at Harvard Medical School
27-29. July 2018

(Loco-) Motion and Cognition

Anton Fuerlinger

Department of Anesthesia, Hospital Hietzing, Vienna, Austria


Objective: Vertebrate behavior and cognition have originated in fish. Every movement of the tail of a fish or of its fins will change the position of the fish in (relation to) its environment. Optical (and water) flow is received by sense organs, loco-motion makes loco-sension. Leg muscles move the world, an evershifting background where other actors (must) contrast: their locomotion reveals location, species and individual. Now cognition plus reaction - in milliseconds - select the winner, in these arms races, all through evolution.

Quadrupeds made the first steps towards mankind. As with fish, their eyes continue to scan the horizon, but the direction of their (loco)motor activity has downwards bent by 90°. Locomotion is fed back twice, by flow and proprioception because legs must be controlled when not making flow, e.g. when cleaning the body.

Primates have four hands to hold on twigs. They tend to sit and move their arm(s) freely to reach and grasp. Their locomotor apparatus is beginning to split: while seated, the hind limbs and the pelvis are engaged in "non-locomotion", but the arms are "bent" again by 90°, now reaching forward.  For the first time in evolution animals can see "own" (self-generated, automatic) limb motion directly, self-cognition happens long before cognition of a self. (italics 2020)

In hominids the so-called eye-hand-complex works autonomously, even during locomotion. Tools move in self-mode for millions of years before the whole "own" shadow may also appear "familiar", it is a self-moved whole. It is always connected to the body but not "embodied", it lacks proprioception.

The first mirror experience is like meeting a sibling, its face, downwards and under water, clearly visible but untouchable. Through this "encounter" the former shadow can, eventually, "turn" into another self.

Only humans know about light reflection as a second medium separating eyes and the seen. Animals live in a permanent "flow experience", they do not "see" that the eye and the seen are separated by air in the first place.

Conclusion: Animals live within flow ("time"), but without water, air, distance, separation ("space").

Keywords: vertebrate evolution, self-cognition, reflection, flow.

Bio: Currently I am a transfusion specialist at the Austrian Red Cross in Vienna. I work on a Ph.D. thesis on hominization in zoology, a necessarily transdisciplinary project.

Presentation: oral

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