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The Mechamisms of Evolution
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin described two major tendencies in Evolution: more complexity + more consciousness. In my article "From Matter to Mind", based upon a text from Beatrix Murrell, I gave a first approach to this question.

Here I'm trying to describe these processes in more detail, including some ideas from Capra's The Web of Life. [1]

Major aspects

If one looks to the evolving reality from "outside" (a phenomenological approach --hence Teilhard's The Phenomenon of Man), some things are easily observable, others only indirectly. Teilhard hinself called these two kinds of phenomena the Outside (the With-out) and the Inside, also called the Within.

In the Outside, the directly observable aspect of the elements of the Universe, two aspects can be discerned: structure and activity. Structure is the durable constitution of the elements, most giving it its identity. Changing the structure usually changes the identity. By contrast, activity is the general name for the light, temporary structural changes, including movement, that occur in many systems. Although those changes are not durable and not important enough to change the structure, they usually are strong enough tro provoke changes in the environment.

The Within is only indirectly observable. We can presume it, from the high complexity of the organism's activity, and, of course, recognise it in ourselves. In this Within we can recognise two kinds of mechanisms: organization or internal interactions, and communication or external interactions.


These four fundamental mechanisms use energy, of course. But we can distinguish two dimensions in this energy: quantity and direction.

From a quantitative viewpoint, it is easy to distinguish macro- and micro-energy: macro-energy changes structures, and provokes macro-effects. Micro-energy is not strong enough to provoke structural changes, but can be detected by sensitive subsystems (sensors and sense-organs). We call its effect a micro-effect.

From a directional point of view one can discern energy, directed towards itself, or at least to an identical system (one's baby), from energy, dircted towards other systems.

structure (or structuration) = macro-energy directed towards self.
activity = macro-energy directed towards the outside world
organization = micro-energy directed towards self
communication = micro-energy directed towards the outside world, and received

Let's consider now these four fundamental processes in universe in some more detail.

The Structuration Process

This process results in the making, the structuration, of new, more complex systems, but also in the making of analogous systems, similar to those already existing. Several mechanisms can be distinguished:

1. Coincidence

In this stage, there seems to be no other constituting factor than coincidence of internal and external factors, of course within the limits of the laws of Physics. However, in the beginning these coincidental processes are highly enhanced by two factors in the environment: (1) high energetical levels (the Big Bang, the inside of stars and suns) provoking intensive "structural" collisions and interactions, and (2) high concentration of the elements. This concentration is typical for the initial stages of the universe, and is later reproduced in gases condensing into stars. The first four stages of the Evolution, and partly the fifth, were governed by this process. And at this fifth stage, most parts of the universe stop their evolution indeed: all that "dead" planets and asteroids, just circulating nearly without any change since eons through the nearly empty cosmos.

2. Replication

During the "organic" stage of phase 5, an impressive new phenomenon occurs, at least in some fortunate places on some fortunate planets (at the surface of the oceans in an atmosphere without oxygen): complex organic molecules develop, and one of their first characteristics is that they, at least in a "rich" environment, are able to elicit the development of other, identical molecules. This process can be compared with crystals catalysing crystallization. This replication capacity is used by nature till the end of the biological phase: cell organelles, viruses, and cells can replicate into identical offspring.

3. Reconstruction

Starting with multicellular organisms (level 8), nature no longer replicates for reproduction, but reconstructs. In fact, metazoic beings including plants, animals and man, can't replicate as such. Their existence starts with a unicellular forerunner (ovum and spermatozoid), and then the multicellular being is rebuilt from scratch. This procedure has several advantages compared with the replication style: (1) as major defects (illnesses and aging) are not yet resolved, dying individuals are continuously replaced from fresh constructions; (2) the evolutionary process can be enormously enhanced, because each generation has virtualy the chance to include genetic improvements, where a multicellular replication system should be too complicate for that. (3) Moreover, the sexual exchange of genes enhances the probability for mutations and for a transfer of new "discoveries".

The Activity Process

Activity can be defined as subliminal, often cyclic structural changes that, generally speaking, don't affect the structure of the system, but that modify the position, the form and the structure of other systems. In the first stages, there's no observable difference between structure and acitivity. Apart from electro-magnetic effects, all activities by simple objects (from strings, level 1,  to atoms, level 4) imply structural changes, e.g. chemical reactions, melting, raining, etc. It's only with eobionts (level 6) and unicellular beings (7) that we see movements, the most primitive form of activity.

1. Moving

Moving is a kind of borderline activity because it doesn't change any structure. Nevertheless, it is very important for the system to reach useful objects, to avoid danger and to realize important, existential goals. Moving starts with unicellular organisms (7). Viruses don't move autonomously.

2. Changing

By changing we mean that elements of the environment are used for the profit of the active organism. These changes are mostly destructive (hunting, feeding), but sometimes constructive (the making of warrens, nests and hives). These constructive changing is close to the next procedure. The metabolism, from stage 7, is an illustration of changing activities.

