Mathematics for its own sake has never been my
idea of a good time (though I'm not entirely innumerate
or math-phobic -- I manage to hold down a job as a computer
programmer after all!). Therefore, while I've been dimly
aware of the hoopla surrounding chaos theory and complexity
theory in recent years, I haven't paid very much attention to
it (though I know a guy who's been utterly fascinated by the
Mandelbrot Set for years:
However, the McCrone book (_Going Inside_) I've been reading
recently (Again with that book! When will he give it a rest! ;-> )
makes a big deal about complexity theory as a new theoretical
framework for Darwinian evolutionary theory. This has
caused me to be struck by analogy I hadn't really noticed before,
though I suppose it's one that many people probably find
obvious by now, including some folks on this list [*].
In a post I made late last year about the book
_Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge_ by
Henry C. Plotkin (the post is in the archive's
blind spot at the moment; it'll be back on the shelf
when it comes back from the binder's ;-> ), I quoted:
> p. 171
> A nested hierarchy of selectional processes is a
> simple and elegant conception of the nature of
> [T]he following passage (from Chapter 7 "The Philosophical
> Problems in Perspective", p. 243)... contains a capsule summary
> of Plotkin's view of the relationship between inter-organismic
> and intra-organismic evolutionary processes (what are called
> throughout the book the primary and secondary heuristics):
> Unable to rely upon just one level of
> evolution and one unit of selection as the means of
> gaining knowledge about just one range of
> frequencies of change (that range being limited at
> one end by the change becoming undetectably slow to
> the point that survival is not threatened by a
> failure to respond to it, and at the other by the
> generational deadtime of each species), subsidiary
> evolutionary processes have evolved, each with its
> own units of selection, and each able to gain
> knowledge about changes that are occurring at
> ever-higher frequencies. So in the real world the
> Humean uncertainty is converted into a pragmatic
> issue of dividing the world into band widths of
> frequencies of change and fluctuation, and employing
> knowledge-gaining mechanisms that are able to match
> the rates of perturbation of the world with organic
> structures able to alter their own states at
> equivalent rates.
McCrone describes the same "nested selectional hierarchy"
in _Going Inside_, Chapter 12, "Getting It Backwards"
"As Gerald Edelman argued, the key to understanding the
brain is that it is plastic on all scales of organisation.
Each moment of processing is actually connected to a whole
continuum of selectionist pressures and evolutionary
adjustments. Behind the events of the instant lie the
minute-by-minute adaptations in neurotransmitter levels,
the hour-by-hour sprouting of new memory connections, the
year-by-year changes of childhood development, and even
the generation-by-generation changes of the evolutionary
history of a species. Information is being captured on
all these levels and, as said, the entire weight of
this information is brought to bear on the processing
of a moment."
The analogy here, of course, is a view of the nested processes
of selection, with evolution as the outermost level and the
fleeting activation patterns of consciousness as the innermost,
as all parts of a unified fractal pattern spread out in time,
spanning timescales ranging from milliseconds to billions of
years, and broadly self-similar across all those scales.
Jim F. (of Rutherford, New Jersey)
LUNA: Do you believe in God?
MILES: Do I believe in God? I'm what you
would call a teleological existential atheist.
I believe that there's an intelligence to the
universe, with the exception of certain parts of
LUNA: Miles? Miles, did you ever realize that
"God" spelled backwards is "dog"?
MILES: Yeah, so?
LUNA: Makes you think!
MILES: Yeah... wanna push the car, please?
G.. go push the car, will ya? <dramatic eye roll>
-- Woody Allen, _Sleeper_ (1973)
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