Category Archives: evolution

Combogenesis and Alphakits

Let us calculate!

— Gottfried Leibnitz

I admit it, I’m rather a Utopian.

Perhaps I’ve been thinking all this time that it should be possible to find a reduced set of words, symbols, or even concepts that could serve as a basic core of human expression and being, some kind of fundamental proto-language that might cut across all cultures and yet connect all individuals. Something to undo the “Tower of Babel” and be able to heal all misunderstandings, resolve all disagreements, and find everyone’s common ground. I see now I have fallen down the “perfect language” rabbit-hole.

Of course, along with our imperfect languages we also have to deal with our imperfect thoughts and our imperfect feelings. Not only do we want to hide what we’re really thinking and feeling from others, we want to hide it from ourselves. Is it because we don’t want others to know the weakness and darkness within us, or we don’t want to face those parts of our own identities? Perhaps that is the main problem with language, the ease with which we can lie to both ourselves and others, and our eagerness to accept these lies.

Psychology is supposed to help us understand ourselves better. But before that, there were the Tarot decks, Ouija boards, and the I Chings that were supposed to illuminate our thoughts and actions, and help us perceive, however dimly, a little clearer into the past and future. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that such devices merely bring concepts to the forefront of the conscious mind and allow one to engage in creative and playful thinking. Maybe they tie into the “unconscious”, whatever that really means, and if not, then what is the source of their utility?

In the same vein, there are other instruments purported to aid in the effort to know thyself, such as Astrology and Myers-Briggs. Astrology has also been used for divination and that is its popular and sad ubiquity, that is “your daily horoscope”. Myers-Briggs is popular in the business world to help the managers manage and to resolve conflicts, and takes itself more seriously. In my foolishness, even though I didn’t believe that there was a perfect language lost in antiquity, perhaps I thought I could invent one anew like Ramon Llull or Gottfried Leibnitz!

Does language reveal reality or does it mask it? Can it blend and synthesize different realities or can it shape and create the very reality we inhabit? I’ve been mulling over the idea of what the next combogenetic alphakit might be, after chemical-molecular, biological-genetic, and symbolic-linguistic. Could it be something hyper-linguistic or hyper-cognitive, to serve as a perfect language, melding syntax, semantics, pragmatics? Or could it be something completely different, a blending of mathematics and philosophy?

Or even a new type of computer science? Such studies are still in their infacy, so one hopes for future breakthroughs and grand theories of logical systems and (e)valuations. Could a machine that creates reality from mere thought be the perfect language we seek, one that performatively produces no ambiguity by changing the abstract into the concrete, the inner into the outer? The Krell machine in the movie Forbidden Planet was one such hypothetical device, and showed the folly of a scheme that granted god-like powers to mere mortals.

Possibly better is a system that starts from grounding axioms that are so simple and fundamental that all must agree with their basis, utilizes logics that are so straightforward and rational that all must agree with their validity, demonstrates proofs that are so rigorous that all must agree with their worth, all enabled by overarching schemas that allow the truth of all things to vigorously and irrefutably shine. Even then, humankind might be too weak to suffer the onslaught against its fragile and flawed cogitations.

But O, what a wonderful world it might be.

Further Reading:

Umberto Eco / The Search for the Perfect Language



The Devolution of Trust

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a simple game designed to show how the success or failure of cooperation between individuals can be contingent on various factors, primarily some sort of reward. Shown above is a representative payoff matrix between two players; each square shows the two choices and the two winnings for each. Each player cooperates (A or B) or cheats (A’ or B’) with the other player, so for example if A and B’ obtains (A cooperates but B cheats) then A loses 1 and B wins 3.

Each player knows all the values of the payoff matrix so it is said they have perfect information, except they don’t know what their opponent will do. If they are rational and believe their opponent to be as well, the wisest thing to do is for both to cooperate to maximize their winnings, knowing that their opponent knows that they could also cheat. If the game is played only once, however, that is clearly not the case.

If the game is iterated, things change. If each player remembers what their opponent did previously, and it is considered to be informative for what they might do next, then the player could use it to condition their decision to cooperate or cheat. Different algorithms or personalities can be considered for the players, with more or less thinking about what to do and more or less willingness to cooperate, and it is interesting to try different strategies, all the while seeing what adjustments of the payoff matrix might do to the results.