3. Making

Making can be defined as a combination of elements into a new one with new possibilities. The making of tools, by adapting some existent objects (e.g. the bone or the fur of a dead animal) is the first stage of this procedure, and evolves eventually to high skills as watch making and the development of electrical devices. Making only starts with the last stage, socialization (9), although primates can use tools, but generally don't make them.

4. Mechanical production

When the making of objects is transfered to mechanical devices, productivity can be enhanced. The development and use of machines is very progressive, passing through a long period of enhanced production with tools (pottery and weaving looms). Also machines were developed that didn't have any production: e.g. a watch.

Another transition to this stage is the use of external forces (slaves, animals and natural forces) to provoke certain effects: it started with fire.

5. Machines making machines

This seems to be the limit in "activity": everything, from energy to action, is transfered to an artifact outside man. It's activity to the second degree.

The Organization Process

If we define organization as an internal directing interaction of micro-energy, we can consider the elementary structure of an atom (level 4) as a first form of organization. This principle seems rather fundamental, because also planetary, solar and stellar systems are organized that way. Although the used "micro-energy" (electro-magnetism, gravity) doesn't change anything in the structure of the "peripheral" subsystem (electrons vz. planets), it defines its place and moving possibilities. It seems as if the transition from kernel forces (strong, weak) to long-distance forces (electro-magnetism, gravity) marks the transition from simple cohesion towards organization.

1. Centralization

This is the most simple form of organization: a more powerful, central part of the system determines place and movemental possibilities of the peripheral elements: the nucleus of the atom "guides" the orbiting electrons. One could say that the organization is still rather "structural": no specialized subsystems (as the nervous system e.g.) exist at these levels.

2. Code

Codes are the transition form structural organization to informative organization. Codes are structures, which --in an appropriate environment--, elicit some structural changes. E.g. the DNA codes on genes direct some biochemicval processes, which result in structural changes.

3. Historical code

With evolutionary progress, new possibilities in structure and behaviour are added. Instead of the enormous work of repositioning each time the complete DNA code, nature preferred a much more simple technique: just adding the new DNA codes to the old. So some new possibilities, and suppressing some obsolete instructions, emerged. This accumulative principle leads to a continuously increasing number of chromosomes, and a development of metazoaic beings, who perform their individual development (ontogenesis) by mimicking the biological evolution (phylogenesis) from very primitive stages.

4. Instinct

Here we pass from structural organization towards a specialized subsystem in living organisms: the nervous system. We have an analogous system, the hormonal system, that has the same effect: to observe some conditions (signs, signals), and to release some hormonal messengers or transmitters which provoke some strong reactions. In plants, we have an analogous system: phytohormones. In all cases the "behaviour" is genetically regulated: the hormonal and primitive nervous circuitry is part of the structure: it is "firmware" that can't be altered.

5. Learned Reflexes

Nature didn't stop at that point. With the emergence of mammalians and already, to some limited extent, with birds and reptiles, another behavioural regulating mechanism is introduced: behaviours most often incidentally performed but rewarded by an agreeable outcome, have a tendency to be repeated in appropriate circumstances. This learning capacity is enhanced by some conditions, including (1) examples from peers or parents (although they probably just push the subject into a learning situation rather than showing the behaviour); (2) a generalized undirected behavioural activation, elicited by anxiety or enthousiasm, increasing the probability of discovering some new favourable behaviour by wildly trying out a number of possible activities, and (3) generalizing or associating existing behaviour in similar situations, with a chance to refine it.

6. Intelligent Action

The next step in organizing the activity of a system, is to develop, by imagination and enhanced by language, an internal image of external reality so that coincidence, trial and error can be shortcut, and largely replaced by a mental preparation of a new activity by imaginary experiments and integrations. It is important to conceive that "an internal image of external reality" is not at all comparable with a photographic image, but is a combination of knowledge about observable reality, extended with (1) general hypotheses (laws, abstractions) about this reality and (2) a huge collection of images of parts of reality never observed, but imagined with deduction from abstraction and from descriptions by others. Moreover, these "ideas" are intensively linked with emotional and behavioural associations, which is not the case with a photograph.

The Communiation Process

Communication can be defined in several ways, but the most simple and general definition is: an exchange of micro-energetic signs, called information. It is essential to keep in mind that information requires at least two intelligent (sub)systems: the one which codes (symbolizes) ideas into information, and the one which decodes information, translates it back into ideas, hoping that the message passed as it was meant: emitter and receiver.

Of course, systems sensible to micro-energy can observe some significant signs which weren't sent as signal: the view or the noise of an approaching danger, the noise or smell of a victim, etc. This is observation, not communication. The latter only starts with the purposeful emission of signals, and this occurs with metazoa (level 8 --perhaps some monocellular beings including bacteria already give some chemical signals to each other). Anyway, the border between the observation of unintentionally given signs and intentionally given signals is not very sharp.

Communication starts more or less simultaneously with the emergence of instincts. In fact, instincts are genetical reactions to signs and signals.

