• Gnomon
    3.6k
    Yesterday, I came across an online headline that caught my eye, due to my philosophical interest in the role of Information in the world, and in evolution in particular. One title, on a science news mag, grandly announced "Scientists Unveil Nature’s Missing Evolutionary Law". And I quickly found several other sites with references to a "missing law" to be added to Darwin's 4 or 5 "principles"*1. The major novelty is that this proposed "law" applies to every phase of nature, not just biology. Another difference is its use of "information" in a modern, post-Shannon sense. The articles don't mention it, but I see a relationship to Integrated Information Theory (IIT), which is not yet a law, but a hypothesis. Below, I post a few quotes from three different articles, to invite commentary. In a separate post, I'll add some comments of my own. :smile:


    *1. What are the 4 laws of evolution?
    The four propositions underlying Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection are: (1) more individuals are produced than can survive; (2) there is therefore a struggle for existence; (3) individuals within a species show variation; and (4) offspring tend to inherit their parents' characters.
    https://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/natural-history/evolution-through-natural-selection/content-section-4.1
    PS Note --- Survive = not Life, but mere persistence of whole System ; Struggle = competition for resources (not applicable to non-living?) ; Variation = statistical randomness (non-linear energy -- Brownian motion?) ; Inherit = propagation of defining information (pattern ; design)


    A. Scientists Unveil Nature’s Missing Evolutionary Law
    https://www.sci.news/physics/law-of-increasing-functional-information-12369.html

    Cornell University’s Professor Jonathan Lunine, Dr.Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science and their colleagues propose that an additional, hitherto-unarticulated law is required to characterize familiar macroscopic phenomena of our complex,evolving Universe. In essence, the new ‘law of increasing functional information’ states that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexity

    # The new work postulates a ‘law of increasing functional information,’ which states that a system will evolve ‘if many different configurations of the system undergo selection for one or more functions.’

    # In the case of biology, Charles Darwin equated function primarily with survival — the ability to live long enough to produce fertile offspring.

    # The third and most interesting function according to the researchers is ‘novelty’ — the tendency of evolving systems to explore new configurations that sometimes lead to startling new behaviors or characteristics, like photosynthesis

    # “If increasing functionality of evolving physical and chemical systems is driven by a natural law, we might expect life to be a common outcome of planetary evolution.”

    # “The Universe generates novel combinations of atoms, molecules, cells, etc. Those combinations that are stable and can go on to engender even more novelty will continue to evolve. This is what makes life the most striking example of evolution, but evolution is everywhere.”



    B. Missing law of universal evolution
    Axios : Scientists propose a "missing law" for evolution in the universe
    https://www.axios.com/2023/10/22/evolution-complexity-law

    # The law could help to explain the emergence of complex systems around us

    # "In a deep sense, there are two time arrows that we experience in life," says Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science and who is a co-author of a paper published this week in PNAS describing the proposed law. "One is the idea of aging and death and the other is the idea of renewal and organization

    # "The second law must be obeyed by all systems, but there's still something missing that needs to be articulated to effectively describe all the richness that we see in our everyday lives and also across the cosmos," says Michael Wong, an astrobiologist and planetary scientist at the Carnegie Institution and co-author of the paper.

    # "You have a universe that keeps mixing things up and then trying out new possibilities," Hazen says, adding that it encompasses biological evolution, too. Things that work are selected for, he adds. "That works on nonliving worlds, and it works on living worlds. It's just a natural process that seems to be universal."

    # The team's notion of fitness beyond biology is "really subtle, complex and wonderful," Stuart Kauffman adds.

    # And, some say evolution is strictly about Darwinian natural selection and common descent, Hazen says. But, "I'm talking about diversification and patterning through time" from one stage to the next,


    C. Scientists propose 'missing' law for the evolution of everything in the universe
    https://www.space.com/scientists-propose-missing-law-evolution-of-everything-in-the-universe

    # This new law identifies "universal concepts of selection" that drive systems to evolve, whether they're living or not.

    # The research team behind the law, which included philosophers, astrobiologists, a theoretical physicist, a mineralogist and a data scientist, have called it "the law of increasing functional information."

    # The law applies to systems that form from numerous components — such as atoms, molecules and cells —which can be arranged and rearranged repeatedly and adopt multiple different configurations, according to the statement. The law also says these configurations are selected based on function, and only a few survive.

    # theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania, said the study is a "superb, bold, broad,and transformational article,"



    Fundamental Functions of information evolution :

    Stability -- integrated components form a persisting system

    Action -- systemic energy allows the system to move around, to forage

    Novelty -- system can reproduce itself to form new systems.

