Skip to content

Thermodynamics, and the origin of replicators

Over at Discover, Sean Carroll has a nice post on thermodynamics, free energy and the origins of life. It’s a good intro, but in the course of it he remarks:

Obviously there is a lot missing to this story, and much of it is an absence of complete understanding on my part, although some of it is that we simply don’t know everything about life as yet. For one thing, even if you are a metabolism-first sympathizer, at some point you have to explain the origin of replication and information processing, which plays a crucial role how we think about life.

Well, now, that is a red rag to an information-eliminativist, isn’t it? How could replicators and information processing evolve from a “metabolism first” account of the origins of life? The answer to that is exactly what Carroll is extolling: thermodynamics.

A while back, Eric Schneider and the late James Kay published a paper “Life as a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics“. They point out that if living systems are seen as autocatalytic cycles, what Manfred Eigen and his collaborators called a hypercycle, life can originate as self-organising hypercycles just from the fact that where you have a heat or energy gradient, you will have a region where the flow of free energy can spontaneously cause organisation. Eigen’s hypercycle has no replicators. A replicator, on the view devised by Richard Dawkins, is any part or section of a process that meets three criteria:

… longevity, fecundity and copying-fidelity. Longevity means longevity in the form of copies through descent (Dawkins 1982a:84, Hull 1980), although the stability of tokens is included in the definition in The Selfish Gene (Dawkins 1976:18, 1999:17).

A gene is a replicator, but Dawkins permits there to be other kinds (including memes), but with respect to the origins of life, there are only two alternatives: replicators came first, or they evolved from some other process. However, here’s my problem with Dawkins’ standard view:

We have no evidence about what the first step in making life was, but we do know the kind of step it must have been. It must have been whatever it took to get natural selection started. Before that first step, the sorts of improvement that only natural selection can achieve were impossible. And that means the key step was the arising, by some process as yet unknown, of a self-replicating entity. Self-replication spawns a population of entities, which compete with each other to be replicated. Since no copying process is perfect, the population will inevitably come to contain variety, and if variants exist in a population of replicators those that have what it takes to succeed will come to predominate. This is natural selection, and it could not start until the first self-replicating entity came into existence.

My problem is this: to posit that some molecule just acquired the capacity to replicate is to posit a scientific miracle. It’s a bit like suggesting that a molecule might just acquire the ability to act as a transistor. I do not like scientific miracles – they strike me as an admission of failure. So I want to see that we could explain how replicators themselves evolve. Of course, if replicators are the sine qua non of evolution, that without which evolution is impossible, then we need some other improbability reducer, such as the clay substrate hypothesis of Cairns-Smith Dawkins has several times discussed. There are others. But they all seem to me to end up explaining at best only one aspect of replication, and most certainly not how a replicator might become embedded in a cycle of metabolic and reproductive processes.

This sine qua non exclusivity for replicators is, I think, mistaken, and many years ago I wrote a paper that never got sent anywhere in which I argued this, with two collaborators, Ian Musgrave and Clem Stanyon. We always intended to do a simulation to prove the concept I am about to outline, but never did, and more detailed accounts have since been published. In particular, a challenge to the necessity for a replicator before you get natural selection has been raised by Jim Griesemer with his notion of a “reproducer”. What I want to do here is show how selection upon non-replicative hypercycles as reproducers can give rise to replicators.

Griesemer introduces reproducers in contrast to Dawkins’ and Hull’s refinement of, the replicator:

In contrast to the Dawkins-Hull account of replication, my view is that whether or not “the” parental nucleotide sequence is instantiated in offspring is irrelevant to an analysis of reproduction. Hence, I will claim, it is irrelevant to the analysis of evolution as a process, however much this instantiation in offspring bears on evolutionary outcomes by determining the degree to which descent with modification causes resemblance among members of a lineage. In a word: one cannot produce process out of function alone. If the mechanism of DNA replication were indeed essential to reproduction in general, then Dawkins’s copying process might support a suitably general analysis of evolutionary benefit. But since this mechanism is contingent, the criteria Dawkins attributes to replicators such that they are the sole beneficiaries of evolution fail. It is not necessary that reproducers be replicators in Dawkins’s sense. Reproduction could occur by some other mechanism and the reproductive entities would nevertheless be beneficiaries in the relevant evolutionary sense. [95f]

Indeed. If reproduction is the basis for life, then replication becomes one of a number of ways in which things can reproduce. In a paper published earlier than the one cited above, but which was written later, Griesemer clarifies his view:

