Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stumbling towards the dynamic underlying natural selection

I was determined to focus 90% of my time on this project Tues (today), Weds and Thurs. Between stuff for the Story Field Conference and working things out with my partner Karen, I didn't really get started until 3pm. Sigh.

So I began my re-read of Evolution for Everyone, and took massive notes -- mostly thoughts stimulated by what I read, which I won't burden this poor blog with. But I found myself distracted by my first meta-inquiry noted in the previous post. I kept stretching my mind beyond what it could tolerate and having to lie down for cat-naps. Between the last three cat naps and dinner, the following iteration of that inquiry precipitated into this:

What underlies the dynamic called "natural selection? What is the general evolutionary dynamic, existing since the Big Bang, that natural selection is the biologic manifestation of? Call it X. Natural selection includes and transcends X. Cultural evolution includes and transcends natural selection. What is X, and what are the other elements of cultural selection, above and beyond natural selection?

One flow of answers to that:

Any pattern/entity/system/dynamic interacts with its environment, and there are outcomes/results/consequences, which set up the conditions for the next interaction.

Let's consider physical systems and patterns: A system or pattern (let's say a desert, a supernova, an organism, or a capacity) persists or recurs wherever conditions and factors are sufficiently similar to sustain it as a continual outcome or generate it as a new or temporary outcome.

What organisms add above and beyond this physical dynamic (i.e., what they have that includes but transcends it) is reproduction/heredity.

Physical entities/phenomena (patterns) persist through internal dynamics or they recur because certain conditions are in place (e.g., a desert didn't exist here before, but it does now, and deserts show up whenever and wherever certain conditions are in place -- a phenomenon similar to convergent evolution in biological systems, in which eyes (for example) show up in different species that have no common ancestor with eyes).

Reproduction requires "survival until reproduction", so "survival" becomes a big deal, and can be extended beyond reproduction (just as sex can be used for other things than reproduction), but the evolutionarily relevant factor for biological persistence is "survival until reproduction." So "persistence" -- which in nonliving systems is simply continuity of form until external or internal dynamics change the form -- shows up in biological systems as linear survival and reproduction (heredity).

So all that is good as far as it goes. But what are the dynamics of physical persistence? It seems we primarily attend to what makes physical systems change, a la Newton -- they persist unless acted upon by an external force: persistence is the given. Interestingly, the evolutionary dynamic of natural selection is an integrated mix of persistence and change. Is there a similarly elegant theoretical integration of persistence and change for physical systems?

And then we have the question of conscious systems, cultural systems, or some other "include and transcend" systems beyond "merely" biological ones. What is their elegant integration of persistence and change that would shed light on how to more consciously evolve our social systems? Something tells me there are keys in complexity and chaos theories, and possibly in feedback dynamics, which I haven't seen framed quite like this before. Also, Peggy Holman's inquiry about the evolution of interactivity, itself, may be key....

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