Singularity Watch
HomeNewsletterReading GroupsConferencesPublications"Singularity Studies" LinksDegree ProgramsCritiques


A Chain of Singularities: The Evolutionary Development of Hierarchical Substrates (EDHS)



The Evolutionary Development of Hierarchical Substrates (EDHS)








The Evolutionary Development of Hierarchial Substrates (EDHS)

As one carefully considers the universal record of accelerating change, one comes to suspect that the process is developmental. Simply put, the developmental features of the universe we inhabit seem very likely be organized for convergence, over time, on ever-increasing rates of environmental learning in a special subset of physical systems. This learning appears to be expressed in hierarchically emergent "computational substrates," platforms which encode a record of their search of local phase space, and which use that record as a stable base upon which to build even more powerful computational forms.

In a direct analogy with biological development, some characteristics of these hierarchical emergences appear to be part of a statistically determined physical developmental process. If indeed the process is developmental, many of the "envelope boundaries" of the accelerations would be prespecified in the special initial conditions of the "seed" (Big Bang), that created our universe.

Developmental theory also incorporates the vital concept of self-organization, which can be modelled as any cyclic development that is "iteratively tuned for future-specific emergent order." Developmental singularity models are uniquely integrative, as they suggest that universal unfolding may be understood as an uninterrupted chain of singularities, mathematical, physical, cosmological, and computational.

Some of these models propose that the universe itself may be parsimoniously viewed as a complex adaptive evolutionary developmental substrate unfolding within a larger developmental environment often called the "multiverse." As a result, the coming developmental singularity, if indeed it arrives, might be considered as a kind of universal singularity, though it would still involve strongly finite processes and would thus by no means be an "ultimate" singularity.

To better understand these ideas, let's briefly explore a few plausible hierarchically emergent "computational substrates," and the singularities we may attribute to them.

To begin with, since 1927 we have had increasing evidence that our universe itself emerged in what Georges Lemaitre termed a "primeval atom"—a Big Bang singularity. Consider next the life cycles of massive stars, those nuclear furnaces twenty or more times the size of our sun. Like the cyanobacteria singularity that emerged on Earth, creating oxygen and permanently changing planetary conditions to favor more complex and energy-dense life, replicating massive stars are responsible for building out the periodic table in the first few billion years of the early universe, creating the heavier elements (all the way to iron) that would permanently change the galactic development environment to favor more complex and energy-dense stars. It is a spectacular fact that as massive stars die they burn increasingly quickly and brightly, consuming their fuel at an ever-accelerating rate until running out entirely, in a massive star singularity, a supernova. The shock wave from that explosive, reproductive event allows the synthesis of even heavier elements than iron, and these, combining with interstellar gas at great distances from the initial explosions, begin the stellar cycle all over again by birthing complex, iron-core solar systems like ours, systems containing special suns and their small, metal-rich planets (like Earth) that are finally capable of catalyzing life.

What is life? A special replicating combination of metabolic cycles in complex molecules (fats, proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids) that emerged at least 3.85 billion years ago, on a planet whose crust was still molten 3.9 billion years ago. As our biogenesis models improve we are very likely to discover the same simple pattern, accelerating change leading to a phase change singularity. As Paul Davies argues in The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life, 2000, the high energy-flux conditions of near-molten crust, combined with the high pressure, sulfide-rich, mineral-rich water in undersea geothermal vents, is a promising environment for the synthesis of the archaebacterial ecologies we find today on the ocean floor. These are our oldest known examples of life, systems so hardy they are even independent of photosynthesis for their energy. But exactly what kind of acceleration might have created archaebacteria?

Stuart Kauffman (The Origins of Order, 1993) discusses the necessity of protometabolism prior to life, of autocatalytic sets of molecules that chase each others tails (such as the vortex of our Krebs cycle), regenerating themselves while dissipating energy and at the same time synthesizing complex molecular assemblages as side products of the core chemical tornado. In the same way that the anthropic cosmologist Fred Hoyle predicted a special, very unlikely resonance would be needed to create carbon in stellar nucleosynthesis, I predict that we will discover a special, presently hidden, low-energy, high dissipation pathway in molecular evolutionary development. This pathway would be very likely to involve ever-accelerating cycling protometabolisms leading to the creation of lipid-bound, DNA-guided protein synthesis, the life singularity.

This would be a nonrandom developmental pathway, one that takes advantage of the unique, universally tuned conditions found on watery, cooling planets with Earth-like metallochemistry, a pathway that suddenly and violently leads to emergence involving the combined molecular assemblies we call simple life. This acceleration would be primarily developmental, and only secondarily evolutionary, precipitating a phase change in the global chemical environment and new conditions much less likely to foster that special type of self-assembly. Like a supernova, once the life singularity has occurred it might not repeat itself locally, at least on timescales relative to the lifetime of our planet. At any rate, it has been very difficult for us to find recognizable chemical precursors for biogenesis, one of the remaining mysteries of modern science.

Alternatively, archaebacterial life might have emerged multiple times in the cooling crust, only to lose its uniqueness through an inevitable symbiotic fusion with other simple prokaryotes at adjacent vents. It might even be emerging even now in one of the deep sea geothermal vents on our planet, for all we know about those alien ecologies. This idea is at least an outside candidate for being correct, as it would be consistent with the nature of redundant hierarchical acceleration in universal evolutionary development. We can expect it to remain poorly investigated for now, however, as it violates the dominant dogma of the "once only" emergence biologists.

After life, we could discuss other singularities in the long chain of emergence events leading to the consciousness singularity, the linguistically-aided emergence of the modern human mind. If we look closely, we can see accelerations inherent in each of these physical transitions at some point prior to the irreversible phase change. Howard Bloom, (Global Brain, 2001) notes the civilization singularity precipitated by the baked mud brick. This and similar tools (and the decision to move beyond nomadic to domesticated life) allowed neolithic man to create complex cities with divisions of labor as intricate as a human cell. Was there an accelerating series of conflicts prior to emergence of the first stable cities? Intuition suggests there would be, and that the survivors would be those civilizations able to resist, with appropriate defenses, the arms race of escalating warfare and reappropriation that becomes irresistable once wealth is accumulated in stationary locales.

Even the birth of a human being is precipitated by a number of accelerating processes leading to phase change singularities. Courtship in every animal follows an accelerating pitch leading to the mating-choice singularity. Sexual activity reliably follows an accelerating copulation leading to an orgasmic singularity. In one of the rare examples of sustained positive feedback in human physiology, female ovulation occurs through an accelerating process of follicular competition and a follicular singularity, where a Graafian follicle is chosen to produce the ovum. In the Fallopian tube, a prefertilized egg engages in a process of accelerating stimulation by spermatozoa, before culminating in a particular choice, and the phase change of a conception singularity. Similar accelerating signal transductions and diffusion mediated competions lead to various differentiation singularities in embryonic development. The repeating pattern is amazing, and amazingly simple, in a developmental sense.