    Note --- Integrated Systems are holistic in their collective function

    Missing Law of Evolution video
    https://youtu.be/Gz1-ubJShNA?si=3uTorrUrokT0a1SP
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    You know, there's an old truism in science, 'a theory that explains everything explains nothing'. It suggests that if a theory is so broad and all-encompassing that it can be used to explain any observation or phenomenon, it may lack specificity and predictive power. In other words, a theory should be able to make testable predictions and provide a clear framework for understanding specific phenomena. If a theory can be stretched to explain anything, it becomes less useful as a scientific tool because it doesn't provide meaningful constraints or insights into the natural world. Good scientific theories are typically more precise and focused, allowing scientists to make specific predictions and test their validity through experimentation and observation.

    How would 'the universe' be, if the observable increases in complexity that gave rise to matter and then to life didn't hold? I expect we would never be in a position to know, because it has to be as it is to give rise to the kinds of worlds that accomodate beings such as ourselves. On the other hand, it might have been more organised, or even less organised, but we would never be in a position to make an empirical judgement about the comparative degree of organisation in different universes, as we couldn't ever compare them.

    Lord Martin Rees, whose book Just Six Numbers is a well-known popular book on the cosmological constants, said “Given an immense amount of space and time, and the laws of physics and chemistry, an expanding variety of materials, environments and structures will emerge in the inanimate world,” said Prof Martin Rees.

    “But I don’t see that this need be a manifestation of any new underlying principle analogous to the role of Darwinian selection via inheritance in the biological world.”
  • Pantagruel
    3.3k
    In other words the "principle" is really just a recapitulation of the features of the universe that we actually observe?
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.1k
    I saw this paper too. It's an idea I've seen in a lot of places. "Selection-like" phenomena show up in all sorts of places outside biological evolution and at different scales throughout life itself (e.g. neuronal development and pruning, synapse formation, lymphocyte lines, etc.). You also see it in non-living phenomena.

    Synch by Strogatz is a pretty neat book on how different mathematical phenomena appear at different scales in a host of living and non-living phenomena. E.g., the mechanics behind the how heart cells synchronize a beat turns out to be similar to how Asian fireflies synchronize their blinking and how earthquakes form.

    One thing to note here is the fractal recurrence. You have the same patterns repeating at both different scales and different levels of complexity/emergence. So, with life, you have information about the environment being encoded in genomes, but then again in nervous systems (at multiple levels), and then again in language, and then again in written texts, up to the human organizational level.

    Selection-like effects have also already been studied vis-a-vis languages, corporate survival, state evolution, etc.



    ↪Gnomon You know, there's an old truism in science, 'a theory that explains everything explains nothing'. It suggests that if a theory is so broad and all-encompassing that it can be used to explain any observation or phenomenon, it may lack specificity and predictive power. In other words, a theory should be able to make testable predictions and provide a clear framework for understanding specific phenomena. If a theory can be stretched to explain anything, it becomes less useful as a scientific tool because it doesn't provide meaningful constraints or insights into the natural world. Good scientific theories are typically more precise and focused, allowing scientists to make specific predictions and test their validity through experimentation and observation.

    Right, but studies of these similarities do make specific predictions about each specific phenomena. What they note is that the mechanisms and mathematical descriptions are shockingly similar, in some ways modeled almost identically, at very different levels of scale and emergence. The finding arises from comparing specific predictive models, thus the prediction is "baked-in" already. The question is: if the mechanism by which complexity arises in bacteria evolution, autocatalysis, galaxy formation, ant hive construction, etc. is modeled similarly, doesn't that denote a larger general principle.

    Mathematics is incredibly wide, and a lot of mathematics is developed precisely to model nature. The information theory and chaos theory/complexity revolutions are surprising because the patterns across disparate fields that don't seem like they should have anything in common end up looking shockingly similar.

    Maybe this shouldn't be surprising, since the same "rules" are in effect, but it does speak to fractal recurrence as its own sort of "trait of the universe."
  • flannel jesus
    1.6k
    People are being very dismissive of this here. It's not necessarily obvious that things must become more complex over time, so framing it as "a theory that explains everything" (which clearly isn't true - it wouldn't be able to explain a universe where things get simpler!) or "a recapitulation of the features of the universe that we actually observe" just seem unfairly quick to brush this aside.

    I'm not saying this "new law" is a law, or even a good idea. I just don't think the criticisms offered are actually giving it a fair shake.
  • Danno
    12
    Had a read of the primary scientific source

    https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2310223120

    Some healthy skepticism as they were funded by the John Templeton foundation, founded with a partly religious aim? But an open one, and I see they funded the collating of Darwin's letters (many of which were to religious officials). I liked the letter where he said something about life being special, how if it was just microbes shaking about in the middle of the moon, would we think as much of it?