Thus, rather than thinking of ‘replicator’ as a generalization of the gene or the genotype concept, replicators – units of replication – are a special class of inheritors – units of inheritance – which in turn are a special class of reproducers – the units of reproduction – which in turn are a special class of multipliers. There is a hierarchy of concepts of which ‘replicator’ is the most specialized…

On Griesemer’s account, a reproducer is a physical object that “materially overlaps” its progeny. A replicator is a special case of physical object that has evolved a coding system and developmental process, and which causes, physically, the progeny to generate. By contrast, Dawkins’ and the general version he is criticising treats a replicator as an abstract entity, a form of information, which is related not by causal lineages but by similarity relations. I think this is a little unfair to the Dawkins view; he clearly sees replication as a form of causal process, but the problem is, what kind of causal process?

In the philosophy of mind and language, it is often – I think rightly – asserted that abstract sets do not cause anything, but only token of sets. Another way to express this is that abstractions don’t cause things, but actual objects that are instances of the abstraction. For example, the set of bowling balls knocks over no pins, not even abstract pins. Actual bowling balls do. So if replicators are abstractions, they can do nothing. To say otherwise is to adopt the metaphysics of Aristotle, or Aristotle as interpreted by the medieval scholastics, in which form (the Greek for which is eidos, cognate with ideai) accounts for the properties of things, not what they are comprised (substance) of. Modern physical ontologies reject this hylomorphism in favour of what we now call physicalism, and to assert that information is itself a physical property is, I believe, deeply mistaken, and a kind of hylomorphism.

So if Griesemer is correct about this, and I strongly think he is, subject to a qualification I will explain in a minute, then replicators must be physical objects, and the Dawkins-Hull view of replication, so far as it is based on information being a causal property (which I think one can reinterpret otherwise), is wrong. I need to do some extra work to decide whether that notion of replication in fact needs to treat information as a property. Hull, at any rate, seems to have changed his approach at various times, and is more ontologically neutral than Dawkins.

But how do we get causal replicators? In my next post on this topic, I will argue that it happens through a selection-like process on reproducing hypercycles, in simple thermodynamic terms.

Now to that qualification. In his recent book, Darwinian populations, Peter Godfrey-Smith has argued (p83f) that the “material overlap” requirement is not needed as it is too narrow a condition (Jim thinks that reproducers must include parts of themselves in their progeny). I agree; a reproducer must in fact merely impart physical quantities rather parts. Suppose the clay hypothesis were correct – what is imparted here is the configuration of the molecules, in that the prior crystalisation acts as a template for the subsequent layer. What is imparted is not “information“, whatever that might be, but structure through the straightforward physical interactions of molecules via weak and strong interactions in a thermal medium; in other words, thermodynamic properties. All that is needed is a surface.

So, when I get time, I’ll outline my and my collaborators’ argument for how replicators in this sense might evolve through selection.


Dawkins, Richard. 1976. The selfish gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 1982. Replicators and vehicles. In Current problems in sociobiology. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press:45-64.

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. 2009. Darwinian populations and natural selection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hull, David L. 1980. Individuality and selection. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 11:311-332.

Schneider, Eric D. and James J. Kay, 1994. Life as a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics. Mathematical and Computer Modelling 19(6-8): 25-48


  1. metabenny metabenny

    Very interesting stuff! I don’t know too much about origins of life stuff, especially philosophy thereof; is there a consensus view among philosophers? And is it different than the consensus view among biologists?

    One quick (mostly irrelevant) comment: Aristotle also uses the Greek word ‘morphe’ to refer to form. Its been argued that the distinction between them is that ‘eidos’ is somehow more separable or is the abstraction of form from the hylomorphic compound, whereas ‘morphe’ is the immanent form that is united in that compound.

  2. Besides metabolism first and information first, one should also consider membranes first. The membranes of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes are apparently never created de novo in nature, though membranes can indeed form spontaneously under certain circumstances in the lab. Membranes differ between classes of organisms and even between individuals (as has been demonstrated in ciliates) and thus carry information, but this form of heredity is simpler than with what happens with nucleic acids since there is nothing that corresponds to the transcription step.

    The separation of the compartments is every bit as essential to Maxwell’s argument as the purposes of the demon or the energy of the particles.