1. Signals

The first mode of communication is the exchange of signals. This occurs mostly, but not entirely, on an instinctive base: nature provided such reactive circuits. An animal spontaneously emits some signals if intense emotions, including pain and anxiety, but also aggressiveness, are experienced. Other animals and members of the group are alerted by this, and can react for their own safety before it is too late. Mothers start feeding or protecting their offspring. Often the emission of aggressive signals prevents fight, as the intruder leaves the territory upon receiving an aggressive signal. Learning processes in tamed animals exclusively consist of signals, completed, during the training stage, with significant rewards and punitions. This kind of communication probably was the one Neanderthal men used, when "language" only consisted of a collection of primitive sounds, accompanied by movements.

Communication with signals already occurs in stage 8, but the next forms of communication are limited to stage 9 (socialization, Noosphere).

2. Knowledge Transfer

For this and the next forms of communication, language is required, i.e. a collectrion of symbols by which reality can be symbolized. This way, people are able to describe to each other parts of reality that they not (yet) have observed by themselves. From tales at the camp fire to gossips, this "Knowledge Transfer" enormously extends the capacities for people to have a broader knowledge about reality than individual observation allows. It is clear that by knowledge, information or news we only mean here: descriptive information about observable parts of reality.

Due to our tendency to associate and generalize from knowledge, mostly on an unconscious level, each individual starts to build up a series of intuitions, right or wrong, about reality in general. This is the unconscious precursor of conscious insight.

3. Insights Transfer

The next step in communication is the transfer of insights, by which we mean abstractions, general rules, hypotheses and laws about reality. This can be united under the notion inductions. This general ideas about reality enable two kinds of deductive suppositions: (1) images of parts of reality that nobody has observed so far (or that are unobservable indeed, e.g. subatomic structures, the inside of planets and stars, etc.), and (2) ideas about possible things to come. This is creativity.

At this level, the elaboration of insights predominantly is an occupation of individuals: scientists, philosophers, geniuses. Of course, they are inspired by the work of predecessors, and reflect --if they are not censored-- upon the feedback of peers and the general public. But their thinking activity generally occurs at an individual level, and their publications bear their name as author.

Thus communication at this level is the exchange of insights and theories.

4. Integrative Communication

The last step so far in the development of communication is integrative communication, the elaboration of new explaining inductions and creative deductions by an intense cooperation between thinking people. Their intellectual interaction no longer aims at proving the truth of Hypothesis A, and the falseness of imcompatible Hypothesis B, but rather supposes that both most probably contain a part of total reality, and that both can be completed with the elements added by the other approach.

Internet, as a quick, cheap and apparently limitless means of global communication, is essential for integrative communication. Integrative websites should feature this word in the keywords, so that research engines could pick them out as instances of high level communication, the highest value enabled by Internet.

Some Concluding Remarks

1. This is a model about evolutionary mechanisms in general. Yet the most interesting processes occur during the Noophase. I'll try to integrate ideas about the Mechanisms of the Noospheric Evolution in another article.

2. Although the model, presented here, takes into account many information and ideas about evolution, an integration has still to be performed with models proposed by Jean Gebser, Don Edward Beck and Ken Wilber. We have also the interesting ideas from some creative members of the current Teilhard eGroup, including Tony Kelly and Rudolf Seiberl.

3. This model seems to be integrative indeed, yet I'm not totally pleased with it. I'm wondering if no more symmetry could be elaborated. The fundamental scheme macro-/micro-energy seems to be very essential, as seems to be the structuration/activity and organization/communication distinction. Still I'm lacking a more fundamental model, replacing the seemingly unstructured development of new mechanisms in the evolutionary process. Perhaps the integration with the other models, amentioned above, will shed light.

4. Some fundamental tendencies already seem clear: as well in the macro- as in the micro-systems, the general tendency seems to aim at progressively more changeability,adaptability, and integrability in both senses of the word: factual and conceptual. The 'blind' and rigid evolutionary tendency progressively is replaced by an internal, symbolic, virtual world --evolving towards consciousness-- in which the next stage of evolution can be prepared without trial and error, without coinflict or war.

5. If one looks to this model, the introduction of a soul at a certain point, or another kind of animating energy, seems completely superfluous, and only reflects our anthropomorphic way of thinking. In this model, we observe a natural emergence of the different elements of organization and communication, and never an unexplainable step is encountered.

6. Perhaps Teilhard's fundamental Law ("Evolution tends towards more complexity and more consciousness, each factor enabling the other") could refined into "Evolution tends towards an integration of all existing systems, as well factual as conceptual, each factor enabling the other." These formulation also suggests the convergence, a very cherished idea of Teilhard, where complexification just is a cold, quantitative notion. On the other hand, consciousness is only the very last stage of the development of insight and communication, and many misunderstand it in the sense that they look for kinds of consciousness in earlier, prehuman systems, where the organizing phenomena better respond to labels as reflexes, codes and micro-effects.

[1] Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life. Anchor Books, NY, 1996. 

Created 11/5/02 by Kris ROOSE