THE ORIGIN AND IMPACT OF INFORMATION IN THE AVERAGE EVOLUTION :
From bit to atom and ecosystem
Decadt, April 2000
average evolution : a heuristic model
During the evolution of our universe, chance has played a major role. Even
to that extent that it would be improbable that the actual fauna and flora
would redevelop if evolution would be repeated. All the classification efforts
of a biologist as Carl Linneaus would be irrelevant if evolution would be repeated. If Carl Linneaus would still be alive, this thought would
be a nightmare for him.
If chance plays such
a major role in evolution, and we want to get a good insight in the basic
principles of the evolution process, we will have to reduce the role of
chance to its relevant proportions. We will do this by performing a huge
thought experiment. Instead of asking ourselves whether or not we can repeat
the evolution in an identical way, we will assume that this is not the case
(due to the role of chance). We will therefore ask another question :
evolution patterns would we see, if we would repeat the evolution a million
characteristics of the evolution process would we see time and time again
question is the basic question to which this paper attempts to formulate
end of the 19th century, the American scientist and philosopher
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) has found that "nature has a tendency
to create habits". If we want to explain these habits, it is not sufficient
to identify and explain the basic laws of nature that govern the development
of our cosmos ; we also need to be able to explain the evolution of these
laws itself, because they also have been evolving slowly.
clear that our search into the creation of habits in evolution, will be
influenced by the context in which we live as a human being on earth, and
by the knowledge we have gathered up to our current stage in the evolution.
Nevertheless, the nature of this question is so fundamental, that it forces
us to think very critically about the really fundamental aspects of evolution.
Although our thinking process is influenced by the signs of our time, we
will be obliged to search for the core of the question.
resulting evolutionary process is what I have called
evolution model presented here is a "heuristical model". It combines
different pieces of the puzzle, to recombine it into a new version of the
picture. Not the pieces of the puzzle are different, but mainly the composition.
I have called this a heuristical model, because it is open for further development
and evolution. It is the result of a personal vision, and it is not to be
considered as a final solution, suitable for every situation.
consequence, I invite the reader to think together with me, during the reading
of this work.
Note : this paper is a summary of a virtual book with the same title,
published in Dutch on the World Wide Web in April 2000 (for the full text
and references, see http://www.geocities.com/evolutionweb). As the complete
(Dutch) text is more then 10 times as large as this summary, detailed reasoning
is not presented here.
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1. SPREADING IN THE EVOLUTION
streams" (Panta rei in Greek)
is a basic concept originating from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. This
concept is also the basis for the entire evolution process. The only constant
and universal characteristic of evolution is a never-ending stream of matter,
energy and information. The universe can not be described by describing
parts of it, because in essence it is an undivided whole. Each attempt to
describe a piece of the universe, drives the description away from the holistic
essence of the universe.
If I would be consequent with this bold statement, I should stop here with
further writings on the characteristics of the universe and its evolution.
I will continue because I am convinced that some complementary descriptions
of specific aspects and parts of the universe, can contribute to the understanding
of the universe and its evolution as a whole.
of evolutionary spreading
we look at the environment in which we live, we see many forms of organisation
that have a high degree of order, and which have at a first glance little
in common with the theory of evolutionary spreading.
the expansion of the universe, the maximal potential spreading increases
continuously. The actual (realised) spreading is also continuously increasing,
although the speed of increase is lower. As the figure above is demonstrating,
there is a continuous increase of the gap between the total actual spreading,
and the total potential spreading.
difference between both is reflected in the order that we can see in our
surroundings, e.g. in the form of tangible matter. In other words, as
the spreading in the universe continues, also the order in the universe
of evolutionary spreading holds a key to the creation of order in the universe
This leads us to the crucial question about the origin and fundamental cause
of this order. How come that evolution is happening through a number of
intermediate stages of more complex forms of organisation, instead of resulting
immediately into the maximal (potential) level of spreading ?
fact that there is an innumerable number of less or more complex forms of
organisation, is very evident in our home planet, the Earth. We can see
very complex forms of organisation, as an international company or an army,
but also more simple and down to earth systems as worms and micro-organisms.
difference in complexity and coherence of material systems is very large.
systems are fare less complex, but they also differ largely in the extent
of evolutionary spreading. A gas for example is a material form that has
a high degree of spreading : the coherence between the different gas molecules
is very low. This is in contrast with for example a diamond, in which the
atoms are structured and organised very well, which is also a main cause
of the particular symmetry of diamond crystals, and which also makes the
diamond very strong.
the complexity of a diamond is much smaller than the complexity of a micro-organism
or a school of fishes.