    I wonder how this article may fit with what I was just posting about first order functionalism, they talk about first order selection. But firstly how are they making use of the idea of selection? Darwin used it by analogy to domestic breeding by humans. Possibly it also fit ok with the design arguments that were widely held then? But he meant it as just the relevant nature around an organism/population. But what does it mean in this broader astrophysics sense.

    They say regarding persistence despite energy entropy

    "Unlike static persistence, which only requires dissipation during formation, dynamic persistence requires active dissipation. Other functions—such as autocatalysis, homeostasis, and information processing—can emerge that prolong the act of dissipation through space and time. For example, self-replicating systems—including life as we know it—are necessarily autocatalytic; all else being equal, variations of such systems that have greater autocatalytic prowess will propagate faster and can be characterized as having a higher “dynamic kinetic stability” 

    Ok. By autocatalytic do they mean DNA develops into organisms and more DNA by itself?


    "Perhaps the dominance of Darwinian thinking—the false equating of biological natural selection to “evolution” writ large—played some role. Yet that cannot be the whole story."

    Darwin didn't say that the term evolution can't be applied to anything else, did he? He was just focusing on variation from parent to child, as a cause of speciation etc. He didn't yet know about DNA. Americans do seem to tend to have a real antipathy toward Darwin. Not just the religious fundamentalists. I suspect Darwin did overemphasise overpopulation and culling in the struggle between 'races', because he'd based ideas on Malthus. But he was quite anti-racism (his granddad Erasmus was a leading abolitionist, not to mention physician and botanical poet who changed the family crest to say "everything from shells" due to belief in evolution from sea). I read it was actually powerful racists from the USA who influenced institutions in the UK and this pressured Darwin in his later writings where he was less antiracist reportedly). Anyway

    "A more deeply rooted factor in the absence of a law of evolution may be the reluctance of scientists to consider “function” and “context” in their formulations. A metric of information that is based on functionality suggests that considerations of the context of a system alters the outcome of a calculation, and that this context results in a preference for configurations with greater degrees of function. An asymmetric trajectory based upon functionality may seem antithetical to scientific analysis. Nevertheless, we conjecture that selection based on static persistence, dynamic persistence, and novelty generation is a universal process that results in systems with increased functional information.

    Interesting. So where does this functionality come from (other than random asymmetries from the big bang).
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k


    The question is: if the mechanism by which complexity arises in bacteria evolution, autocatalysis, galaxy formation, ant hive construction, etc. is modeled similarly, doesn't that denote a larger general principle?Count Timothy von Icarus

    Now you put it like that, I'm starting to see the point (and to be honest, I ought to have read more of the actual paper before responding.) It ties in with Wigner's 'unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics', does it not? And also with orthogenesis, it seems to me, which is said to have fallen out of favour, but which has always appealed to me.

    I'll read the remainder of it before commenting further.

    Americans do seem to tend to have a real antipathy toward Darwin. Not just the religious fundamentalists.Danno

    I have an antipathy towards neo-darwinian materialism, which draws many existential conclusions about life from scientific conjecture about its development (the subject of Thomas Nagel's 2011 book Mind and Cosmos). I have never had any doubt about the reality of evolution - I grew up on the superb Time Life books on naturalism in the 1960's - but I don't much like the role that neo-Darwinian theory, when allied with philosophical materialism, occupies in contemporary culture. But I'll admit, one of the reasons for my initial reaction to the paper was 'oh no, yet more darwinism' - in the sense that 'natural selection' seems to be a kind of omnibus principle that is now taken as a kind of master hypothesis. (There's been theory around called 'quantum darwinism' for some time already.)
  • Gnomon
    3.6k
    ↪Gnomon
    You know, there's an old truism in science, 'a theory that explains everything explains nothing'. It suggests that if a theory is so broad and all-encompassing that it can be used to explain any observation or phenomenon,
    Wayfarer
    The scientists involved didn't present their findings as a Theory of Everything, but merely one thing (a new law) to explain three things (novelty, stability, reproducibility) that were not covered by Darwin's biological theory, and not possible in view of the conventional Big Bang Theory.

    The authors didn't mention Holism, perhaps to avoid criticism as a New Age notion. But the proposed "law" is definitely not Reductive. Because it envisions functions of collective Systems that are not characteristic of their individual components. For example, traditional Atoms evolved by simple addition, but this law allows evolution by multiplication.

