Saturday, 31 August 2013

Why I think biological macroevolution is a practical impossibility

Notwithstanding the correctness of using statistical reasoning [Abel 2009, Durston et. al. 2007] when dealing with the organisation and functioning of biological systems, the strength of statistical statements falls short of what is needed in order to demonstrate the practical impossibility of spontaneous/necessary emergence and subsequent evolutionary development of life. There will always be individuals wishing to believe in a slimmest chance of something happening. You can't do anything about it because such is human psychology. The missing persuasive power can be found in considering the cybernetic foundations of biology. Here I will use ideas from personal communications and from [Abel 2011]. These ideas are not mine. I am just mulling them over here.

Biological evolution is (а) differential survival and (b) reproduction of already existing biological forms. In the modern synthesis both (а) and (b) which boil down to stochastics (random variation) and deterministic law (selection) are considered sufficient for the emergence of new functionality and, consequently, of all observed biodiversity.

However, the conclusion that random variation and natural selection are sufficient for the generation of new non-trivial functionality is not well-founded. By non-trivial functionality I mean anything that requires the organisation of feedback control in hierarchical multi-component systems such as used in cell replication, for example. Here is why I think stochastics and determinism of the physical laws of nature alone cannot explain the emergence of biological function.
  1. Biological life is programmed by genetic and epigenetic instructions for protein synthesis and its regulation.
  2. Evolution theories do not tell us anything about the generation of programs (i.e. of coherent computationally halting sets of formal instructions) responsible for coding up non-trivial biofunction. They deal with already existing and functional biological systems. Evolution operates at the level of choosing from among already existing phenotypes and is therefore a phenomenon secondary to the generation of preprogrammed biofunction, which it cannot explain. Evolution does not select for (in pursuit of) future function (i.e. a computationally halting program). No doubt, evolution occurs. However, this secondary phenomenon cannot give rise to new non-trivial functionality, i.e. to new computationally halting functional code. Evolution is therefore extremely limited to oscillations around attraction basins of existing functional biosystems. In other words, it is limited to microevolution, i.e. to changes more or less within the existing taxa. Biofunction must be programmed even before selection kicks in. Inasmuch as programming consists in creating coherent sets of computationally halting formal instructions, it is only possible as a result of purposeful decision making. There is no other way for preprogrammed functionality of any kind to emerge. The Turing halting oracle must exist. Selection cannot play this role as was wrongly assumed by [Chaitin 2009, Chaitin 2012].
  3. The problem of the generation of new non-trivial function in the framework of evolution of already existing forms is inseparable from that of initial function. The solution of the first is heavily dependent on the second.
  4. In the process of replication, a common template (i.e. a protocol or a set of arbitrarily chosen rules) is used (see the codon table) in order to pass genetic information from ancestors to progeny.
  5. There are absolutely no empirical or theoretical grounds to believe that the working out of such a protocol could have happened by chance or by some yet unknown law(s) of nature. This is because we know that inanimate physical reality cannot choose from among states in pursuit of function. The physical reality we live in knows no distinction between function and non-function. So not only is there practically no chance for this to happen, but there are no laws either that could leave us any hope that such a thing could have arisen by way of law determinism, as Ashby wrongly thought [Ashby 1962]. Even if we suppose the theoretical possibility for the initial protocol to become 'automatically' more sophisticated over time, the explanation of the appearance of the initial and the simplest such protocol must be provided. The initial protocol must have been loaded into the biosystems from outside via purposive agency.
  6. Processing of epigenetic and genetic instructions cannot be reduced to physico-chemical interations alone. Despite the fact that this processing is realised by means of such interactions, it is more than just those interactions. This is why.
  7. Replication of life is a semiotic process employing a material symbol system for the interpretation of nucleotide triplets (codons) that are themselves representatives (tokens) of other material objects (amino acid residues of proteins to be synthesised). That this particular set of rules for the interpretation of genetic and epigenetic instuctions has been chosen, cannot be explained just by physics or chemistry. Likewise, that this particular sequence of phonemes has been chosen to have a specific meaning cannot be explained by the physics of sound waves spreading in a medium.
