Einstein's Enlightenment

 Chapter 3: Knowledge

The word ‘knowledge’ is usually used in a human context. It can mean the human characteristic of modeling aspects of the outside word as mental states. This usage would apply to our knowledge that e=mc2, a component of many of our best models of physical processes including energy production in stars. ‘Knowledge’ also is used in connection with our ability to construct useful designs in the outside world as in ‘He knows how to build a house.’

 

But it is not only humans that have knowledge; knowledge is also evident in the natural world. Birds can be said to know how to fly, cells how to extract energy from glucose. Perhaps it even makes sense to say that the earth knows how to make diamonds.

 

How did this knowledge come to exist in the world? We know that although humans can construct knowledge bearing entities in the world, nature was not constructed by man. How then? The most common answer is that something similar to a human (one was constructed in the image of the other) only much more powerful used these powers to construct all the evident knowledge in nature.  This is not a bad answer to a very hard question when you have very few clues.

 

Some recent, very exciting evolutionary theorizing has put forward an alternate answer: that creation of knowledge is solely an evolutionary process. That is, the existence of knowledge is a sure indication that evolution has been at work.  This answer is a good answer supported by a vast array of solid clues and compelling evidence.

 

For the purpose of this discussion we will define knowledge as: All processes that exist for the purpose of persisting complexity.

 

It may seem strange to include the word ‘purpose’ in a scientific definition. What we mean is that as complexity is rare and extremely vulnerable it only occurs in special situations. One situation where complexity can persist is when the complex entity contains processes specifically designed for the persisting of its complexity; for prolonging the lifetime of the complexity.  They are designed in the sense that their own continued existence is due to their role in persisting the existence of the complex entity. In other words if they ceased to be effective in contributing to the persistence of the complex entity their own existence would end.

 

The odds are stacked against the persistence of complex entities. A central component of physics demands that order be steadily reduced across all systems. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that any energy flow within a system results in some destruction of order. On the face of it this law seems to preclude the possibility of long term complexity. Fortunately the law has a loophole. It requires only that the order of the system as a whole is reduced but allows order to increase in some components if this increase is offset by a larger decrease in other components. Evolution has exploited this loophole extensively. All complex entities have an existence only because they are able to avoid the burden of order reduction by shifting this requirement to other entities. Knowledge exists only in complex systems and at the core of knowledge are adaptations that evade thermodynamics’ order reduction imperative.

 

For example, evolution on earth is powered by the sun’s energy. The sun’s energy producing mechanisms result in a huge reduction of order. This reduction in the suns order allows the production of complex entities on earth, which although to us seem hugely complex, technically possess an insignificant amount of order compared to that lost by the sun. A constraint of Universal Darwinism is that all sustainable designs represent special situations where order is gained at the expense of greater loss of order elsewhere.  The history of evolution of complex design in the universe can be seen as a cumulative discovery of methods for growing order by diverting larger losses of order to other entities. This cumulative ability of complex entities is the root of knowledge in the universe. Complexity is bought and maintained at a cost of shifting greater disorder somewhere else. This procurement of complexity is in essence knowledge that exists only for the purpose of persisting complexity.

 

Two main strategies are effective discoverers of persistent design. The first is the ‘Build it stronger than any force in its environment and it will last’. This strategy is the key to all persistent entities from quarks to organic chemistry that evolved prior to life. The second is ‘Make copies faster then they are destroyed and it will last’. This strategy builds upon the first and is the evolutionary strategy of life and culture.

 

The more complex and fragile entities are, the narrower the range of environments they can exist in. At some point and in some sense the entities are so perfectly reflective of their environments that they serve as a source of knowledge of these environments.  Their intricate order fits like a key in a lock. Any significant change in the environment is likely to permit a different set of complex entities to persist. The new set is composed of those that can find protection from the Second Law in this new environment. Knowledge encoded in these complex entities is the knowledge of how complexity can exist in the specific environment. In this sense the entities are ‘in-formed’ by their environments. This is a common feature of knowledge as has been discussed by Henry Plotkin regarding the knowledge inherent in biological adaptations.

 

 This direction can only result if adaptations are ‘in-formed’ by features of the world; they are highly directed kinds of organization and not random, transient structures that may or may not work. Adaptations do work, and they work precisely because of this in-forming relationship between organismic organization and some aspect of the order of the world. This in-forming relationship is knowledge.[i]

 

Chemical Evolution

 

Chemical design space is vast. The number of possible combination of atoms composing potential molecules is nearly infinite. Physical law eliminates many of these from actualizing as they cannot form stabilizing bonds that would allow persistence under any circumstances. Still, after eliminating those combinations unsupported by physical law, we are left with a vast expanse of possibilities. The reactions that do occur are dominated by their circumstances. Chemistry is a science of probability, different reactions rates for different chemical pathways leading to different equilibriums for each set of circumstances. Turn up the temperature and we arrive at equilibrium, turn it down and a different equilibrium occurs. Chemical evolution towards greater complexity in design space utilizes this power of circumstance. The line that is crossed from chemical evolution to the evolution of life occurs with the appearance of new mechanisms controlling the chemical environment and thereby determining the exact chemistry that can occur within that environment much as a laboratory controls chemical reactions through controlling the environment in which the reactions take place.

