V. Systems Evolution: A 21st Century Genesis Synthesis
In this 21st century, a much enriched understanding of the evolution of life, mind and personal selves has been achieved from a worldwide collaboration across a multitude of realms from life’s innate origin to fractal ecosystems. A prime difference has been growing appreciations of the prior effect of complex self-organizing dynamics, not available to the mid-20th century Modern Synthesis. As evolution was ‘in the air’ in the 1850’s, we seem today at the verge of a novel understanding of the course of earthly evolution as once again a convergent embryonic development. Rather than an arbitrarily branching tree as a weeping willow, instead a vectorial, cedar-like trunk is now implied of bodily complexity, larger brains, represented information and enhanced awareness. This tandem rise of complexity and cognition is no longer a random meander but a directional, oriented sequence. In place of a static ladder of Being, a temporal progression of Becoming. For a working name, it is dubbed Systems Evolution: a Genesis Evolutionary Synthesis. Here is an eclectic list of many aspects and inputs which flow together to augur for this robust revolution.
• A nonequilibrium thermodynamics connects biological systems with physical theory to give life's evolution a generative force. (Ilya Prigogine, Eric Chaisson)
• New sciences of complexity describe an innate dynamics at work prior to selection which forms self-organized scales of modular wholes. (Stuart Kauffman, David Depew, Paulien Hogeweg, Brian Johnson, et al)
• Hierarchical expansion of evolution into multiple, sequential levels from gene networks to human societies, which exhibits a nested emergence. (Daniel McShea, Stan Salthe)
• A punctuated equilibrium whence species remain fixed for a long period and change relatively fast, rather than by a gradual transition. (Niles Eldredge, Stephen Jay Gould)
• A constant modularity of semi-independent, labor-dividing, functional units or organs and genetic or metabolic processes at each stage. (Gunter Wagner, Mary Jane West-Eberhard)
• A fractal-like self-similarity is exhibited by self-organized speciation, extinction and intricate ecosystems. (Ricard Sole, Susanna Manrubia, Siegfried Fussy, Yuri Wolf, Eugene Koonin)
• A rational morphology or structural biology revives the sense of an archetypal Bauplan as a basis for a lawful science of homologous bodily form. (Brian Goodwin, Gerry Webster)
• The occasion of novel species, is not explained by genetic drift alone and requires epigenetic influences such as dynamical self-organizing systems. (Gerd Muller, Stuart Newman, et al)
• The perception of an intrinsically convergent evolution of anatomical form (wings, eyes)and cognitive ability rather than random contingency. (Simon Conway Morris, Mark McMenamin, Lori Marino)
• A reunion of evolution and embryology known as evolutionary developmental biology (EDB) integrates individual ontogeny with the paleological radiation of organisms. (Brian Hall, Scott Gilbert, Wallace Arthur)
• The recognition of beneficial symbiotic union as a major contributor to the emergence of cellular, organismic, and social assemblies. (Lynn Margulis, Jan Sapp)
• A developmental systems theory (DST) whence epigenetic factors such as topological constraints and organism-environment interactions complement molecular genetic codes. (Susan Oyama, Eva Jablonka)
• Altruistic cooperation is the prevalent mode with competitive conflict secondary in the formation and maintenance of animal and human societies. (David Sloan Wilson, Elliott Sober, et al)
• Behavior influences genetic programs and selection from environmentally active rather than passive organisms. Also known as the Baldwin effect or niche construction. (Bruce Weber, Kevin Laland)
• Over the course of evolution organisms gain an increased degree of consciously self-determined actions and freedom of choice. (Daniel Dennett, et al)
• A relatively linear increase in modular brain complexity and cognitive capacity defines an advance of encephalization and intelligence. (Harry Jerison, Barbara Finlay & Richard Darlington, Damon Clark)
• A further axial, emergent quality is a cerebrally stored, schematic representation of a species’ expanding environmental niche. (Derek Bickerton)
• An evolutionary continuum of animal intelligence is now admitted for the rise of stored representations, cognitive abilities and reflective consciousness. (David Griffin, Marc Bekoff, Irene Pepperberg)
• A semiotic component of evolution as an ever-better information processing ability and relative knowledge gain.
