Re: Stephen Jay Gould and Progress

Anders Sandberg (
Wed, 8 Jan 1997 11:48:12 +0100 (MET)

On Wed, 8 Jan 1997, Damien Broderick wrote:

> Gould's theme is that natural diversity is usually attributable to nothing
> more interesting than a drunkard's walk away from a wall.
> Humans and other large critters exist off on the right-most
> tail of the curve, but not because there is any `complexification drive'.
> The test of this anti-progressivist thesis is, e.g., whether ancestors are
> simpler or more complex (by some measure) than descendants.

Isn't there a difference between progress and complexification? A more
complex system is not necessarily more efficient (compare the work
efficiencies of mammals compared to insects); if your predators evolve
elaborate hunting strategies plain stupitidy might sometimes save you.

It is important here to distinguish complexity in the structural sense
(lots of interacting parts) and complexity in the alife-sense (a complex
behavior belonging in the "liquid world", not the gaseous or solid world),
and the concept of progress as increasing complexification (structural),
increasing complexity-theoretical complexity and increasing efficiency.
Gould (and his supporters) seems to have shown that structural complexity
increases in a random-walk like manner, but it doesn't tell us much about
the other forms of progress.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
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