 

Fragile hydrocarbons tolerate a narrow set of circumstances.  The complex molecules that eventually evolved into life are extremely fragile and exist only in specific protected environments.  Candidate pre-biotic environments include tide pools, deep sea hot vents and liquid ocean water protected beneath a thick sheet of surface ice. These specialized environments were amongst the few safe harbours as they combined a liquid medium, moderate constant temperatures and a source of raw materials and energy. It might be said that complex molecules are adapted for existing in these environments.

 

One key chemical precursor of life is ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is a highly complex, second law defying, molecule that performs some of the core functions of life. An RNA molecule is composed of many simple units called monomers bonded together to form a polymer chain. The monomers, although quite complex themselves, are chemically stable in many environments and have been detected in deep space as well as in meteorites. As the Earth, along with the rest of the solar system, formed from cosmic debris less then a billion years prior to the evolution of life, it is plausible that the pre-biotic earth was rich in RNA monomers.

 

Getting from monomers to polymers is tricky. Polymers are less stable than monomers. An input of energy is required to create a polymer from monomers. Polymers are more ordered then a collection of monomers and constructing them requires a greater destruction of order elsewhere in the system. Adding water to a free polymer will cause it to break down into monomers and yet water is the only plausible medium for monomer congregation.

 

With all these barriers, the creation of polymers of even a few monomers in length is extremely unlikely let alone the 50 or more monomers required for molecules demonstrating biological functionality. Extremely unlikely, that is, in most environments. As key experiments have shown, there is one environment, likely a common one on the early earth that is a polymer factory.

 

That environment is a muddy tide pool. A tide pool may not seem a very specialized environment for performing such a delicate chemical feat but it may be all that is needed:

1)      A pool basin lining containing clay minerals.

2)     A concentration of RNA monomers in the pool

3)     A cyclical bathing and drying of the pool (hence a ‘tide’ pool).

 

In rough outline the hypothesized production process of RNA polymers in a tide pool is:

1)      When the tide comes in, monomers bond to the clay minerals in the pool basin forming dense patterns of adjacent monomers. The monomers are held in contact with one another by their bonds to the clay.

2)     When the tide goes out the monomers dry and chemical bonds form between adjacent monomers, forming small polymers.  This step, commonly called ‘drying’, utilizes the suns energy, to remove a water molecule bonded to two monomers and replace it with the polymer bond.

3)     When the tide comes back in additional monomers bind to the clay adjacent to the small polymers.

4)     When the tide goes out the polymer grows by drying and bonding to adjacent monomers.

 

James Ferris, a bio-chemical researcher, performed a series of experiments simulating tide pool conditions and demonstrated their fecundity in producing RNA polymers. We might be tempted to say that a tide pool ‘knows’ how to make RNA polymers. Although the tide pool is a process that persists complexity it was not designed for this purpose and so by our definition, although some aspects of knowledge are present, true knowledge is not involved.

 

A defining characteristic of the transition from chemistry to life is the construction and maintenance of an environment designed to produce specific chemical reactions. What the tide pool was to RNA production, the life form is to a host of specific chemical reactions and processes. A life form is an environment that defines the chemistry that may occur within it. The relationship is circular: the life form is constructed and maintained by the chemical reactions that occur within it and the chemical reactions are caused by the environmental peculiarities of the life form. All life forms are environments highly adapted to deflect the destructive requirements of the second law from affecting their intricate internal chemical order. This deflection can take many forms. Some widely employed methods are:

1)      A membrane separating the life form from the outside world that limits diffusion across the boundary to specific molecules. This boundary allows substantially different chemical environments to exist inside the boundary as opposed to outside it and hence represents an increase of order.

2)     The use of enzymes to select only specific chemical reactions from the potentially vast number of reactions possible amongst the reactants.

3)     Mechanisms for obtaining energy rich molecules from the outside world and using them to perform work such as producing chemical concentrations against the force of gradient pressures.

 

Life’s chemistry is informed, by its environment, as to what it must do in order to persist. The most directly ‘in-formed’ entities are the genetic molecules sculpted by previous generations in a cumulative trial and error manner to retain those designs capable of persistence.

