Welcome to the Evo Devo Universe Community!
The underlying paradigm for cosmology is theoretical physics. We explore how it could be extended by including insights from evolutionary developmental biology. In the neo-Darwinian paradigm, adaptive evolutionary development allows the production of ordered and complex structures. More specifically, we can distinguish evolutionary processes which are contingently adaptive and developmental processes which produce systemically statistically predictable structures and megatrajectories internal to the developmental cycle. By analogy with the evolutionary development of two genetically identical twins, would two initially parametrically identical universes each exhibit unpredictably separate and unique evolutionary differentiation over their lifespan, and at the same time, a broad set of predictable developmental milestones and shared structure and function between them? More generally, can we model our universe as an evolutionary developmental system?
- To establish an evo devo universe (EDU) community to explore ideas, models, and questions involving evolutionary and developmental processes that may be operating in the universe as a system, which may itself exist within a more extensive cosmologic environment (the multiverse).
- To bring together select cosmologists, biologists, complexity theorists, nonlinear mathematicians, systems theorists, information theorists, computer scientists, philosophers, and bridge-building interdisciplinarians who have all addressed dimensions of this inquiry in previous publications.
- To identify a larger and multidisciplinary global community of scholars with interest in exploring analogies of the universe as a biological system, and of the universe as an information processing system, and in discriminating potential evolutionary and developmental processes and their interrelationships on either universal or local (macrobiological, planetary) scales.
- To conduct a three year inquiry and conference publication series to produce an overview of the domain.
- To produce an original PhD inquiry into evo devo universe themes which benefits directly from and is assessed by this community of scholars.
- To provide an overview of current thinking on key questions in the evolution and development of the universe as a system.
“If life follows from [primordial] soup with causal dependability, the laws of nature encode a hidden subtext, a cosmic imperative, which tells them: “Make life!” And, through life, its by-products: mind, knowledge, understanding. It means that the laws of the universe have engineered their own comprehension. This is a breathtaking vision of nature, magnificent and uplifting in its majestic sweep. I hope it is correct. It would be wonderful if it were correct. But if it is, it represents a shift in the scientific world-view as profound as that initiated by Copernicus and Darwin put together.” Davies, P. (1999) The Fifth Miracle. New York: Simon & Schuster, p 246.
The idea that the universe and its physical laws are fine-tuned to have the precise values that make life emerge has been championed for decades by Davies and other like-minded thinkers. It is part of a broader striving to articulate a "meta-Darwinian" paradigm that predicts certain systemic aspects of complexity's emergence as statistically probable, arising from the unique parameters (laws, constants, conditions) of our particular universe, and at the same time reconciles this view with the prodigious evidence for the stochastic, contingent Darwinian mechanisms of emergence observed in living systems in their particulars. This striving is today found at the edge of major scientific disciplines and in interdisciplinary inquiry, philosophy of science, and the writings of independent scholars. The scientific need to organize and make accessible the literature, evidence, and arguments of those proposing such articulation and reconciliation is great.
Fortunately, recent developments in evolutionary developmental ("evo devo") biology, astrobiology, and cosmology have provided promising new avenues of research for meta-Darwinian investigations. Consider the following insight from evo devo biology: two genetically identical twins are unpredictably unique in their stochastically-determined dynamics and structure (organogenesis, fingerprints, neural connectivity, etc.) yet predictably similar in a range of systemically convergent emergent aspects (gross physical appearance, key psychological attributes, lifespan, etc.). A number of nonbiological processes, such as snowflake formation, and biological ones, such as brain emergence, can be modeled as both locally chaotic and contingently adaptive, or evolutionary (e.g., Edelman's Neural Darwinism) while also systemically statistically predictable, or developmental. By analogy, to what degree might we model our universe as another evolutionary and developmental nonlinear complex adaptive system? Would two initially parametrically identical universes each exhibit unpredictably unique and creative evolutionary differentiation over their lifespan, and at the same time, a broad set of predictable developmental milestones and shared structure and function between them? Such investigations may yield insights into both evolutionary and developmental (evo devo) processes operating at multiple levels in complex systems.
Finally, evo devo investigations must seek to better understand not only life but the role of intelligence within the universe. Theories of information and computation which attempt to translate between the scale spectrum of particular sciences, between classical and algorithmic information theory, and new cosmological models of our universe as a computational entity may aid our early endeavors. There is no a priori supposition that our universe is “alive” or “computational” in these investigations. Vitalistic and technologic analogies in complexity science may be useful cognitive tools, but only to a point. Likewise, there may be sharp limits to the generalizability of evolution and development as processes of change operating at multiple scales, and in representations possible in current nonlinear science. Nevertheless, humanity is very early in these investigations and we see much potential ahead.
What kind of research questions will be tackled?
- Can we model our universe as an evolutionary developmental system?
- Local uniqueness and systemic predictability appear in many classes of inanimate systems, from snowflakes to continental plates. To what extent may such uniquenesses be modeled as evolutionary, and similarities as developmental?
- In nonlinear science, what theoretical and mathematical tools and models may be proposed for these ideas?
- In hierarchy theory, to what degree may evolutionary and developmental lessons learned at one complex system level illuminate another?
- To what degree can evolutionary and developmental models of information processing in biology be generalized to geophysical and universal environments?
- How does intelligence, or more specifically the phenomenon of world- and self-modeling, influence the dynamics of evolution and development in biological systems?
- To what extent is the universe life and intelligence friendly? To what degree can such friendliness/fine-tuning be characterized in developmental terms?
- What are the broad human implications of an evo devo universe? What values does it imply?
- What are the methodological and epistemological status of these approaches?
Who are we?
The researchers who have agreed to participate in the project to date are:
- Francis Heylighen, a systems theorist, focusing on the evolution of complexity.
- Jean-Pierre Luminet is a French astrophysicist, presently specializing in black holes and cosmology.
- Alain Prochiantz is a neurobiologist, presently researching intercellular communication and the role of homeogenes and homeoproteins in development and in the adult. He is also a specialist of cerebral morphogenesis, and thus of evolutionary-developmental processes.
- Joël de Rosnay is a systems theorist, futurist, prolific author, and former MIT researcher and teacher in biology and computer science.
- Robin Allott, an author and independent scholar in linguistics, evolutionary psychology, and language-mediated theories of cultural evolution.
- Steven J. Dick, historian of science, prolific author, expert on astrobiology and astrosociobiology (cultural implications of astrobiological knowledge).
- James N. Gardner, complexity theorist and science essayist, with a background in philosophy and theoretical biology.
How can I participate in the project?
There are many ways you can participate to the Evo Devo Universe (EDU) project.
- If you are a researcher in cosmology, biology, philosophy, complexity sciences or simply a researcher busy with the same research questions, we will be very glad to welcome you as a member of the community. You can contact John Smart or Clément Vidal.
- Our first aim is to build an extensive bibliography. We thus welcome bibliographical suggestions relevant to EDU.
- We welcome financial support and any help or advice related to fundraising.
- We warmly welcome the funding of the project by The Complex Systems Institute, Paris (ISC-PIF)