Biological Evolution

With the origin of life on earth, other types of processes are called into play. The connection between macro- and microworld is primarily ensured by the evolutionary ultracycles which have been discussed in the preceding chapter. At first, they become effective in coarse-grain, one-sided action, such as the transformation of the earth's surface and its atmosphere by the prokaryotes. This, however, facilitates the more finely tuned, continuously acting epigenetic processes in the eukaryotic organization of life's microevolution. Metabolic communication plays the major role in this second major phase of evolution. The results of this co-evolution, however, are no longer transferred directly in the form of matter, but enter in the form of information a process of true phylogeny. What evolves in phylogenetic development to higher complexity, is organization - an organization which, in principle, may be realized independently of time and space, as long as the environment is favourable.

This information transfer along the time axis does not happen in the same way on the macro- and microbranches of evolution. The development of the macrosystems is based on the development of macrostructures of metabolic processes which corresponds to a long-drawn ontogeny of dissipative structures. Ecosystems do not conserve the structure of their circular processes as Margalef (1968) has pointed out. Extinct species are replaced by new ones which establish different relations. The traces which the extinct species leaves on earth become quickly erased and hardly influence the evolution of the dynamics of the system. Viewed as a whole, however, an ecosystem which is still alive represents a web of dynamic relations, a space-time structure in which history is expressed in the same ways in which it is expressed in a dissipative structure.

Experience is transferred in an ecosystem in terms of dynamic rules or functions. What emerges is always shaped by systemic conditions. An ant hill, for example, is built in such a way that it can fulfil certain functions in relation to environmental processes, in particular temperature control and ventilation. Normally, and under constant local conditions, each generation uses the same architecture. This observation has led to the erroneous assumption that the genetically determined behaviour (the instinct) of the involved organisms blindly generates the same morphological structure which, in Darwinian selection, becomes confirmed or is changed over longer time-spans. The Austrian Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch (1974) reports in his wonderful book Animal Architecture the case of a termite nest which has been covered by a plastic tent, resulting in diminished ventilation. Within 48 hours, the animals had developed additional structures of a novel design which restored the old ventilation rate under the changed conditions. Obviously, information is transferred at the macrobranch of the evolution of life in terms of flinctions which may evolve in dependence of the exchange relations with the environment.

In the phylogeny of biological microevolution, in contrast, information is stored in conservative structures and transferred through them. However, it is not rigidly transferred but becomes effective in the interplay of genetic and metabolic communication in the epigenetic process. From this interplay emerges an intimate, creative relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny, a non-equilibrium between evolutionary processes which underlies the development of higher complexity.

The Self-Organizing Universe - Erich JantschErich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe - Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution, New York: Pergamon. 1980, pp.209-210

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