Thus, in our search for the cause of order and limitation of spreading,
we will have to look for those factors that give rise to difference in coherence
and complexity of the different material systems in our surroundings.
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INFORMATION AS A SOURCE OF COMPLEXITY AND COHERENCE IN EVOLUTION
"On the impact of information in evolution"
Information is perceived as more and more important in the study of evolutionary
theories, as well in physics as in biology.
The physical researcher John Wheeler says this in a quite extreme way :"
No element in the description of physics shows itself as closer to primordial
than the elementary quantum phenomenon, that is, the elementary device-intermediate
act of posing a yes-no physical question and eliciting an answer…. Otherwise
stated, every physical quantity, every it, derives its ultimate significance
from bits, binary yes-or-no indications."
This conclusion is epitomised in the phrase "it from bit".
Also in biological research,
the attention for information has increased, so far that a separate scientific
discipline is created known as "biosemiotics", or the study of (development
of) the meaning of signals. The biologist Jesper Hoffmeyer calls this the
"semiotisation of nature", in which nature is seen more and more as a universe
that is characterised by the exchange of signals (information).
Therefore, I would complete
Wheelers statement with the statement "fit from bit", meaning that also
the "survival of the fittest" (natural selection) and the "survival of the
first" (some types of non-linear self-organisation) are driven by biologically
relevant information. The current complexity of living systems on our earth
is the result of enormous historical accumulation of information.
This paper is differing
from other work especially by the emphasis on the evolutionary influence
of information, which has led to the title
"On the origin and impact of information in the average evolution : from
bit to atom and ecosystem".
In other more classical works on evolution, information is frequently seen
as something that is originated in a late stage of evolution, after the
creation of atoms and ecosystems.
In this work, a modified
definition and interpretation of information is introduced, where information
is considered as being originated before the existence of atoms and ecosystems.
What is information in an evolutionary context ?
This question can be
answered with a short definition :
that what has meaning, within a certain context.
The meaning of
information within an evolutionary context, is that it increases the
probability of selection of certain evolutionary paths, and thus decreases
spreading in certain contexts.
This definition is valid
for a human being, but also for a drop of ink in water, for an electron
in a microchip and for every elementary particle in evolution.
So in essence, there
is nothing human related to the definition of information.
and informed selections in evolution
In essence, evolution is a sequence of variations, whereby new evolutionary
pathways are created, and selections, whereby certain evolutionary pathways
are selected and others neglected.
The total number of
potential evolutionary paths is an indicator of the maximal spreading in
evolution. So, variation increases the number of evolutionary pathways,
while selection is narrowing the scope of actual evolution.
Both variations and
selections, can be influenced by information, as the scheme below is
in nature, stratified by the influence of information on variation
Based on the influence of information in evolution, I will distinguish 3
types of variation-selection sequences or evolution principles.
When no information
is present in the system (and level) that we consider, this results in a
"blind evolution", in which both variation and selection are at random
phenomena. The end result will be - on the average - a situation of maximal
spreading. This happens for instance in a gas, where the overall behaviour
of the gas is determined by the average behaviour of the individual atoms
in the gas. The individual atoms or molecules behave completely at random,
and their evolutionary path is in the end unpredictable ; in contrast, their
average behaviour is statistically predictable and quantifiable.
When the random variations are selected by information in the environment,
we call this "natural selection", the process that is first well
described by Charles Darwin (although Darwin did not explain the behaviour
of the environment as adding information to the evolutionary process).
Many variations in nature
are not completely accidental. Certain variations have a higher probability
of existence, due to the process of "self-organisation", and as a
consequence, have also a higher chance in being selected. These variations
are informed in a certain way.
Because most systems
in nature are very complex, and thus natural selection and self-organisation
happen in a concurrent and almost inseparable way, this group of variation-selection
sequences will be called "self-organisation and natural selection".
Through the non-linear
and auto-catalytic characteristics of self-organisation, this leads in some
instances to the "survival of the first", while natural selection is best
characterised by the "survival of the fittest". The combined process is
the basis of the complex biological diversity as we find it today on earth,
including the existence of man.
The human being has - due to its conscious thinking - the advanced skill
of effectively combining informed variations with informed selections, in
a process that I will call further "artificial construction".
Man creates artificial
variations by designing sophisticated experiments, in which predetermined
factors are changed, while others are kept constant. In these experimental
designs, some of the variations are clearly informed. In a next step, the
desired product or process is selected, based on predefined selection criteria.
This powerful process
of artificial construction (also in less sophisticated forms) has led to
innumerable "artefacts" used by men, from spears and bows of primitive
human beings, to space shuttles studying earth from space.
Because both steps of
the sequence, variations and selections, are consciously manipulated and
informed, the human being is able to build complex and effective constructions.
