Archive for the ‘evolution’ Category

Distinctions with and without Differences

September 24, 2016

sq_distinction2It is often asked, why is there something rather than nothing?

Instead why not ask, why is there a rich diversity of things, rather than a dull sameness? And even though the closer and the further one looks the diversity is almost without limit, one also sees the world divided into natural kinds that partition it into a differentiated but interrelated mixture.

Several ancient philosophers thought that the entire world was an indivisible whole, a solid “being”. Others thought that you can’t even step into the same river twice, thus a fluid “becoming”. The real world seems to be somewhere in-between these two poles, moving continuously back and forth to now generate difference and newness, and then returning to sameness and oldness, and next continuing on to newness again.

Why drives these generative processes? One could say evolution, but evolution merely means “change over time”. And it would need to be an evolution at all levels of the cosmos, from the physical constituents of matter to the psychological constructs of culture. What do these disparate systems have in common?

Perhaps the commonality lies in the relations between small and large ensembles of chunks of space and time. In theories of statistical thermodynamics, the associations between micro states and macro states as well as micro events and macros events may drive entropy.

Here I present a schema that divides the continuum between one and many into four: Sameness, Similarity, Distinction, and Difference.
A member of the “being” camp might say these aren’t really different, whereas one from the “becoming” camp could say there really isn’t any sameness to begin with. Here I’ve chosen neither camp but struggled to bridge the gap between them.


Also see:

Statistical Thermodynamics

One and Many



Evolution and Genetics

July 29, 2015

sq_genetic_fourfold2Here is a fourfold of evolutionary genetic terms to consider.

  • Ontogenic: related to the development or developmental history of an individual organism
  • Phylogenic: related to the development or evolution of a particular group of organisms
  • Genotypic: related to the genetic makeup of an organism or group of organisms with reference to a single trait, set of traits, or an entire complex of traits
  • Phenotypic: related to the observable constitution of an organism (or the appearance of an organism resulting from the interaction of the genotype and the environment)


Tip of the hat to:

Cesar Hidalgo / Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies



Light and Dark: Matter and Energy

June 21, 2013


What are dark matter and dark energy? We do not know; we just know of them by their effects.

Dark matter is thought to be present in halos around galaxies since the estimated amount of matter is too small to keep the galaxies rotating at their measured rate. Dark energy is thought to be present in the empty spaces between galaxies pushing them apart because the velocities separating them are actually increasing instead of slowing down. Nobody knows what dark matter and dark energy really are, but new theories are often being suggested. Perhaps one of these theories will be tested soon and we will have a better idea of what these mysterious materials and forces are.

Could it be that dark matter and dark energy are linked by an equation, like normal “light” matter and “light” energy? For ordinary matter and energy, which are really two aspects of the same thing, it is Einstein’s famous equation: E= m*c^2. But since we have no idea what the dark stuff is, we can only conjecture.

Why should we care what these things are that are so difficult to characterize? In any scientific investigation, if we have gaps and inconsistencies in our knowledge and our theories it just bothers us to no end. We’re just not happy until we figure out the puzzle. In this case, the universe is almost completely made up of these dark parts, so it seems pretty important.

Unfortunately in my diagram the horizontal axis is light energy-dark energy, which is separating, and the vertical axis is dark matter-light matter, which is combining. In many of my fourfolds the horizontal axis is combining or conjunctive and the vertical axis is separating or disjunctive. Is the energy-matter dual more important than the conjunctive-disjunctive dual? Perhaps this fourfold doesn’t really fit but I like it anyway.

Eric Chaisson / Epic of Evolution


The Four Bases of DNA

September 12, 2012

DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Richard Dawkins

DNA, the genetic code and biological machinery all life on earth shares, has been in the news lately. It was once thought that much of our DNA was useless junk, but recent research reveals that this portion of our DNA is very important to the operation of epigenesis. This portion of DNA could be called dark bio-matter, or better dark bio-information or even dark bio-code, since it contains switches and instructions that guide each individual organism’s developmental growth through time.

Previously, the parts of DNA thought to be important were those regions that define the proteins that assemble to form our tissues. Mutations in the DNA that specify proteins can lead to disease because the mutated proteins cannot perform the functions that they need to. Of course, mutated proteins can also be improved and increase health. Comparing protein sequences across species shows that we have many commonalities as well as important differences with our animal cousins. What was once considered a “great chain of being” is now thought to be a great tree of life, all shown by DNA.

DNA is also a fourfold, and a double dual as well, since for the four bases Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G), and Cytosine (C): A pairs with T, and G with C. I am not saying that DNA is analogous to the other fourfolds presented here, but it makes a nice diagram.


Why does DNA have four bases and not two, like binary computer code?

Even more of DNA determines our health and variation, the things that make us who we are. Does that constrain us even more, or will this knowledge make us more free?



