"Deep Evolution" is Intelligent Design
by Joel D. Morrison
…So, what is evolution? Perhaps we can start by defining what evolution is not. Evolution is not “survival of the fittest.” That wasn't even Darwin's own catch-phrase for his “natural selection.” Indeed, Darwin didn't like the phrase or the catch. So is evolution, then, defined merely by Darwin's proposed mechanism of natural selection? Not according to modern “postdarwinian” evolutionary theorists, and perhaps not even according to Darwin himself who also stressed sexual selection. As Kevin Kelly writes in his book Out of Control:
What the postdarwinians have shown is that there is no such thing as monolithic evolution run by one-dimensional natural selection. It would be more fitting to say that evolution is plural and deep. Deep evolution is an aggregate of many kinds of evolutions; it is a multifaced god, a creator with many arms, working by many methods, of which natural selection of variation is perhaps the most universal factor. An uncharted variety of evolutions make up deep evolution, just as our minds comprise a society of dimwitted agents and a variety of types of thinking. Various evolutions proceed at different scales, at different tempos, in different styles. Furthermore, this blend of evolutions changes over time. Certain types of evolution were important in early protolife; some are more emphasized now, four billion years later. One variety (natural selection) will be ubiquitous throughout the plurality, while others will be rare and specialized in their roles. Deep, pluralistic evolution, like intelligence, is an emergent property of a community of dynamics.
After decades of research going far beyond natural selection, to say the word “evolution” is still to utter “survival of the fittest.” So, if we can't mean modern evolution when we say “evolution,” but are stuck in an 1800's era kosmic rut, then we must force a new definition by introducing a new term. Enter Kevin Kelly's “deep evolution,” where we are required to double-take, make the distinction and flesh it out with the depth that can finally begin to approximate the inhuman, vastly distributed and deep intelligence of Nature. Deep, vast and sprawling evolution, we will find, is deep intelligence—an alien immanent power of creation breaking the bonds of the transcendent-bias that would seek to define all of creation in the strictly anthropocentric terms of monological, representational, one-track humanoid intelligence.
But to fully explain the origin of life, the remarkable trend toward complexity, and the invention of intelligence requires more than addition. It needs a rich mathematics of complex functions built upon each other; it needs deeper evolution. Natural selection alone is not enough, not by miles. It must be alloyed with more creative, generative processes to accomplish much. It must have more to naturally select from.
As P. D. Ouspensky wrote:
But we do not realize, do not see the presence of intelligence in the phenomena and laws of nature. This happens because we always study not the whole but a part, and we do not see the whole we wish to study. But studying the little finger of a man we cannot see the intelligence of the man. The same refers to nature. We always study the little finger of nature. If we realize this and understand that EVERY LIFE IS THE MANIFESTATION OF A PART OF SOME WHOLE, Only then a possibility opens of knowing that whole. In order to know the intelligence of a given whole, one should understand the character of that whole, and its functions.
Evolution and the Problem-Child
In the human form of cognition we have an inextricably intertwined mesh of functions. We call them, for example: consciousness, intelligence, and wisdom. When we seek to distill these categories and functions separate from one another, we seek their most general form. For our concerns here, then, what is the most general and widely applicable definition of intelligence? Perhaps intelligence can be most simply defined as the power of “problem solving.” This is the most general function and indeed the goal of most IQ tests, after-all. IQ tests, for example, don't check directly for wisdom, nor consciousness, though these can indeed feed into the resulting IQ score. How well you can solve the problems of the IQ test—not how conscious or how wise you are—indeed determines the power (or quotient) of your intelligence. But it can be seen that intelligence is a form of consciousness or wisdom, or that wisdom or consciousness is a form of intelligence, depending only on your preference and the way your intrinsic system of categories is already set up.
If we de-couple the 'problem' from its anthropocentric roots, however, the flexibility of its definition can be extended to the more general field of biology, and even to evolution. “Living organisms” says computer-scientist John Holland, “are consummate problem solvers. They exhibit a versatility that puts the best computer programs to shame.”
