Time’s Arrow and Evolution

Harold F. Blum . Princeton University Press . 3d edition.  1968 . Library of Congress Catalog Card 68-31676

Preface: ‘What has concerned me is the increasing trend toward ‘deterministic’ thinking that has come with our scientific successes, often bringing with it tacit teleology and panglossianism’. dpb: this statement is still relevant today. An additional point of concern is the unrelenting idea of anthropocentrism guiding individual and scientific thought about ecological and social systems.

I Perspectives: how to explain why evolution takes the pathway it has and not another possible or imaginary one. Is natural selection the only mechanism for that? What is the relation between that and the laws of physics? dpb: especially the question guiding this book is interesting from the start, regarding the levels / orders of increasing organization, and we may add, the laws of chemistry, biology &c.

They ‘set the scene’ for the development of (the foundation for) the mechanisms of natural selection. Development of the cosmos, earth and organic systems are causally connected. This subject matter belongs to different disciplines and hence leads to different viewpoints on the origin of life.

Events rarely repeat and evolution is characterized by their one-wayness. The predominant mechanism for explaining that is the second law of thermodynamics: everything goes to a state of greater probability. According to Eddington it directs all real events in time: the arrow of time. What about evolutionary sequences of events, ie evolutionary processes?

Every once in a while a claim counter to the 2nd law appears, but without fail it turns out that the experiment was not set up so as to make a sound examination and falsify it.

II The chronology of evolution: the universe is approximately 14.5bn years old, earth 4.5bn and life between that and 3.8bn.

III The energetics and kinetics of chemical reaction: thermodynamic change determines the direction of a chemical reaction and ‘how nearly it comes to completion’ (p 14). dpb: if thermodynamics is assumed to be the only source of asymmetry then is this not too chemical-physical an argument? At sub-particle scales asymmetry is created by the collapse of the wave function, and what about emergent organizations at larger scales?

The form of energy can change not its quantity (1st law of thermodynamics). This is not changed by the fact that matter is a form of energy. Reversible processes in theory produce only the minimum entropy. Practical entropy production is always larger than the theoretical case. Thus, the 2nd law implies that all real processes are irreversible. dpb: why is referring to processes which occur at scales of organization said to be higher called real. And also why is this called a higher scale of organization? Surely the level or variety of restrictions (defining organization that way) exerted on sub-atomic particles is not lower or less than those of say an organic system? By what measure then is the level of organization higher or lower? If it has to with the level of complexity then it addresses the number of constituent elements of the system: the larger the higher. But that is not the same as to say that the level of organization is higher. It seems that in a system of higher level of organization the number of differences between constituting processes (themselves series of differences, Ashby refers to relations between main parameters) is larger than a system of lower organization.

If not isolated and exchange energy with the environment then the entropy of a system observed in isolation (e.g. a plant or a stone) may rise or fall. In a living system this may occur because it exchanges energy. But a reduction of entropy does not take place in themselves or at their immediate boundary, because entropy is a statistical entity. Therefore a ‘localized or individualized entropy’ is theoratical, because according to the definition of entropy the system is defined (observed) such that the energy balance is intact. This is no contradiction because the system boundaries are extended until it is isolated again and it produces entropy (including sun, earth, other organisms).

Entropy also measures randomness or lack of orderliness of an isolated system. dpb: the same definition of the system in focus applies and its disorder decreases, what is not the same thing as to say that the randomness changes locally.

We may think of reversible processes as infinitely slow and with small entropy change. Irreversible processes move at a finite speed and they produce entropy. Hence the net arrow of time: this dictates the direction of time: ’times arrow’, and not the size: not ’times measuring stick’.

Another measure for systems exchanging energy with the outside is free energy: the maximum amount of mechanical work that can be got from it. This also decreases in practical real systems.

IV The origin and early evolution of the earth :

V Later history of the earth

VI The fitness of the environment : a 1913 book by Lawrence J Henderson with that title published by MacMillan New York : ‘Darwinian fitness is compounded of a mutual relationship between the organism and the environment. Of this, the fitness of the environment is quite as essential a component as the fitness which arises in the process of organic evolution; and in fundamental characteristics the actual environment the actual environment is the fittest abode of life‘ (Preface). DPB: this is a central argument on my echolocation theory. A system reacts to its own behavior through others response to that.

Blum: ‘ That is, not only does he reason in terms of the materials external to living organisms, and in terms of the “milieu interieur” in the restricted sense of an internal environment provided by the body fluids; but inclusively, in terms of the intimate components of living systems themselves. .. Once accepted, it is impossible to treat the environment as a separable aspect of the problem of organic evolution; it becomes an integral part thereof’ (Blum p 61).

