways to me and vice versa. Now I've created A whole new domain, a whole new like aspect of the niche that can explode in complexity. And everybody can discover more and more sophisticated ways to deal with that new new environment kind of new aspect of the environment. And I think what happened in human society is that that's what we that's what we expel, excelled in so much, you know, we're like, we're like, the hummingbirds of language, right, we're just incredibly good at it so much better than the other animals, just like Hummingbirds are amazing at flying, right. And so we've, we've taken that to new levels, and such levels of complexity, that, that we can do things that are really very far detached from, from, you know, simple interactions, you know, we can have long range plans, we can deposit money in a bank, buy food, you know, 20 years from now, and, and control my state and cetera. And so I think a lot of it, a lot of it comes with that social structure and tied into language. And, and there, I think so coming back, very roundabout way to your question about decodable. There is an example where you actually want to make the utterances decodable by the listener, etc. And there, it actually becomes very important that things are explicit and abstract and detached. Inside the brain, maybe also, I mean, you mentioned earlier that the idea of generalization, I think that's an example where, you know, context dependence gets you into trouble, if you want to generalize so. So this idea of separating out from this pragmatic mixture may be relevant there. I'm not sure. I'm not sure, though. decodable. I mean, does does any part of the brain?
How is it in the business of decoding another? I'm not sure. I'm not sure. There's good examples of that.
Nick Jikomes 1:47:06
So you mentioned earlier how, how seductive? The the question or the problem of perception is, because, I mean, it's just it's so it's such an intrinsic part of our lives. And it's so naturally interesting, you know, why is it that we perceive things? Why is it that we have conscious perceptions at all? And so when I think about, you know, the question, what is perception? Where do they come from, you know, an answer that you commonly hear to that is some version of, well, perceptions are your brain's representations of the external world, per se, with some level of fidelity, you're representing what's actually in the outside world? So my question for you is simply what is perception? But also add the additional question, do you do even think that's a good question to ask?
Paul Cisek 1:47:52
Yeah, I do actually think it's a good question to ask. And I think the answer that I like, is kind of based on Milner and Goodell's work on the two visual streams, which I think actually generalizes to many sensory systems. And so what they point out is that while actually was unrelated in Michigan that pointed out the NOC topical separation between a dorsal visual system which is sensitive to space around you, and a ventral visual system, which is sensitive to object identity, and not so much the space around you, but Milner and Goodale suggested is that the dorsal system, the spatial system is really about sensory motor control, it's the front end to the circuits that make you move around in space and reach things and run around and control your action, where the ventral system is more about what we normally think of perception, which is being sort of being aware, identifying things, classifying them, you know. So for example, you can hide under something without having any idea of what it is, you can grasp all kinds of objects, whether or not you know that they're edible or not, right. So you're and that's dorsal. So that's dorsal system process, and you're, you know, you can interact, you can perceive the affordances and take advantage of them in all kinds of sophisticated ways without actual knowledge of what the thing is that you're grabbing. But, so for example, a, you know, a heavy object can be used on all kinds of ways to hammer a nail to throw it an intruder to hold down pieces of paper flying around on my desk, etc. It has affordances and whatever, but it also has identity that specifically more specifically says something about it like like the the better example is really a fruit, right? There's all kinds of spherical objects you can grasp, but some of them are edible, right. And so you want to you want to grasp them when you're hungry. And, and you want to then bring them to your mouth and eat them. Right. And the proposal is that the ventral stream is identifying the identity of objects in order to help you decide about what you want to do in the world around you in which things do you want to bother grabbing, you know, there might be all kinds of spheres around in your world, but one of them happens to be an apple, if you can identify which one is an apple, that's the one you want to orient to. And so that I think is, and in fact, in, in many disorders, people can can have one or the other system damage, so they're unable to identify what the object is, but they can still interact with it, or vice versa. And so I think what you mentioned as, as sort of what we think about perception is more this ventral stream stuff that we are, we are very concerned with the identity of objects. And it's because we're going to use that information to make a sort of a high level control. Policy of, do I want to approach this thing or reach for it or whatever, it's, whereas the other system is more like, here's all the possible things you could do, right? Now, here's a whole bunch of things you could grasp, here's a whole bunch of places you could walk, here's some support surfaces, some things you can hide on there. You know, here's the, the opportunities for you sort of large menu of opportunities, but the brain can only do a couple of things at once. So in the end, it has to kind of prioritize, and so this ventral stream processing helps you do that, and then select out which of the things is more appetizing, or whatever. And so I think, and that's one of the systems that really takes off and primates, that ventral stream is pretty, pretty small in in, you know, rodents and tree shoes and other sort of are relatively nearby cousins. It's not that it's not as elaborate as it is, in primates. It's extremely elaborate in primates, in part, I think, because primates, sort of, at least along our lineage became very visually driven animals vision became extremely