    I expect that this theory of creative complexification will be quickly accepted as evidence for various religious doctrines. And it will be difficult to translate into empirical evidence. But the proof of the philosophical pudding will be in its explanatory power. Besides, the term Holism was originally presented in a scientific evolutionary context, not as a buzzword for Hinduism or Buddhism or
    Taoism. :smile:

    Quote from Cornell-Carnegie description above
    the new ‘law of increasing functional information’ states that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexity
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    Yes as I noted in my second response, my first might have been hasty, and I'm now reading the actual paper. :yikes:
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.1k
    BTW, this sort of general process, as applied to the traits that corporations, states, and cultures pick up is exactly the sort of thing that I think would explain Hegel's intuition about historical development in mode modern empirical terms.

    Essentially, Hegel is right. There are contradictions internal to systems. Their representation of the world is at odds with it. Thus, they need to absorb, to sublated the contradictions. It's a sort of selection process.
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    Headline could be: 'Scientists Discover Logos!'
  • magritte
    553
    Darwin didn't say that the term evolution can't be applied to anything else, did he?Danno

    the new ‘law of increasing functional information’ states that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexityGnomon

    I don't get the motivation why complex natural systems would ever want to 'evolve' into anything else if they already survive as they are. This is not a given. Most existent species will never evolve into anything else. Man will never become superman.

    Perhaps I'm looking at this too much in a Darwinian sense of evolution being just one possible version of natural adaptation to an unpredictably changing world. Darwin started from a simple mathematical feature of all random statistical variation of traits becoming the effective connection between genetic inheritance and the unknowable physical world. Those that are not already adapted by chance die off. Where does information come into play?
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    Here's the link to the very nicely formatted .pdf of the paper.

    I was sceptical first up, but having started to read it, I'm coming around to it.
  • magritte
    553


    Thank you. The problem I have is the same mentioned by . Darwin tried to sell natural selection by pointing out that selective breeding of animals and plants was an established practice already. For artificial selection there is a human breeder who is selector for some trait. But natural evolution is on autopilot, it is purely a discrete non-continuous mathematical system that responds time-to-time however it can to an independent therefore unknowable environment. Artificial selection of trait or function is directed by a God-like agent. Darwinian natural law relies on a Platonic mathematical statistical intermediary that automatically relates two unlike realms without the need for a selector other than de facto survival.

    I suppose examples from organic and biochemistry might be more convincing but that would be still more technical. But then again I probably still don't understand what the authors are saying.
  • Gnomon
    3.6k
    ↪Gnomon
    Yes as I noted in my second response, my first might have been hasty, and I'm now reading the actual paper. :yikes:
    Wayfarer
    Thanks. I will appreciate your fair & balanced report on the technical paper. I have only read the news articles that summarized the original study. I got the impression that this was not a report on a specific scientific empirical experiment, but a philosophical analysis of general observational evidence.

    Nevertheless, my takeaway is that it supports the philosophical and scientific approach to the physical world that is encapsulated in the concept of Holism (and Systems Theory)*1. Despite its first modern application to causes of Evolution, I don't view Holism as an empirical scientific theory. Instead, it's a rational philosophical hypothesis*2. It attempts to "establish causation" in the Aristotelian sense of Final & Formal causes, not in the physical sense of Material causes : post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    This new study probably won't satisfy those who demand empirical proof for any generalized concept. Science deals with Specific Facts, while Philosophy is focused on Universal Principles. Besides its support from the Templeton Foundation*2 will blemish its findings with rumors of religious bias. :smile:


    *1. Systems theory is the transdisciplinary study of systems, i.e. cohesive groups of interrelated, interdependent components that can be natural or human-made. ___Wikipedia

    *2. Why is holism not scientific? :
    However, holistic explanations do not establish causation because they do not examine behaviour in terms of operationalised variables that can be manipulated and measured. This means that holistic explanations are view as unscientific
    https://www.tutor2u.net/psychology/reference/issues-debates-evaluating-the-holism-and-reductionism-debate
    Note --- This is why I would characterize Holism as a philosophical approach to complex questions, not a scientific fact for specific applications. It produces plausible "explanations" not "operationalised" tools for physical manipulation and measurement.

    *3. John Templeton Foundation :
    the Foundation is, and always has been, run in accordance with the wishes of Sir John Templeton Sr, who laid very strict criteria for its mission and approach", that it is "a non-political entity with no religious bias" and it "is totally independent of any other organisation and therefore neither endorses, nor contributes to political candidates, campaigns, or movements of any kind"
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Templeton_Foundation
    Note --- JTF does have an explicit bias toward encouraging "human flourishing".
  • flannel jesus
    1.6k
    respectable change of direction there
  • LuckyR
    408
    Well since in Real Life here on planet Earth while physical systems are getting more and more complex, biological systems are rapidly becoming simpler and simpler. If current biological trends are extrapolated indefinitely, there will be a zoo, a corn field and an industrial feed lot.

