EVOLUTION AND PROGRESSIVISM
Karl Arnold Belser
23 November 2015
have always wondered how the contestants (the plethora of living
things) occurred in the survival of the fittest. I accept as reasonable
that some minor adaptation could occur in living things by randomness. But how did the
big jumps happen? In other words is the homo sapien the culmination of
a long and fruitful change like what has happened with technology over
the past several centuries? If this is so, no one has described the
mechanism to me.
Since I do not believe God created all living things, I have secretly felt that there must be some new, undiscovered law ing nature, like that in quantum computation, that allows major jumps in organization of nature in order to create a biological system that causes a more rapid change in entropy to occur relative to the entropy created by the living forms in the current environment. This law would endow living forms with a kind of problem solving capability, a kind of intelligence. This yet-to-be-discovered law of accelerated entropy creation would be the cause of progressive evolution.
I read the books Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin and Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould, and I realized that my explanation only describes how a huge number of complex living forms might have occurred. Evolution would simply be the weeding out within this diverse population. The creation process would have been that of the Cambrian Explosion.
Gould points out that the dominant life forms on Earth are bacteria. Viruses are even more common and varied but only appear to be alive when interacting with bacteria or other single celled life forms. He asserts that life forms like the horse are the result of many trials Arising from the roiling masses of single cells and viruses, and that they are the end of the line except for some minor adaptations like size or degenerative loss of some attribute, like when fish that are constantly in the dark loose their eyes. Further he points out the there is mo ability for life forms to learn and inherit changes (Lamarck ism). They possibly can adapt vi epigenetics, which may turn on and off already-existing capability. His conclusion is that there is no progressive tendency within individual life forms. There is no progressive evolution.
Gould asserts (in a long book) that if all of the complicated life forms were to go extinct, that new life forms would develop from the remaining ones. It would be very unlikely that homo Sapiens would occur again, just as it would be very unlikely that dinosaurs would reoccur. What happens with time is that the tails of the statistical distribution of complexity of life would widen, but that the statistical mode (where most of the life form sizes are) would remain unchanged.
This may not be the end of the story of life because homo Sapiens have consciousness and are cognitive. Over the last 70 thousand years humans have developed culture which can be inherited even if the human beings are essentially unchanged. This has been called progressivism. The rhetorical question is: Will human beings be able to change themselves with genetic engineering or cyborg capability to evolve progressively?
This possibility of self-evolution does not negate the fact that if humans kill themselves with say a nuclear war, they will become extinct, and biological evolution will have to start over from the lowest levels of life.
I observe that the process of forming living systems that Gould describes is similar to the ones that Nassim Taleb describes as antifragile. In the antifragile process many attempts are made from first principles, most of which are unsuccessful. Only the best ideas survive and this is another example of survival of the fittest.
The opposite of anti fragile is central control without explicit feedback of trial and error. If human beings try to change themselves genetically they are basically committing the sin of central control in which the unwanted consequences cannot be predicted. The end result of such experimentation is likely to be a dramatic failure. Taleb is on record (The Precautionary Principle) as opposing genetic experimentation on exactly this basis.
It seems clear to me, that human beings are going to do genetic experiments. The question might be how could they do the experimentation by somehow mimicking the survival of the fittest before deploying them to a large proportion of the Earth's surface? On the other hand maybe homo Sapiens will create a new plethora of living beings by genetic engineering that will result in an anthropomorphic explosion and the start of a new weeding-out process.
I am not sanguine in this regard. I see a high probability of human extinction as a result of the direction that science is currently taking.
Last updated November 27, 2015
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