important. And their lifestyle was one in which you don't approach things, sniffed them, taste them, you look at them from one tree away, and then you decide whether you want to go bother, you know, going to that other tree, and eat those fruit over there. So I think a lot of our sophisticated visual system is still doing all the sensorimotor stuff. But then there's this other system, which is becoming, and you can already see how that's a bit more symbolic, a bit more probably context independent. And so you have all kinds of, you know, you have all kinds of processing along that system, which is all about classification and drawing boundaries between, you know, there can be lots of apples in a whole continuum of sort of nutritious snus, some are rotten, some are perfectly right, you need to draw a border, because you need to make a decision, are you going to eat it, or you're not going to eat it and so you want to you want to classify them into this is good, this is not good, etc. And so classification and sort of breaking up the world into categories is sort of the that part of the visual system, again, because it's as to do things like prioritize actions, and decide which of many affordances you want to take part. And I think a lot of that is what we were more sort of consciously aware of whatever whatever conscious awareness is, it seems to be more focused on that kind of vision.
Nick Jikomes 1:53:50
What was that text? You mentioned earlier perception, that control of behavior
Paul Cisek 1:53:54
that was built powers from 1973, I think, or 71, say, early 70s. And that's called perceptual control theory. And there's essentially a kind of a tradition of people who think this way and I have a lot in common with them with with that, again, he's not the only one who has said this, he said it particularly nicely, I think, but Piaget Jean Piaget, who was a very influential psychologist in the mid 20th century, he he said something like this about cognition as well. He talked about child development and suggesting that the child first figures out how to move around and flop around and controls arms and etc. Only later does he construct actual knowledge of the world that he's interacting with, on that foundation and foundation is kind of necessary to have cognition. And he was very much a cognitive psychologist, but he was a cognitive psychologist who focused very much on really the pragmatic aspects and kind of the control aspects. as well. But again, others have said this to, you know, new neural net new blocking on the name. But, but John Dewey said this in the 19th century, and again, I wouldn't be surprised if Democritus said it and 500 equals c.
Nick Jikomes 1:55:20
So why, you know, on the subject of conscious perception, and if we think of perception in in the way that, that you've been talking about us, as you know, about being about the control of behavior, do you do you have a viewpoint on why there needs to be conscious perception at all? Why something like that would have evolved? Why not just have it all be? Is it possible for it to have been a completely sort of automatic if very complex? System? What Why is there such a thing as conscious perception? Can you speculate, speculate on that
Paul Cisek 1:55:54
for us? I gotta say, I have no idea. I gotta say, that is a that is a? That is a tough question. And, and very often, I come back to it myself, you know, it's like, okay, well, well, and good. You know, sensorimotor, control, whatever. But why is there this conscious aspect to it? I really don't know. And there are some promising ideas. I think they're, they're promising ideas out there. But I find them all somewhat unsatisfying. In the end. And I'm wondering whether it's because because we're just not phrasing it properly, you know, there's a lot of questions that seem completely inaccessible, and then suddenly, are not an issue. You know, temperatures is a sort of a classic example, what is heat? Right? And it was just people just didn't have the right concepts to phrase that question correctly. And until it became a non question. What is life is another one classic one, right? Why are things some things alive and other things inanimate, and, and people have been wondering about what that alanda detail is for for centuries, and then a bunch of chemists essentially kind of worked around the problem. And then there was not a problem anymore. That for me, the problem of meaning was one of these, I thought to myself, when I went to grad school is, is the great mystery is how is meaning attached to, to symbols. And, you know, and I think attacking that head on would take hundreds of years, but you know, what, I then I read Gibson, and I realized, you know what, that's not the problem at all. It's actually that's, that's because the problem was phrased backwards. That in fact, it's it's not how meaning gets attached to symbols. It's how symbols emerge in pragmatic systems. Now, I don't know what the answer to the question of consciousness is. And I don't think anybody knows. But I suspect it might be one of those those types of questions where we're, we're, we're, you know, Greeks contemplating galaxies, you know, we don't we just don't have the pieces to to frame it correctly. And I'm wondering whether it has something to do with, again, with control systems, you know, the idea of being inside versus outside of control systems, obviously different. That's, that's like the subjective versus objective perspective. So there's some something there, there's some aspect of monitoring, I mean, there's number of people asking questions like, okay, yes, okay, there's consciousness. Why are we conscious of these things? Or not? These other things? Why is it like, for example, ventral stream stuff seems to be within our consciousness more, whereas dorsal stuff is not why, I don't know. I think those are good questions to ask. But, you know, it's, it's funny, because, you know, I've, I've always been interested in this, and I've, you know, on and off Read, read of what other people say about it. In the end, I'm just never satisfied. And it's a bit of a cop out, admittedly, but I kind of feel like, you know, maybe we should think about heat, and on life and, and work at it, and maybe we'll realize it's not a problem. It's not such a problem, as we thought if we if we phrased the question correctly, but I don't know. I don't know. I gotta I gotta say, it's it's a it's a quite a deep mystery and a tough one.