    It's erroneous on it's face.
  • Joshs
    5.4k
    Well since in Real Life here on planet Earth while physical systems are getting more and more complex, biological systems are rapidly becoming simpler and simpler. If current biological trends are extrapolated indefinitely, there will be a zoo, a corn field and an industrial feed lot.

    It's erroneous on it's face.
    LuckyR

    I guess it depends in how you define complexity. For instance, how should we weigh decreasing bio-diversity against increases in human cultural and technological complexity?
  • Joshs
    5.4k


    magritte Here's the link to the very nicely formatted .pdf of the paper.

    I was sceptical first up, but having started to read it, I'm coming around to it.
    Wayfarer

    I love how the the authors locate the ‘true’ meaning of human cultural products like art and literature in evolutionary adaptivity, a purpose only indirectly connected to the expressed or implicit motivation of the artist, but outside the bounds of their awareness. This true meaning grounds itself in an origin depicted as the universal lawfulness of empirical objectivity. The theological thinking of origin as the pure self-persistence of law is evident here, which is why Kierkegaard scholar Mark C Taylor embraced similar ideas in his 1999 book, The Moment of Complexity.

    Stuart Kauffman’s extensive research and speculation are inspired by deeply held philosophical, metaphysical, and religious beliefs, which often stand in tension with his scientific investigations. His obvious rejection of the existence of a Judeo-Christian God cannot disguise the profound longing for unity and reconciliation that lies at the heart of his work. If Darwin and his followers are right when they claim that evolution is a matter of chance, human life would seem to be an accident. For Kauffman, such a vision renders life meaningless and makes it impossible to feel ‘at home in the universe.” If, however, there is an emergent order to things that lends evolution a discernible order and probable direction, life has a logic that makes human existence meaningful:

    In this view of life, organisms are not merely tinkered-together contraptions, brico­lage, in Jacob’s phrase. Evolution is not merely “chance caught on the wing, ” in
    Monod’s evocative image. The history of life captures the natural order, on which se­lection is privileged to act. If this idea is true, many features of organisms are not merely historical accidents, but also reflections of the profound order that evolution has further molded. If true, we are at home in the universe in ways not imagined since Darwin stood natural theology on its head with his blind watchmaker.
    This order, or course, is neither the product of a purposeful designer nor pro­grammed from the beginning; rather, evolution is an inner teleonomic process in which order emerges spontaneously but not accidentally. “If I am right,” Kauffman hopefully declares, the motto of life is not ‘We the improbable, but We the expected’.
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    I’ve always felt that the idea that life, or for that matter cosmic order, is a chance occurrence is a profoundly unscientific attitude. After all, every field of science is concerned with establishing lawful relations between cause and effect. The difference with philosophy is that it is concerned with the notion of causation in a general sense - what is causation apart from observable instances of cause and effect (the shadow of Hume looms here). Because causation in that sense not amenable to empirical investigation, it’s ruled out of bounds as ‘unjustifiable metaphysical speculation.’ There may be specific causal relationships and chains of physical causation, but causation in any deeper sense is another matter.

    I’ve often felt like asking, is the idea that evolutionary biology tends towards higher levels of intelligence within the scope of evolutionary theory? I discussed this on the previous forum at some length and the response was always dismissive. It seems to be, ‘sure, evolution happened to produce h. Sapiens, but it also gave rise to many other species and kinds of life that have persisted across far greater time-scales.’ Again the idea is that of fortuitous origins, and again I fail to see how that is justified by science. I think it more likely reflects the ‘conflict thesis’ of Victorian culture than anything in science itself.

    One of the news items on the article says

    Regardless of whether the system is living or nonliving, when a novel configuration works well and function improves, evolution occurs.

    It seems implicitly value-laden (and, so, teleological) - what does ‘well’ mean, in this context? What is ‘an improvement’? Why is it that persistence of increased complexity is a desideratum? If so, who wants it? It seems to imply ‘working towards an outcome’. It’s very much like Schopenhauer’s ‘blind will’.
  • wonderer1
    1.8k
    I’ve always felt that the idea that life, or for that matter cosmic order, is a chance occurrence is a profoundly unscientific attitude.Wayfarer

    Fortunately for the theory of evolution, it is not "the idea that life, or for that matter cosmic order, is a chance occurrence". The theory of evolution is supported by an enormous amount of scientific evidence, which is being added to daily. I recommend giving that evidence some serious consideration if you want to know yourself better.

    I’ve often felt like asking, is the idea that evolutionary biology tends towards higher levels of intelligence within the scope of evolutionary theory?Wayfarer

    Of course. Abilities like being able to outrun, outclimb, outhink... tend to be adaptive. Why would you think otherwise?
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    Abilities like being able to outrun, outclimb, outhink... tend to be adaptive. Why would you think otherwise?wonderer1

    Adaption to the environment is a different thing to general intelligence. General intelligence may provide for greater versatility, but it saying that is all that it does rather sells it short.