This Evolution of Trust site is a very nice lesson in some of the complications that can result for such algorithms and adjustments. On the whole, this site indicates that rationality and consideration for others can thrive, if conditions are right. In the traditional Prisoner’s Dilemma, the reward values in the payoff matrix are usually considered to be jail sentence time (so less is better), or for the site mentioned above where I’ve taken the representative matrix, monetary value (so more is better).

One thing of note in these examples is that each player doesn’t distinguish their opponent by anything other than their posteriori plays, because these players are supposed to be all part of the same group or society. But what if there is an a priori distinction that conditions their decision? So, if your opponent is a known Y, and you are a X, then you might want to raise your social credit with your other Xs by punishing a Y, even if it punishes you or even other Xs in the long run.

For example if you are a member of gang X, you wouldn’t want to cheat against another X. But cheating against a member of gang Y might raise your in-group social capital and be as important as the value of the reward. Or you might want to punish your opponent in group Y by not granting them any benefits even at the cost of your own benefit. Such distinctions are not usually part and parcel of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, but they would add an interesting and realistic dimension to the game.

And thus lend insight into the woes of our modern political scene and culturally diverse society.

Further Reading:

[*11.24, *11.172]


Combogenesis and Evolution

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

— Charles Darwin, from The Origin of Species

Another important part of Tyler Volk’s theory of combogenesis that I didn’t mention previously is the role that evolution plays in the dynamical realms of biology and culture. He even illustrates evolution as a three-part braid where the strands are the processes of propagation, variation, and (natural) selection. He argues that these processes are fundamental to an abstract notion of meta-evolution that can be seen working to cause change in both of these different domains.

I don’t think that there is anything controversial in listing these three processes as being essential for biological evolution. Other diagrams and schemas available on-line also mention overproduction or fecundity, or having more off-spring than is strictly needed to continue the population, and heredity or heritability, or the ability to pass on special traits from parents to children.

Overproduction not only allows for greater survival chances for the organism but also gives genetic variation a better chance at producing something beneficial or interesting. This depends on what your chance of variation is, of course, but it seems that it is just a facet of propagation. Likewise, heredity seems like it is also included in propagation, as the continuance of the same or similar attributes to one’s descendants.

I previously proposed that four processes were essential to the workings of evolution: generation, variation, selection, and speciation. Generation is basically another word for propagation, although propagation might more clearly suggest having same or similar dependents, whereas generation just means having descendants. Overproduction can also be combined into either of these aspects if so desired. But I’ll say that (at least in my mind) generation and propagation are roughly the same.

But what about the process of speciation? Is it as fundamental to biological evolution as we see it working on our planet today as the other three processes? Speciation only means the formation of new and distinct species by evolutionary process. So generation, variation, and selection don’t really allow for the “endless forms most beautiful” in the famous quote of Darwin, or do they? Speciation also implies the heritability attribute of evolution, so maybe both generation and speciation subsume the aspect of propagation in most biologists or at least Volk’s mind.

But an important question is, is specification implied by the other three, like three mathematical axioms implying a theorem, or is it independent of them? If you don’t have speciation, don’t you essentially just have one type of organism? Or would you just have a continuum of variation within the population, without any barriers for reproduction between them? I’ll admit that these questions are too complicated for me to answer at this time.

Getting back to Volk and combogenesis, he and others have argued that cultural change is an evolutionary process as well. Another important question then is, if speciation is fundamental to evolution, then is the differentiation of cultures fundamental to the evolutionary process of culture? If so, culture may never be ‘one thing’, and we will always have different cultures competing for dominance.

The competition of different cultures isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as perhaps they can also be pluralistically cooperative. And perhaps having multiple cultures are best in case the society heads down an evolutionary dead-end, longevity-wise. But still, this might be the reason that we will always have multiple cultures that just can’t agree, can’t get along, and can’t really live together.

You might hope that by language and reason, different societies and ideologies can bridge gaps in understanding. You might hope that good-will and morality might win out, and destructive vitriol will be held in check. You might indeed hope. But research has shown that people are very resistant to changing their minds once they think they are right. I think it has been shown that new types of media (I’m looking at you, internet) has exacerbated this problem to the n-th degree.

