array of specialized touch domes covaries with both the size of the forelimb representation and neural response properties in S1. Together such morphological and cortical specializations are critical for detecting and processing inputs that provide motor cortex with information necessary to produce fine muscle control during self-propelled flight. It is the resulting morphology and behavior, the efficiency with which a bat navigates, captures, and consumes insects using a wing of a given size, shape, tensor properties, and receptor distribution, that are the targets of selection.
In addition there are genetic regulatory networks in the neocortex that are responsible for providing the scaffold of organization that includes a constellation of cortical fields and their connectional relationships that all mammals share. These networks can vary to produce phenotypic change in cortical field size, relative location, and connectivity within individuals in a population. This in turn generates changes in sensory-mediated behaviors, and as in the example above, it is behavior, not genes or features of cortical organization, that are the targets of selection (Fig. 6.7). Given this complex, multilayered relationship between genes, brains, bodies, the environment, and the targets of selection, the dialect of the current scientific culture, which proposes to study “the gene” for autism, language, memory, or any other class of complex behaviors, is inaccurate and certainly misleading.
Although variability is the cornerstone of evolution, it is difficult to find studies that specifically examine and quantify naturally occurring variability in any aspect of neural organization. As the title indicates, such variability is unwelcome in most studies. We strive to underscore common features or the sameness of our data and reduce the error bars on our histograms. For experimentation purposes, variability is in fact “the bane of our existence.” However, this same variability provides a deep insight into how evolution proceeds and the complex, sometimes tortuous path of phenotypic change. Although the evolution of future forms is not completely known, we can predict the types of changes that will occur and know with certainty that at all levels of organization, there will be variability.
We thank Dylan Cooke for his many helpful and insightful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by Grants R01NS035103-13A1 and R21NS071225-02 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (to L.A.K.).