JUN 22, 2014  

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teleological complexity

In everyday life, something is called complex if itís hard and/or confusing to deal with it. In physics, which is just a reasonable abstract of everyday life (well, till recently), complexity has the same meaning: there are well defined and workable definitions of order and disorder but complexity is something between the two, troublesome to deal with because you have to justify the islands of order in the vast sea of disorder. In biology, however, complexity has a meaning of higher order in structure and functionality of species - and that is even more troublesome because there is a simple question: why (regardless of how) has evolution introduced complexity?

Bacteria showed up billions of years ago, and they are still the dominant living beings on Earth by number and mass, showing no urge for complexity. On the other hand, evolving biological complexity built the huge hierarchical tree of life on the top of which we place ourselves because our complexity includes the highest functionality (by our standards, of course): human intelligence. All living beings process information about their environment to be able to adapt to the environment. We believe our ability for the processing is the highest around (on Earth, at least). Question stays: did evolution introduced complexity for us to show up? Is evolution directional (teleological)? (Please, donít mix God and similar ingredients into the present discussion.) Do we have a right to consider ourselves the dominant species on Earth, not bacteria, because we write research papers about bacteria?

from Nonzero by Robert Wright (2000)

Let me reiterate the meagerness of my aspirations. Iím not saying there is a proof that biological evolution has a purpose and is the product of design. Iím just saying that itís not crazy to believe this. Biological evolution has a set of properties that is found in such purposive things as animals and robots and is not found in such evidently purposeless things as rocks and rives. This isnít proof of teleology, but itís evidence of it.

Or, to put the point another way: It may indeed be that evolution is not teleological. But if thatís the case, then evolution is the only thing I can think of that exhibits flexible directionality via information processing and isnít teleological.


biological complexity

I would somewhat distance myself from Robert. On the rocks and rives, I mean. If Earth itself is considered to be a life being, how would he prove that the changes of rocks and rives are purposeless?


Krešimir J. Adamić