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Power, Information and Complexity in the Origin of Life

© David Cornberg, Ph.D.

This essay explores power, information and complexity in relation to the origin of life on earth. The origin of life requires decomposition of energy into power and information because such decomposition is necessary for feedback. The articulation of the decomposition of energy into power and information permits a significant correction of Francis Bacon’s dictum, Knowledge is power, which is one of the conceptual foundations of modern linear, reductionist science. Knowledge is not power; rather, knowledge orients power. The difference that life makes is seen as a different way of using energy, such as solar radiation, that is available to everything on earth. The difference in use is a consequence of living matter forming within the constraints of earth’s surface, which is the envelope of life or the biosphere. Complexity theory is used to conceptualize life as a consequence of morphogenetic constraints. Specific conditions of the earth, such as distance from the sun, speed of rotation and revolution, speed and extent of axis inclination, solar radiation, terrestrial and lunar gravitation, presence of free oxygen and protective ozone, Coriolis force, and ubiquity of water and land, are constraints on the existence of anything on or near the earth’s surface. Taken together, these constraints situate life on earth as neither a miracle, a mystery nor an accident. Life is rather a consequence. When we consider life as a consequence of morphogenetic constraints in the biosphere, then selection appears as an emergent feedback property of life. Viewed in this way, there are no random beginnings in life (Holland (2) 147-8), there are never infinite degrees of freedom in morphogenesis, there are no tinkered together contraptions in life (Kauffman 637 (1993)), and there is no order for free (Waldrop 120-5). This view also allows for a significant correction of the hypothesis that life occurs at the edge of chaos (Kauffman 29-279 (1993); Lewin 44-62; Waldrop 198-240): life occurs not at the edge of chaos but at the edges of different orders, none of which is chaotic. The viewpoint of this paper may be briefly characterized as structuralism with theories of transformation and structure. (Crutchfield 527-9)


The Emergence of Complexity

We begin with a thought experiment. The earth is young. The moon is in its terrestrial orbit and has just been pelted with asteroids. The earth’s surface varies among bare, cold lava, molten lava and shallow water. An atmosphere thick with combustion products and water vapor already swirls around the earth. At this time, every particle on the surface of the earth is constrained and conditioned in several ways. There are solar radiation, lunar gravitation, terrestrial gravitation, revolution, rotation and inclination. There are also the earth’s geomagnetic fields, the beginnings of the Coriolis force and the beginnings of currents in large bodies of fluid. All of these forces are independent of each other in the sense that they all act on any surface particle simultaneously. These forces do not line up one behind the other then act one after the other. They act together and they act constantly within their natural variations.

These conditions interfere with one other. That is, their independent actions condition or place limits on each other. We commonly use the term “interaction” to describe this kind of situation. But “interaction” seems to beg the question of what is actually going on among these multiple, simultaneously acting forces. The effects of solar radiation on the earth’s surface, for example, are continually limited by the effects of revolution, rotation and inclination. The effects of terrestrial gravitation on surface fluids are continually limited by the effects of lunar gravitation and vice versa. The effects of terrestrial and lunar gravitations are continually limited by the Coriolis force and vice versa. An example of interference is a rainbow. We usually don’t notice that gravity interferes with other possible trajectories of water drops, that falling water interferes with other possible trajectories of sunlight, or that human eyes interfere with other possible trajectories of refracted light. We admire the rainbow. But various kinds of interference take place within a rainbow.

Now we ask, Does complexity exist yet on the young earth? We take this question to mean, at the least, Can we describe the early earth’s surface conditions in linear terms only? By linear, we understand a situation that can be described mathematically with sums and averages. (Holland 15-23 (1995), 121-122 (1998); Mainzer 2-8; Waldrop 64-66) We now ask the question again, but we focus on that part of the earth that, according to all scientific hypotheses on the origin of life on earth (Caruso 64; geo.utep.edu; Kauffman 288-9 (1993) [a useful summary of hypotheses]; ic.ucsc.edu), was a necessary condition for that origin: water. Can we imagine, at such an early time in the history of the earth, that we can describe the action of fluids on the earth’s surface with sums and averages only? Or, to put the question in another way, Can we imagine that at that time there were no nonlinear interactions in the fluids on the earth’s surface?

Why is this question important? It is important because, in order to use complexity theory to help explain the origin of life, we need to be clear about how complexity could have happened on the early earth’s surface. We may approach this question through the following definition of complexity:

In system theory, complexity means not only nonlinearity but a huge number of elements with many degrees of freedom…. All macroscopic systems like stones or planets, clouds or fluids, plants or animals, animal populations or human societies consist of component elements like atoms, molecules, cells or organisms. The behaviour of single elements in complex systems with huge numbers of degrees of freedom can neither be forecast nor traced back. The deterministic description of single elements must be replaced by the evolution of probabilistic distributions. (Mainzer 3) (cf., also, Brown 421-2; Holland (1) 310-11; Kauffman 401 (1993); Martin 263; Schuster 384)

The fluid on the early earth's surface certainly did consist of “component elements like atoms…[and]…molecules”. The simultaneous action of several different forces certainly involved “huge numbers of degrees of freedom”. But, were there nonlinear interactions?

Let us consider a body of water of arbitrary size on the surface of the ancient earth. We position ourselves at a fixed point in space from which we can observe the water surface relative to the fixed stars. As the earth inclines, the water surface describes a vertical path. We decompose the vertical path into an arbitrary number of points. We then observe that under terrestrial rotation each point describes a circular wave. We now observe that circular wave under terrestrial revolution about the sun. Each circular point-wave, created by combining inclination and rotation, now describes an oval helix. Next we observe the same surface, in its dynamic configuration as oval helix, under lunar gravitation. Under lunar gravitation, the surface swells and shrinks. If we assign a point to the high tidal swell and a point to the low tidal shrink, then observe those points under inclination, we see the vertical path, not as a concave line but as a concave wave. If we observe those point-waves, since they occur regularly but dissimilarly through time, under rotation, we see those point-waves describing a wave composed of layers of undulations. We now observe the concave layered wave under terrestrial revolution about the sun. Under terrestrial revolution, the layered wave becomes a layered, oval helix with concave coils. Or, it is a branching, layered, spiral wave.

