V. Life's Corporeal Evolution Encodes and Organizes Itself: An EarthWinian Genesis Synthesis
Carroll, Sean B. The Origins of Form. Natural History. November, 2005. An article in a special issue on “The New Darwinism” to coincide with a major exhibition on Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History. But Carroll goes on to say that natural selection alone, the basis of the modern synthesis, is insufficient to explain how organisms arise and change. Rather the answers lie in the pursuit of evolutionary developmental biology – aka embryology, evo-devo – whose advances have brought a novel understanding of an inherent genetic direction. Instead of new genes appearing along the way to spawn diverse forms, or homo sapiens, an ancient, original set of genes is rearranged and “repurposed.” Organisms thus have a common genetic endowment or “tool-kit” whereby “old” genes find new applications, somewhat like repositioning letters in a paragraph. By the ubiquity of these strategic Hox genes, animal forms are seen as variations on an archetypal body plan (Bauplan), not haphazard inventions. But Richard Dawkins’ lead article, The Illusion of Design, says neoDarwinism means the “nonrandom survival (selection) of randomly varying heredity.” So much work remains to sort out these options, which this site is trying to document.
Cavalier-Smith, Thomas. Origin of Animal Multicellularity: Precursors, causes, consequences—the choanoflagellate/sponge transition, neurogenesis and the Cambrian explosion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Vol.372/Iss.1713, 2016. At this advanced stage of our descriptive reconstruction of the myriad evolutionary creatures who came before us, the emeritus Oxford University zoologist presents an intricate page size diagram: Cell structure divergence in phagotrophic non-amoeboid flagellates provided the basis for evolving animals, fungi, plants and chromists.
Evolving multicellularity is easy, especially in phototrophs and osmotrophs whose multicells feed like unicells. Evolving animals was much harder and unique; probably only one pathway via benthic ‘zoophytes’ with pelagic ciliated larvae allowed trophic continuity from phagocytic protozoa to gut-endowed animals. Choanoflagellate protozoa produced sponges. Converting sponge flask cells mediating larval settling to synaptically controlled nematocysts arguably made Cnidaria. I replace Haeckel's gastraea theory by a sponge/coelenterate/bilaterian pathway: Placozoa, hydrozoan diploblasty and ctenophores were secondary; stem anthozoan developmental mutations arguably independently generated coelomate bilateria and ctenophores. I emphasize animal origin's conceptual aspects (selective, developmental) related to feeding modes, cell structure, phylogeny of related protozoa, sequence evidence, ecology and palaeontology. (Abstract)
Cohen, Irun. Updating Darwin: Information and Entropy Drive the Evolution of Life. F1000Research. 5/2808, 2016. As the Abstract cites, the veteran Weismann Institute of Science immunologist (search) enters another indictment of the neoDarwinian scheme as quite inadequate to explain life’s emergent, oriented development. Once again an inherent generative quality needed to unify and empower prior to natural selection is missing. The essay then scopes out that autonomous, competitive agents are actually immersed in complex, cooperative, informational systems. Together with Michael Denton’s 2016 Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, and many more works herein, senior scientists are increasingly forging a Genesis Evolutionary Synthesis.
The evolution of species, according to Darwin, is driven by competition between variant autonomous individuals for survival of the fittest and reproductive advantage; the outcome of this struggle for survival is natural. The Neo-Darwinians reframed natural selection in terms of DNA: selection inherited genotypes directly encode expressed phenotypes; thus the evolution of species is the evolution of selfish, reproducing individual genotypes. Four general characteristics of advanced forms of life are not explained by this Neo-Darwinian paradigm: 1) Dependence on cooperation rather than on struggle, manifested by the microbiome, ecosystems and altruism; 2) The pursuit of diversity rather than optimal fitness, manifested by sexual reproduction; 3) Life’s investment in programmed death, rather then in open-ended survival; and 4) The acceleration of complexity, despite its intrinsic fragility. Here I discuss mechanisms that can resolve these paradoxical features; both arise from viewing life as the evolution of information. Information has two inevitable outcomes; it increases by autocatalyis and is destroyed by entropy. On the one hand, the autocalalysis of information inexorably drives the evolution of complexity, irrespective of its fragility. On the other hand, only those strategic arrangements that accommodate the destructive forces of entropy survive – cooperation, diversification, and programmed death result from the entropic selection of evolving species. (Abstract)
Cohen, Irun and Assaf Marron. The Evolution of Universal Adaptations of Life is Driven by Universal Properties of Matter: Energy, Entropy and Interaction. F1000Research. July 30, 2020. While the olden neoDarwinian version of selection alone persists, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel biomathematicans (search IC) contribute to a revolutionary genesis synthesis by viewing life’s oriented emergence as a complex dynamical process which involves not only objects, be they genes or animals, but equally real cooperative relations between them. I log this in along with a brain research paper (Harang Ju) which emphasizes a similar emphasis of neural interactions, and a symbiosis report (F. Prosdocimi) as another example of this pervasive entity/group mutuality. As a result, in each and all cases a whole, composite genome, connectome and regnant organism in community is thus achieved. For an update, see The Biosphere Computes Evolution by Autoencoding Interacting Organisms into Species at arXiv:2203.11891.