The Theory of Evolution

June 8, 2012

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection”

— Charles Darwin

Can we cast the theory of evolution into a fourfold? I propose that the following four processes can serve as an abstract model for evolution: generation, variation, speciation, and selection. These four entities are similar to the fourfold of Structure-Function, currently in development. By my analogy which will be explained later, Generation is action, Variation is part, Speciation is structure, and Selection is function. A more familiar analogy matches these four processes to Aristotle’s Four Causes: Generation is efficient cause, Variation is material cause, Speciation is formal cause, and Selection is final cause.

Generation: Offspring are like their parents by and large, except when made different by processes of variation. Mainly the act of reproduction, procreation, or replication, but includes the ordinary evolutionary factors of descent and heredity.

Variation: Offspring can be different than parents. Includes the factors of genetic variation, mutation, sexual reproduction, and genetic drift.

Speciation: Includes the factors which keep species separated and differentiated from each other.

Selection: Really natural selection. I always thought this was a negative process, where species become extinct or are selected out if they are ill adapted to their environment. Apparently the original meaning was that the fittest organisms and their traits continue: that is, they are selected to survive by nature because of their adaptive traits.

As a process of change, evolution has been suggested by scientists to operate at many levels of nature, not just for the biological. One such scientist is Eric Chaisson, who has written many books on his idea of “cosmic evolution”.


Eric Chaisson / Epic of Evolution: seven ages of the cosmos (2005)


Also note the similarity between this fourfold and the fourfold I have drawn for Kevin Kelly’s Philosophy of Technology. In “What Technology Wants”, Kelly claims that technology develops in an evolutionary manner.



A Story for Everyone

June 9, 2011

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a common story we could all learn and share? A story about who we are, what we are, and maybe even a little about the how and the why. Could it be told in such a way that each of us could accept it as our very own? A film and companion book coming out soon will attempt just that, titled Journey of the Universe.

Previous books by Loyal Rue and Brian Swimme have tried to achieve this ideal. Swimme is involved in this new movie, and is the narrator. Rue’s book is a personal favorite. Astrophysicist Eric J. Chaisson has written many books on this topic. Their common theme is evolution, expanded from the biological to encompass the cosmos. Cosmic evolution, if you will.

Evolution merely means change over time, i.e. transformation. Most people agree that things have changed over time, but many disagree on how much, how long, and how come. How can we decide what information to accept, and what to reject? The great unifier of human knowledge is science, yet science is often disparaged even while making the modern world possible. Partially, I’m sure, for that very reason.

Different cultures have had their own creation stories since the very beginning of humanity. Many have said that a large part of being human is the impulse to tell and the need to hear stories. All narratives are built from atomic parts that answer questions: who, what, how, and why. Or, to cast them into modal verbs: may, can, must, and should. Who may? Intention or agency: the characters. What can? Chance or contingency: the setting. How must? Structure or necessity: the plot. Why should? Obligation or responsibility: the theme.

Would a story simplistic enough for everyone to accept be so dilute as to be worthless? All life as we know it requires water, and pure water is ultimately ‘diluted’. But water is certainly not worthless. Daniel Dennett calls the concept of evolution the ‘universal acid’, an alchemical alkahest. Can we replace the corrosive acid in his metaphor with sustaining and nurturing water?

Loyal Rue / Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution

Brian Swimme / The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era–A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos

Daniel Dennett / Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: evolution and the meaning of life

Eric J. Chaisson / Epic of Evolution: seven ages of the cosmos

Marjolein Groefsema / Can, May, Must and Should: A Relevance Theoretic Account, in Journal of Linguistics, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 53-79


Kevin Kelly’s Philosophy of Technology

November 19, 2010

Kevin Kelly’s new book “What Technology Wants” is an exploration of what technology is and what it does. Technology has many of the same attributes as biological evolution, and as such, its effects cannot be fully predicted. At best, we can try to evaluate a particular technology’s advantages and dangers before it is let loose into the world; at worst, we will have no control over it at all.

Kelly describes evolution as shaped by structural, historical, and functional factors; and goes on the describe technology as dependent on structural, historical, and intentional factors. However, he also maintains that technology is an evolutionary process, and evolution in turn is a technological process. Kelly seems to say both processes have all four of the factors shown in the double dual above.

Kelly says that human language is the first big human technology (or was it fire? or stone tools?). But I also agree with him that the mechanisms of biological evolution can be considered technology. What is technique except a method that can shared and perpetuated by others? Molecular genetics grants us the ability to pass (most of) our attributes on to our progeny, including the ability to pass (most of) their attributes on to theirs. Once techniques can be shown or told to others, biology becomes the basis for the showing or telling, but not the mechanism of it.

Kelly calls the entire system of evolution/technology the technium. Because we have been continually shaped by our human technologies, they are not foreign to us. On the whole, we are better with them, than without them. One could argue that without them we wouldn’t even be human!


Kevin Kelly / What Technology Wants

[*5.92, *6.60]