Here's my essay on the possibility of life defeating the process of natural selection. As usual, it's probably best to read it in HTML on the WWW - rather than here in raw ASCII. If you feel you can manage that, the URL you need is: --> http://alife.co.uk/misc/one_big_organism/ <-- One Big Organism ================ The horrors of nature --------------------- Some authors have expressed horror at the evolutionary process that created us - and expressed the desire to "escape" from it - usually in some unspecified way. Prominent among these are Richard Dawkins  - who describes nature as "the ruthlessly cruel process that gave us all existence", and describes the process that made us as "wasteful, cruel and low". He says that nature gave us a brain capable of "understanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them". He describes humanity as "the only potential island of refuge from the implications of [evolution]: from the cruelty, and the clumsy, blundering waste." Defeating natural selection --------------------------- Is what Dawkins talks about remotely possible? It is certainly clear that /individuals/ can opt out of the evolutionary process - but that doesn't seem to do them very much good - and merely creates a world without their kind in it. However there /is/ another approach to defteating natural selection which seems more worthy of investigation. Natural selection relies on /competition/ between agents. /Without/ such competition it has no variation on which to act - and it loses the ability to select between variants - and so it can no longer direct evolution. So - if the dominant organsms all fused together into one big organism - then perhaps they would no longer be the subject of evolutionary forces. ...and perhaps if all life fused together - into one big organism - then perhaps natural selection would completely come to an end. Will all living things fuse? ---------------------------- The process of evolution seems to be characterised by building ever more deeply-nested heirarchies of organisms. I have argued elsewhere that humans and machines will form composite organisms - that the companies of today will come to increasingly resemble composite organisms - with their own inheritance mechanisms. Similarly, I regard it as possible that whole governments will also come to play the role of organisms - with companies acting as their organs. Today there are already some elements of global cooperation. There is - in some areas - a global marketplace. While this is more like an economy than an organism, an economy could turn into an organism over time. So, looking at our planet, it seems at least vaguely possible that it will /eventually/ be occupied by a dominant organism that spans the entire planet. Natural selection within organisms ---------------------------------- In practice natural selection doesn't just occur /between/ organisms. It also happens /within/ organisms - where it's referred to as somatic selection. In the process of development many more cells are born than survive - and those that are not needed die or are killed. So it seems /unlikely/ that natural selection can be eliminated completely. However, this sort of natural selection would probably be considered to be not so bad. The cells don't /mind/ dying. They even /deliberately/ commit suicide so that other cells have more space and nutrients. There's not really any suffering involved - and it seems to be the suffering that is found to be aesthetically displeasing. Selection within the organism need not happen very much. Some bits of the creature will inevitably die and need replacing through accidents and wear and tear. However, such problems can hopefully be minimised. Selection between components within the organism can be kept at low levels - and care could be taken to ensure no errors or variation are introduced. The end of parasites and symbiotes ---------------------------------- For /all/ living organisms to fuse (and without this there's an ever-present risk of one of the still- evolving creatures coming to dominate), the dominant creature would need to eliminate all its parasites and symbiotes. Is that remotely feasible? Normally, there's no selection pressure to eliminate parasites beyond a certain point. When they are of little threat, the threat is hardly worth defending against. So it seems unlikely that a creature would normally bother wiping out all its parasites. However, let's suppose that the creature decided to make this its mission in life. The experience we have with creating engineered complex systems suggests that any complex organism is likely to be prone to parasite infections - and that eliminating them is very challenging - and while we have had some successes we are still nowhere near wiping out the parasites of our own species. However, it doesn't seem logically impossible. Maybe - with sufficient effort and application - perhaps the dominant creature could succeed in eliminating all its parasites and symbiotes. Cosmology --------- One world is an old dream. However as a matter of fact that there /is/ more than one world. In particular our solar system has multiple worlds in it - and it seems likely that life will visit them. Similarly, there are multiple stars in the galaxy - and it seems likely that many of them too will also harbour life. Can the idea of nature as one large organism /possibly/ survive being physically divided by such impressive physical barriers? After all, the ants in a nest can survive some degree of physical separation - and yet they still remain united as a single creature. Perhaps /even/ this can't /totally/ be ruled out. /Maybe/ one day - in the far distant future - the whole /universe/ will be filled with a single living organism. It could call itself "The winner". After the race is over ---------------------- What force would then drive the resulting system? Self- directed "mutations" would probably determine the course of the system after that point. The organism could do as it liked - without fear that some other organism would eat its lunch. There would be no particularly obvious motivation towards self-improvement any more - unless the organism dissolved into separate components again and they began to compete with one another once more, that is. The future ---------- Regardless of whether all this eventually happens - or whether it is merely an extremely far-fetched and elaborate fantasy ;-) - it seems unlikely to happen for many /billions/ of years to come. I reckon we'll be looking at the effects of natural selection /at least/ until then. References ----------  - Richard Dawkins - A Devil's Chaplain (the essay) -- __________ |im |yler http://timtyler.org/ [email protected] Remove lock to reply.