The distinction between “genotype” and “phenotype” is an artificial one that obfuscates understanding past a certain point. As Dawkins points out in his selfish gene argument, from the standpoint of the gene, the gene is the phenotype and the organism is the genotype. This is not to say that we should go overboard and anoint the gene as supreme. “Genotype” and “phenotype” are concepts. From a complex system’s standpoint, they are two frozen snapshots (stages) in an ongoing autocatalytic cycle. Other stages between could be singled out and studied (e.g. ontogenesis), but we are not good at conceptualizing dynamic processes and prefer to look at relatively stable forms. We forget that these stable forms are a part of the autocatalytic process, which is ongoing. (more…)
Archive for September, 2007
There has been a long-standing debate about the notion of group selection, the idea that populations of organisms can be selected for en masse over competing populations. The Darwinian “purists” claim that natural selection (NS) only acts at the level of individuals. But if that’s true, then how can multicellular organisms be subject to NS? After all what are multicellular organisms if not a group of single cell organisms?
Posted in Agency, Autocatalysis, Cooperation, Emergence, Evolution, Levels, Stability, tagged Agency, Autocatalysis, Cooperation, Emergence, Evolution, Levels, Stability on September 20, 2007| 4 Comments »
Stability can be thought of as a measure of agency. That is, the more stable a system is, the better we are able to recognize it as a distinct agent, a system that actively, structurally or by happenstance persists through time, space and/or other dimensions. Burton Voorhees defines a concept of virtual stability as a “state in which a system employs self-monitoring and adaptive control to maintain itself in a configuration that would otherwise be unstable.” He clarifies that virtual stability is not the same as stability or metastability and gives formal definitions of all three.* By making a distinction between stability, metastability and virtual stability, we can gain further clarity on agency itself and the emergence of new agents and new levels of organization. (more…)
[ The following is a repost from my MySpace blog, which is not accessible unless you have an account there. Also, the audience there isn’t really interested in this stuff :-) ]
The notion that the “network is the computer” – or at least that it could be – has been around for a while. But all actual implementations to date are either too specialized (e.g. SETI@home) or simplistic (e.g. p2p file-sharing, viruses, DDoS attacks) to be used for generalized computation, or are bound at some critical bottleneck of centralization. To this latter point, search engines hold promise, but the ones we are familiar with like Google are reliant on both central computational control (for web crawling and result retrieval) and central storage (for indexing and result caching). Lately social bookmarking/tagging has been used by those opting in to distribute the role of crawling, retrieval and indexing. It remains to be seen whether keyword tags and clusters thereof are semantically strong enough in practical terms to support general computation. Regardless, whatever heavy lifting is not supported by the representation level will end up falling on the protocol and computational levels. On the other end of the spectrum, the specialized and computationally intensive projects have the issue of how to divide the labor and coordinate results, and no efforts to date have yielded a way to generalize distributed computation without a high degree of specialized programming. (more…)