Research questions

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What research questions are we presently considering?

Any questions that seem related to the project and themes as described. Approved EDU community members should feel free to add select questions by subject directly below, and send any general questions proposals to Clement or John. If you are a member of this community and are pursuing answers to any of the questions on this page, feel free to create a Research on xyz topic page*, placed at the end of any question, that summarizes what you have found in the literature or in your own work, and any open subquestions. See info on creating new research pages below. Please be clear and concise and remember wiki contributions may be mercilessly edited by the community!

General questions

  • Can we model our universe as an evolutionary developmental system? By analogy with the evolutionary development of two genetically identical twins, which predictably share some global and general features, yet unpredictably express most local and micro features (fingerprints, tissue architecture, neural wiring, personality, etc.) uniquely from twin to twin, would two initially parametrically identical universes each exhibit unpredictably separate and unique evolutionary variation over their lifespan, and at the same time, a broad set of predictable developmental milestones and shared structure and function between them? If so, what aspects of the universe and its major emergent subsystems (galaxies, solar systems, complex planets, biospheres, cultures, technological systems, etc.) may be modeled as evolutionary (or quasi-evolutionary) and what aspects as developmental (or quasi-developmental)?
  • How may we define evolutionary processes in both in living systems at multiple scales (molecular biology, cell biology, organism, group, species, ecosystem) and in nonliving systems (prebiotic systems, postbiotic systems and the universe as a system)? What are the commonalities and uniquenesses in this collection of definitions? Are there any universally generic features of evolutionary process, such as unpredictability, chaos, contingency, variation, competition, selection, or adaptation? Is "evolution" an appropriately general word to describe such processes at the universal scale, or would an alternative word or words be more precise?
  • How may we define developmental processes both in living systems at multiple scales (molecular biology, cell biology, organism, group, species, ecosystem) and in nonliving systems (prebiotic systems, postbiotic systems and the universe as a system)? What are the commonalities and uniquenesses in this collection of definitions? Are there any universally generic features of developmental process, such as predictability, directionality, convergence, self-organization, or life cycle (growth, maturity, death, replication, new growth)? Is "development" an appropriately general word to describe such processes at the universal scale, or would an alternative word or words be more precise?
  • Some combination of local-microstructural unpredictability or uniqueness and systemic-macrostructural predictability or similarity may be found in many classes of inanimate Earth systems, from snowflakes to continental plates (unpredictably unique local features in any member of the class, and predictably similar systemic properties for the entire class). To what extent may such unpredictability/uniqueness be modeled as evolutionary, and predictability/similarity as developmental?
  • In the theory of cosmological natural selection (CNS), an analogy may be made between apparently 'fine-tuned' physical parameters or their proxies as universal 'DNA', the Big Bang as 'seed', the finite universe as 'organism', and the multiverse as 'environment'. How useful is this analogy? If the multiverse remains (at present) beyond empirical investigation, what other aspects of the CNS analogy may be falsifiably tested?
  • Must all complex adaptive systems undergo some form of evolution (stochastic variation of form), some form of environmental ('natural') selection, and some form of development, including templated replication? If so, and if we can tentatively model our universe as a complex adaptive system with pan-hierarchical evolution, natural selection, and development, might complexity science eventually provide an information theoretic proof of universal replication in the multiverse?
  • What imprecise use of the nomenclature of evolution and development presently exists in the scientific literature (eg., use of the phrase "stellar evolution" to describe astrophysical processes that sometimes appear evolutionary (selectionist and variety-generating), but more often appear developmental (hierarchical and predictable)? How can our nomenclature be improved? To what extent are analogies of evolutionary and developmental process misapplied in biological systems, and to what extent are they valid in nonbiological systems?
  • How and to what extent do evolutionary and developmental processes interrelate at multiple systems scales? What future expectations may we have for evolutionary and developmental process, at multiple systems scales?
  • In linear and nonlinear science, what theoretical and mathematical tools and models may be proposed for these ideas?
  • In hierarchy theory, how do evolution and development contribute the production of new complex systems? To what degree may evolutionary and developmental lessons learned at one level of hierarchy illuminate another? Can models of universal development provide a falsifiable definition of hierarchy trajectory?
  • In the theory and philosophy of universal change, macroevolution (evolution operating over long timespans or multiple systems scales) is far more commonly discussed than macrodevelopment (development operating over long timespans or multiple systems scales). What are the historical, empirical, cultural, and other reasons for this? What may we learn from this present imbalance? Is it appropriate, and if necessary, how may it be addressed?
  • For the universe as a system, is empirical science biased to first understand and validate the interrelation of macroevolutionary and macrodevelopmental processes in prebiotic systems, as both such processes may presumably be observed in multiple independent locations astronomically?
  • A number of biotic emergence events (DNA, universal genetic code, eukaryotes, major phyla, symbol-using organisms, etc.) have been singular (one time, not repeated) in Earth's history. As such events are locally unique, how may we best understand and validate them as predictable processes in universal macrodevelopment?
  • To what extent may we validate macrodevelopment by the phenomenon of evolutionary convergence (isolated geographies in which homoplasy, or convergent parallel evolutionary development of form or function, has occurred). Is validation of macrodevelopment in living systems intrinsically more difficult until astrobiologists have the ability to observe environmentally-similar planets for life? If so, what are the implications for scholarship in macroevolution and macrodevelopment of living systems?
  • In physical systems at any scale, how are evolutionary or developmental processes involved in information production, processing, transmission, and preservation? 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 and universal systems? To what extent is our universe life and intelligence friendly? To what degree can such friendliness/fine-tuning be characterized in evolutionary and developmental terms?
  • What are the apparent phenomena of accelerating universal emergence rates (eg., Carl Sagan's Cosmic Calendar), accelerating complexity in human civilization (e.g., Gerard Piel's Acceleration of History), and accelerating growth in computational capacity since the birth of modern computing (e.g., Ray Kurzweil's Age of Intelligent Machines)?
  • Is Earth's local history of computational-technological acceleration part of a universal developmental process? To what extent have Earth's historical accelerations been developmentally robust at the global level, to evolutionary experiments which often end in catastrophe at the individual level? What are we to make of various hypotheses of a coming technological singularity (e.g., Wesley, 1974; Moravec, 1984; Vinge, 1993; Kurzweil, 1999), and how can we place acceleration studies in universal context?
  • 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?