Naturally, problem and solution form a polarity, and a problem-solver is a solution in its own right. Indeed, sometimes problems, in another sphere, can only be seen in light of their solutions. But where there is a solution, there was a problem … and where there is a problem-solver there is a form and power of intelligence—some kind of an “intelligent designer,” or “composer,” if you will.
The question, of course, is whether this prodigious composer of profound and preposterous proteinaceous fugues is humanoid, reptilian, vegetative, mineral or an entirely different form altogether: perhaps an amalgam or even an abstract principle… What kind of intelligence must it be? … and just how intelligent, given the vast, “geological” resources of time, energy and matter at its disposal?
The solutions to the problems hidden in the depths of evolution are the myriad “life-forms” scattered throughout the history of life on this planet—perhaps 99% of which are already extinct (which tells us that the death of organisms hasn't yet been on the list of problems for evolution to solve). We organisms—intelligent solutions in our own right, if sometimes a bit quirky—are the problem-children of evolution.
Evolution, the mother of invention, has the general problem of getting its children to replicate its code. But it has another problem. Every time it thinks it has solved a problem—firing off an organism capable of replicating its newly invented code—the environment into which the problem-children are injected has changed and they often can't seem to adjust. And so the code they would replicate dies out. Evolution, then, must continually find new solutions to its new problems which are, by now, vastly multiplying out of hand.
Shotgun Creationism: The Engineering Interface
But vast multiplicity and parallelism is evolution's strong suit. Its exponentially-replicating problem-children are its very solutions. Indeed, this is what gives evolution its inhuman power of creation. It multiplies its code in billions of billions of variations at once, and those that survive to reproduce are already successful while the rest, unneeded, are forgotten. Evolution is a “differential reproductive success”—a shotgun creationism; the madness of a method exploding into a billion-billion sub-processes, each one a new trajectory tunneling into the dark space of biological possibility.
Parallelism is one of the ways around the inherent stupidity and blindness of random mutations. It is the great irony of life that a mindless act repeated in sequence can only lead to greater depths of absurdity, while a mindless act performed in parallel by a swarm of individuals can, under the proper conditions, lead to all that we find interesting.
What humans can't engineer, evolution can. [Tom] Ray puts it nicely as he shows off a monitor with traces of the 22s propagating in his soup: “It seems utterly preposterous to think that you could randomly alter a computer program and get something better than what you carefully crafted by hand, but here's living proof.” It suddenly dawns on the observer that there is no end to the creativity that these mindless hackers can come up with.
While evolution is increasingly an interface for engineering, the inverse is also true. Engineered or simulated evolution is increasingly an interface for understanding and expanding evolution, as the two intelligences feed back into each other at ever higher levels of sophistication. Kelly continues:
Perhaps the most astounding thing about Tom Ray's electrically powered evolution machine is that it created sex. Nobody told it about sex, but it found it nonetheless. In an experiment to see what would happen if he turned the mutation function off, Ray let the soup run without deliberate error. He was flabbergasted to discover that even without programmed mutation, evolution pushed forward.
To scientists, the most exhilarating news to come out of Ray's artificial evolution machine is that his small worlds display what seems to be punctuated equilibrium. For relatively long periods of time, the ratio of populations remain in a steady tango of give and take with only the occasional extinction or birth of a new species. Then, in a relative blink, this equilibrium is punctuated by a rapid burst of roiling change with many newcomers and eclipsing of the old. For a short period change is rampant. Then things sort out and stasis and equilibrium reigns again.
The Interface of Intercourse
As Tom Ray witnessed first-hand, evolution evolves, and to even greater depth with the invention of sex. Like Ray, John Holland too has experimented with computer sex: rather, he invented it. Instead of waiting for them to discover it themselves, Holland plugged sex into his genetic algorithms (GAs) from the start. Kelly writes:
In real natural life, sex is a much more important source of variation than mutations. Sex, at the conceptual level, is genetic recombination -- a few genes from Dad and a few genes from Mom combined into a new genome for Junior. …
Mating rather than mutating was discovered by theoretical biologists in the early 1960s to make a more robust computer evolution -- one that birthed a higher ratio of sensible entities. But sexual mating alone was too restrictive in what it could come up with. In the mid-1960s Holland devised his GAs; these relied chiefly on mating and secondarily on mutation as a background instigator. With sex and mutation combined, the system was both flexible and wide.