DPB: The rhizomatic or autopoietic organization determines and restricts (aka organizes) the behavior that a system is capable of. Its fitness is the extent of what a system is capable of (i.e. its repertoire of interactions), its behavior relative to that of the neighboring elements and systems. But what does relative behavior mean? It can only be that it is a (re)cognition or suspicion of the behavior of the other which is then reciprocated with some particular behavior. However, this should not be understood in a teleological sense. The mutuality of this relation is also why the fitness of the environment is specifically addressed.

Instead of a Panglossian understanding that all the parts are perfectly fitting: ‘The value of the concept is quite the reverse. Taken in moderate doses it leads to the opposite point of view, serving to illustrate the existence of limitations to the range of properties of living systems, and to show that the direction of organic evolution must have been guided to a considerable extent accordingly’ ( p 86).

VII The energetics and kinetics of living systems : the organization of an organic system is higher than that of its component parts. This may seem to suggest  that the level of randomness decreases and therefore that the local entropy has decreased. However a large amount of free energy has been degraded to achieve that level of organization and therefore the free energy in the environment has decreased and the randomness there has increased and therefore the global entropy has increased. Thus, the presence of organic systems do not defy entropy production.

dpb: entropy is a global variable which is inseparable from the energy balance sheet of that part of the entire universe which affects our process in focus or is affected by it (e.g. plant-sun system). From the statement that an organic system is more organized does not follow that its entropy is lower.

dpb: the framework of thought must be entropy production of thermodynamically open but operationally closed systems. Can asymmetry be generated by anything else than the irreversible randomness corresponding with (associated with) entropy production?

‘The entropy and free energy of living systems may be considered to be approximately constant; there is a flow of energy through them, but very little is stored for long’ ( p 95). Thus the 2nd law also governs living systems.

‘In a living system true equilibrium is seldom if ever reached, but a dynamic steady state is maintained by the flow of energy through the system. .. Some of the reactions that go on in living systems are difficult or altogether infeasible to duplicate in the laboratory, under strict in vitro conditions ; the fact that some of the steps must go endergonically only adds to the difficulty’s (p 111).

VIII structure and its reproduction: reproduction of an organic system involves reproduction of the constituent atoms and molecules and the reproduction of their structure. Atoms are held together by bonds to form molecules, which are held together by different bonds.

dpb: the arrangement of atoms in a molecule is determined by the chemical forces (and in cases the van der Waals forces) between the molecules in the stone. The position of each is determined by the net of all the forces and directions of all the others. Can this be a metaphor for ideas held together as memes and memes held together to form memeplexes? An attractor is reached by attraction between some ideas in the social realm (more of this please) and the repulsion between others (less of that please). An intensity determines how strong others’ reaction to one’s behavior is. The result is a positioning of that idea vis-a-vis other ideas associated with it (with their intensities) entailing the behavior in the individual proportionally guided by their ideas. In this social process only the stable (attracting) ones remain. A problem is the relative imprecision of the meaning imported to ideas and whereby they generate different behavior in individuals. That is not analogue to a chemical reaction process for a lack of precision, but may suppot the metaphor.

dpb: extending this metaphor leads to the notion of a potential force of the idea while it remains unexpressed or not reacted to. And it is the equivalent of kinetic when responded to. Depicting this frame of thought into the processual framework then a problem (difference or lack) has the potential to being about change, and when expressed and perceived it generates change.

X stability and variability : every reaction requires energy and activation energy. dpb: this suggests a hurdle which prevents a system to leave the basin of attraction of the present configuration. First energy is required to engage in the reaction, then the reaction has an energy balance.

Mutation is not random but follows pathways and has preferences from the systems energetic and thermodynamic situation. dpb: by analogy to chemical systems, organic and non-organic systems have basins of attraction of their main independent parameters. Mutations are variations of their values which can be inconsequential if they stay in their basin of attraction (thereby not affecting depending variables). Or else they are consequential if their values end up outside if their basin of attraction because of a mutation.

The above point is also made by Ashby (Design for a Brain), that systems are conglomerates of interconnected basins of attraction. If one leaves the basin then others that depend on them will also change their behavior, possibly outside theirs, &c. There are, in other words, restrictions to mutation. Or in other words, mutation is organized, albeit likely in an unintentional sense.

If all the (chemical) reactions would take place at the same rate determined by the free energy changes then the arrow of time would be universal. But they don’t, because the reactions take place at their individual energy of activation. dpb: by analogy social (business) processes would not take place by the rate of change dictated by the behavioral processes they entail, but instead by the setting in motion of those behavioral processes. Once a hurdle is overcome then they are set off and the behavior is expressed. This is a kind of reckoning, like a moral gap at each instance before actual action is undertaken. The length of that gap determines the direction of time. But this is pure conjecture based on an unjustified comparison of social and chemical processes.