Select questions by subject

Complexity in the universe and the Free Energy Rate Density

  • A metric to characterize the complexity of physical, biological and cultural systems in the universe has been proposed by Chaisson (2001; 2003) (see bibliography).
    • How can we precise and work with this metric?
    • What happens if we use this metric for the early universe?
    • Can we complete the curve to understand the past (early universe) and to the future (acceleration of technology)?

Research on free energy rate density

Scale invariance and self-similarity

  • What processes in evolution, development, and computation appear scale invariant and which merely appear self-similar?
Research on scale invariance and self similarity

Self-reference and recursion

  • What role do self-reference, iteration, and recursion play in biological evolution and development? Is all hierarchy formation a result of such processes, and does this contribute to or form the basis of self-similarity in complex adaptive systems? When and to what degree are such systems top down and bottom up in their dynamics of emergence and control?
Research on self-reference and recursion

Normal and power law distributions

  • Why are well behaved normal-like distributions and Zipf/Pareto/Mandelbrot power law distributions so ubiquitous in nature? What does theoretical biology say about the role of normal and power law distributions in evolutionary and developmental processes in general, and when does one distribution family "become" the other? Can we make the case that a top down (developmental) process commonly creates a normal distribution and a bottom up (evolutionary) process commonly creates a power law distribution?
Research on normal and power law distributions

Individual learning systems

  • Complex systems that develop out of their environments as individuals, with changing organization that evolves in the process of discovering their paths of development. Such systems tend to have observably local process networks, and local responses to the changing conditions their developments produce. They may be definable as systems that develop by a local discovery and learning process. Their behaviors include energy flow systems that emerge and dissipate, and while often not having conserved properties to study, they do have conserved continuities of change to study.
Research on individual learning systems


* Creating New Research Pages
Read Help:Starting a new page or simply click "Edit" in the upper right corner of this page to view the simple wiki code, two brackets around the page name, that is all you need to create a new page for editing.