In Holland's scheme, the highest performing bits of code anywhere on the landscape mate with each other. Since high performance increases the assigned rate of mating in that area, this focuses the attention of the genetic algorithm system on the most promising areas in the overall landscape. It also diverts computational cycles away from unpromising areas. Thus parallelism sweeps a large net over the problem landscape while reducing the number of code strings that need manipulating to locate the peaks.
The evolutionary approach, Holland wrote, “eliminates one of the greatest hurdles in software design: specifying in advance all the features of a problem.” Anywhere you have many conflicting, interlinked variables and a broadly defined goal where the solutions may be myriad, evolution is the answer.
Just as evolution deals in populations of individuals, genetic algorithms mimic nature by evolving huge churning populations of code, all processing and mutating at once. GAs are swarms of slightly different strategies trying to simultaneously hill-climb over a rugged landscape. Because a multitude of code strings “climb” in parallel, the population visits many regions of the landscape concurrently. This ensures it won't miss the Big Peak.
Implicit parallelism is the magic by which evolutionary processes guarantee you climb not just any peak but the tallest peak. How do you locate the global optima? By testing bits of the entire landscape at once. How do you optimally balance a thousand counteracting variables in a complex problem? By sampling a thousand combinations at once. How do you develop an organism that can survive harsh conditions? By running a thousand slightly varied individuals at once.
Sex and the Big Biological Bang
In the evolution of life on this planet there is a tell-tale sign of the power of an evolutionary function: The faster the pace of change the greater the power (or intelligence) of the function behind it. For the first few billion years of evolution—based perhaps mainly on the function of cellular division and random mutation—the history of change moved at a snail's pace. It hardly budged from one point in time to the next…and it left a slimy trail.
Then, at only around 500 million years ago—perhaps already 4 billion years into this languishing, monotonous, barely-intelligent cycle—occurred a biological “Big-Bang” (pardon the pun). This is the “Cambrian explosion” where, in the geological blip of perhaps merely 10 million years, all the body plans of the subsequent biological eras were evolved. So, after four billion years, evolution suddenly picked up its pace, exploding from single-cells into the sprawling possibilities of multi-celled organisms and body-plans.
In sex, recall (if you're lucky), rather than merely going off in a corner and replicating by yourself—actually dividing yourself in half—there is an interfacing or union of two organisms to create a third. But recall from your fortunate and romantic courtship all the energy of intelligence (both conscious and unconscious) that went into the endless quest, the intermittent battles and the final decision of with whom to mate—you weren't prepared to mate with just anybody, right? The same is true, but at a smaller scale with the early organisms who first began to experiment with sex.
Sexual reproduction opens a space for sexual selection, and sexual selection harnesses the intrinsic intelligence of the organism in solving the problem of with whom to interface. Sex itself is a medium for intelligent design, much more powerful than mere random mutation, and we can see its effects directly in the often bizarre sexual dimorphisms of its unwitting participants…which includes us. Every time we have sex, we are participating in the higher-level intelligence of evolution, because we have injected our own intelligence into this program and passion for selective bonding and breeding. Sexual selection, then, is a feedback “mechanism” magnifying the intelligence of natural selection and the other mechanisms of pre-sexual evolution.
If natural selection is the “additive function” in the mathematics of life, then sexual selection is its “recursive function.”