Nick Jikomes 1:59:26
Well, Paul, this has been a fascinating, fascinating conversation so far. Is there anything else you want to say or reiterate to maybe leave people with a distilled version of of what we've been talking about and how you think about the brain?
Paul Cisek 1:59:41
Well, I don't know. I mean, I guess my my, one of my frustrations is that, that I find that there's a certain mainstream of thinking that is not not knowledgeable enough about alternative Ways of Thinking, simply because once you're in the mainstream, not only do you, you're not forced to go out of it, because you're comfortable in it, you know, you can do your work, publish your papers and get funded. But also, you've got a lot to keep up with, because everybody's doing these things. And everybody's asking the same questions. And, and, and, you know, you know, they want to know what your next input to those questions is. And so I think that happens a lot. But I also, I'm frustrated by, by having seen how much there is that's out of the mainstream, you know, like, like, Gibson's work like powers, like, you know, like many of these people I've, I've mentioned, that people are not aware of it, because they don't go out of their comfort zone. And they just, you know, they read what other people read, and, and nd accepts the questions that have been handed down to them by, you know, their supervisors and their Psych 101 class, and they just don't realize that there's all these alternative ways of thinking out there, you know, that that have actually been around for a while slogging away and unseen corners, you know, one of the things that I emphasize is evolution is important, you know, there's a huge world of people studying this stuff. And, and I've always been interested in biology really delved into a deeply recently, and I'm amazed that how my, my view of everything has changed once I got exposed to this. And, and so I would say, you know, if you're in the mainstream, you should be worried that you're missing something that you should go read what everybody isn't reading, and see what the alternatives are, even if even if many of them are going to be, you know, kind of wacky or wrongheaded. There are some gems out there, that people are just not not aware of, you know, I, I was exposed to some of these things. Because of the particular path I took, if I hadn't, I would, I would not know, notice that I wouldn't know where to start. So again, I think it's always good to look outside the comfort zone. And, you know, again, like I said, I get frustrated how people don't do that, how they just say, alright, well, this is what everybody else is doing. So that's
Nick Jikomes 2:02:21
yeah, I completely agree. I think I think it's great advice, read outside your comfort zone. I tried to read as many things by dead people as I can, because sometimes ideas kind of get lost and forgotten about. Yes, that's right.
Paul Cisek 2:02:32
That's right. Yeah, I actually also, I always thought it'd be good to give a assignment to students where they, they have to write a report, and they have to cite from, from at least, you know, eight different decades. And they have to, they have to sample across time in a more broad way. Because because you've once once you try it, you find that it's there. And I think, tell me spiritually, I think you and others who do these kinds of, you know, podcasts or sort of, you know, interviews, you're sort of well poised, actually to get a broad, broad picture, because you're, you're sort of it's your job, to try all these to sample these things in enough depth, to have the conversation, but at the same time without getting so narrowly caught in one particular viewpoint, that you're stuck there, right. So you know, you should you and others who do these kinds of podcasts should all you know, do it for, you know, 20 years and then write a nice book.
Nick Jikomes 2:03:36
I'll keep that in mind. But but it is true. Yeah, I get I get a wide sample of things. And yeah, and I often seek people out who are a little bit outside the mainstream or that who I don't, you know, I just legitimately don't complete. I don't understand what they're saying. And I want to know more not because I already think I know the answers of what they're going to say.
Paul Cisek 2:03:55
Well, good, and I look forward to your book.
Nick Jikomes 2:03:59
All right. Well, thanks again, Paul, for your time. This is fascinating. And, and I look forward to talking to you again in the future. All right. Thanks again for inviting me