  3. I thought you were going to produce an actual criticism of Cairns-Smith’s idea for a moment, there!

  4. Sniffnoy Sniffnoy

    The problem is that your bowling ball is not actually any more “phsyical” than the information that constitutes a replicator. Reality only has one layer, and a bowling ball is not an elementary particle. It too is just a name we give to a certain pattern – that of a lot of molecules of certain substances shaped into a ball, with three holes, in the appropriate way – that persists from one moment to the next (so long as no-one smashes it with a hammer or anything). If bowling balls are physical, I see no reason replicators should not be. Sound, or any sort of wave, is a more obvious example; I don’t expect you’re going to say that sound is not a physical thing simply because it’s just an abstract pattern!

    So replicators don’t directly cause things, but neither do bowling balls, because only elementary particles do that. Saying that the bowling ball knocks down the pins is a useful shorthand that provides a higher-level view of the action, showing the essential patterns that are occurring without worrying about all the implementation details, and talking about what the replicator does and causes is exactly that as well.

    • Clem Stanyon Clem Stanyon

      Sniffnoy: sound is a vibration of physical things, the absence of which prevents it (in space, no-one can hear you scream); bowling balls are collections of physical things. Replicators & Interactors, on the other hand, are a concepts that Dawkins developed to distinguish between different classes of physical objects based on their physical properties or functions. However, the HDD becomes increasingly meaningless the further down the rabbit hole you travel – in this case, the smaller the structure being considered – as the functions of interaction and replication, that are so distinct in multi-cellular forms of life, become increasingly shared by structures (cells, DNA, proteins).

      Ultimately, in terms of pre-cellular evolution, the idea that John and I developed was that there was no distinction between interactors and replicators: they were probably one and the same thing – a set of self-replicating molecules that relied on interaction within and between similar species to prolong their individual survival and reproduce similar molecules.

      Insofar as sub-atomic structures go, evolution is not relevant, unless you consider the laws of nature and the Big Bang to be the replicated entities. We are stardust and merely rearrange matter: we don’t create or destroy it in the usual process of living. Thus, while at some level a bowling ball may not be a physical entity, at the level at which evolution acts, it most certainly is, as you would find if your head was violently juxtaposed against one.

  5. Sniffnoy Sniffnoy

    I am not claiming bowling balls should be regarded as not physical; I am claiming the whole distinction is incoherent, and that replicators should be regarded as useful a concept as any “phsyical” thing. Do you have any definition for what makes one pattern “phsyical” and another pattern “not physical”, in such a matter that bowling balls and mechanical waves are both physical, yet replicators are not? That seems unlikely. Mechanical waves seem to me to be more akin to replicators than they are to bowling balls. Both replicators and mechanical waves need a physical medium, but they’re not collections of particles in the same way a bowling ball is; they’re “just” patterns. And replacing sound with light, or gravitational waves, or what-have-you gets rid of your vaccuum “counterexample”, too; I hope you would not say that light is not physical! And yet ultimately the bowling ball is “just” a pattern too. (If a chip is knocked off the bowling ball, do we consider that piece knocked off to still be part of the ball, because it consists of the same particles? Of course not, because it is no longer contributing to the properties that make the bowling ball a bowling ball. Do we say that the bowling ball has become more spread out over space, or that its size has decreased? The latter.) So is everything except for the universes’ primitives. I mean, that’s what “primitive” means, really – anything that’s not a primitive, is a pattern in the primitives. This doesn’t make them somehow unreal or ignorable, though.

    We can recognize the pattern of the bowling ball, molecules bound together though whatever intermolecular forces, persistent over time, so we may as well recognize that it’s there and talk about it knocking over the pins; to do otherwise would just be to fail to take advantage of our ability to reconize this, and to talk in ways that were needlessly complex. The same with mechanical waves, the same with replicators. In each case, you can talk about how the actual interactions are implemented at a lower level; but if it is the high-level behavior and not the implementation details that you are concerned with, and you have the language available that allows you to speak of it at this higher level, then, assuming your abstraction is correct, to not do so would just be needlessly complex.

    Sorry for arguing generalities rather than specifics; my point here is not whether the specific notions Dawkins introduced are useful or not – I wouldn’t know that – but that the “philosophical” reason listed for dismissing them is bad.

    Also, what is “HDD”? What are “interactors”? These are not mentioned in the original post. (Though just from the term itself, “interactor” certainly does sound like something so general as to be meaningless. 😛 ) Also might I ask just what is meant by “information-eliminativist”? Because I can think of several obvious but very different meanings.