Insane in the Mem-brain: Embodiment, Meaning and the Mnemonic Primitives
Language Learns to Speak: Genetic Mnemonics and Causal Languages
Through the mouthpiece of “Golem XIV,” a fictional, super-intelligent, government-owned, war-computer turned philosopher—Stanislaw Lem, in his book Imaginary Magnitudes, pronounces, “You will come to know that the code [DNA] is a member of the technolinguistic family, the causative languages that make the word into all possible flesh … “ DNA is a code that translates directly, causally, or emergently into the “technology” of the organism, rather than into or through the representational level of semantics or meaning. The “meaning” of the causative language is the artifact (or organism) which it generates, just like the meaning of the source code is the program or application which boots up into memory. As Golem proclaims, “The MEANING of the TRANSMITTER is the TRANSMISSION.”
Golem XIV declares that life emerged through the “negative gradient” of a causative language which imperfectly replicates itself through its creations. “IN EVOLUTION, a NEGATIVE GRADIENT OPERATES in the PERFECTING of STRUCTURAL SOLUTIONS.” It is negative, in Golem XIV's mind, not only because of its imperfect replication, but also because evolution “cares” not for its creations, and only for the code. Another negative aspect is that life moves from feeding on the “pure” energy of the star (photosynthesis), and begins feeding on itself—cannibalizing in ever wider cycles of recursion—i.e. the “food chain”.
Because evolution “cares” only for its code, it did not attempt to solve the problem of organismic death. But then again, evolution proceeds in waves transcending-and-including each other into higher and higher powers, from mutation to sexual reproduction and into culture and beyond—creating ever more intelligent and powerful creations along the way. Evolution has now entered its phase of “auto-evolution,” as Lem terms it—evolution self-put to the task of deliberately evolving itself. Mankind, now taking control of evolution, has its own newly emergent problems and goals, and the predicament of “natural death” or senescence is indeed being unraveled as we speak.
As we have seen, it was this imperfect replication itself—this mutability—which was the initial creative, learning and intelligent function of the code. A perfect linguistic replication can never make mistakes and can never learn. It can never create or solve problems, but can merely recapitulate itself to eternity. In this “negative gradient”—from a sterile, immutable Eden into the fecund Earth of continual creation—evolutionary intelligence has “fallen.”
But critically, for our purposes DNA is a causative mnemonics; a living, breathing, replicating language of memory. This “imperfect” memory allowed the first level of geologically slow creativity and intelligence to emerge. Sexual reproduction and selection, on the other hand, can't so easily be seen as merely a failed causative and replicative language, but rather a successful collaboration between two organisms to bring about a new one. But not only that. It is a collaboration and a communication between organisms and their code. An intelligent cultivating third, interfacing between two of its own intelligences, injecting their combined intelligence back into the evolutionary stream of creation which engendered their communicative dance in the first place.
Sex, Feedback and Evolutionary Sensation
Stepping back to look at the whole of life on Earth, we see it evolving within the thin interface and atmosphere of the planet. We know that life penetrates or emerges from this interface at depths and heights which to us are difficult to imagine, but in relation to the earth, life is concentrated within a thin film of atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere, whose depth may be rightly compared to the thickness of the skin of an apple. Indeed, we can again see the interface as key when we reflect that this living cosmic membrane occurs precisely at the boundary between the “order” of the frigid reaches of interstellar space and the “chaos” of the molten core of the earth, both of which are hostile to life, yet at their enfolding and unfolding interface, life flourishes. Life itself is a cultivated/cultivating third, on this “third rock from the sun.”
Stepping back yet again, we see life emerging at another interface, the “sweet spot” or “habitable zone” of the temperature gradient of the planetary orbit of the earth, just close enough to the sun for life to evolve through the benefit of photosynthesis, and just far enough away for those life-forms to avoid burning up.
Through natural and sexual selection, the story of life is ever told anew by its victors, but it is told directly and immediately in the causative language of DNA. This causative language, now injecting its selections back into the deep evolutionary stream of creation, is part of the feedback or “sensation” of “what works” in the game of life—and by absence of a vote, what doesn't. Without this additive function of natural selection and the recursive function of sexual selection there is no “sensation” or feedback of any gradient into greater and greater function and intelligence, and thus no evolution.