There is the fourfold Means and Ends (of course there is) that includes cooperation and competition, as well as conflict and coalition. It is based on looking at the compatibility and incompatibility of different means and ends. Even if you can’t have full cooperation, perhaps you can have (mere) competition or coalition within cultures, instead of out-and-out conflict. Perhaps the key is to find those common goals, and even those common values that might allow our factious society to move forward. But many others have said these types of things.

Interestingly, there are also four types of geographic biological speciation, so looking at these might give us clues as to what might be occurring for our speciation in cultural evolution (there’s a nice diagram at the Wikipedia entry). Do the same processes that produce species in the biological world also produce societal divergences in the cultural world? Are these processes the origins of tribes, nations, and even wars? Are there analogues of allopatric, peripatetic, parapatric, and sympatric speciation when considering different cultures and their conflict and cooperation?

Further Reading:

Continue reading Combogenesis and Evolution

Combogenesis: a constructive, emergent cosmos

I just finished reading Tyler Volk’s “Quarks to Culture: how we came to be”. In this book Volk outlines an interesting model for what he calls combo-genesis, a “great chain of being” leading from basic physical law up through the highest organizational structures that we know of, human societies. He traces a path through human knowledge: physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, sociology, etc., and I am reminded of E. O. Wilson’s “Consilience: the unity of knowledge” that argued for some of the same things.

But Volk’s work has some good new ideas. He details twelve hierarchical levels, where each level is constructed on a “lower” previous level, and the new “higher” level has new things and different abilities than its predecessor. These levels range from the level of fundamental quanta (the quarks of the title), to geo-political states (the culture of the title).

  • QUA: fundamental quanta
  • PRO: nucleons, which are protons and neutrons
  • NCL: atomic nuclei
  • ATM: atoms
  • MOL: molecules
  • PCL: prokaryotic cells
  • ECL: eukaryotic cells
  • ANI: multicellular organisms, including animals
  • ASG: animal social groups
  • HUM: human tribal meta-groups
  • AGR: agro-villages
  • STA: geo-political states

These levels are within three dynamical realms, the first realm being of physical laws and then those realms of biological and cultural evolution. Each of these realms has a base level that has a capability for great constructive and emergent potential via an “Alpha-kit”. An alpha-kit has two facets, an element set and a cornucopia set, that operate like an alphabet and the myriad combinations that that alphabet can produce.

Dynamical realms:

  • Realm of physical laws: QUA -> MOL
  • Realm of biological evolution PCL -> ASG
  • Realm of cultural evolution HUM -> STA

Base levels and their Alpha-kits:

  • QUA, means for chemistry and molecules (atomic)
  • PCL, mechanisms for biology and its evolution (genetic)
  • HUM, faculty for culture and its evolution (linguistic)

As Volk’s model has each higher level based on or constructed from the previous lower one, I make the following suggestion utilizing my four-fold Structure-Function. The structures of each lower level serve as the parts of the next higher level, and the functions of each lower level serve as the actions of the next higher level. In this way a chain of actions and parts, structures and functions are built giving different entities and capabilities to different operational domains.

In the diagram shown, the sets of structures (S) and functions (F) of level i are used for the sets of parts (P) and actions (A) of level i+1, so S(i)=>P(i+1) and F(i)=>A(i+1). Not all structural information or functional abilities are necessarily accessible in the higher level of parts and actions, similar to the information and method hiding in object-oriented programming, and so reducing overall complexity. And as I have argued before, parts are combined to create the structures and actions are combined to create the functions of each level, so P(i+1)=>S(i+1) and A(i+1)=>F(i+1). In this way we have a bottom-up combo-genesis leading from quarks to culture.

Are we now entering another dynamical realm, perhaps based on some technological or computational alpha-kit? But, unfortunately we have to ask, will it take us forwards or backwards?

Further Reading:

Tyler Volk / Quarks to Culture: how we came to be

Tyler Volk and Robert Wright discuss:


Edward O. Wilson / Consilience: the unity of knowledge

[*11.98, *11.99]



Distinctions with and without Differences

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

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

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.

Further Reading:

Eric Chaisson / Epic of Evolution



The Four Bases of DNA

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

“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

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