New theory of evolution based on information

Image source: Discovery Institute.

One of the reasons the theory of evolution is controversial is the claim that pure chance produces information. That is, randomly generated events are somehow selected for survival and continuous complex development (Darwinian evolution). The theory is understandably popular because, if correct, it would answer a lot of questions. The problem is that we don’t see randomly generated events producing complex mechanisms in the life around us. We are, however, asked to believe that this Modern Synthesis (SM) is true on the grand sweep of evolutionary time.

The third way

Over the years, it has become apparent that evolution occurs in many ways, including the horizontal transfer of genes between unrelated species, the epigenetic inheritance of genes that changed over the lifetime of our parents, and convergent evolution – where very different life forms end up with very similar mechanisms due to the pursuit of a common goal. Efforts to incorporate these processes into the theory of evolution are sometimes referred to as the Third Way or Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (SEE).

A new model of evolution is based on the theory of information, itself interesting because information is governed by different rules of matter and energy. For example, it is created by excluding possibilities, it is relational and not causal, and it is not reduced by being shared. It is also intangible. For example, Einstein’s bomb equation, e = mc2had a huge impact on the world, but in itself it is an intangible idea.

The information may be stripped of any material and appear in a variety of media: We might call you and tell you the winning lottery number or send you an email or letter about it or discuss it on the radio or television . Very different material supports; same information.

Different questions, different answers

Reinterpreting evolution as information transfer will lead to both different questions and different answers.

The authors of a recent open access article in the journal Biosystems, marine researcher Rasmus Skern-Mauritzen and forester Thomas Nygaard Mikkelsen, say they understand that information is intangible. Here is the summary of their information continuum evolution model:


1. Information is intangible in nature but must have a physical form to exist.

2. Legacy information can be found in many forms.

3. Forms have divergent properties and information can change physical form over time.

4. We suggest the term “hereditary” to designate the sum of inherited information and its forms.

5. The substrate of natural selection is immaterial information.

6. The information continuum model is a simple heuristic model that allows the study of evolution and natural selection without conceptual restrictions imposed by the properties of the individual components of the heritome.

7. The conceptual nature of the information continuum model allows it to serve as an interdisciplinary platform for collaboration between the natural and social sciences.

Read more on The mind matterspublished by the Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at the Discovery Institute.


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