A branching, layered, spiral wave has some interesting characteristics. Visually, such waves can be seen in the computer realizations of the Mandelbrot set, such as the first, second and fourth images in Section 4 of Gleick‟s Chaos (between pp. 112 and 114). A spiral wave continually twists and folds itself. It is a constrained bifurcation that branches and collects force in local attractors. But since this description takes place in configurational space rather than physical space, the twisting has no visible, substantial effect unless we assign different values of some kind, such as different colors, to different phases of the multiple trajectories of the water's surface. If, for example, we assign red to the southern half of the vertical path and blue to the northern half of the vertical path, and allow the colors to mix, then, under inclination we see red becoming violet and blue becoming violet. Under rotation, we assign one color to the trajectory of the surface in daylight and one color to the trajectory of the surface at night, and prevent mixing but make the colors transparent to each other. We see undulating, colored, concave sections of a sphere moving in and out of each other as they oscillate vertically between red to violet and blue to violet. Now we observe those undulating, concave sections of a sphere under terrestrial revolution around the sun, and we add a different hue of a different color to each month of the 365-day year. We prevent mixing again but make the colors transparent to each other. By transparent to each other I mean that when the earth enters the time period of a particular month, the color of that month becomes dominant so that it can be seen through all of the other colors although it does not mix with any of them. It becomes brighter for the moment of that month while the other colors become dimmer.

Another way to understand the behavior of a branching, layered, spiral wave is that it repeats and varies. All of the constraints under consideration here are permanent with respect to the surface of the earth. They vary within limits but none of them ever disappears entirely or ever entirely overwhelms the other constraints. These constraints may be understood as “nonlocal rules” in Schuster‟s sense: “The rules, harmless as they look at first glance, carry their enormous power by being nonlocal….” (410; bold in original; cf. Brown 426, on “emergent structural and dynamical properties of communities” as “top-down,” not “bottom up”; also, Bak 482, “global organization” italics in original; cf. Holland “Constrained Generating Procedures,” 125-42 (1998)) Solar and lunar gravitation, and solar and lunar radiation, for example, are energy that “enters the system uniformly…and leaves the system locally.” (Bak 485 (1994)) Any particle of the surface of that water, or any thing in that water, can be visualized as going through the same changes with the same combination of nonlocal constraints. There seems to be no barrier to affirming that that body of water is a complex system in Mainzer‟s sense of “a huge number of elements with many degrees of freedom” (3).

But do nonlinearities exist there? We answer this question by running mental simulation with color mixing. We have already assigned red and blue and seen them mix to violet. We now assign red, blue, yellow, green, orange and violet arbitrarily to six of the months and a different hue of each of those colors arbitrarily to the other six months. Running the thought experiment, we soon see only the color gray. Gray is an emergent property of the dynamics of the system in color, where we understand emergence as “a process that leads to the appearance of structure not directly described by the defining constraints and instantaneous forces that control a system.” (Crutchfield 516) Gray appears not because any of the original colors is gray—gray “cannot be explicitly represented in the initial and boundary conditions” (Ibid.)—but because the colors affect each other, interfere with each other, or, interact with each other by modifying hues until only gray remains. Gray cannot be predicted from the original colors by sums or averages.

Therefore, gray is a nonlinear, emergent product of the system. The process has undergone emergence because “the architecture of information processing has changed in such a way”— blending—“that a distinct and more powerful level of intrinsic computation has appeared”— gray—“that was not present in earlier conditions.” (Crutchfield 526) Gray is also emergent both in Bak‟s sense that it is not an obvious consequence “of the underlying dynamical rules” (26 (1996)) and in Holland‟s sense that “more comes out than was put in” (112 (1998)). Therefore, in Mainzer‟s sense, at least, we have a complex system. Indeed, anything on the early earth's surface was already in some sense a product, result, or consequence of the interaction of planetary constraints. Complexity as an emergent property of interacting constraints seems to be at least as old as the surface of the earth and certainly older than any living thing. But do we have a complex adaptive system? Most workers in complexity theory consider life to be a complex adaptive system, or, cas (e.g., Holland (1995) 1-40; Kauffman 191-209 (1993); Lewin 44-62; Mainzer 85-99; Waldrop 294-99; Cowan et al, etc.). But there is no reason or cause for adaptation in our system. The body of water with its surface can continue to go through its complex changes forever without changing in any significant way. What is missing?
We have nonlinearity, emergence, large numbers of components acting simultaneously (or, acting with parallel-processing [Kauffman 10, 220, 237, 442 (1993)]) and a large number of degrees of freedom. (Brown 424; Holland (1995) 50-2; Mainzer 230-1; Waldrop 106-13, etc.) The first missing component is adaptive feedback.

Feedback can be understood as reactive and as adaptive. An example of reactive feedback is a thermostat. There is a linear, binary decomposition of energy into power and information. Thermal energy as power changes the orientation of a heat sensor. The physical change in orientation transforms as electricity into information that governs the on/off position of a heat source. This feedback process cannot alter any aspect of itself. An example of adaptive feedback is dog trying to jump over an unfamiliar chasm. The dog explores the chasm visually and physically until the qualities of the chasm connect with the potentials of its own body. The dog then decides to jump over the chasm or not to jump over. It is not programmed either to jump or not to jump. It could also lie down on its side of the chasm or it could make its way down one side of the chasm, cross the chasm floor then climb up the other side. Unlike a thermostat, it does not have exclusive binary states or attractors into or onto which it must fall in reaction to the energy it gets as information from the chasm.

Feedback requires that a system of some kind decompose energy into information and power. Examples of such decomposition are the instruments, such as microscopes, telescopes, stethoscopes, cameras, radar, television, telephone, internet and many kinds of probes, that contribute not even a millivolt to the usable energy of the planet but require much energy to carry out their functions of recording, interpreting and disseminating information. Light telescopes, for example, decompose the energy coming from celestial objects into wavelengths of various kinds that transform through the instruments into various kinds of information.

Human beings use that information to alter the instruments, themselves or, in the case of instruments used locally, the observed and measured phenomena. All of those instruments are components of feedback systems designed and operated by human beings. But all of those systems are modeled on the feedback systems we have found in life. Life requires feedback.

Adaptive feedback is missing in the water surface system and so it is not a complex adaptive system. Nor is it a living thing. Can we move from the complex system of a body of water to a cas? We recall that, in our simulation, we focused on the water surface. This focus facilitated our visualization but it did not exclude all the other particles, both of and in the water, from going through the same dynamics as the water surface. We can expand our focus to see that all of the earth, every particle of it, can be mapped through the same dynamics. Every part of the earth can be visualized as moving in layered spiral waves. If something is going to last for a long time on earth, then it would have to be capable of going through those dynamics with the least possible damage. Since most of the earth‟s surface is water, and most of the earth‟s interior is fluidic, the most durable terrestrial substance seems to be fluid. So, the interaction of constraints creates the first condition of living matter: that living matter must be as much like fluid as possible. Living matter cannot be like soil or rock, because both of those dissolve or melt or otherwise lose their integrity. Living matter also cannot be fluid only because then it would be no different than other fluids such as water. Living matter must therefore include fluid, or fluid like substances, with some other formations. What must those be?