(Werner Loewenstein, Jesper Hoffmeyer, Terence Deacon)
• Major transitions in evolution from gene and cell to human society are facilitated by a novel code or template from molecules to language. (John Maynard Smith, Eors Szathmary)
• An appreciation of evolution as the processional emergence of individuality of more distinct, aware selves.
(Richard Michod, David Buss, Daniel McShea)
• A recovery of the parallel between ontogeny and phylogeny not only for embryonic form but cognitive ability, motor skills, behavior and language learning. (Ernst Mayr, Wallace Arthur, Michael McKinney, Sue Taylor Parker)
• A new feature of the later 2000s is the elucidation of dyanmic Scale-Free Networks from genomes and protein webs to animal groupings and social media. (Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Reka Albert, et al)
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A. Network Systems Biology and Genetics
A subsection to highlight the significant, intentional turn in biological and evolutionary science, broadly since 2001, to reassemble all the reduced, separate pieces and entities - DNA strands in a gene network, organelles in a cell, epigenomes, organisms, and so on – into an integral whole. With their initial, necessary identification well in place, equally real interrelations between them, and the information they carry and convey, can be admitted. By this nascent paradigm, the dynamic web of life sheds a mechanistic cast so to be better appreciated by its emergent vitality. This category will also report the nonlinear reconception of immune systems.
Circa 2015 going forward, the network revolution has now fully reached this systems approach to reunite biological phenomena. The interactive holistic relations necessary to quantify a full articulation of life’s wholes within wholes are now bolstered by the same multiplex topologies and dynamics as being found everywhere else from neurome to quantome. See for example Network Science of Biological Systems at Different Scales by Marko, Gosak, et al (2017) and contributions throughout topical sections which document this turn and expansion of the Systems Biology movement.
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B. Evoinformatics: A Biosemiotic Quality
Akin to movements such as an algorithmic nature and information paradigm, since circa 2000 a central presence and role for similar communicative aspects of living systems has gained prominence. The title term arose from the broader field of semiotics, the study of signs and significations as they distinguish, inform, and engender from evolution to ecologies. A pioneer initiator was Thomas Sebeok (1920-2001) at Indiana University, where a loquacious group has since arose. Into the 21st century a leading sponsor has been the University of Ferrara embryologist Marcello Barbieri, via a stream of articles and a book The Organic Codes (2003).
As the endeavor grew, inspired by articulations of life’s dialogic essence, an International Society for Biosemiotic Studies formed that holds annual conferences often at universities across Europe. A prolific journal Biosemiotics, hosted by Springer, offers scientific and philosophical contributions in support. A stream of volumes such as Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs (2009) by Jesper Hoffmeyer, and Towards a Semiotic Biology (2011) edited by Claus Emmeche and Kaveli Kull further attest. The London Metropolitan University scholar Wendy Wheeler has set up a Living Books about Life web page with writings by Terrence Deacon, Mary Catherine Bateson, and many others. All of the above resources and more are accessible from the Society home page.
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C. Evolutionary Intelligence
The image is a cover for a March 26, 2016 issue of the New Scientist wherein features editor Kate Douglas reports on a novel approach to evolutionary theory, which we have been posting for some time, about how life seems to develop and emerge akin to a learning, informed brain. Its origins may be traced to Richard Watson’s computer and living systems group at the University of Southampton, UK. Lately, as these citations convey, the insightful parallel has been endorsed by authorities such as Eors Szathmary and Gunter Wagner. These qualities are then seen as similar to algorithmic operations, as the previous section describes. While some randomness is alluded, an oriented emergence occurs by virtue of referring to, and building upon, prior, remembered experience. This section will also report how (artificial) neural networks are being found to apply to quantum, chemical, biological, and linguistic phases.
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