  8. Neither stochastics nor law determinism, nor any combination of them, are enough to explain the appearance of new non-trivial function, which is only possible as a result of decision making (not to be confused with bifurcations in nonlinear dynamic systems). Exceptions are degenerate cases of degradation of function initially available in a biosystem e.g. antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
  9. Programming in reality is a result of a decision making process which is expressed in formal instructions in compliance with the syntax of an existing formal system (protocol). These instructions must be formulated and stored on a medium to be later read and interpreted. Blocks of formal instructions responsible for specific functionality must be computationally halting, for which there must be an oracle, i.e. an agent. The determinism of law cannot be such an oracle because there is nothing in it that could provide necessary guidance/advice in pursuit of future function.
    1. By the way, in metalife, a computational model by [Chaitin 2009, Chaitin 2012], this problem is acknowledged. However, it is resolved by the introduction of an agent acting as the halting oracle. As we discussed, it could not have been otherwise. The passive filter of the environment cannot act as an oracle in the generation of functioning code. It is simply void of anything that can help choose functional from non-functional. Remember that the evolutionary section filter is there but it operates on an entirely different level after the functional code has been generated.
  10. Neither the interpreter nor the instructions have any meaning one without the other. Therefore hypotheses about their emergence in self-replicating living automata other than by purposive agency are scientifically irresponsible fantasies. The simplest model of a replicating system includes a coder, a decoder, an information channel, data (instructions) and memory: either all of them are present as a correctly functioning system or there is no replication taking place.
    1. I truly respect the work of such giants as Ashby and von Neumann. Without them and many others of their calibre, bioinformatics could not have been where it is now. However, today we know more than we did yesterday and tomorrow we will know more than we do today.
  11. Stochastic generation of new non-trivial function and its fixation by selection are not experimentally supported. Chaos cannot generate functional configurations from non-functional (if by functionality we mean more than trivial ordering of components). Function cannot be formalised in terms of chaos-order but instead is an altogether different category. In chaotic non-functional systems themselves even in the states of dynamic equilibria when the systems are acted upon by deterministic law, — which according to [Ashby 1962] is the sole condition for the necessary emergence of 'life' in any dynamic system, — there is absolutely no potential for choice of a functional state, since they have no non-trivial goal function either. Nor is there any centre of decision making. Such choice in creation of functional multi-component systems can only be made purposefully in view of a given goal function/state(s). This can only be driven via active decision making. There is no practical scientifically warranted justification to doubt that.
  12. Purposive choice cannot be adequately cast onto stochastics and law determinism (maybe only a posteriori) as far as life origin is concerned. All existing approaches to measuring information in biosystems reflect only the uncertainty side of it (the negative aspect of information). It is only the theory of decision making that operates with choice positively (cf. choice determinism, choice contingent causation). 
  13. All the above leads us to believe that naturalism, if we mean by it the assumption that chance and law-like necessity are sufficient to account for all observable phenomena in the world, is in principle incapable of answering the questions mentioned here. To answer those is only feasible in terms of the theory of decision making.


  1. David L. Abel (2009),  The Universal Plausibility Metric (UPM) & Principle (UPP). Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, 6:27.
  2. David Abel (2011): The first gene.
  3. William Ashby (1962): Principles of the self-organizing system. Principles of Self-Organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium, H. Von Foerster and G. W. Zopf, Jr. (eds.), Pergamon Press: London, UK, pp. 255-278.
  4. Gregory Chaitin: The evolution of mutating software. Bulletin of the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science 97, February 2009, pp. 157-164.
  5. Gregory Chaitin (2012): Life as evolving software, a manuscript.
  6. Durston, K.K., D.K.Y. Chiu, D.L. Abel and J.T. Trevors (2007): Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins, Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 4:47. [doi:10.1186/1742-4682-4-47]

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