If it is not fluid, and it is not earth, and it is not air, then it must be able to accommodate all of those with as little damage to itself as possible. But accommodation implies that living matter must be able to react and respond to the varying conditions of water, land and air. We have already seen that the body of water, as complex as its dynamics are, can still become ice or vapor under the appropriate combination of constraints. For living matter to change so much would eliminate its integrity as living matter. Therefore, living matter must be able to do something that water, soil and air cannot do. It must be able to change itself. Somehow, feedback must emerge. How?

We can approach this question by looking back through the millennia of human habitations. Human beings typically choose to live on edges. The largest cities in the US are on coasts that situate human living on an edge created by the interference of continent and ocean. The largest inland US cities situate human living on edges created by the interference of land and some form of fresh water, either river or lake or both. From the Cliff Dwellers of the US Southwest to the Cave Dwellers of Spanish Santander, we see human beings again and again choosing to live in caves. Why? What is so special about a cave? A cave is an edge, a limen, a peculiar space created by the interaction of three different kinds of order: the order of enclosed rock, the order of exposed land, and the order of open air. Human beings cannot live in wholly enclosed rock. We cannot live in wholly open air without land support. And, we cannot live on wholly exposed land without some kind of enclosure. A cave gives us partially enclosed rock, partially exposed land, and partially open air. None of the orders entirely overwhelms either of the others. Each one goes only so far, or, illustrates the principle of AFRIGO: As Far As It Goes. The cave dweller has a partially enclosed space that is better for safety from attack by other humans or wild animals than a space that goes on and on through a mountain. The cave dweller has a partially open space that is better for breathing and ventilation than a wholly enclosed space.

The cave dweller has a partially open space that is better for access and protection than either a wholly closed space or a wholly open space. In a cave, each order goes only so far, which is As Far As It Goes: AFRIGO. The same can be said for living on the edge of an ocean, a sea, a river, a lake, a forest, a jungle, a swamp or a desert. Moreover, when human beings live beside trails, roads, paths, highways, railroad tracks, waterways and airfields, they live on the edges of orders. The tiny human settlement beside the north-south railroad track through the Sonora Desert in northern Mexico, situates human living between a transportation system and a particular ecosystem. The transportation system alone cannot support that settlement. The desert ecosystem alone cannot support that settlement. But human beings can live on the border created by the meeting of both orders. Thus, the proponents of life at the edge of chaos have it half right. Life is at the edge, but not of chaos. Life is at an edge created by the interactions of different kinds of order. In the early earth scenario, the orders of molten rock, surface water, atmosphere and cold rock each went only so far. Where they met there were edges, limen, lacunae, spaces, interstices, boundaries and borders where none of the orders wholly dominated the dynamics of the situation. In that kind of place, another order was possible. In that kind of place, life was possible.

Existence, Persistence and Reproduction

We begin again on earth. The earth is just far enough away from the sun to avoid the extremes of temperature that characterize Mercury’s surface and just close enough to avoid the perpetual cold that characterizes the planets that are further away. Relative to life on earth, we can understand Mercury’s sun-baked surface as one kind of order. We can understand its dark, frozen surface, as well as the frozen bodies of the outer planets, as another kind of order.

The earth is between and on the edges of these two kinds of order. Its interplanetary position forces it to experience both periods and areas of temperature extremes. The interplanetary position of the earth interacts with its constant motions of rotation, revolution and inclination.

Rotation and inclination limit the coldness and heat of any part of the earth’s surface due to fluctuation in solar radiation. Revolution provides a range of intensity of solar radiation for all parts of the earth. Distance and constant motions together create a field of solar radiation that supports and limits life on earth. For example, organisms that need constant or regularly recurring extreme temperatures do not exist on earth. Besides the sun, the moon provides additional physical fields that influence life on earth.

The part of earth that receives the most direct influence from the sun and the moon is the envelope of life. The envelope existed prior to the appearance of any life on earth. The enduring characteristics of the envelope are planetary constraints in the sense that they condition everything that exists in the envelope. For something to come into existence in the envelope, it must meet the minimum condition that its characteristics do not contradict characteristics of the envelope in any major ways. For something to persist in the envelope, it must meet the further condition that it is flexible with respect to the characteristic changes of the envelope (cf. Goodwin 209; Holland (1998) 183-4). For something to reproduce in the envelope, it must meet the final condition that its offspring can survive relative to the characteristics and the typical changes of the envelope. As Cowan and Pines state, “Persistence of the phenotype rather than achievement of arbitrarily defined optimality in a hypothetically stable environment is the most realistic measure of success.” (711)

Another way to engage this topic is to reconsider the assertion made by many complexity theorists that life occurs in a realm of complexity poised between chaos and order (Kauffman 29-31 (1993), Lewin 57-62, Waldrop 222-235). In a summary of this view, Kauffman states:

…we found evidence that parallel-processing, nonlinear, dynamical systems…crystallize order….we found evidence that a phase transition occurs between frozen ‘solid’ and chaotic ‘gas’ behaviors. Between these two extremes lies a ‘liquid’ region with nearly melted frozen components, poised at the edge of chaos. Such systems appear able to carry out the most complex computations and yet may harbor sufficiently ordered fitness landscapes that the systems are able to evolve well….we shall uncover evidence that natural selection, in a selective metadynamics, may drive coevolutionary systems to a liquid state poised on the edge of chaos. At present, it is an attractive hypothesis that complex coevolving systems ultimately tend to a state in which each system internally is poised at the edge of chaos and that all such systems may coevolve to the edge of chaos as an ‘ecosystem.’ (237)

In my view, this hypothesis has strengths and weaknesses. It has several strengths. First, it converges with the view being presented here in rejecting miraculous or accidental views of life’s origin. As Kauffman states it, life is “an expected, emergent, collective property of complex systems….” (287 (1993)) The edge of chaos hypothesis also brings the idea of simultaneous events, in parallel-processing networks, into evolutionary theory and makes the idea of nonlinearity explicit in conceptualizing evolution. Certainly, causal chains in natural systems continually interact. They do not simply line up and wait to add one to the other.