    I know evolutionary biology quite well, but it’s also often used in support of philosophical arguments that are well beyond the scope of the theory itself. Although you would have to have some appreciation of philosophy, as distinct from science, to appreciate that, I expect.
  • wonderer1
    1.8k
    Adaption to the environment is a different thing to general intelligence.Wayfarer

    Yes, there are an enormous number of ways to be adapted to environments.

    General intelligence may provide for greater versatility, but it saying that is all that it does rather sells it short.Wayfarer

    Did anyone say that in this thread? I'm fairly confident that nobody did.

    Often before, I've seen a lot of the sort of straw manning you are doing here. I find it really tiresome. I'd appreciate if you could try to cut back on the habit.

    I know evolutionary biology quite well...Wayfarer

    I suppose "quite well" is relative to one's own perspective. Your comments show that there is a lot of room for improvement.

    Although you would have to have some appreciation of philosophy, as distinct from science, to appreciate that, I expect.Wayfarer

    That is quite a conceit.
  • flannel jesus
    1.6k
    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by 'chance occurrence' here, and what you're suggesting is the alternative. Most biologists, I'm pretty sure, think life was pretty likely to occur somewhere in this universe, at some time, and quite probably occurred many times across the universe - it's not exactly "chance" in that sense, it's a likelihood that was bound to happen. That it occurred in the place that it did in the way that it did and developed in the way that it did -- all those involve a sense of "chance", sure. What's the alternative? That there's a being deliberately guiding the whole process?
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by 'chance occurrence' hereflannel jesus

    Look up a book called Chance and Necessity: An Essay in the Natural Philosophy of Biology, Jacques Monod. He was a Nobel prize winning biochemist, and that book, published 1970, articulates the argument that life arises as a consequence of pure chance. It's a very tightly-argued book and quite influential. '...chance alone is at the source of every innovation, and of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution..'

    That's what I mean by 'chance occurence'. It is not at all unique to Monod, although he articulated it very thoroughly. But you find many similar ideas in 20th century thought.

    Most biologists, I'm pretty sure, think life was pretty likely to occur somewhere in this universe, at some time,flannel jesus

    It's actually not as straightforward as it seems. There is a concept called the protein hyperspace. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids that fold into complex three-dimensional structures. The process of folding is determined by the sequence of amino acids and their chemical interactions. Because there are 20 standard amino acids, the number of possible combinations and resulting structures for even a small protein is astronomically high—hence a "hyperspace" of potential structures. But of these, only a minute fraction of possible formations can form viable proteins. If it were a matter of pure chance, there is not enough time in the history of the cosmos for all of them to be formed, so if left to chance alone, the chances of them forming are astronomically slight. There are other similar anomolies cosmology and biology. It doesn't mean 'god did it', but it does throw shade on the appeal to chance as any kind of formative hypothesis. I think Monod's kind of argument only makes sense as a counter to a rather simplistic form of creationist theory - that pure chance and deliberate intention are the only two possibilities available.

    What's the alternative? That there's a being deliberately guiding the whole process?flannel jesus

    That's the kind of dichotomy underlying the whole debate. Obviously it's a vexed issue and the source of many arguments, and I have hashed it out here for many years. I will say I'm reasonably conversant with scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology and would never challenge the empirical facts of the matter. But there's also the meaning of the facts to consider. In the case of evolution, we're not only the objects of analysis, we're also subjects of experience, and there is more to human existence than what is determined solely by biology. I do say from time to time that in some vital sense h. sapiens transcends biology, by being able to grasp domains of being that are not perceivable by simpler organisms. You can call that a religious sentiment if you like, but it's not aligned with any type of creation theory.

    To go back to the article in the OP (still haven't finished it yet!), as I think I mentioned, I'm quite interested in the hypothesis of 'orthogenesis'. This is the theory that evolution has an overall direction - towards greater intelligence, say. It is widely viewed as discredited, but I wonder how you would validate or falsify such an hypothesis. But I do consider the idea that the evolution of rational sentient beings is in some sense purposeful - doesn't mean that some super-designer set out to execute a plan.
  • unenlightened
    8.9k
    If one assumes that any phenomenon begins as simply as it possibly can be, complexification is the only way to go. So I am wondering how this new law of physics can be distinguished from a drunkards walk of evolution that simply explores the whole space of the possible in a random undirected way?

    My skim of the article suggests no distinction.

    There is at least a suggestion around that the complexity of human style intelligence is more like a peacock's feathers, than a genuine step forward in survival ability. (an explanation of the lack of intelligent alien civilisations). On the other hand, if one were looking for the fantastic complexity of the Amazon rain forest ecosystem up in the sky, one might never find it though it could be quite common. I would ask my pet dinosaur about this, but she died.