Deep Evolution and the Intensive Forces
And naturally, we can see this purely positive reinforcement of the living story of evolution—told only by its victors—as a form of the familiar Deleuzian intensive forces, arising from the immanent, sub-representational level of the causative language of evolution. The intelligence of evolution itself functions on the intensive forces of this purely positive feedback. The intensive forces of the “additive” and recursive functions of natural and sexual selection—informing and re-injecting evolution only with its successes—is the very rudiments of evolutionary sensation, and it is naturally coupled with the rudiments of memory in the genetic code. As this ever renewing tale is directly “memorized” (encoded) and expressed in the causative language of DNA, it echoes, recapitulates and unfolds into the very embryogenesis of its creations.
1. Quoted from Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control.
2. The phrase was invented by Herbert Spencer for his spin-off of evolution called “Social Darwinism”.
3. Quoted in Kelly, Out of Control
4. For a brilliant and fun exploration of the intelligence of evolution see George Dyson’s book Darwin Among the Machines.
5. The Cambrian explosion occurred around 500 million years after the invention of sex. Because the intelligence power of sexual selection is indeed dependent on the intelligence power of its participants, then one would expect that its power would increase exponentially as it starts feeding back into itself its new powers. It then perhaps took around 500 million years to reach the bend of the knee of this curve.
6. Indeed, as we’d expect from a true polarity, though Lem’s meaning is clearly intended as “The meaning of the organism is the code,” it’s hard to really or ultimately pin down which is the transmitter and which the transmission; the organism or the code. Does evolution transmit its meaning into its organisms as code, or does the organism transmit its deepest meaning through reproduction of the code? Of course this breaks down into “mere” semantics…
7. … or with the “deep hot biosphere” perhaps the depth of an orange peel, or more. (see Thomas Gold)
8. It is, of course, just a coincidence that the earth is the “third rock” or node from the sun. Indeed, it is very likely only the third visible node from the sun. Let us not break down into numerology, but remain in the power and embrace of logic and causation.
Donovan, Thom. “Thought's Torsion” on the blog “Wild Horses Of Fire: what wings raised to the second power...”. .
Dyson, George B. Darwin Among the Machines. Addison Wesley, 1997.
Kelly, Kevin. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, Basic Books, 1995.
Lem, Stanislaw. Imaginary Magnitudes. n.d.
Lipton PhD., Bruce. "Fractal Evolution." 2006-7. brucelipton.com.
Maturana, Humberto. and Francisco Varela. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Boston: Shambhala, 1987.
Oldershaw, Rob. Fractal Cosmology. 26 July 2007 .
Opdenberg, H. R. "Universe of Infinite Variety." Theosophy. 8 July 2006 .
Ouspensky, P. D. Tertium Organum: The Third Canon of Thought, A Key to the Enigmas of the World. n.d.
Pratt, Vernon. "One for Leibniz." SORITES (1996): 10-20.
Stewart, Matthew. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World. New York: Norton, 2006.
—. The Truth About Everything: An Irreverent History of Philosophy with Illustrations. New York: Prometheus Books, 1997.
Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1996.
—. Integral Spirituality. Boston: Integral Books, 2006.
Joel Morrison began his life, passion, and vocation as an artist, working along the way as a multimedia designer for both Integral Institute (directly with Ken Wilber) and Integral Life. In this process of, as he would say, "waking up while building his eye," his art became ever more contemplative, culminating with his two recently self-published and lavishly illustrated books, SpinbitZ Volume I: Interface-Philosophy, Mathematics and Nondual Rational-Empiricism and Sorce Theory: Unlocking the Basement. As the original catalyst, however, his visual art maintained a critical, meta-philosophical role throughout this work, in the form of what he calls "vision-logic interfaces," catalyzing integration and elucidation in the aperspectival and nonlinear space that only the visual medium can provide. His home page can be found at www.spinbitz.net.
This essay is an excerpt from SpinbitZ Volume I: Interface-Philosophy, Mathematics and Nondual Rational-Empiricism.
Slightly edited from Integral World @ http://www.integralworld.net/morrison1.html
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