22 March 2014 ~ Question of the Day ~ Evolution
Why evolution? Basically, because it is the simplest possible way to get a replicator to change over time and circumstances.
In the space of all possible strategies that can lead to increases in complexity over time, evolution by natural selection is the simplest possible.
All it takes is a replicator, occasional errors in the replicating process, and variation in the environment over time; and the resulting competition amongst the variants will randomly explore the possibility space available. Some of those explorations will result in increases in complexity, some in decreases.
Given that the process starts from very simple replicators, there will be an expanding “front” of replicators exploring ever more complex arrangements.
If one looks at any particular line of evolution, it is about as likely to go in the direction of less complexity as it is to go towards greater complexity, and over time, ever greater complexity happens. It seems that the replicator that started life off here on earth was the family of molecules known as Ribo-Neucleic Acids (RNA).
It seems clear (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) that all life we observe here on earth has evolved from a single common ancestor some 3 billion years ago, and all life has been evolving all that time. Some of it, like us, has reached deeply into new realms of possibility, while other lines are still much the same as they were billions of years ago (like the archea and the cyanophyta). That is just how the process works.
When one is able to see the chemistry, the mathematics and the logic of the process, it has a profound beauty in the simplicity driving the developing complexity.
Now that evolution has given rise to us, we are able to explore other mechanisms to develop complexity.
And it seems that to get to something as complex as us, reality has to go through the process of evolution.
I did address why.
English is a strange language – very non-specific. Even when one goes to extraordinary lengths to be specific, one can still end up non-specific (I am reminded of the movie bedazzled – the original with Peter Cook ad Dudley Moore – where the Devil (Peter Cook) buys Dudley’s soul for a specific number of wishes, then grants each wish by giving him exactly what he asked for, but exactly the opposite of what he wanted).
Why can mean cause, or it can mean motive or purpose.
The latter meaning implies an intelligence to have a purpose. Without an intelligence, there is no motive or purpose.
A far as I can see, all the evidence is in support of the contention that there was no motive or purpose behind evolution. There is only cause, and the cause comes out of the logical possibilities available to random chance, and the probability vectors involved.
So I had quite explicitly addressed why – and had quite explicitly and intentionally left out all reference to motive or purpose, in the hope that others would see it for themselves with the clarity that is present for me.
You asked “How do we know that things are changing, that things are moving or are transitory?” then stated “A thing that changes cannot perceive change by itself. Change cannot know change. Only that which does not change can know that there is change.” Which is not actually true.
All that the thing that is changing requires is a way of taking and storing a “picture” of something, and then comparing that stored picture with the state of the thing at some other time. If there is a difference, then there is change. The agent itself does not need to be invariant, it only needs to have the ability to create an image which is more or less stable on the time-scale being considered. This is essentially the mechanism we use. Our neural nets are constantly reconfiguring, so the patterns we see are constantly changing, yet we also have an ability to form memories, and we can compare those memories with our current observations. It is our memories which are our best approximation to invariance (for all their faults and variances).
If there were no change, then everything would be static – all movement, all thought, would be impossible.
It is only in systems that allow for change, for a mix of both the lawful and the random to exist, that thinking entities such as ourselves can arise, via a long process of evolution by natural selection.
Given that we live in a galaxy that has some 300 billion stars, and we have estimated roughly 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, and the observable universe seems to be about 0.5% of the total universe; then there is a significant probability that intelligent life will have evolved somewhere else, and possibly billions of years before us.
Given that our knowledge is increasing exponentially at present, this poses a logical conundrum, in that if any other life form like ourselves achieved exponential expansion of knowledge, and started expanding through our galaxy, it would quite likely have reached us within a couple of million years. That no such entity has announced itself to us would seem to be fairly strong evidence that the conditions required to achieve cellular life and allow for the level of complexity represented by our global society, are exceptionally rare.
I can align with the first half of what you write Brian, and segments of the rest.
For me, evolution by natural selection provides an explanation of how matter created in the explosion of a first generation star can produce entities capable of language and spiritual development.
Evolution does not have anything to say about the end point of spiritual development, and it does give us many important understandings of the initial sets of conditions, including the initial incentives and the initial trajectories of spiritual development.
And past a certain point, spiritual development becomes a very personal thing.
It is clear to me that there may be an infinite number of levels and each level containing infinite possibilities.
One could spend the rest of eternity exploring any chosen level, or one could choose to continuously explore new levels.
The choice seems to me to be completely personal.
And within all those infinities, there seem to be some clear sets of strategies.
One can simply choose to “go with the flow” of the urges and tendencies supplied by our primate evolution, and let them drive us to (if we are male) young sexual partners, power, sugary foods, etc; or we can choose something else.
If we desire peace, to allow us (and everyone else) to explore the infinite creative potential within us, then the set of strategies that deliver that over the long term is a substantially smaller subset of the set of all possible strategies.
If we do desire to live in a free, peaceful, diverse, prosperous; then we must accept some limitation on the sorts of strategies we select in life.
The sorts of strategies that actually work are well known in spiritual traditions:
do unto others as you would have them do unto you;
let he who is without sin cast the first stone;
and any number of other strategies that support people living in peace and diversity.
Meeting the physical needs of people is something that we are now rapidly approaching the ability to completely automate.
Evolution explains a great deal about how we got to where we are.
Evolution does not have much to say about what we choose to do from here.
For me, morality is framed in the context of strategies that deliver long term benefit to me (given that it seems possible to me that I might actually get to live for the rest of eternity). Considering my own self interest on such time-scales, my owns interests blur into the interests of all other sentient entities (be they human or non-human, biological or non-biological).
Spiritual development for me is understanding the systems and processes that have bought me to where I am, and exploring the sets of strategies that deliver the greatest possible freedom and security for myself and others.
At the higher levels, there is certainly an element of spirituality that is concerned with the boundaries between the I and the we.
That seems clear to me where any I must end up once it is able to push its expectation functions further out in time.
The further out we consider our own self interest, the more that self interest includes the interest of all others. That is just abundantly clear from extending games theory into strategy spaces in general.
It is also clear to me that all disciplines are related. They all have important effects on each other when it comes to our actions in reality.