Neither the sunlight, the falling water, nor the observer is the rainbow. But when they all are and interact, there is a rainbow. A rainbow emerges with (and) in the interaction. Thus, the hypothesis foregrounds dynamics as a central part of our understanding and with it the idea of emergence, which is also required by nonlinearity. The extension of the edge of chaos hypothesis to evolutionary biology also allows us to consider one of the main contentions of this paper, that, “*s+ome of the sources of order lie outside selection.” (Kauffman 408, italics in original (1993))

The final strength of the edge of chaos hypothesis that I want to note here is the inclusion of the idea of computation as an organic process. Once we free the idea of information from the spoken and written word, we can understand that the “form(ing)” in “information” is the effect of information on whatever receives it. We may say that when the photon strikes the electron, it informs the electron of a transformation in which both are involved and that may be measured in terms of either velocity or location. Likewise, when the photon strikes the chloroplast, it informs the carbon dioxide and water of a transformation in which all three are involved and that may be measured in terms of plant growth and release of oxygen to the ambient air.

The hypothesis also has weaknesses. I note, first, the need for a more precise definition of the key phrase “edge of chaos.” (Mitchell 511) Second, the statistical mechanics of phase transitions in inorganic matter can go only so far in modeling life. The limitation of such a “purely probabilistic approach” consists at least in part of its exclusion of the geometrical and topological aspects of dynamical systems. (Mitchell 498) In order to appreciate the simultaneous, nonlinear and emergent aspects of life, we must step out of the imagery of statistics and mechanics. When we do so, we see the next and most important weakness of the edge of chaos hypothesis: life does not occur on an edge of chaos. Life is order between orders. Life is not order between order and chaos. The seared, sunlit surface of Mercury is not chaos, it is a kind of order. The icy, gaseous atmosphere of Saturn is not chaos, it is a kind of order. The surfaces of both planets are gravitationally constrained by the masses of which they are the surfaces and they are likewise constrained by the presence and absence of solar radiation. Both surfaces exhibit long-term stability in the presence of perturbations and both surfaces have strong exclusionary boundaries with respect to forms that matter can take on them. Thus, neither surface can be adequately described by the technical dynamics of chaos.

Also, as far as we can tell, neither the sun-drenched surface of Mercury nor the sun-starved surface of Saturn can support life as we know it. Likewise, the parched sands of the central Sahara and the deep ice of central Antarctica are not chaos. They are both kinds of order on the earth’s surface. But their combination of solar radiation, moisture and soil supports very little life.

Our challenge is to understand and explain the origin of life on earth. The edge of chaos hypothesis is inaccurate with respect to the constraints of life on earth. Living organisms as we know them can survive temperatures above and below their normal range, presence and absence of solar radiation above and below their normal range, and aridity and humidity above and below their normal range. As long as none of those extreme conditions lasts too long, the organisms can survive. But extreme physical conditions such as the high temperatures on the solar side of Mercury, or the low temperatures on the dark side of the moon, do not need to be characterized, either metaphorically or technically, as chaos. They are simply different kinds of order. But they are kinds of physical order that do not support life as we know it in earth’s envelope. Again, life is a phase of order between the extreme compression of earth’s interior and the extreme decompression of outer space. Above and below are abiotic regimes. Molten lava from below and ultraviolet light from above both interfere with living matter to the point of destroying it. But molten lava and ultraviolet light are not necessarily chaotic regimes. They can be understood as orderly regimes that do not support life.

The evolution to the edge of chaos hypothesis also begs some important questions. One nexus of these questions is the relationship between computer simulations and natural processes. The frequency with which computer simulations generate three or four types of order (Kaufmann 191-94, 214-21, 255-61 (1993); Hubler 346-7; Ray 176; Waldrop 224-35), among which is chaos, as a technical mathematical phenomenon, has interesting implications. It does seem to be the case that there are special properties of mathematical systems, of binary mathematical systems, and of binary mathematical systems in a computer as an electromechanical environment or medium. Under repetition and variation, these systems or programs do produce mathematically distinguishable regimes, one of which is chaos. From the rich fractality of the Mandelbrot set (Mandelbrot 180-89; Gleick 83-118) to the tenacious universality of the Feigenbaum number (Gleick 171-81; Hao 19-27, 160-87), numbers, whether single integers or digital strings, are made to work on themselves. When their own products are fed back into their own processes, orders repeat and vary. This fact suggests that feedback drives the coupling of repetition and variation, or, that feedback is necessary for repetition and variation to happen together, that is, for reproduction. It is not clear, though, that chaos technically defined can be shown to exist in non-experimentally controlled natural processes (Cornberg; Holland (1994) 317; Kauffman (2) 149-51; Kiel 284-5) or that the feedback in computer computations and simulations is the same as that in natural processes (Kaufmann 286 (1993); Lewin 79-83). Because of the ambiguity of the fit of computer simulations to natural processes, we must continue “to look at nature” (Crutchfield 631) as directly as possible.

We may consider early existents in the envelope such as clouds, rainbows and volcanoes. All of them meet the minimum condition that their characteristics do not contradict characteristics of the envelope in any major ways. For example, all of them require terrestrial gravitation for their existence. All of them require a specific atmosphere, especially one with water vapor, for condensation and precipitation, and oxygen, for the oxidation involved in the burning of lava.

Clouds and rainbows, moreover, require solar radiation for evaporation and refraction. However, none of them is flexible with respect to characteristic changes of the envelope. Wind driven by Coriolis force or by convection can disperse clouds. Solar radiation can re-evaporate the moisture of clouds thus ending the existence of particular clouds and particular rainbows.

Tectonic movements can end the existence of particular volcanoes and terrestrial rotation and inclination can change prevailing local temperatures so that the fiery life of particular lava flows comes to an end.

Living things demonstrate existence, persistence and reproduction. The history of life is replete with life forms that quickly bloomed and as quickly withered. They persisted for some generations then perished in the contradictions between their characteristics and those of the envelope. Unrecorded in the fossil record, though, are those momentary existences that were live-births but had features that unsuited them even for an average life span. Besides those that appeared and persisted then perished and those that appeared, existed briefly then perished, are those that existed, persisted and reproduced. We visit some of the latter by way of preparing to take up again the question of the emergence of feedback.