    • I’ll reply in detail later when I am not busy teaching, but the HDD is the Hull-Dawkins Distinction of replicator-interactor.

      An information eliminativist is one who thinks we can eliminate information talk from some domain (here, genetics). C’est moi.

  6. Clem Clem

    Maybe this is just semantics. I’d say the difference between the concept of a bowling ball and the actual thing is a meaningful distinction: one you can use to knock down actual pins at a bowling alley, the other is a prop to discuss the properties of bowling balls in general.

    Similarly, the HDD is used to discuss abstractions of actual things, which is useful as the things themselves are not usually to hand. However, the issue I had back in 97-99 with evolutionary philosophy, as I do now, is that abstractions are tools, and philosophers tend to get too attached to them; without looking closely at the physical media that constitutes the substrate on which the process acts, one is at dire risk of creating a model that is not much more than an intellectual construct that limits understanding of what is real.

    In the case of bio-molecular pre-cellular evolution, the HDD does not help one jot of a whit. It actually gets in the way of understanding as philosophers will persist in trying to fit the facts to the model, not the other way around. The idea of DNA as the “information molecule” is a lovely concept. Unfortunately, it rather over-simplifies the real situation, which is that ALL molecules are structure and that transmission of structural change is the ‘information’ to which we refer, as it causes functional changes in the behaviour of said molecules.

    Again, the concept gets in the way of the truth; having posited that DNA carries information, we are led to expect that the information flow is unidirectional, whereas, as with all biological processes, every step in that process is two-way and the whole process is hugely ramified and non-linear.

  7. jeff jeff

    In the philosophy of mind and language, it is often – I think rightly – asserted that abstract sets do not cause anything, but only token of sets. Another way to express this is that abstractions don’t cause things, but actual objects that are instances of the abstraction.

    What does it mean for something to cause something else? As you correctly pointed out, the actuality of causality cannot be completely represented mathematically. As the physicist Hawking put it: “what breathes fire into these equations?”. (the problem of course, is that equations are a model of reality, not reality itself).

    Then there is the subjective notion of time – the concept of now, which is not a physical concept. Can there be causation in a world without the subjective flow of time? (as opposed to a static fourth dimension, i.e. block time).

    In addition, there is always something lost in a reductive explanation (although I see few causal alternatives). What is the epistemic linkage between a molecular replicator abstraction, and the very real observation that a woman you know is pregnant? (I vaguely recall something called predicate dualism having to do with Fodor). That individual pregnancy event can only be explained by including what reductive scientists would consider to be an abstraction at the macroscopic level, but what is actually a direct observation on your part. Generic molecular dynamics are insufficient to explain such an event, without including concepts at the macroscopic level. If that is true, then one must logically ask whether the cause is at the macroscopic level, microscopic (reductionism), both, or neither, or whether the whole concept of causation makes any sense at all.

    • Clem Clem

      jeff, I think it would be wiser to leave the question of time – whether it exists, etc – to the physicists and confine our discussions to evolution of biological entities.

      Regarding pregnancies, you are arguing non-sequitur. I would not attempt to explain (or describe) a complex event like a pregnancy using “generic molecular dynamics”. However, at the start, the sperm and egg fuse by interactions at the molecular level, which promulgate upwards into microscopic events, then onto macroscopic ones, each level of structure building on the last, until a child can finally knock down pins at the local bowling alley.

      I would say that without the *concept* of time, it is hard to discuss causation…but why complicate matters? Molecules interact, causing structural changes in each other, spatial localisations, etc, which lead to larger and larger changes – cell movement, division, death, etc. Again, each level of structure builds on the lower levels in a highly non-linear manner: ALL levels of structure are causational. This is what I meant by “highly ramified and non-linear”.

      The question John and I were attempting to address, way back, is how does evolution occur when there are no cells; by extension, no replicator/interactor? What are the fundamental qualities of the entities that evolve that allow them to do so?

      What we realised is that, even at the level of individual, self-replicating, self-interacting, molecular objects, the ‘rules’ of evolution apply: greater longevity and fecundity, combined with some degree of reproductive fidelity, make for a ‘fitter’ molecule.

      There bottom line for us was that there is *no requirement* to separate replication from interaction in terms of evolutionary function. This is what the HDD is about – exactly that separation. There is no denying that a degree of separation of functions exists in highly evolved cellular entities; our point is that this develops as entities with different physical characteristics specialise – a division of labour, according to the qualities of the entities involved.

