I read Origins of Wealth about 2 years ago and got introduced to the idea of complexity, which was elaborated for markets (specially that of financial markets) by Benoit Mandelbrot in The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets. Below is a discussion about the wider applicability of the concept of evolution I’ve learnt about from the book and some insights I’d like to share with more academic audiences. These ideas relates to the stuff Kevin Kelly was talking about on TED.com I introduced in a reading package. This long piece was penned during the time I read Origins of Wealth:
Reading Eric D Beinhocker introduced me to the concept of Evolutionary Systems, which I hope to talk about. It’s definitely a great book and I am so glad I bought it (despite the price – my price elasticity of demand for books is very very low). The reason I have decided to pen this short piece on Evolutionary Systems is that I see its application in a wide spectrum of reality and I would like to demonstrate how this idea can help weave ‘Man & Nature’ with ‘Science & Technology’, domains that our General Paper is currently delving into.
Evolutionary systems obeys certain characteristics of evolution – a process that can proceed infinitely without an equilibrium (in the traditional sense though you have no problem isolating periods of time and define them as a moment of equilibrium, albeit one that vanishes rather quickly). In Beinhocker’s words, the system is governed by the ‘evolution algorithm‘ that searches for the fit ‘interactors’ in the ‘fitness landscape’. I hope this is not too overwhelming for general interest readers. I’ll deviate briefly from my main focus on ‘Man-Nature & Science-Technology’ Argument (MNST) to explain the terms I have just introduced. ‘Interactors’ are basically agents within the system, like man within nature, technology within society and so on. ‘Evolution Algorithm’ refers to the seemingly systematic formula in which interactors constantly evolve to adapt to changing conditions within the system (whether the changes are results of endogenous or exogenous factors). Finally, the ‘fitness landscape’ refers to how fit the different characteristics the interactors can possibly assume would be given that they really manifest in the system. This is a little complex but just take it that the ‘landscape’ refers to a library of collection of strategies for interactors to survive within the system. How good the strategies are is constantly changing and what evolution does is to pick out the best of all these strategy constantly, occasionally eliminating some lousy ones and so on. This process is essentially what quantifies evolution.
Having established this, I must propose that it is nature that has created this process of evolution, and this mindless but innovating process – it is no different from the laws of physics laid down by the very same nature, as well as the interactors of systems, and even systems itself. I shall not engaged in any quarrels on intelligent design right here and mindlessly assume all my readers to be intelligent followers of the idea of ‘design without designers’. In my MNST argument, I believe that nature lays down the ground rules for things to happen and whatever happens is part of nature, and the natural order. Therefore, Science & Technology is not only part of nature but relies on the laws and forces that nature has laid down in order to work. Man, has essentially leveraged on the evolution algorithm to construct ever increasingly sophisticated stuff.
Okay, now you are saying Man is emulating nature, so isn’t he trying to play God or something? Well, yes and no. Evolution, all these while, have only searched through all the possible lifeforms, object shapes, idealized forms, whatever you can conceive, using a very crude method of trial and error that closely resembles the perturbation that cutting edge physics theorist use to approximate Unified theories. Whatever characteristics that the agents may have that can help him given the existing conditions would be played out and then depending on what characteristics survive the conditions, the evolution process duplicates or eliminates the characteristics according to the fitness assessed. As such, evolution have so far been a slow and extremely painful process of extinction, disasters. The intensification of the use of deduction by man has allowed the evolution to speed up. Logical deduction has allowed quicker elimination of flawed characteristics or strategies for interactors and so they are not even played out in reality. Technologies are products of elimination both by deduction and by the market. The residual stuff that remains are basically what’s left after evolution has stripped it of its unfit cousins. Nature has essentially created man, who in turned, emulated the same innovation (ie. evolution process) that spawned the specie of homo sapiens itself in an attempt to ground its kind in the entire of a new reality – a science-tech reality.
The problem (a sort of disequilibrium occurs) when the changes in fitness landscape triggered by endogenous factors (in this case the emergence and proliferation of products of deductive evolution) has arisen a little too fast for the evolution algorithm of nature itself to catch up. Evolution is on-going because the emergence of a new strategy or at least the manifestation of it can easily alter the fitness landscape and changes the fitness of existing strategies that may have worked well for a long time (and thus harder to fade away).
The appearance of technology – a product of deductive evolution sent out ripples across the fitness landscape that radically altered the fitness of individual characteristics because products of deductive evolution are often able to extract itself from existing manifestations (all the intermediate evolving stages were transversed in the minds of the innovator). This made it hard for the other interactors, with strategies that are rendered useless, to be able to adapt quick enough. Because of that, man has taken a big bold step to dictate the paths of evolution, to alter genes, to tailor species to the new fitness landscape after the rise of technologies that caused the original patterns of existence to undergo an overhaul. I must say, this may have been one of the natural pathways evolution has decided to assume. Mankind have been selected through this mindless innovating algorithm to further its function. Nature overseen the process and will continue to oversee it. Nature cannot cease to be.
Nature, is essentially just a set of laws, forces governing everything. That carbon was chosen to be the main elemental building block of life is perhaps a result of evolutionary process itself. The rest that we classify as nature are mere manifestations of these laws. Man’s being is part of this algorithm, and so is Science & Technology, a subset of man, and thus Nature itself.
The original entry I wrote on my personal blog can be accessed here.