Eyes, Stomachs and Foliage

In order to understand complexity in biological phenomena, we need to overcome hypostatization of selection. Even the most innovative and critical thinkers in biology tend to treat selection as an irreducible atom of explanation. For example, Kauffman states:

The balance between the self-organized properties typical in the ensemble and selection then depends upon the extent to which selection can move the population cloud to parts of the ensemble which no longer exhibit the typical order. (16 (1993))

…if selection can only slightly displace evolutionary systems from the generic properties of the underlying ensembles, those properties will be widespread in organisms not because of selection, but despite it. (24; italics in original (1993))

Selection, in a kind of selective metadynamics and as if by an invisible hand, may act on individual members of a species to alter the statistical structure of their fitness landscapes and the richness of their couplings to other partners so as to attain ecosystems poised at the phase transition between order and chaos. (280 (1993))

Let us not give up explanation to invisible forces. Let us suppose that, for the purposes of explaining the origin of life and its subsequent development, we must deal with energy and its various forms and combinations. In the universe, there is one kind of thing that comes into existence, does not transform other energy for its own persistence and does not reproduce. There is another kind of thing that comes into existence, does transform other energy for its own persistence and does reproduce. The second kind of thing is living matter. Wherever there is living matter, there is transformation. Wherever there is transformation, there is selection.

Selection is not an invisible hand; it is not a conscious choice; it is not a force in non-living matter; and, it is not a divine intervention. It is differential action, whether the difference is the drowning of weaker caribou when the river is high, or rejection of mutated molecules by a membrane, or efflorescence of intestinal bacteria when a change in ph occurs.

Once we view the envelope as a complex intersection and interaction of constraints (cf. Kauffman's “ensemble theory,” 462-5 (1993)), then set it in motion as the earth actually moves, existence, persistence and reproduction are inevitable. Selection then appears not as a discriminating force intervening somehow from a site external to the envelope, nor as an agency of choice, no matter how non-anthropomorphic, that discriminates among possibilities. It appears as an emergent property of living matter.

More broadly, mutation, drift and (differential individual) survival interact to select the traits of living matter that persist and reproduce. Selection is not an effect of a fitness function external to the dynamics of living matter (Gell-Mann 44). Selection is an emergent property/process/result of the dynamics. And why not? Selection is a feedback process that continually adjusts organic processes on all scales. Selection is life dealing with itself. But this happens only because there are constraints that are effective across morphogenetic variations and morphogenetic variations that are effective across fluctuations in constraint action. We see repetition and variation tightly interacting throughout the biosphere. Constraints require repetition. Or, repetition requires repetition. Variation requires variation. In this sense of life as tautology, life mirrors the structure of its constraints and varies the reflections across spatiotemporal scales of existence, persistence and reproduction. Kauffman states:

There are good grounds to think that, when a variety of different developmental mechanisms are integrated into a compound mechanism, the integrated mechanism will constrain the morphologies which emerge to a small subset, each of which occupies a large volume of state space and parameter space. Rather than causing complexity, integration of developmental mechanisms may generically yield simplicity and order. (637; italics in original (1993))

We can elucidate the action of planetary constraints on the morphogenetic space of the envelope, earth’s biosphere, by considering eyes, stomachs and green plants. Whether we look at birds, fish, insects, reptiles or mammals, we see that their eyes tend to be on the side of the body that is closest to the sun. In the same species, stomachs tend to be on the side of the body that is closest to the center of the earth. The higher location of eyes accommodates the organism to the most important source of light and a frequent location of dangerous falling objects and of approaching predators. The lower location of stomachs accommodates the organism to the strongest local source of gravity that establishes the orientation for greatest stability of everything on earth.

Since adaptation traditionally takes particular environments, or niches, as units of evolutionary explanation, it makes no sense to characterize the locations of eyes and stomachs as successful adaptations. Since adaptation traditionally refers to morphogenetic developments in particular species, rather than across all the genera of living things, it makes little sense to characterize those locations as adaptations. The locations of eyes and stomachs are rather like the dependence of all living things on water, air, and sunlight: water, air and sunlight were preexisting conditions of the environment in which life first appeared. Organisms did not adapt to the existence of water and air any more than they adapted to the existence of solar radiation and terrestrial gravitation. The first organisms appeared in the complex fields of force and possibility constituted by those conditions. The first phases of living matter had to mirror those conditions in order to exist. Those phases had to accommodate the constant changes in those conditions in order to persist. The first phases of life had to incorporate, transform and discriminate those conditions as helpful or harmful in order to reproduce.

It seems to make more sense to characterize the relationship between early life and planetary constraints as accommodation. Life imitates nature. Living matter is a far from equilibrium system so it cannot be completely described or predicted by thermodynamic theories. Living matter is not composed of logically related symbolic quantities so it cannot be completely described or predicted by mathematical theories. Living matter is not composed of discrete, electromechanical bits so it cannot be completely described or predicted by computer simulations. Living matter is not composed of morphologically constrained phonemes so it cannot be completely described or predicted by natural languages. Living matter is better understood as a continuous system (Cowan 633) that uses earth’s basic substantial orders— solid, fluid, gas, fire (electricity) and metal (mineral)—organizing them into processes that are not solely governed by the specific parameters of any of those orders. Life imitates nature but does not copy it. Life repeats nature and varies it.

When we look at foliage, we see striking similarities among all organisms that root in the earth and grow perpendicularly to the earth’s surface. The two most pertinent similarities for this discussion, apart from the accommodation to a specific atmosphere, specific moisture types and availability, and specific soil types, are the structural features of trunk and leaves. Green things show larger, heavier, denser parts closer to the center of the earth and smaller, lighter, finer parts closer to the sun. Terrestrial stability follows from the denser part and terrestrial persistence as well as reproduction follows from the finer parts. It again makes no sense to characterize these structural features as adaptations in a traditional sense. Rather, the constraints of terrestrial surface and gravitation and of solar location and radiation seem to have acted upon living matter in a strongly formative manner.

We may venture somewhat broader generalizations about eyes, stomachs and foliage. Anything that wants to swim, crawl or fly parallel to the earth’s surface must accommodate the sun and the earth by having eyes closer to the sun and stomachs closer to the earth. Anything that wants to grow perpendicularly to the earth’s surface and in a direction opposite to the center of the earth must be thicker, heavier and denser closer to the earth and thinner, lighter and finer closer to the sun. If we consider the envelope as the morphogenetic space for all of life on earth, then the planetary constraints of solar radiation and terrestrial gravitation are structural forms of the envelope to which living matter must conform from the beginning. We distinguish such original conformation from traditional adaptation by recoding the former as accommodation. We can provisionally distinguish between accommodation and adaptation. Accommodation relates more to function than to survival while adaptation relates more to survival than to function.

