woensdag, november 12, 2008

I knew it! I knew it! Evolution turns out not to be random.

I started this blog in January 2005. Without knowing why I should, but simply because I could, like millions of others. Before I knew it I wasn't only putting up links and an occasional picture, but I was actually 'writing'; Done that for about a year and then forgot all about it. A few years later and Jarno is back! (hi!). I've now decided to continue this weblog and post at least a few 'articles' each week. I tend to think I have two reasons for that. One: I like being busy with words, whether it is in writing or live, I've been verbally insane my whole life. It simply feels good. And then, behind the red door, what do we have Johnny? >> Reason number two: the impact of accelerating technological development on the human race (and the planet/universe as a whole).

I've always been intrigued by technology but by late 2004 I 'virtually ran into' this website. It's called Acceleration Watch. Acceleration Watch is an educational affiliate of the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF). The foundation's focus revolves around helping to understand and manage accelerating technological change. This is important because, as the term acceleration implies, things go faster and faster! And for us 'poor' humans that will mean it will get harder and harder to understand the world around us and this doesn't make decision-making easier (links to a Dutch article)...

...just have a look at the articles I've posted here the past 30 days. I can hardly believe my own stories... I mean ... erasing memories? A 0,05 mm screen? Robots that hunt down humans and Mr. Green Genes - the glow-in-the-dark cat! ...

Anyway, the Acceleration Studies Foundation was founded by John Smart, a 'developmental systems theorist', who's specifically intrigued by the implications of a hypothesis known in futurist circles as the technological singularity (see powerpoint slides above or download the entire presentation and once again: Thank you very much John). The idea is this: not only do things seem to accelerate, it all seems to move towards 'one point'. It's like spinning the wheel in a casino. Round and round the ball goes until it spins faster and faster in smaller circles. The location of the ball is completely random in the sense that I cannot predict where it will be after say, 3 seconds of spinning. What we CAN predict however, is where it will ultimately be - at the bottom (whatever the number). In the PowerPoint slide above (the Developmental Spiral) you can see how human development over time seems to follow 'that ball analogy'. Faster and faster, shorter and shorter, until we 'hit the bottom' (whatever specifically that will mean).

No we are not there yet, but we are definitely getting closer :) It seems this accelerating development curve/curse does not only apply to humans. Ever since this planet came into being 4.5 billion years ago things seem to have developed exponentially. Single cell organisms, multi-cell organisms etcetera etcetera. And now we are here.

Finally, my point: all the above cannot be true if evolution is purely random (or to put it differently: if evolution would be purely random, how come everything on this planet is getting more and more complex over time?). Since there is so much scientific evidence out there to back up this 'all encompassing notion of acceleration', apart from 'its randomness', evolution MUST also have 'some sense of direction'. Darwin is right, for half. You cannot specifically predict what species will evolve and disappear (Darwin was right about this), but just like that ball in the casino, it IS all going in one direction, towards ONE point (something Darwin didn't think of).

What a story. Halleluja, but Why, Jarno, why? Because this morning I ran into this article. Scientists of Princeton University have discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution. It turns out evolution is NOT RANDOM.

"The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a 'blind watchmaker'?" said Chakrabarti, an associate research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton. "Our new theory extends Darwin's model, demonstrating how organisms can subtly direct aspects of their own evolution to create order out of randomness."

"What we have found is that certain kinds of biological structures exist that are able to steer the process of evolution toward improved fitness. The data just jumps off the page and implies we all have this wonderful piece of machinery inside that's responding optimally to evolutionary pressure."

"Biological change is always driven by random mutation and selection, but at certain pivotal junctures in evolutionary history, such random processes can create structures capable of steering subsequent evolution toward greater sophistication and complexity."

Ha! I knew it! I knew it!


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