Reproduction Can Lead to Lower Complexity?

HTLGI (How The Light Gets In) had a remote event – their “Winter Revel” – this past weekend, similar format to their twice-yearly Hay-on-Wye and London events, but hosted remotely on-line (*). I’m a big supporter of IAI/HTLGI, attending events over several years and reporting many excellent sessions and experiences here, as well as many earlier individual IAI events in my time living in London.

Main focus for me was a session with Dan Dennett (legend – oft referenced here), Sara Walker (ASU & SFI) and Nick Lane (UCL) with the rather crass title “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?” Fortunately all three disposed of that in their opening sentences and ensured the actual topic was life and its origins, a topic which invariably includes intelligent life and consciousness.

(Had joined an earlier lounge discussion session with Philip Goff and Bernardo Kastrup on their panpsychism / idealism agendas. After the above session also joined the ongoing lounge discussion with Dan, Sara & Nick. Then listened to Sara give her own talk and joined the excellent lounge discussion following that – the main reason for this post. Dropped in on a couple of Lee Smolin presentations and discussion sessions – disappointing style. Listened to a large part of the “Anti-Matter” session with Sabine Hossenfelder, Lee Smolin, Tara Shears and HTLGI host Hillary Lawson – also sadly disappointing. Had intended to listen also to Nick Lane’s talk and lounge-discussion, but somehow missed it – will have to await HTLGI uploading the recording.)

Sara Walker’s excellent talk and post-talk lounge discussion covered a few of my own questions, this one was particularly interesting to me.

Life as Reproduction: If we take “reproduction of reproducible individuals” to be the primary / fundamental definition of life, and all the other optional properties (eating, excreting, evading / resisting destructive danger etc) as means to that end, Sara’s suggestion is that this can lead to lower complexity – fewer functional options for surviving to reproduce. (An RNA explanation?) Agreeing that reproduction is about copying substrate-independent information patterns. More intelligent, more functional organisms – more complexity – surely evolves more opportunities for reproductive survival? (Obviously more risk & responsibility downsides come with the longer-term possibilities.) Not actually convinced by the reducing complexity argument – I still see an efficient drive to entropy (higher local order maximises overall 2nd law entropy) – so may need to see this explanation / evidence?

Aside – Sara referred to (Lee Cronin) Assembly Theory several times and confirmed it is related to (David Deutsch & Chiara Marletto) Constructor Theory – more questions on this too? (Seems Sara and Chiara have crossed paths several times.)

Aside – Also Sara’s tie-up with Santa-Fe Institute on complexity and entropy –  another interesting thread. (Jessica Flack at SFI  an important source for me on fundamental computation. And of course SFI <> Stuart Kauffman, see next aside.)

Aside – As well as the information <> entropic arguments for evolution of the possible in design space, Dan, Nick & Sara all acknowledged the energy arguments for actually histories. Led to some interesting points on teleology (inevitability in my terms) and ergodicity (relative importance of physical states <> paths through design space). Lots of discussion of the timescales for the physical and pre-biotic chemical lifecycles. (Also notice that Sara mentioned Stuart Kauffman a couple of times as a reference – my main source of non-ergodic phenomena. And only just twigged – the same Stuart Kauffman as Reinventing the Sacred – oh my, what a convergent world.)

Aside – didn’t Sara also say her supervisor had been Paul Davies, also associated with ASU and SFI of course.

Aside – Also “met” Tim Bollands (Natural Philosopher / Universal Life-ist) eye-to-eye for the first time, in a couple of the above sessions. (He and I share an original home town as well a an interest in the origins of intelligent life & consciousness.)

A rich seam provided by Sara Walker. One to watch.


[Here an earlier version of more or less the same talk by Sara, starts ~15min.]

[(*) Meta – “Winter Revel” a bit clunky moving between on-line sessions, a bit of disruptive gate-crashing between sessions, especially between the one-way presentation & panel talk sessions and the interactive lounge discussion sessions. Not clear how to get questions into the presentation & panel talk sessions when chat was not active? Also missed the fact that some popular interactive sessions involved booking and payment above the main registration ticket – missed a “sold-out” Dan & Nick session. But, like the physical events, impossible to see everything of interest. Worth it again, for the sessions I did see.]

[More wonderful stuff from SFI – Eric Smith on the inevitability of life. And a better, later version of the same content. Some great quotes to dig out (still to do), but there is a deep aspect of Eric’s that Sara pointed out – that life and living things are not the same. Eric is very much about life being ecological and living things are the things taking part in those eco processes, however much “the individual” is individually alive. Universal life Tim Bollands? Anyway noticed I already made this distinction earlier myself in a comment on one of my own posts a couple of years ago – where did I get that?]

[Paul Davies most controversially wrote his article on axiomatic science parallels with Christian theology – “Taking Science on Faith“. There is a fair amount of Templeton funding in this enlightened theology space. Interesting, because dogmatic scientism is my most fundamental underlying agenda – the reason for my interest in the boundaries between fundamental physics and metaphysics.]

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