      Thus, DNA, with its immense interactive capacity in water and enormous size, became (mostly) the replicator in cellular life, and smaller, hydrophobic proteins became (mostly) the interactors.

      • jeff jeff

        I think it would be wiser to leave the question of time – whether it exists, etc – to the physicists and confine our discussions to evolution of biological entities.

        I don’t think it’s that easily dismissed. Either the present is real, or it isn’t. If not, as seems to be the consensus among theoretical physicists, I would expect someone in science to explain why I am experiencing this illusion. The physicists will probably point to the neuroscientists, and the neuroscientists will point back to the physicists. In the end, there is no explanation for anyone. But if scientists delegate such fundamental questions to philosophers, then the whole scientific enterprise is in serious trouble.

        Regarding pregnancies, you are arguing non-sequitur. I would not attempt to explain (or describe) a complex event like a pregnancy using “generic molecular dynamics”. However, at the start, the sperm and egg fuse by interactions at the molecular level, which promulgate upwards into microscopic events, then onto macroscopic ones, each level of structure building on the last, until a child can finally knock down pins at the local bowling alley.

        So… are you saying the micro level happens before the macro level? If they were simultaneous, could upward causation still occur?

        I would say that without the *concept* of time, it is hard to discuss causation…but why complicate matters? Molecules interact,

        Why complicate matters?? Because it’s an obvious question, that’s why. Can any interaction occur without the flow of time?

        • Jeff, whatever may be true of causation and the level at which it occurs, in general it is the same for biology as for any domain. My objection here is not that the wrong level of causal ascription is being made when we talk about genetic causation, but that the abstract property of information is simply not a causal notion (see my reply below to Bill Benzon). Causation is a physical process, if it is anything at all, and I prefer the “imparted physical quantity” or “mark transmission theory” notion myself, that derives from the work of Wesley Salmon.

          Whatever, and whatever level of physics it turns out is basic, biological causation occurs at the same level as all other physically caused events. I reject the notion that there are “levels of causality” and especially that there is “downward causation” from “higher levels” to “lower levels”, which is so popular these days.

          What we need to do when giving descriptions of causal events, however, does involve levels, but they are levels of description. In other words, these levels are themselves abstractions. The bowling balls does nothing that isn’t done by whatever physically basic causal processes comprise it. All the rest is about our use of words, and as you might know if you follow this blog I do not much like taking words seriously on their own.

      • jeff jeff

        each level of structure building on the last, until a child can finally knock down pins at the local bowling alley.

        Clem, I think what you mean to say here is that reality is all just one level, but that we can have many interpretations of it. That avoids potential causation problems between actual conceptual levels. (BTW, that would also mean that the present, if it were real, would always be a few milliseconds ahead of what you can observe, due to neural and other delays – which has some interesting implications).

        But what level is the one level? How far will you reduce? Molecular? Subatomic? Wavefunction or lower? And in any case, with one level you’re back in the same boat that I mentioned in my original post – not enough explanatory power to explain all concepts at higher levels.

        • Iorwerth Thomas Iorwerth Thomas

          *delurks for the first time in years*

          “But what level is the one level? How far will you reduce? Molecular? Subatomic? Wavefunction or lower? And in any case, with one level you’re back in the same boat that I mentioned in my original post – not enough explanatory power to explain all concepts at higher levels.”

          None of them, I’d say — as on the view you ascribe to Clem they’re all levels of description of a unitary reality. If you say that ‘this particular level is the *real* one’ then you’re mistaking a description of particular properties of an interesting aspect of that reality for the reality itself. That would be a mistake according to that view, because there’s no real reason why reality should divide itself up neatly according to the levels of description we find interesting.

          (I’m not sure if that view *is* a form of reductionism, but it’s certainly not a form of it that I’m familiar with.)

        • John Wilkins John Wilkins

          There is a name for its opposing view – “layer cake reductionism”. I am a “flat reductionist” everything reduces directly to physics psychology, biology, chemistry, social science. The only “privileged” description is whatever the ultimate physics might turn out to be, IMO.