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FLUX-MAXIMISATION AND ATTRACTORS IN THE AVERAGE EVOLUTION
3.1. Damping of variations and the origin of information
and attractors in the evolution
We have seen that information
plays a crucial role in evolution, by influencing both variations and selections.
As a consequence, we must ask ourselves the question how information
itself is created during the evolutionary process, in other words :
What is the origin of information ?
is neither matter nor energy, though it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication
Evolution can be seen as a stream of matter and energy (neglecting information for a while). If within
a certain system, a variation occurs in an incoming stream of Matter/Energy
(M/E), then this system will react to this change. If the system consists
of many particles, these particles will experience this variation as an
additional "stress". Passing a certain critical threshold value of "stress",
each of these "egoistic" particles will move in such a way, that they minimise
the stress for themselves. As the number of solutions to resolve the stress
is limited, many particles will move in the same direction. The result is
that many of the particles, although they maybe intrinsically independent,
make a coherent movement together, until the variation is completely damped.
Think for instance of
a raindrop that is falling into a pool of water. At the moment of impact
of the raindrop, the individual molecules of water will try to move away
from the point of impact (this is not "the will" of the particles, it is
the result of what Newton called "action leads to reaction"). Because all
the neighbouring molecules are trying to do the same, there are only few
overall (average) possibilities, leading to a coherent movement of the molecules.
On a macroscopic level, this will be visible in the form of circular waves,
expanding around the point of impact of the raindrop, until the initial
energy-injection caused by the falling drop is completely dissipated or
spread over the pool.
This means that the
individual damping behaviour of the "egoistic" particles, has caused a collective
behaviour in the group, in which the particles move "in formation".
In order to do this, a kind of "molecular communication" (molecular information
exchange) has happened between the water molecules.
Every time a raindrop
falls in a pool of water, we will see the same behaviour : this damping
pattern is a pattern with an increased probability of occurrence. It is
a "habit" of nature.
I will call this
type of variation-damping patterns with increased probability "attractors".
What we call here the formation of attractors, is in line with the earlier
mentioned insight of Charles Peirce that evolution has a tendency to create
At the basis of the increased probability of these "evolutionary habits",
there is a certain type of evolutionary information exchange. As a result of the
presence of this information, the local (microscopic) spreading is limited,
and a collective (group-) behaviour is visible (a macroscopic phenomenon).
We will call this collective behaviour "coherence" (coherent behaviour), as opposed to
and complementary with the term "spreading".
There are many ways to classify information.
Within this evolutionary context, I will distinct 3 types of information,
mainly based on the relation between the meaning of the information, and
the physical carrier of the information. This contextual dependent relation
between the meaning of information and its carrier, is called "the code".
These 3 types of codes, are the basis of 3 distinct types of information,
and 3 distinct types of attractors.
The difference between
Alpha-, Beta- and Gamma-codes is based on the increased independence between
the meaning of information (I) and the vehicle of information (M/E). This
independence is high for the Gamma-code, intermediate for the Beta-code,
and low for the Alpha-code.
This is symbolic information, as used in the human language and
in the genetic code of all biological organisms.
The relation between the meaning of the symbols, and the symbols itself,
is fully conventional.
Gamma-information is the basis of all Gamma-attractors. All living
systems are the result of the development of Gamma-attractors, as for
example micro-organisms, plants, animals, human beings, human organisations
and societies. It is precisely the large independence between the meaning
of the symbols, and their physical appearance, that is the cause of the
large complexity of the structures that are built according to this information.
Because of this independence, there are two levels of meaning (which is
called "double articulation" or "double patterning" in semiotics). For
example in human language, each word has a meaning on itself (first level
of meaning), but furthermore, the words can be combined in innumerable
ways into an innumerable number of sentences with other meanings (second
level of meaning). This is the power of double articulation.
In the following
two types of codes, the relation between the meaning of information and
the carrier of information is more direct, and this is more the case for
Alpha-information, than for Beta-information. Because of this more direct
relation, double articulation is almost un-existing, and thus the complexity
of originating structures is smaller.
Beta-information is process-information. This means that certain
patterns in time are the basis for the meaning within a certain context.
In the example of the raindrop falling into a pool, communication
between the molecules of water is the result of a dynamical process ;
so this is an example of Beta-information. The waves in the water are
the macroscopic result of the Beta-attractor, in which the meaning of
the information is directly related to the time-dependent process.
Other examples of Beta-patterns are :
- all dynamic patterns in fluids (e.g. waves, turbulent streams, laminar
- the formation of flocks of land animals, or the formation of schools
of fishes and birds
- the dynamic structure of clouds in the sky
- the formation of dunes and chains of dunes in a desert
- the regular structure of fern leafs
- the black and white patterns of a zebra
- the colourful design of the many tropical fishes we observe around tropical
Alpha-information is matter-dependent information. It is the consequence
of the spatial structure and form of matter.
