I offer no apology for this edited repeat posting. Rightly or wrongly, these ideas continue to fascinate me, and I find the emerging understanding profoundly satisfying.
Given enough hydrogen, enough space, and enough time;
by natural, spontaneous mechanisms
the complexity of matter will increase,
and life will begin;
as living things evolve,
their information processing will grow in scope and power,
until eventually conscious intelligence is born.
That statement is my Conjecture of Kosmic Autopoiesis. Let it be written on my tombstone.
This is an attempt to write down ideas which interest and excite me. It is a brief, preliminary, incomplete and inadequate outline. Obviously any conjecture demands precise exposition, careful elaboration, critical evaluation, and discussion. A lengthy task, but a start must be made.
At present I can argue as follows in support of the conjecture.
1. It is evident that the complexity of our planet earth has increased since its origin, maybe 4.5 billion years ago. A biosphere has evolved from an initial assembly of elements and simple compounds.
At least one member of the biosphere is now conscious, with the facility of intelligent information processing.
It has taken more time than the human mind can easily imagine, but there is no doubt that it has happened.
2. There is no evidence that earth's evolution requires an external designer or controller: all processes on the earth are intrinsic and spontaneous. Therefore the potential of self-assembly - autopoiesis - must be included in our studies of the properties of matter.
The mechanisms of autopoiesis are poorly understood. Our knowledge is best for the biosphere, but insights into pre-biotic evolution are beginning.
Autopoiesis is the theory of natural self-assembly, a conjecture, inferred from probabilities. Our special human interest is Gaia Autopoietika, the autopoietic Earth.
3. Gravity is the great creative force, causing the aggregation of materials and energy release necessary for autopoiesis. It is gravity which drives the sun and the other stars; it is gravity which creates planets from stardust; it is gravity which sustains environments in which life can evolve.
But it is gravity which now restricts the advancement of Homo beyond its home planet.
4. Why stop with earth? There is no sign that physics and chemistry might vary across the kosmos. Our sun is one of many millions of similar stars in our galaxy alone, and there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the kosmos we observe. The probability that earth is the only planet suitable for life is vanishingly small. What we perceive here may be a very small sample, but there is no reason to believe it is atypical or unique.
There is a high probability that life is abundant in the kosmos: conscious, intelligent life must be out there, and may well be common. We can but hope that eventually a means of communication across vast distances will be found; perhaps then we shall find a kosmos full of voices.
5. The increase in complexity from kosmic primordia to stars and planets extends autopoiesis back almost to the singularity which we believe was in the beginning.
6. In broadest outline, autopoiesis proceeds:
- from hydrogen gas to generations of stars, and synthesis of all other elements;
- from simple stars to complex star-systems, with planets of elements and compounds;
- from simple to complex planetary chemistry;
- from complex molecules to simple life;
- from simple to complex life, increasingly homeostatic [independent of the environment];
- in homeostasis increasingly complex neural structures, permitting functions of increasing sophistication;
- finally consciousness and intelligence.
7. This conjecture - an Autopoietic Kosmos - Kosmos Autopoietikos - may be the grandest of unifying theories. Much detail may still be mysterious, but the theory offers understanding of the emergence from chaotic matter and energy of order, life and mind. The consequent vision is majestic, but without comfort. It is mechanical, wasteful, cruel and unjust in its working; frequently creating diversions leading to extinction; yet somehow, marvellously and unexpectedly, the long-term trend is always to increase complexity.
Darwinian evolution is the prime mechanism of complexity increase, at the biological level at least.
That which succeeds, succeeds; that which fails is eliminated without mercy.
8. All life is subject to a ruthless and unrelenting struggle for survival and reproductive success. With the exception of photosynthetic and chemosynthetic organisms, all life feeds on other life, with no respect for status in the tree of life. Syphilis destroyed Schubert; tuberculosis bacilli killed Darwin’s 10 years old daughter.
Life’s evolution on earth survived mass extinctions, usually inflicted by asteroid impact and volcanism; blind physics damaging biology. Remarkably such events may accelerate autopoiesis, perhaps by clearing space for the next advance.
After the Permian mass extinction came the radiation of the reptilia and dinosauria; in turn they gave way to birds and mammals after the late Cretaceous extinction event.
9. Autopoiesis - to what end? A question we cannot answer. That the kosmos has meaning and purpose must be assumed, for now. That is the only item of faith I can accept in my kataphusin philosophy. It is the first axiom for any evidence-based theology.
Some may argue that autopoiesis is evidence for the existence of a creating, controlling and sustaining entity, towards which all is evolving, and in which all eventually will reach fulfilment, be made plain, and justified. This conjecture has no demonstrable base in the knowledge of reality which now we possess, nor can it be proven by argument - or disproven.
But the denial of such arguments implies that material, mechanism and chance are the total and final causes of all the marvels we perceive, and that the kosmos we inhabit has no deep meaning or ultimate significance. The more I experience and understand, the more absurd those conclusions seem.
Could it be that all we are is just a tiny increment in the autopoiesis of a future kosmic organism, endowed with knowledge, understanding and capabilities beyond our comprehension?
We can but hope.