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Project description

“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.