  8. Bill Benzon Bill Benzon

    Alas, I’ve not read the post with maximum care, but I bumped into one of my hobby horses near the end. the issue of whether or not “information” is physical. On the one hand, there is this general notion of information as, well, this “stuff” that contains knowledge and data and instructions and, well, you know, like, Information! That notion is too vague to be of much use in technical arguments, though it is often put into service in them nonetheless. Then there is Shannon-Weaver information, which surely is physical; after all, they developed the concept while investigating the transmission of signals over phone lines, which is physical through and through. The “problem” with the Shannon-Weaver concept, however, is that you can’t simply “insert” it into all the contexts where the informal notion is used and expect it to work. What seems to be going on is that lots of folks know about the Shannon-Weaver concept (and some may even have a reasonable understanding of it) and they sort of keep it lurking in the background while they use the information notion and hope that one day it’ll just come forward and rescue their ideas from the vagueness of talking about, well, information as though they and we knew what we’re talking about. When we don’t.

    • Bill, a common error in my view is to mistake the token instances of some abstraction to be the abstract entity itself. Specific and particular systems that instantiate a Shannon-Weaver system, such a telegram or modem or other physical system, are not, in themselves, a Shannon-Weaver system (the “Weaver” is redundant, as Weaver simply published the textbook that explicated Shannon’s system: it’s “Shannon information”). They are, at best, approximations. Likewise, my Mac is not Turing machine, but a good enough approximation of one. Neither Shannon systems nor Turing machines are heir to the flaws and imperfections of actual engineered systems.

      Shannon information is an abstraction too – it is a mathematical property we ascribe to some physical systems when they are good enough to act in ways that make the mathematics useful. But the informational property itself is not inherent in that physical object, but is imputed to it by us. For example, a single bit can denote the entire Bible or the route of invaders (and two, if by sea).

      • Bill Benzon Bill Benzon

        John, is the circular shape of a penny a property inherent in the penny or is it something I merely attribute to the penny?

        • The shape of the molecules that make up the penny is what it is, and we describe it using all kinds of simplifications because the reality is too damned complicated to be precise and accurate to the finest degree. But there are no circles (or for that matter, lines, planes or points) in nature, so it is something you merely attribute.

      • Bill Benzon Bill Benzon

        But the informational property itself is not inherent in that physical object, but is imputed to it by us. For example, a single bit can denote the entire Bible or the route of invaders (and two, if by sea).

        It seems to me, John, that here you are using “information” in the informal sense. The question of whether or not a channel can transmit 1000bits per second is question about the physical properties of that channel and has nothing whatever to do with what thoughts, ideas, propositions or data (information in the informal sense) is being represented by those bits, if any.

  9. Bill Benzon Bill Benzon

    “…while they use the informal notion . . .”

  10. bob koepp bob koepp

    umm… Let’s not conflate levels of description with abstractions. There is nothing abstract about a bowling ball, even if it is individuated at a much higher level than is described by sub-atomic physics. If a theory of causation suggests that bowling balls lack causal properties, then that theory should be junked.

    • It does nothing of the kind. It says that the overall causal property of the bowling ball is the vector sum of all the causal properties of the things that go to make it up, and nothing more than that.

  11. bob koepp bob koepp

    John – I wasn’t pointing in your direction when cautioning against conflating levels of description with abstractions — you were quite clear about the difference between abstractions and concrete instantiations. But if you’re really in the mood to argue, I’m more than willing to challenge your view that information is only “imputed.”

  12. Bill Benzon Bill Benzon

    Well, then forget about circularity. I didn’t mean it.
    But the penny has a shape, whatever it is. And that surely is a physical property.

  13. Great post. I wish I knew the primary literature on this topic well enough to talk about it, but I am certainly grateful that you’ve given me something to chew on on the meantime….SH

  14. Clem Clem

    hmmmm. Are we approaching an understanding here? Both John and I, I think, try to make a distinction between tokens and what we would argue is real – being independent of our observations; evolution existed long before it resulted in our consciousness. Information is a token of biological structure, in the context of discussions about evolution.

    The Hull Dawkins Distinction focuses on the values ascribed to tokens, rather than engaging with the material substance that changes over time as a result of causal chains – what we describe as evolution. The mental labour John and I did to separate understandings of tokens and models of processes from the facts of biological entities as we know them resulted in the understanding he partly described above.

    What I found, and still understand to be true, is that the underlying requirement for structural changes to occur in a population (of any structural type) is interaction. The interactive capacity of an object relates to it’s ability to influence, and be influenced by, other objects. This is what I believe scales to the abstract quality that we call information. Ironically, at the molecular level, HDD “interactors” are proteins, which are actually less interactive than DNA.

Comments are closed.