Extending the comparison: so as chemical reactions produce new molecules, so do (combinations of) ideas generate integrated new behavior. In the fist case this leads to an increase of complexity and by (logical) analogy also in the second case.

‘The riddle seems to be: How, when no life existed, did substances come into being which today are absolutely essential to living systems yet which can only be formed by those systems?’ (p 164). DPB: this is the definition of autopoiesis. And also this seems to have taken place through intermittent ‘bridge’ elements (aka stepping stones) which have later on come to disappear.

XI irreversibility and direction in evolution : Paleontologist L Dollo 1893 points out the irreversibility of evolutionary processes based in evidence in the fossil record. That said: ‘But actually, the non-recurrence of experienced events may be one of the oldest notions of the human mind, for in any real experience our sensation of time is unidirectional, and the irreversibility of history and of evolution seem to be correlates of this’ (p 173). Hard to trace irreversibility back to individual steps, it is also hard to think of evolution in any reversible sense. Being a one-way process is gives us a sense of direction through the ages.

Many organic compounds are possible. But only few are actualized. Biochemical homology is more relevant for that propensity than morphological homology. So there is a limitation to those patterns. That said, analogous patterns may play a role also.

We may imagine that the molecules of the early organisms were more exposed to their environment than modern ones. Moreover, at some point genotype and phenotype may have been indistinguishable. ‘Natural selection would have been more direct. An alteration of molecular pattern which conferred a better fit with that environment could have been quickly expressed in the populations of organisms, and rapidly produced diverging species. Under these conditions evolution might also have been relatively reversible ‘ (p 187). dpb: does that imply that chaos theory is more powerful when the continual antagonism is stronger between an organism resilient to change and the unrelenting influence from the environment, which is first the hallmark of chaos theory and second the basis for the development of fitness?

XII some implications : ‘For dysteleogy is hardly less obvious in nature than teleology’ (p 189).

The general approach is that we enlarge our system until it is a thermodynamically isolated system then we find that the randomness increases. What about the increasing organization when organisms are (or become) part of the system. In the light of this: a sheer increase of the numbers of organisms in a solution increase does not imply that the organization of the system increases: ‘But there is no evidence of qualitative increase in organization – no introduction of new pattern – so these examples tell us nothing about how organization takes place’ (p 191) . dpb: but organization can increase in a system when emergence takes place such that a new pattern is introduced from within (interduced). Will this possibility be addressed here? PS not in this section.

‘The rate of flow of events in the direction pointed by time’s arrow is not constant or uniform; some events move more rapidly than others in the direction of greater randomness. Thus, although the increase of randomness may be taken as a measure of direction in time, it cannot be taken as a measure of the rate of passage of time, because the rate is different for each process examined’ (p 192). Because processes occur at different speeds complexity seems to increase for finite periods of time. Thus increase of organization and increase of complexity go hand in hand. But we can have a probkem grasping this, because we can have only a short observation of very lengthy processes. dpb: there seems to be an additional problem with the local nature of space time and the global(ish) nature of the entropic view on systems.

Living systems show a good fitness to the environment (parafrased p 192). dpb: I find ‘fitness to’ an interesting turn of phrase meaning the extent to which one system fits another. What does that mean? Does it help to think of the opposite: one system does not fit to the other? In the case of living systems, it may help to invoke cognition to explain fitness as the ability of a system to interact (observe) another. The extent to which it is able depends on its ability to understand the other and the ability of that other to make itself understood to the first. In this view fitness is a ‘contact sport’, because the medium through which ‘fitness to’ mutually transpires is behavior.

A living system changes to fit to its environment not in order to fit it. The fitness is strictly speaking not ‘in all directions’ (ref Darwin) but restricted by rules and laws at scales smaller than the entire living systems. The ensuing comparison of evolution to the warp of the laws of physics and chemistry with a predominant role for thermodynamics, and the woof (weft?) of mutation and natural selection (p 194). This reminds me of the organization of the rhizomatic system, whereby the possible instances of the next generation is restricted by the organization of the present one.

Teleology : Fitness is the key term, but it is often confused with purpose. This is caused by using purpose asking ‘what is the use/utility of this or that organ for the organism it belongs to’ in order to find out how it and the mechanisms underlying it have developed evolutionarily. DPB: a lesser point:  is fitness then equivalent to a temporary or rather a situational purpose? Blum quotes DuNouy to have coined finalism as the phrase catering for the idea that evolution has a purpose or works towards something (p 197).

Uniqueness : it was shown that evolution and life can take different courses throughout the universe. Earth’s life is unique: ‘And perhaps for this reason alone, this life-stuff is something to be cherished as our proper heritage. .. Yet at the moment there are all too many signs that man lacks the ability to exercise the control over his own activities that may be necessary for survival’s (p 198).