We may understand other organic traits as accommodations. For example, all flying things have body parts that cleave the air more or less horizontally, that is, parallel to the earth's surface. Since there is no question of linking bee, bat and seagull diachronically, their similar body parts must be seen as accommodations to the constraint of air. Similarly, all swimming organisms have body parts that pull and push the ambient water in a direction roughly opposite to the organism's direction of motion. Since there is no question of linking alligator, shrimp and whale diachronically, these body parts must be seen as accommodations to the constraint of water.

Finally, we may ask, Why do so many living things have symmetrical body parts? The original morphogenetic answer would seem to be that bodily symmetry is an accommodation to terrestrial gravity. Gravity works on all terrestrial objects constantly and completely. If an object is denser in one part than in another, that part will move toward the center of the earth more easily than the less dense part. Such movement destabilizes the object. The object falls, tips or wobbles. For a living organism, such destabilization costs energy to correct and diverts attention from activities such as feeding, mating and protection. Destabilization uses energy and creates danger. Bodily symmetry relative to the center of the earth would seem to provide a basic physical stability that would be of great value for persistence and reproduction. In what is perhaps the most compressed and elegant example of these ideas, the structural symmetry of trees maximizes exposure to solar radiation and maximizes stability in relation to terrestrial gravitation. This viewpoint may help us to understand why redwood trees, rather than some bird or mammal, are the largest living things on earth.

There is no doubt that in considering these traits or characteristics as accommodations, we are dealing with many different kinds of feedback systems. Feedback as a process of something responding to its own condition with changes in the condition’s components that it controls, is characteristic of all living matter. As a universal characteristic of living matter, feedback is not the result of selection. Rather, like the use of air, water and minerals by all living matter, which is a result of planetary constraints on surface existence, it is an accommodation like eyes on the top and stomachs on the bottom. Feedback is also necessary for reproduction. The reproductive cycles of plants and animals depend partly on organism response to change in environmental conditions, such as increased darkness, increased light, increased cold or heat, increased moisture or moonlight, etc. These reproductive cycles also depend partly on changes in the organism to which the organism responds by changing color, shape or scent, by seeking a mate, nest-building, burrowing, etc. Feedback is a necessary process for the reproduction that distinguishes living matter from other kinds of matter. Various sciences have established the existence of many feedback loops in the biosphere (e.g. Gleick 61-5 [population biology], 167-70 [meteorology], 278-80 [ecology]; Kauffman 11-12 [molecular]) . These loops act as causal chains that move various kinds of matter/energy from one connectivity to another connectivity in which various kinds of responses to that incoming energy alter some aspect of the incoming energy and the connectivity in which that energy originated. Our questions then become, How did feedback become part of living matter? Or, How did feedback become able to reproduce? And, if feedback is a result of matter accommodating surface constraints until a new form emerged, how might that emergence have taken place? We go into the sun and the shower in the next section to explore these questions.

In the Shower, In the Sun

Of particular importance for a discussion of the origin of life is the use of energy. Using energy requires transformation. Water and wind power are both transformed into motive power and electrical power. Food energy is transformed into functional power for cells. Light energy is transformed into informational power through telescopy and photography. And electrical energy is transformed into many kinds of power and information, such as in computers. We may decompose the notion of energy into two parts, power and information. Whenever a living thing uses energy, it decomposes and transforms energy into these two parts. Living things use some part of solar radiation as power for growth. Living things use some part of radiation as information, especially for vision or other kinds of light-sensitive processes.

Some examples may help us to understand the decomposition of energy and its transformation into information and power. When we take a shower, we turn on the water and wait for it to reach a certain temperature. We gauge the comfort of the temperature by feeling the water with our hand. We use the thermal energy of the water as information for adjusting the mixture of cold and hot water. Once the temperature is right, we step into the water. We then shift our attention from the thermal energy of the water as information and use the energy of the water for its power of cleansing. When we go to sunbathe, we use the radiant energy of the sun as information about location and intensity. Depending on the kind of exposure to the sun we want, we choose a particular location and prepare our exposure with certain types of clothing, shading devices and sun screen. Once we have completed our preparation, we shift our attention to the sun’s energy as power to tan us.

In both situations, we decompose thermal, hydro and solar energy into two parts, information and power. When we decompose energy, we increase available and accessible information and power. We cannot gain more information without this decomposition, and we cannot gain more power without this decomposition. To gain more information, we must have and use more power. To gain more power, we must have and use more information. We may assert that there is a direct relationship between increase in information and increase in power and between increase in power and increase in information. The history of the experimental sciences shows this relationship, for example, in the increased use of electricity for the production of scientific knowledge. The increase in scientific knowledge has increased our capacity to produce electricity, such as through nuclear fission. The consequence of decomposition for the history of ideas is also worth noting. The fact that the decomposition is hardwired in the human species explains both the existence of the truth and power problem in human affairs and the absence of any final solution to that problem in religion, philosophy or science. In the recent intellectual history of complexity theory, the decomposition of energy into information and power is nicely reflected in Wolfram’s “Principle of Computational Equivalence…: that all processes, whether they are produced by human effort or occur spontaneously in nature, can be viewed as computations.” (715)

The decomposition of energy into power and information is thus a necessary step in feedback. That is, some aspect of the energy in a situation must be able to connect with the origin of the same energy in a way that changes that energy. In a thermostat, for example, the heat from the furnace changes the ambient air temperature which in turn changes the position of an element that in turn alters an electric current that turns the furnace on or off. The entire system of furnace, circuit and thermostat, however, cannot change its behavior beyond its preset limitations. It can use feedback to operate but it cannot use feedback to learn. Learning results when feedback transforms “a complex system into a complex adaptive system” (Johnson 139).

In a cas, a combination of positive and “negative feedback entails comparing the current state of a system to the desired state, and pushing the system in a direction that minimizes the difference between the two states” (Ibid. 140). The comparison of current state with desired state requires a process of taking something from the situation then using it to orient further action in the situation. A lion tracking a zebra may see the zebra walking towards it then running away from it. In either case, the lion uses sensory abstraction from the situation to orient its further action. It takes information to orient its use of power: information orients power. The organism perceives, chooses and adjusts. The decomposition of energy into power and information is thus necessary for choice as an ability to reorient the use of power. The lion reorients from crouching in the grass, waiting for the zebra to walk to it, to running after the zebra to catch up with it. By acting on its choices, the lion learns.

