Saturday, February 19, 2005

Post Darwinism

There is nothing like in flight reading. This is where I see some execs catch up on something like "What the hottest trend in IT now?" and go back to implement the said things in a magazine. I call this "reading edge" (Though you lack the depth in the subject, the shallowness is more than compensated by the fact that you can draw some conclusions based upon it because the language is so accesible and sounds simple) as opposed to "bleeding edge".

Anyways I had a flight back home and caught up on my magazine reading. Freeman Dyson actually wrote a review on a paper published by Carl Woese called "A New Biology for a new Century". I am writing a summary on a summary, though I will be quoting his words mostly.

The paper raises a profound question, When did Darwinian evolution begin? Apparently he presented evidence that darwinian evolution did not go back to the beginning of life. This was called "horizontal gene transfer" (as sharing of genes between species was prevalent).This meant that separate species didnt exist because Life meant a community of cells sharing the chemical tricks and processes invented or discovered by one could be inherited by all of them.Evolution then was a communal affair.

One fine day a cell decided to find itself a notch higher than the rest of the cells in efficiency. So it separated itself from its community and refused to share. Its offspring were the first species.Its superior efficiency helped it to evolve and prosper separately.Imagine this process recursively dividing the community until all life is divided into species.

Now Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species evolve little. ( Imagine its very easy for you to get 90% but after that you have to put a lot of fight for each single percent point).As per Dyson, three innovations helped to speed up the pace of evolution. (Much like catalysts!)
  • Sex: which was a form of horizontal gene transfer within species
  • Multi Cellular Organization: helped opening up a new world of form and function.
  • Brains : resulting from co-ordination of sensation and action.
For new evolutionary ventures, add a mass extinction here and there.Here is the meat of the paper.After some 3 billion years , the darwinian era is over.The epoch of species competition came to an end because one species (that of Homo Sapiens) began to dominate and re-organize the biosphere.When was the last time you saw a human mutate into something (though secretly I belive brains evolved by different laws)

So, Cultural Evolution seemed to have displaced biological evolution as the catalyst for change.
Now Culture does not spread by genes and hence not Darwinian in nature. Whats more cultural evolution is running 1000 times faster than Darwinian( I blame it on 'paper' for spreadin it).As the boundaries diffuse between species, we'll move into a post darwinian era where life is once again communal and species no longer exist.Because Co-Operation is now becoming more important than Competition.
Something to think about. Strange, because Freeman Dyson is a genius and he is to be taken seriously when he writes about something like this.My own thoughts when I read this (though factually I might be wrong)

Now why does this sound familiar to me as the six stages of communism (1.Primitive Communism 2. Feudalism 3. Monarchy 4. Democracy/Capitalism 5. Socialism 6. True Communism or something to that effect, I dont remember)..

Why does this also sound like Linux is going to out-evolve (if there is such a word) other OSes, if whats being said in theory is true in practice)

That apart., I love "post-anything". Initially in the 1980s, I thought 'Modern' was a cool word because nothing can succeed it. This was until I read some lit crit stuff where they introduced the term "Post Modernism" ..Wow! Even Modern could be succeded with something like that.

If thats the case then nothing in this world is final.Sigh!


Primalsoup said...

Isn't it good that there is nothing is 'final'... Fills one with eternal hope! :)
Missed that thing about Linux though! :))

Paddy said...

I dont see a reason not to agree with you on the eternal hope thing.

Well, Linux comes in various flavors these days (much akin to Unix in the 80s) that they fragment the Unix market too bad.My expectation in the future is that they consolidate some base ( is good) and evolve culturally from there.Its a techie thing though and you dont neccesarily miss much even if you are unaware of this.