The relation between the meaning of information, and the carrier is
As an example, hormones (or other information- transmitters) in plants,
animals or humans fulfil an important communication role. The meaning
of the information they carry, is directly dependent on the spatial structure
of the molecules, comparable to the way a key fits in the lock of a door.
When the key fits into the door, or a hormone fits in its "receptor",
this leads to a go/no go decision or binary signal within the context
of the key or the hormone. When a hormone connects to a biological receptor,
an electrical or chemical signal will be transmitted through the body.
In the study of pharmacology, and the design of medicines in pharmaceutical
industry, much research is done to find new receptors that are related
to important diseases. When a new receptor is found, a new chemical molecule
can be designed, acting as a key to the receptor, which can open new doors
to a more healthy life for the patient. The knowledge about this type
of biological Alpha-information has resulted in the invention of many
I my opinion, also the fundamental physical forces in nature can be classified
as Alpha-attractors (I am aware this idea maybe somewhat controversial).
The forms of power-fields of these physical forces are determining
the resulting interaction of the forces. A difference with the Alpha-attractors
described above is that the context where the information is relevant,
is extending to the whole or a large part of the universe (also in contrast
with the Gamma- or Beta-attractors). Therefore, we could call these physical
attractors "universal attractors", as the information is relevant
in the whole of the universe ; we could also say that the context for
this information is the whole universe.
As a conclusion, we can state the relation between the carrier of information,
and the meaning of information, has substantially changed during evolution.
Originally, there was a direct relation between the carrier of information,
and its meaning. Carrier and meaning of information, have smoothly grown
apart in the course of evolution. As a result, the need for contextual
conventions about the meaning of information, and the importance of
interpreting information, has grown.
In the later stage of evolution, the meaning of information rises from
the correct interpretation of the information code (the convention). For
instance in biological organisms, the fertilised egg interprets the information
carried by the DNA, to express the meaning of the genetic code to its
full extent. This principle is for instance used in cloning animals (cows, sheep,...).
Thus, attractors lead to structured patterns in nature, that have little
in common with the "spreading evolution", that we defined earlier as a
basic principle of average evolution in nature. Attractors can limit
evolutionary spreading in certain contexts.
Attractors cause a kind of state of equilibrium, that is far away from
the average state of equilibrium that is typical for a stage of "total
spreading" in average evolution. We will therefore conclude that attractors
can cause a state of "quasi-equilibrium" in nature.
At the same time, we have to make an important note here. Where evolutionary
spreading is a universal phenomenon, the structuring relevance of attractors
is limited to the context where the information has meaning.
Nevertheless, as a human being we have the intuitive tendency of overweighing
the importance of the limited and contextual organising effect caused
by the attractors, versus the more important and universal effect of evolutionary
spreading (this will be a typical antroposophist characteristic).
The limitation of spreading caused by attractors is thus limited, but
very visible (because human beings are trained in detecting patterns,
rather than chaos).
- Interactors in
Evolutionary structures or evolutionary patterns are formed under influence
of attractors. I will call these patterns "interactors", and the
trajectory followed by the interactor, will be called "interaction".
Attractors are the characteristics of the "average evolution" ; these
are the (implicit) habits that we see when we observe the evolution repeatedly. The
interactors are the subjects of the individual evolution paths, which
are subject to real-life interactions. While the attractors represent
the evolutionary habits, the interactors are the (explicit) players in the arena
of evolution that follow the habits.
Consequent with this expansion of our evolutionary language, we will
further use analogue terms as Gamma-information, Gamma-attractors,
Gamma-interactors, and so on…
Thus, attractors are rather theoretical ("average") classes of damping
patterns, while the interactors and their interactions are related to
the real path in evolution.
The distinction between interactors and attractors is artificial, and
maybe somewhat abstract. But this approach is not so unusual, as for instance
Darwin has also used the "species" as an abstract idea, to enhance the
post-factum understanding of the evolution process.
For example, the gravitation force can be considered as an Alpha-attractor,
while a stone falling under influence of the gravitation force is considered
to be an interactor. Also, the moon, the earth and the sun are interactors
that have a cyclical behaviour that is due too the universal Alpha-attractor
that is the gravitational force.
The genetic pool of a species of frogs is related to a certain Gamma-attractor,
while an individual and "real" frog is an interactor.
So the notions of "attractor" and "interactor" as described above, enable
the same terminology for both physical and biological phenomena (and of
course this was also the reason for introducing this terminology).
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