 

Central to all biological reproduction is DNA/RNA molecules utilized as information storehouses. These genetic molecules’ sole function is to store information coding for protein molecules. The cell knows how to ‘read’ this information and construct the proteins specified. Some of the specified proteins are enzymes or catalysts that serve to make specific chemical reactions many orders of magnitude more likely to occur than they otherwise would.  Some function to maintain the cell membrane. Some serve to switch on or off the production of other proteins. In this manner, through protein mediators, information stored in genetics molecules orchestrates the chemistry of the cell.

 

A thorny problem for explanations of the origin of life is unravelling the dual, mutually dependent characteristics of life:  chemical orchestration and reproduction. Both are defining characteristic of life. In all modern life forms DNA stores the information for protein synthesis; proteins that catalyze and thereby orchestrate life’s chemical reactions. One of the chemical processes mediated by proteins is the production of DNA. So life needs DNA to produce proteins and it needs proteins to produce DNA. Which one came first and how could one come before the other?

 

A likely candidate key to this conundrum is the RNA from our tide pool.[ii] Let’s take a closer look at the dual functions of storing reproducible information and catalyzing chemical reactions. Life’s ability to reproduce is dependent on a long polymer composed of a specific series of monomers being used as a template to construct a second polymer with almost exactly the same sequence of monomers. The polymer is used to construct a copy of itself. Life’s ability to orchestrate chemical processes is largely accomplished using a type of catalyst called an enzyme. Enzymes are also long polymers that have a complicated three dimensional shape due to their patterns of folding. Their shape is specific to the reactions they catalyze; often they bond to two other molecules, holding them close to each other and provide the necessary electro-chemical stimulation to form a chemical bond between the two captive molecules. The freshly produced molecule is then released and the enzyme is ready to receive the next set of precursors.

 

It turns out that RNA is a polymer that can serve both functions: reproduction and catalyst. It can store genetic information that can be copied and it can assume a three dimensional structure that is effective for catalyzing a wide range of chemical reactions. In fact experiments have shown that RNA can catalyze its own reproduction.

 

The details of a plausible scenario for the evolution of life to chemistry are now being sketched by scientist. This ‘RNA World’ envisions environments like our tide pool, rich in RNA polymers that catalyze their own reproduction. This would be a Darwinian process as those RNAs most effective at reproduction would leave more offspring. The drive towards reproductive success may have supplied these processes with a surrounding membrane and the other complexities of more modern life forms.

 

Aspects of this ‘RNA World’ more closely conform to our definition of knowledge. The successful RNA molecules are those best able to reproduce; those best adapted to their environment. Competition arises between variant RNA molecules for monomers, energy and other materials. Effective RNA molecules could be said to contain processes whose purpose is the RNA molecules persistence and in this sense contain knowledge.

 

Modern cells no longer use RNA for storing reproductive information or for catalyzing chemical reactions. Reproductive information is stored in DNA molecules and proteins serve as catalysts. RNA still performs an assortment of functions. Perhaps its role as messenger RNA is most indicative of its former centrality. Messenger RNA is created from a short section of DNA coding for a protein. The section of DNA serves as a template and its code is copied to RNA via the catalytic action of a number of proteins. The RNA carries this information to a cellular body called a ribosome to which it binds. The ribosome assembles amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, of the type and in the order specified by the information coded in the RNA.  In this manner RNA still bridges the dual functions of information storage and catalyst.  

 

Life’s ability to reproduce introduced the ‘Make copies faster then they are destroyed and it will last’ strategy.  In its simplest form, employed by one celled asexual organisms, the only organisms existing for most of evolutionary history, reproduction is achieved by producing an excess of the cell’s internal molecules and then reconfiguring the cell membrane to encompass two separate volumes.

 

Biological Evolution

With reproduction the in-forming of chemistry by the outside world really took off. Theorems in information theory show that it is impossible to transfer information without errors. Reproduction is a form of information transfer and as such can never be perfect. Variations must occur. Some organisms with a variant trait will be more capable of persisting than those without it, they will have more offspring, many of their daughter cells will share the advantageous trait and individuals with that trait will become more common in the population. With each generation the internal chemistry of the population will become better in-formed by the outside world as to requirements for persistence. It is at this stage, with the appearance of variable reproduction, that true knowledge makes its debut. Of the variable attributes within a population, those of a given generation will be preferentially reproduced that contribute the most to the persistence of the individual. In this sense the surviving attributes or adaptations ‘exist for the purpose of persisting complexity’ and meet our criterion as knowledge. As organisms are no more than an aggregation of adaptations, it is in this sense true that organisms are composed wholly of knowledge. 