From the relatively simple software of Jefferson and Taylor’s Tracker (Johnson 59-63), to the most refined changes in interpersonal relationships, feedback is necessary for learning. Learning allows “more successful programs *or strategies or organisms+ to emerge.” (Ibid. 62) We measure the success of the organisms by their repetition through reproduction. We can understand that many kinds of feedback existed in the growing envelope during the millions of years of earth’s existence before life emerged. But we don’t understand yet how matter developed the ability to use feedback for learning, contained the feedback within a molecule, a cell, an organ, or a skin and reproduced that container with the feedback in it. We may further conceptualize the decomposition of energy through the lens of the origin of life theory that RNA once served as “both bearer of information and as agent of chemical activity, before the appearance of organisms exhibiting separate genotype and phenotype.” (Gell-Mann 19) The genotype would be the materialization of information and the phenotype would be the materialization of power. In RNA molecules, the phenotype and genotype “are not conceptually identified, because the genotype is the information in that thing—RNA, or a bit string, or whatever—and the phenotype is its activity in acting as an instruction.” (Gell-Mann in Cowan 664 (1994a)) And, as Cowan and Pines state, “The organism which houses the genotype, provides energy to extract, process, and generate information, and transmits its heritage to future generations, is the phenotype.” (710) Once we connect information and power with genotype and phenotype, or with “germ line and…somatic cells” (Smith 466), we may take a further step into standard biological terminology by using John Maynard Smith’s distinction between “metabolism and information” (468) in which metabolism represents power and information represents itself:

When you go through your major features of evolution, it seems to me that, of the advances in metabolism and phenotypic organization, some are advances and changes in the way that information is organized and processed. There’s one other thing that fits in here: there’s something interesting that goes on when you get to each new level that has both metabolism and information. There’s a sort of feeding in of both of them, but when you have these little units, like individuals, you tend to have specialization of what I would call metabolism. That’s what these things do but they share the information and yet they don’t precisely share the information. (Ibid.)

We proposed before that life could be understood as a tautology of repetition and variation. That is, repetition requires variation and variation requires repetition. Repetition and variation are everywhere in the universe and everywhere on earth. Everything that exists, except living matter, does not control the repetition and variation of its own existence. Every non-living thing is created and varied by forces that are distinct from the thing. We may ask, How did matter come to be able to control its own repetition and variation? We may assert that such control is impossible without feedback. We may assert that feedback is impossible in living matter without some degree of decomposition of energy into information and power. We may then ask again, How did matter become capable of feedback and how did feedback become capable of reproduction? In the answer to this question is the understanding of how matter became capable of containing a feedback process that reproduces itself.

In the early envelope, there must have been a physical mechanism that guided matter into feedback loops. How might that mechanism have worked? In our first thought experiment, we considered the surface of a body of water going through earth‟s planetary motions. We summarized the dynamic combination of those motions as a branching, layered spiral wave. The branching of the wave carries out repetition and variation in one dimension. The layering of the wave, which is also folding, carries out repetition and variation in another dimension. Both branching and layering are ways of comprising many different kinds of spiral motions. Thus, the surface of the water, as well as everything in it, is simultaneously involved in spirals within spirals within spirals. These motions are constant conditions of everything in the envelope, with the addition of motions such as inter-polar air circulation, Coriolis force, gyres, currents, countercurrents and Eckman spirals, which emerged with a thicker atmosphere and deeper oceans. In a another section, we considered the idea of physical characteristics of organisms as accommodations to constraints of the envelope rather than as adaptations of species to particular environments.

Now we are focusing on the transition between matter and living matter by way of the emergence of feedback as reproduction. A spiral is a system of repetition and variation. Whether its diameter increases, decreases or remains the same through time, it repeats and varies a dynamic orientation in space that creates a coherent structure. A spiral as a dynamic entity that increases spatiotemporally, does so by reproducing itself. A spiral is porous without disconnection so regardless of the direction in which a fluid such as water might flow through it, the spiral can orient itself to the flow without losing its shape. The spirals through which the body of water goes in our mental simulation repeat and vary in multiple reproductions. Bodies such as earth, moon and sun repeat the same motions within ranges of variation that can be described in terms of a branching, layered spiral wave, that is, spirals within spirals within spirals. The same description captures dynamics of other terrestrial phenomena such as low pressure areas, hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes, ocean currents and countercurrents, Eckman spirals and Langmuir circulation. Or, we may look at the spirals as folds in a continuous substance. We may then observe that everything that lasts on earth folds in some way at some time, whether it is rock, water or air. The fold may then be seen as the way in which denser terrestrial matter accommodates the ubiquity of spirals in terrestrial dynamics. Since DNA is ubiquitous in living matter, it seems reasonable to consider the shape of DNA as an accommodation rather than as an adaptation. We could then consider the DNA helix as an accommodation of early living matter to the spiral as one of the most common, pervasive and constant dynamics of the envelope. A porous, flexible spiral would seem to be able to exist and persist through any but the most extreme changes, such as ph or temperature, in a liquid environment, anaerobic or aerobic. But how would a spiral become a feedback system and how would it become able to reproduce itself?

We may consider folding and breaking of a self-similar structure as the original form of selfreproduction. Everything on or near the surface of the earth folds, whether it is igneous rock, ocean waves or cumulus clouds. Compression causes folding. We may consider the earth, from the outer edges of the atmosphere to the fiery core, as a gradient of density and compression.

Earth’s matter becomes more and more dense as it changes form and type from the edge to the core. At the same time, compression on any given particle increases. Thus, regardless of the type of matter, folding becomes more and more frequent until the inner, molten earth can be visualized as a continually mixing and folding of hot, liquid rock. It would be highly unlikely if there were not folding and breaking, or fracturing, in the formation of early matter, including living matter.

We are reasonably certain that on the early earth there were regions in which different kinds of orders met without dominating each other or the entirety of the region. We may suppose that the transition from living matter happened in one of those regions, such as at the edge of a sea or at the edge of a volcanic vent on an ocean floor.

We may consider the proposition that life originates when the decomposition of energy into information and power becomes an organic process. We may view mitosis and meiosis as a rhythm of decomposition and recomposition of electrochemical energy that serves as both information and motive force or power. In an electromechanical environment such as a computer, the electricity that drives the computer serves not only as the motive force or power through its components but also as the substrate of its information functions such as email messages and animated graphics. In fields such as astrophysics and particle physics, scientists have transformed more and more different kinds of energy into either information or power or both. These transformations have increased the complexity of our theories and of our technologies. There does seem to be a rather direct relationship between the elaboration of the decomposition of energy into information and power and the development of complexity.

Indeed, we may assert that computational capacity in living organisms is the capacity to decompose energy into power and information. This assertion allows us to reconsider the controversy in evolutionary theory about the biological development of complexity.