    One might conclude, that when evolution takes a particular direction, it tends to be an arms race or a beauty pageant, rather than a move towards a general goal, and such directions commonly lead to fragility to environmental change, where more simple organisms and ecosystems will have the advantage.
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    So I am wondering how this new law of physics can be distinguished from a drunkards walk of evolution that simply explores the whole space of the possible in a random undirected way?unenlightened

    It's not a proposed law of physics, as such, but of nature, more generally. They're attempting to identity what disparate complex phenomena have in common, what are the principles that lead to the growth of complexity and information-encoding capacity in very different kinds of systems where an “evolving system” is a "collective phenomenon of many interacting components that displays a temporal increase in diversity, distribution, and patterned behavior."

    The new work presents a modern addition — a macroscopic law recognizing evolution as a common feature of the natural world’s complex systems, which are characterised as follows:

    * They are formed from many different components, such as atoms, molecules, or cells, that can be arranged and rearranged repeatedly
    * Are subject to natural processes that cause countless different arrangements to be formed
    * Only a small fraction of all these configurations survive in a process called “selection for function.”
    Commentary

    There's more to it than "stuff happens".

    Something that occurs to me, though, is that 'selection' is a transitive verb. It implies a sense of agency - that something is doing the selecting. I'll have to think about that some more.
  • unenlightened
    8.9k
    what are the principles that lead to the growth of complexity and information-encoding capacity in very different kinds of systems where an “evolving system” is a "collective phenomenon of many interacting components that displays a temporal increase in diversity, distribution, and patterned behavior." There's more to it than "stuff happens".Wayfarer

    "What more?", is the question I am asking. I'm suggesting basically that it is merely an aspect of entropy:- order decreases <—> information increases. A universe of hydrogen has nothing else to do, but make heavier atoms; life can't get going until carbon oxygen nitrogen etc are formed, life can only start simple and get more complicated. What am I missing that they are saying? Electronics start simple and get complicated, because ...?
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    What am I missing that they are saying?unenlightened

    that none of this is implied by or can be justified on the basis of currently-understood natural law, which they quote at the head of the paper. As you no doubt recall, the second law of thermodynamics has it that entropy always increases, the total order of a system decreases. Here is a proposal to explain why despite this, the total information density (a measure of order) of the universe increases. At least that is my gloss on it. (I stalled at the section with the equations, as always :yikes: )
  • unenlightened
    8.9k
    Here is a proposal to explain why despite this, the total information density (a measure of order) of the universe increases. At least that is my gloss on it. (I stalled at the section with the equations, as alwaysWayfarer

    For my own convenience, here are the bullet points from the article, and some comments from the authors and some from me


    1.
    Configurations of matter tend to persist unless kinetically favorable avenues exist for their incorporation into more stable configurations.

    EG. Dynamite is fairly stable until a spark of energy favours its rapid decomposition into more stable (lower energy} configurations of CO2 and other byproducts with the release of dissipating shockwaves and heat. This is a combination of Newton's first law, and entropy.

    2.
    Insofar as processes have causal efficacy over the internal state of a system or its external environment, they can be referred to as functions. If a function promotes the system’s persistence, it will be selected for.

    The fundamental process is the dissipation of free energy—without this function, no complex, dynamic entities could exist. Unlike static persistence, which only requires dissipation during formation, dynamic persistence requires active dissipation.

    This is the beginnings of systems theory, expressed in terms of an elaboration of the law of entropy. A hurricane is formed from temperature inversions from some random fluctuation in the first instance and 'functions' to transfer hot air from the lower atmosphere to the upper, because hot air is lighter. when it runs out of hot air at sea level, it slowly dissipates.

    3.
    Insofar as processes have causal efficacy over the internal state of a system or its external environment, they can be referred to as functions. If a function promotes the system’s persistence, it will be selected for.

    This seems definitional/tautological, or else plain false. But an example can give the sense of it, I think:

    Experiment: take an uncapped bottle of water and invert it, creating an analogue of the temperature inversion of the atmosphere; the water wants to fall out and the air has to get in. The result is a chaotic series of "glugs" as first some water comes out an then some air gets in. Time how long it takes to reach the stable lower energy of the water all in the sink and the bottle full of air. Now repeat the experiment but this time as the bottle is inverted, give it a swirling shake to initiate a whirlpool effect. The bottle will empty smoothly and much faster. The dynamic system of the whirlpool increases the entropic energy flow, by introducing a dynamic system of order. the whirlpool once initiated is self sustaining as long as the potential energy of water in the bottle persists.