XIII order, negentropy and evolution: the fewer places things can occupy in space time the more organized (orderly) the system is. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place ‘(p 201) describes the organization of a crystal at absolute zero temperature.

Instead of thinking about increasing order in terms of the organization of particles, we may think in terms of organizing facets into patterns. DPB: I think it is confusing to include the effects of the radiation of the sun in a discussion about the organization of a plant. But why is this so confusing? Perhaps this holistic approach needs getting used to, or perhaps its focus and power dissolve in the magnitude of the thermodynamical system. I’m not sure what I am looking for using the processual view.

dpb: I associate this view with rhizomatic thinking, whereby assemblages get taken up in an organization through aspects of their behavior. And also I associate it with my definition of a meme as a complex of ideas, between them connected and forming the meme through connotation, the meme recorded on people’s minds. Let’s find out where his argument goes.

‘For example the facets may correspond to choices made by the computer in achieving a pattern of information, to selections of mutations which ultimately determine the pattern of a phenotype, or to innovations that are received into and help to build up a pattern of human culture. In any case the pattern is not, like a jig-saw puzzle, already complete and only needing to be put together; it evolves progressively. Each choice of a facet depends on the preceding sequence of choices by which the pattern was built up. The facets too may not exist as such until they become part of a pattern; ..’ (p 203). dpb: sounds like the emergence of a meme.

To be able to become part of a pattern, unattached facets need to be stirred (gehusseld). Pattern and facet have to get near enough, be sufficiently sticky, their shape fitting to the present shape of the other. The fitness of the one to the other must turn out to be sufficiently high. Without additional conditions any kind of pattern may develop, but if patterns compete for facets then the variation of shape of generated patterns may decrease in a process similar to natural selection (in an abstract sense). Thus, the choices made by the pattern are determined by its shape and stickiness, and those of the facets which are in turn determined by facets that are added to the pattern previously. Thus it is difficult to distinguish between the arrangement of the pattern and its properties and they may be indistinguishable in the sense of individuation.

An increase of order is a result rather than a cause of evolutionary change. Therefore entropy (or negentropy) does not impel evolutionary change in a particular direction. But meaningful content (meaning) does that. The shape of the pattern changes as facets are added for their stickiness and shape. This also changes its meaning for newly offered facets. Thus, meaning of a pattern increases proportionally with the number of facets. There is evidence of the number of innovations (facets) increasing proportional to the size of the culture (pattern).

dpb: change, whether of a physical, chemical, biological, or social nature is not caused by the generating of heat or by the production of entropy. Instead changes in those kinds of systems are caused by properties of different kinds of interacting processes. This generates heat and produces entropy, degenerating energy, not consuming it. The relation between interactions and the change of entropy is correlate not causal.

dpb: In the entropic scope of a system randomness irreversibly increases, because the degenerated energy cannot be reconverted into free energy. However, not loss of heat is the root cause of that asymmetry, but the nature of the interactions. Or in other words: all kinds interactions between systems and elements can be irreversible, whether they generate more, or instead less heat and produce more, or instead less entropy. Moreover, interactions can generate irreversible order and irreversible disorder. Thus, the first question is what generates irreversibility in and between systems and the second question is how to scope the system if not by its energy balance?

‘Within his lifetime each human being stored information in his brain in the form of remembered images; this accumulated information I have called the individu mnemotype, juxtaposing the term with genotype and phenotype (1963, 1967). Information from this mnemotype is transmitted to other persons in a variety of ways – by visual, written and other means – all of which permit a certain latitude in transmission and storage. This differs greatly from the accurate transfer of the information carried in genotypes. We may think of the cultural pattern upon which the behavior of a society is based as a kind of cross section of all the component individual mnemotypes plus information stored outside men’s brains in written records etc.; this I have called the collective mnemotype’ (p 215). dpb: these are similar to my definition of the concept of memes. Although there is a connection with the example of the patterns earlier on, there is no explanation for how they stick together to form a memeplex, how they are scoped or focused or particularised to topics in society.

‘But there must be a tendency to conserve cultural patterns, or chaos rather than orderly evolution would result from such lack of restraint. Such a tendency may stem from the similarity of the individual mnemotypes of a given society, which are formed within the common environment provided by the collective environment, where mutual exchange of information is relatively easy. Any innovation in culture, initiated by an alteration of information within an individual mnemotype, must be compatible with the traditions embodied in the collective mnemotype, if it is to be accepted into the cultural pattern. Any single innovation can produce only a small change in that pattern as a whole. As the cultural pattern enlarges the expectability of innovations increases, but only in terms of meaningful content of the pattern as it exists.’ (p 216).

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Complexity Scientist