Change and No Change

We may open this reflection with two quotations about the emergent organization of living systems:

…living systems are machines, all right, but machines with a very different kind of organization from the ones we’re used to. Instead of being designed from the top down, the way a human engineer would do it, living systems always seem to emerge from the bottom up, from a population of simpler systems. (Waldrop 278)

[According to Langton], “The most surprising lesson we have learned from simulating complex physical systems on computers is that complex behavior need not have complex roots…. Indeed, tremendously interesting and beguiling complex behavior can emerge from collections of extremely simple components. (Waldrop 279, italics in original)

There seems to be a persistent confusion about the technology associated with these kinds of statements. We know that the single most powerful force in the existence of every living thing on the surface of the earth is solar radiation. After solar radiation, there are such morphogenetic constraints as have already been described, such as gravity, atmosphere, moisture, etc. The single most powerful force in a computer is electricity. Are we to suppose that the effects of electricity in its environment are the same as, or closely similar to, the effects of solar radiation in its environment? In computer simulation, what simulates the constant and omnipresent influence of terrestrial and lunar gravitational fields? What simulates the alternation of day and night, of seasons, with their fluctuations of light, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure?

What simulates space, whether the space is conceived along Newtonian or Einsteinian lines? Of course we can enter into a computer simulation having left out of account such planetary conditions. Of course, then, we would get complicated behavior from simple components. This is as obvious a result as the fact that so many different particular chess games can be played with the same pieces, the same board, by the same two people using the same rules. Or, it is as obvious as the fact that with the same deck, using the same rules, the same player, with or without shuffling of cards, can generate so many different configurations of solitaire. But it is not obvious that this kind of development of diversity has happened in the origin and development of life. It also seems odd that anyone would regard either the simultaneous combination of these conditions or the behavior of anything on the earth's surface simultaneously involved in these conditions as simple.

The biological data most relevant to this issue can be easily summarized:

„Look, forty thousand species of vertebrates, right? About twenty-five thousand are fishes…no trends there. So, you start with 55 to 60 percent of vertebrates with no trend to bigger brains. Then you have eight thousand species of birds…again no trend to bigger brains since their origin. Six thousand species of mammals, a fraction of all vertebrates, and, yes, you do see trends in some groups." (Stephen Jay Gould, in, Lewin 145)

As John Maynard Smith states,

The theory of evolution does not…predict that things should get more complicated….Further, empirically, many organisms not only do not get more complicated, but do not change at all with time: crocodiles today are not greatly different from crocodiles in the Jurassic. So the fossil record shows that organisms do not necessarily change with time, let alone become more complicated. (457)

…the vast majority of evolutionary lineages do not get complicated. (469)

When the presence of larger and more complex neurophysiological systems is seen in the context of all species, the picture of evolution changes. There does not seem to be an “arrow of change” (Norman Packard, in Lewin 139) in evolution but in the development of a small number of species. Smith states that “There's no intrinsic drive to get more complicated.” (469)

Rather than progress, the small stream of complexity seems to be a compensation. Primates, and especially humanoid ones, including homo sapiens, without teeth, claws, poison, camouflage, speed or strength, depended on manual skills and the ability to solve problems and forecast possible events. The conditions, or constraints, of the primate/humanoid/human niche, favored manual dexterity for tool making and reasoning for creating effective strategies. My viewpoint does not clearly imply any kind of progress in evolution. If life is a consequence of morphogenetic constraints and if the morphogenetic constraints are stable relative to evolution, then there does not seem to be any obvious dimension in which progress could take place. Incorporation takes place; accommodation takes place, and adaptation takes place. But the idea that there is some kind of evolutionary dimension that is not finite, upon which a capacity such as neural processing could evolve without limit, finds no support here.

My viewpoint also does not include the frequent insistence of some complexity theorists that “living systems always seem to emerge from the bottom up” (Waldrop 278), or that “in self-organizing systems, orderly patterns emerge out of lower-level randomness” (Resnick 14). When viewing the envelope as a complex system of interacting constraints, the conceptual division of origins or causes into above and below, or top-down and bottom-up, is unnecessary and irrelevant.

We may grant that there is a small arrow of change in the limited stream of mammalian, primate, humanoid and human evolution. But if the arrow is consistent with physics, then the increase in computational power is an increase in entropy. It is irreversible and it is an increase in disorder.
We may consider human civilization as a materialization of the increase in the neurological complexity of the human brain. Human civilization as a complex process of resource use and refuse has increased disorder in nature and in the niches of many different species other than human beings. We may consider the destruction of the biosphere as an emergent property of our disorder. We may also consider the various kinds of crises, such as starvation, epidemic diseases, homelessness, chronic poverty, chronic violence, increased cancer rates due to ozone loss and pollution and extinction of species, as emergent properties of collapse of complexity in Tainter's sense: “a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.” (4; italics in original) Global warming, that is, destruction of ozone, increase of UV radiation to earth's surface and the diminishing of CO2/O2 cycles, is part of that disorder and destruction. When we violate the constraints that create life on earth, we create the conditions to destroy life on earth.



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How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality
by Per Bak

In print, at least, what might seem arrogant comes across as a kind of innocent, childlike enthusiasm, a lack of concern for anything but the sheer joy of figuring things out. His ruthless simplifications of geology, evolution, and neurology pay off because, as Bak notes, his models describe behavior that is common across these domains. This universality means that trampling across others' turf is not only acceptable, but almost mandatory, if the underlying principles are to be exposed. Finally, for the most part, Bak wants the reader to grasp the basic logic of his arguments; only rarely does he try to persuade with flights of poetic language or brute intellectual authority.

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Waldrop presents his narrative of the "science of complexity in high screenplay style, offering a cast of five main characters. In general, he makes the emerging nature of complexity theory accessible to the general reader. He dissipates his advantage, however, in order to depict the personalities of the scientists he discusses, using at least three of them-Stuart Kauffman, Brian Arthur and Chris Langton-to act as interdisciplinary infielders of sorts, who relay the theory itself through a long subplot on structuring and funding the Santa Fe Institute in the 1970s. Complexity theory most likely will receive other, more rigorous examinations than Waldrop's, but he provides a good grounding of what may indeed be the first flowering of a new science.

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Popular Authors dealing with alternative theories, esoteric subjects, mysticism, alchemy, aliens, Atlantis, ancient astronauts, parapsychology: 
David Cornmberg. This essay explores power, information and complexity in relation to the origin of life on earth.
The origin of life requires decomposition of energy into power and information because such decomposition is necessary for feedback.