    4.
    There exist selection pressures favoring systems that can open-endedly invent new functions—i.e., selection pressures for novelty generation.

    This is largely speculative, if not mere wishful thinking. This is as good as it seems to get:

    an enzyme’s function is not to perform any of the core functions alone, but to play a specific role in the context of a core function expressed at a higher level of organization. From the perspective of the enzyme, there is a top–down selection pressure for enzymes to have high catalytic efficiencies due to a selection pressure at a higher level for a lineage of organisms to persist. In other words, the enzyme’s function is informed by its context within a larger system. [Note one minor caveat: There are certain cases where protein folding is better described by selection for “form” based on the givens of physics—i.e., static persistence—rather than selection for functional adaptations (50)]. Ancillary functions can exist across many scales: From the perspective of an organism, there may be top–down selection pressures from the needs of its community, and the community may experience pressures from higher ecological units of selection, etc.

    So there might be a top down pressure from the environment against the surplus of intelligence that can destroy the ecological balance that supports it. This by way of my own warning to shareholders, that "prices can go down as well as up" - and complexity also, as every dinosaur knows. In the case of dinosaurs they did not engineer their own demise, because either they hadn't the intelligence, or their arms were too short to manipulate the environment effectively.

    5.
    The functional information of a system will increase (i.e., the system will evolve) if many different configurations of the system are subjected to selection for one or more functions.

    BUT:
    Functional information analysis is thus not currently feasible for most complex evolving systems because of the combinatorial richness of configuration space. Even if we could analyze a specific instance where one configuration enables a function, we cannot generally know whether other solutions of equal or greater function might exist in configuration space

    All in all this is disappointingly hand wavy and vague, equations notwithstanding, and as far as I can see is far less rigorous and convincing than the Bateson book I have started to discuss here, where a close examinations of how causality operates in complex systems (defined in terms of causal loops) such that a change anywhere in the loop has effects on every other part of the loop. The concept of 'functional information' is related to but less clearly distinguished than Bateson's "difference that makes a difference".

    I'm afraid it all looks like physics envy, allied to loose use of metaphor. This is systems analysis masquerading as fundamental physics when it is quite patently emergent physics. Read Bateson, chaps, this is all derivative and the original is clearer and more challenging to the current philosophy of science.
  • Gnomon
    3.6k
    Something that occurs to me, though, is that 'selection' is a transitive verb. It implies a sense of agency - that something is doing the selecting. I'll have to think about that some more.Wayfarer
    I agree that Darwin's word-choice of "selection"*1, to describe how Evolution works, inadvertently implied some "agency"*2 doing the choosing from among the options, both fit & unfit, generated by random mutations. His model for "selection" was the artificial evolution of domesticated animals suitable for human purposes. But the notion of natural selection suggests some kind of universal teleological agency programming the mechanisms of Evolution to work toward an inscrutable Final Cause : the output of evolution.

    Ironically, most scientists emphasized the role of Random Accidents (lawless Chaos) to provide the physical variants from which Nature could choose, in order to construct the law-abiding Cosmos we see around us. The article linked below*3 refers to the implicit intentional agency of evolution who created "deterministic constraints", equivalent to Natural Laws, but who is the Natural Lawgiver? :smile:


    *1. Evolutionary Selection :
    Darwin and other scientists of his day argued that a process much like artificial selection happened in nature, without any human intervention. He argued that natural selection explained how a wide variety of life forms developed over time from a single common ancestor.
    https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/natural-selection/

    *2. Agency : In very general terms, an agent is a being with the capacity to act, and ‘agency’ denotes the exercise or manifestation of this capacity. The philosophy of action provides us with a standard conception and a standard theory of action. The former construes action in terms of intentionality, the latter explains the intentionality of action in terms of causation by the agent’s mental states and events.
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/agency/

    *3. Randomness isn't random :
    A useful analogy can be made with the role of randomness in evolution. Darwin was not the first biologist to suggest that species changed over long periods of time. His two new fundamental ideas were that (1) the changes arose through random genetic variation, and (2) changes that enhanced the organism's ability to survive and reproduce would be preserved, while maladaptive changes would be eliminated by natural selection. Doubters of evolution often consider only the first point, about the randomness of natural variation, but not the second point, about the systematic action of natural selection. They make statements such as, “the development of a complex organism like Homo sapiens via random chance would be like a whirlwind blowing through a junkyard and spontaneously assembling a jumbo jet out of the scrap metal.” The flaw in this type of reasoning is that it ignores the deterministic constraints on the results of random processes.
    https://phys.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Conceptual_Physics/Book%3A_Conceptual_Physics_(Crowell)/14%3A_Quantum_Physics/14.01%3A_Rules_of_Randomness
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