What Drives Evolution and Emergence? Physics tell us that to understand the world we need simply to understand “the dynamics of cause and effect”; in reality however, the simple dynamics of cause and effect fail quite miserably when it comes to explaining “Natural Evolution and Emergent Complexity”...
“So What?…” you might say. Well understanding evolution and emergent complexity is going to turn out to be more important than most anyone might previously have thought. Because although science may have spent the last 400 years honing its understanding of The Linear Dynamics of Cause and Effect, the reality of everyday life in the 21st century is that the really interesting stuff is increasingly the result of “The Nonlinear Dynamics of Adaptive Integration and Emergent Complexity”…
The Source of Complexity
My journey to understand Complexity was kick-started back in 1994 by the book “Complexity – The Emerging Science at the edge of Order and Chaos”. In this book the author suggested that complexity should not occur naturally because it seems to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics (SLOT) and the concept of maximizing “Entropy”.
I had come across the SLOT as a student and knew it dealt with the spontaneous distribution of energy, but could not remember much about the concept of “entropy”. A little research revealed, much to my surprise, that seemingly entropy is generally associated with “disorder”; and that according to physicists everything in the universe spontaneously moves towards maximum disorder — which was certainly not my experience, nor my understanding of nature’s natural evolution to ever-greater complexity.
This apparent conflict between natural evolution and a fundamental law of physics sparked my curiosity. I became curious to understand why physicists would believe such a thing, but furthermore, and more importantly, I began to wonder “what is the source of nature’s self-designing complexity?”
The Interplay of Feedback
“So?…” you might ask. Have I managed to formulate any sort of an answer to this tricky question? Well yes, I think I have.
Since the SLOT effectively operates like a negative feedback system in that it pulls (or dampens) a system to a equilibrium, it should be no surprise that the movement away from equilibrium might be the result of resistance to this pull. But moreover, and more interestingly, it is the interplay of two different types of resistance that can naturally drive evolution away from featureless thermodynamic equilibrium to extraordinarily creative complexity.
All spontaneously Self-Designing Complexity is simple the interplay of Weak Negative Feedback and Strong Positive Feedback; simply the interplay of creative “Incompressible Dynamics” and reinforcing “Emergent Dynamics”…
- Insufficient negative feedback allows the surfacing of “Incompressible Fluid Dynamics”,
- Strong positive feedback reinforces local symmetry-breaking and “Emergent Conformity”,
- And the interplay of both drives the “integration of co-emergent diversity” and the resultant “Emergent Complexity”…
The Interplay of Entropy
Interestingly, the systems matrix above can also be represented in terms of thermodynamic entropy and “Information Entropy”. Information entropy is a different type of entropy to thermodynamic entropy. Whereas thermodynamic entropy is a measure of disorder, information entropy is a measure of uncertainty and unpredictability.
The Interplay of Integration and Emergence
Essentially complexity is “integrated information”. All complex adaptive systems are characterized by the fact that they have “low thermodynamic entropy, but high information entropy”; consequently these types of systems can be considered to be highly organized but unpredictable nonetheless.
So while most people might generally think about evolution in terms of “an ecosystem of plants and animals”, the reality is that plants and animal (and the ecosystem itself) are really just “information structures”, and evolution simply creates evermore complex and unpredictable information structures.
At the most fundamental level, evolution is not about biology, it is about unpredictable “emergent information”; and the wheels of evolution just keep on turning.
Evolution created us, and we in turn have created complex information structures; but in these early years of the 21st century the wheels of evolution might just be speeding up.
It could reasonably be argued that in our ever-more rapidly interconnecting world (in 2016), we are likely fast approaching a phase transition in human development, a transition to a whole new age ; “An Age of Accelerated Evolution”. And this new age of accelerated creativity will not be dominated by the old linear paradigm of predictable cause and effect, but by the new nonlinear paradigm of unpredictable “Integration and Emergence”…