The evolution of multicellular eukaryotes expresses two sorts of adaptations: local aspects like fur or feathers, which serve species in bioregions, and universal adaptations like microbiomes or sexual reproduction, which distinguish multicellularity in any environment. We reason that the mechanisms which drive them should be universal, and based on properties of matter and systems: energy, entropy, and interaction. Energy from the sun creates complex arrangements while metabolic networks channel it to form cooperative interactions. Entropy, a term for disorder, acts as a selective force.
Conway Morris, Simon. Evolution: Like any Other Science it is Predictable. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 365/133, 2010. The Cambridge paleontologist blazes a further pathway from contingent or fortuitous selection alone toward a radical reconception that can admit and perceive a series of convergent recurrences from microbes, cells, multicellularity to “an inevitable nervous system.” A large step is then made to suggest that this emergent sequence is much due to an iintrinsic self-organizing dynamics.
Specifically, I argue that far from its myriad of products being fortuitous and accidental, evolution is remarkably predictable. Thus, I urge a move away from the continuing obsession with Darwinian mechanisms, which are entirely uncontroversial. Rather, I emphasize why we should seek explanations for ubiquitous evolutionary convergence, as well as the emergence of complex integrated systems. At present, evolutionary theory seems to be akin to nineteenth-century physics, blissfully unaware of the imminent arrival of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Physics had its Newton, biology its Darwin: evolutionary biology now awaits its Einstein. (133)
Conway Morris, Simon. Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A later statement which makes a strong case that evolution by its inherent tendency to explore many landscapes but be channeled into a few niches will inexorably converge to intelligent human-like beings. Eyes, brains, even culture will consistently appear due to innate constraints. This is a major revision from standard Darwinianism which denies any such directional path. But Conway Morris goes on to accept the Rare Earth hypothesis that bioplanets suitable for a billion year development of sentient life are quite improbable.
And there are four conclusions. First, what we regard as complex is usually inherent in simpler systems: the real and in part unanswered question is not novelty per se, but how it is that things are put together. Second, the number of evolutionary end-points is limited: by no means everything is possible. Third, what is possible has usually been arrived at multiple times, meaning that the emergence of the various biological properties is effectively inevitable....evolution has trajectories (trends, if you prefer) and progress is not some noxious by-product of the terminally optimistic, but simply part of our reality. (xii-xiii)
Conway Morris, Simon. The Crucible of Creation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. The Cambridge University paleontologist finds the prolific Burgess Shale fossils of the Cambrian era not to imply random contingency as previously proposed but more an oriented channel of animal body plans eventually leading to the human stage.
Conway Morris, Simon. The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe Became Self-Aware. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2015. This consummate volume by the University of Cambridge paleontologist philosopher is extensively reviewed in the Current Vistas section above.
Conway Morris, Simon, et al. Introduction: Hunting Darwin’s Snark. Interface Focus. 5/6, 2015. For a theme issue Are There Limits to Evolution? about growing evidence for “ubiquitous” tendencies of life’s ascendant evolution to constantly converge on similar forms and processes. Conway Morris, the Cambridge University paleontologist who has long endorsed this feature (search), is here joined by CU scientists Jennifer Cuthill and Sylvain Gerber. Contributions include Are There Ergodic Limits to Evolution? by Tom McLeish (search), Replaying the Tape of Life in the Twenty-First Century by Virginie Orgogozo, Limits in the Evolution of Biological Form by George McGhee, and Neuronal Boost to Evolutionary Dynamics by Harold de Vladar and Eors Szathmary (search).
Cordero, Gerardo, et al. Gene Network Variation and Alternative Paths to Convergent Evolution in Turtles. Evolution & Development. 20/5, 2018. Iowa State University biologists including Fredric Janzen report by way of detailed studies how diverse turtle shell carapaces exhibit a persistent repetition of similar paths and forms.
Corning, Peter. Holistic Darwinism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. With the subtitle: Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution, the biologist, economist, and author collects his papers and presentations that uniquely integrate concepts such self-organization, symbiosis, behavior, multilevel and group selection, thermodynamics, systems and the super-organism into a much revised evolutionary theory. Corning's work is another contribution and sign of the imminent 21st century synthesis that can express life’s intrinsic, emergent development.
Corning, Peter, et al, eds..
Evolution “On Purpose”: Teleonomy in Living Systems..
Cambridge: MIT Press,
The Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology book is due by August 22, so its 2023 contents are not yet posted, but draws from a June 2021 Linnean Society, London conference with this title. As the authoritative coeditors listed below attests, a robust confluence seems at last ready and able to recognize and verify a phenomenal, independent emergence with its own intrinsic procreativity. This achievement, of course, would constitute an historic scientific revolution and phenomenal discovery. Many of the 2021 contributions have already been reviewed in the Chap. V Teleology Turn section.
The concept of teleonomy as an evolved purposiveness of living systems has been seen as a major causal factor, going back to Lamarck and even Darwin. But into the mid-twentieth century the complex, dynamic process of life’s evolution became viewed as a one-way, bottom-up, gene-centered scheme known as the modern synthesis. At last in these 2020s this Evolution “On Purpose” volume edited by Peter Corning, Stuart Kauffman, Denis Noble, James Shapiro, Richard Vane-Wright, and Addy Pross, each (search) a veteran theorist, gather twenty chapters about ways to move beyond the olden reduction so to elucidate the many ways that living systems themselves have shaped life’s oriented course.