The Elements of Evolution (43-1) Perception


Biological information processing should seek to maximize performance subject to constraints on information processing capacity. ~ American cognitive scientist Chris Sims

Perception is the fundamental mechanism of the mind to function in the world. The process begins with sensation: the collation of sensory stimuli. Perception starts by turning sensations into symbolic representations. These symbols are then identified using memory and categorization: generalizing specific symbols into classes via hierarchical pattern-matching. The hierarchy of classification is based upon priority of utility: which categories are most useful, based upon knowledge which may be inborn or learned.

Perception concludes by deriving the meaning of the identified symbols, especially with regard to affinity or avoidance. What to eat, and what not to get eaten by, are illustrative.

Learning involves reprioritizing and creating new categorizations, as well as modifying and creating new linkages between concepts, which are essentially codified categories.

Learning applies to the conceptual constructs derived from perception which evolve into “purer” abstractions that are only remotely related to actuality – sometimes so distantly so that the connection is obscured. Learning is the evolution of a mind.

The greatest risk of perception is misidentification: to mistake what is for what is not and vice versa. Confusion is commonly generated during the generalization stage, while categorizing.

Perceptual generalization in any efficient communication system will necessarily follow an exponential function of the cost of perceptual error. ~ Chris Sims

The information channels of sensation are limited by type and quality. Certain organisms can see, but not very well. They compensate by having a keener sense of chemistry (e.g., olfaction), touch, or audition. Many sensations are a confluence of sensory inputs.

Altogether, adaptation drives at perception capabilities which best suit the environment in which an organism lives, with the minimal overall sensory distortion that permits workable perceptual acuity.

Sensory systems adapt to suit the lifestyle or environmental niche of an animal through discrete molecular and biophysical modifications. ~ David Julius et al

Sensory adaptation is reflected in static and dynamic characteristics of sensory performance. Viewed statically, sensory systems are highly selective: their sensitivity varies across stimuli as if they favor certain stimuli over others. Dynamically, stimulus selectivity varies across time; it is modified when the environment changes. ~ American vision scientist Sergei Gepshtein

Regarding sensation, the parameters of evolution are constrained by physics, biochemistry, economies of biological production, and fitness within the phyla (body plan). That withstanding, to think just in terms of physical senses under-scopes the issue of perceptual adaptation.

The mind compensates for deficiencies in sensation via a variety of heuristics, including reliance on knowledge as a basis for probabilistic assessment. Sensation and perception both involve learning, most markedly during early development.

Whereas biological structures and behaviors are all that may be observed, the real work of perception is done in the mind, and so is as much a focus for adaptation as biomechanics.

 Sea Snakes

Sea snakes are found in warm coastal waters from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. Many species inhabit coral reefs. All sea snakes have paddle-like tails which aid propulsion.

While venomous, having a long body means that their tail might be mistaken for food by a hungry fish when only that portion can be seen, such as when a snake is moving through a cluttered reef. To compensate, some sea snakes evolved light sensors in their tails. This gives them some sense of exposure as to how visible their tails may be.