The Evolution of Evolution

9 February 2008 at 2:10 pm 2 comments

 In his book Energy and the Evolution of Life, Ronald F. Fox writes of the energonomics of evolution.  I wrote about this book a couple of years ago (see Energy and the Evolution of Life), when I first got the book.  It’s quite technical and elaborate, complete with scary math-equations and what-not.  But those with a general education and curious nature can get a sense of the ideas he presents.  I jus recently picked it up again and peaked at the end, where he speaks of the evolution of evolution–that is, the evolution of what he calls “energy coupling,” the evolution of energy flow.   As he writes, “The mechanism of evolution is evolving as a natural consequence of the continuing evolution of energy coupling” (165).  The book is a survey of this evolution, which starts from the origins of life on this planet and walks the reader through the chemistry and physics of energy flow, through to the development of nervous systems.  In this passage Fox emphasizes the radical nature of how evolution has evolved:

*the biological advantage of this advanced nervous system system is to rapidly simulate the prediction of nonlinear events.* This step in the long history of biological evolution has critically altered the mechanism of evolution itself and transcends the genetic mechanism of Darwinian selection (156).

This is where we launch into the significance of sociology (or social psychology) as the next phase of energonomic study and as an indication of how energonomics is a form of “consilience.”  Fox’s book ends with a section called “Social Evolution” where he mentions that, “With brain, a new kind of life has emerged: multiindividual organisms. Humans are among them…. The emergent behavior of these metazoan collectives is predicated on the types of energy that the collective processes” (166).  I would add to this how it processes the energy (e.g. do we channel our brain energy away from the amygdala and toward the pre-frontal lobes?).

Fox ends the book with a question of whether or not we will survive the latest evolution of energy production.  Are we physiologically capable of making the necessary cultural adaptions at this stage of the game?  I will quote the last paragraph in its entirety:

A refinement in cultural mechanisms has occurred with every refinement of energy flux coupling. Some steps have led to dramatic, emergent behavior.  The practice of collective agriculture made an enormous impact, as did the advent of metallurgy and the bronze and iron ages. Recently, the nuclear age has followed the electricity age, closely and intimately. Suddenly, a new source of energy flux is available.  Is it possible that the energy flux parameter has now increased to a point that could drive the nonlinear, dynamical process called civilization to chaos? Or is man’s nervous system sufficiently advanced to predict future events and establish effective control mechanisms? (166)

I remain hopeful that the answer to the last question is YES.


Entry filed under: books, energonomics, science.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mark  |  18 February 2008 at 7:57 pm

    In terms of predicting the future events, would we not have to rely on the ‘nervous systems’ of computers, as well as mans? It seems to me that models of simulations, which are too complex for the human brain/body, will become important for considering and reflecting upon our non-linear world.

    I find this an interesting development, where we move to the simulation to understand the real. It sounds a bit like a Baudrillard argument, but one arguing for the reality of simulated models.

  • 2. Ron Fox  |  22 December 2008 at 3:07 pm

    What a nice surprise to find this review on the internet.
    Who is the author?
    Thank you for your thoughtful commentary.


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