Discussion Board

Topic: Communal vs Darwinian evolution

From: patrick
Date: 07/16/2007

Freeman Dyson Casually Blowing My Mind

Bruce Sterling July 14, 2007 | 4:01:24 AM
(((This guy is eighty-four years old! How is his brain still that supple? How does Freeman do it? Was it all the physics? And who is this Carl Woese guy? And how did Open Source become a paradigm for evolution all of a sudden? I mean, if three billion years is all of a sudden.)))

Link: Our Biotech Future - The New York Review of Books.

"Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his "New Biology" article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

"But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell, anticipating Bill Gates by three billion years, separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species of bacteriaand the first species of any kindreserving their intellectual property for their own private use. With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species. The Darwinian interlude had begun.

"The Darwinian interlude has lasted for two or three billion years. It probably slowed down the pace of evolution considerably. The basic biochemical machinery of life had evolved rapidly during the few hundreds of millions of years of the pre-Darwinian era, and changed very little in the next two billion years of microbial evolution. Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species, once established, evolve very little. With rare exceptions, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them.

Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. (((A billion years here, a billion years there, pretty soon you're talking about real timespans.))) It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.

"I would like to borrow Carl Woese's vision of the future of biology and extend it to the whole of science...."

((("Biology's Next Revolution" by Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese:))) http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio/0702015v1 http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio/0702015v1

(((Where one finds stuff like this:))) http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge216.html At EDGE they are godlike beings and we might as well get used to it

Re: Communal vs Darwinian evolution

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/17/2007

Freeman has been saying for years now that biology is where it's at. Carl Woese suffered strong disapproval for decades for his ideas, and now comes out on top of the game. My take on all this is that a billion years or so was required to simply learn how to be a cell! After that, it's a faster, slipperier slope. (And it's Freeman who is 84, of course, not Bruce.)

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