Thoughts on Observation, Complexity, and Evolution

What people say they do and what they actually do are usually quite different. They may mean they do what they say, but it may not reflect our expectations of what we typically associate with the representative behavior. There is no ideal, no perfect standard. You may ask someone to “throw a ball”, but his or her idea of throwing a ball is probably different that your idea. Whether or not they are the same depends, of course, on whether you share the same sphere of socialization. Does “throw a ball” mean to throw underhand, overhand, or side-armed? Lob, toss, or beam? And even then the behavior or mechanics of throwing the ball will be dictated or constrained by the conditions at hand. This may depend on the type of ball, the person’s location throwing the ball, the location where the ball will be thrown, the weather or atmosphere, and the like.

Observation is paramount. We exist in the same world that has existed for millenia. Nothing has changed save our perceptions of it. Euclid and Pythagoras and Aristotle and  Newton and Laplace and all the other great thinkers who walked this earth stood upon the same ground and cast their eyes upon the same sky and grappled with the same minutia as we do today.

How can we verbalize relationships that exist within the scope of a previously undefined context? Euclid accomplished this feat in the domain of geometry by elucidating sequential definitions, postulates, and propositions. We must transpose relationships from one context to another through the use of analogies and similarly, but to a lesser extent due to the ambiguity of the term, metaphors.

I was reading Newton’s Principia earlier today when I came upon his description of Definition 3, which discusses the inherent force of matter, and I noticed a particularly fascinating point that I overlooked before. He ended his description with the following sentence: “Resistance is commonly attributed to resting bodies and impetus to moving bodies; but motion and rest, in the popular sense of the terms, are distinguished from each other only by point of view, and bodies commonly regarded as being at rest are not always truly at rest.”

What Newton was describing is relativity. Einstein elaborated on this “minor” detail using the Cartesian system of coordinates which allowed him to create independent frames of reference for each body at rest or in motion; that is, Einstein utilized reference bodies or system-coordinates for transposing the spatial location of a body’s position as it relates to another rigid body. In this way spatial location could be abstracted so that bodies were no longer  bound to a single frame of reference anchored to rigid bodies. This provided a means of calculating the relationship of two bodies in motion relative to each other without issuing a single fixed frame of reference.

Genius really. But that’s just the start. However, I don’t feel the urge to elaborate on this point.

My main interest is explanatory power, a kind of prophetic insight gained by understanding. Isn’t that what all knowledge and wisdom is? Not simply utility in the moment, but long term, enduring utility. Data changes. Wisdom endures.

If we look at the “data, information, knowledge, wisdom” hierarchy, we can see that at the base there is maximum flux and at the peak there is maximum staticity.


This image can act as a loose analogy for what happens during the evolution or devolution of both consciousness and physical phenomena. Where these two meet in synthesis is biology or neurobiology. How does a mind grasp the world? By grasping itself.

I want to understand how evolution occurs, or more exactly, how self-organizing systems or emergent complexity arises. If we can crack this code, I feel that one can understand and unlock secrets of the universe.

The question is: how can we predict the future? Is the solution for this question the same as the theory of everything? Observation is paramount. But the question is, how reliable are our instruments of observation? When Galileo looked through his first primitive telescopes, he observed distortions in the stars. The problem was that his telescope wasn’t properly collimated; that is, the instrument wasn’t adjusted and fine tuned to the precision necessary to render accurate inferences for observation.

What is important isn’t just what we’re observing, but where we are observing, the scope and details, and when we’re observing. Of course there is the how we are observing as well, whether it is direct or indirect observation or is through a single sense or multiple senses.  Context is all important for synthesis, and synthesis is the essence of understanding, serving as the impetus of order. The greater the context, the greater the magnitude of synthesis. The greater the whole, the greater number of parts contained within and relationships shared among.

How do we define life? Perhaps life is a replicating adaptive organism that exhibits a degree of micro complexity. Life is chemistry, a continual reaction. But what is an organism? A body. But how do we delineate the body?

Is life defined by the software or hardware? The replication of information or simply the physcial arrangement. Is there a difference? Can one exist without the other?

There is no what it’s like. It is all associated senses to thought.

The earth is a closed system. Energy is entering the system, from the sun, but does not escape at the same rate. Evolution increases, i.e. complexity increases and organisms proliferate. DNA becomes more complex throughout time. Is complexity order or disorder? Are complexity and disorder inversely related?

How does evolution take place? Are we getting more complex or less complex?

The central question is this: What causes evolution? or rather, what causes matter to organize into greater and greater complexity, complexity that allows for incredible specialization, but at what cost? Are specialization and adaptability inversely related to durability?

It would seem that the simplest organisms are most durable, with micro-organisms like bacteria and cynobacteria possessing the most hardy history of endurance. But what of humans, or homos? We’ve been around for only a few hundred thousand years. Yet, we are incredibly complex and incredibly adaptable. What do we have in common with out biological ancestors, bacteria?

What role does energy play in this whole theater of evolution? And what of values? It would seem that values determine and dictate demand. Values act as an impetus of human activity, and they don’t even seem entirely necessary for survival. Why do some people die for their values, like martyrs? Is there a social utility, a species utility, where one individual acts on behalf of the collective in a form of self-sacrifice for the sake of a greater evolutionary advantage?

Values are intriguing. They cause humans to self-organize into groups, into organization, into institutions, into markets. Economics seeks to track and map this activity to prevent scarcity that would otherwise jeopardize the cohesive organization of the whole.

Is there a method for predicting values? For predicting behavior? Is change too great an unknown to surmount with inference, even with infinite data and information? Given the rise of computers, I have to wonder what our capacity will be to accurately accommodate the entire spectrum of influence acting in a given context and accurately forecast long term outcomes.

More thoughts later.

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