 

Single celled organisms were the most advanced life forms for two thirds of life’s history. They spent over two and a half billion years extending their knowledge in countless ways. A consistent system of storing information in DNA and translating it into proteins via a single code was developed. Most of this system is currently used by all life forms. Human genes involved in complicated tasks like embryo development can be inserted into fruit flies where they will work perfectly attesting to the universal aspects of this knowledge.[iii]

 

Single celled life learned to use energy rich sulphide metals in the vicinity of oceanic hot vents to power life. Expanding their scope they learned to use the sun’s energy to convert hydrogen sulphide, a more commonly occurring molecule, into a suitable energy source. Eventually they learned the trick of using the suns energy to convert water molecules into glucose, an energy source, by the process of photosynthesis. As water and sunlight are widely available, this knowledge allowed life to spread to all corners of the planet.

 

Single cells further discovered the process of respiration whereby glucose and a number of other organic molecules are converted into the ATP molecule which is used as life’s universal energy source. 

 

Over this long period of cell evolution countless pieces of knowledge where gained enabling life to persist more effectively. Each piece of knowledge was recorded in DNA and translated into cellular mechanisms by succeeding generations.

 

About 1.2 billion years ago a new type of cell, the eukaryotic cell, evolved with its entire DNA contained within a membrane forming the cell nucleus. This configuration allowed for more effective control of replication. Eukaryotic cells were also able to engulf other simpler cells and exist with them in a symbiotic relationship. Over time the engulfed cells lost many of the functions duplicated in their host and retained only some specialist functions lacking in their host. In this manner, chloroplasts, mitochondria and other specialist mechanisms of cell knowledge were incorporated.  In effect these eukaryotic cells became libraries of knowledge incorporating adaptations from numerous lineages of simpler cells.

 

This new type of conglomerate cell also discovered how to join together in colonies and then to specialize their functions within colonies to form multi-cellular organisms. Multi-celled organisms could incorporate many different cell types each with its own specialist knowledge for a particular function within the organism. The challenge of specialized knowledge and complex communication amongst cells within multi-cellular organisms was met by new evolutionary designs.

 

As life became more common and diverse it increasingly affected the physical processes of the planet. As the oxygen produced by photosynthesis increased in quantities it was at first consumed in the oxidation of exposed materials such as iron. Then it began to accumulate and came to form a substantial proportion of the earth’s atmosphere. At first this prevalence of oxygen was lethal for many non - photosynthesising life forms but eventually adaptations evolved to take advantage of the increased respiratory efficiency made possible by an oxygen rich environment. Animal life became totally dependent on the oxygen produced by plants and plants on the carbon dioxide exhaled by animals.  In a similar manner numerous materials were cycled between life forms, each one finding a use for the other’s waste materials. These material cycles such as carbon and nitrogen cycles form the basis of ecology. They imply that each species involved has gained a deep knowledge of the materials available to them and the process required to use these materials for the purpose of persistence.  

 

Knowledge was accumulated not only for more effective internal cell processes but also for external orientation. Organisms were able to direct their movement within the external world according to chemical gradients, light levels and temperature. Some single-celled organisms use light to orientate themselves as to which way is up. With the increasing knowledge exploitable by multi-celled organisms this ability to detect features of the external world and to react to them accelerated. Present day Jelly Fish, close relatives of what may have been the first multi-cellular life forms, have light sensitive patches they can use to respond to ‘light on’ and ‘light off’ conditions.

 

In his seminal book In a blink of an Eye[iv], Andrew Parker documents the revolutionary effect that the evolution of sight may have had on the acceleration of adaptations. Up until the end of the Precambrian period, 540 million years ago, there was no true sight in the sense of the ability to form an image of an external object and react to it. When this ability evolved in trilobites, an extinct arthropod, it changed everything.

 

Before this point in biological evolution predation mostly occurred when a predator like a jelly fish bumped into its prey or when one like a sponge filtered a prey from the water circulated through its body. With sight, these passive forms of predation, where supplemented by active predation where a predator could detect its prey at a distance and actively pursue and consume it. This new knowledge led to an immediate arms race known as the Cambrian explosion where predators rapidly evolved mechanisms to more effectively use sight and prey species rapidly evolved defensive counter measures.

 

The evolution of senses, the processing of sensory information in the nervous system and the execution of behaviour based on it introduced a new type of knowledge; instinct. Instincts are genetically programmed behaviours that utilize the nervous system. Instinctual knowledge provided organisms with access to a wealth of real time information concerning their changing environment and how they should react to it in order to enhance their own persistence. As an example of the efficiency of instinctual knowledge Andrew Parker describe the instinctual behaviour exhibited by dragonflies:

 

In the air, dragonflies are expert hunters. They have three pairs of grasping limbs positioned near to their blade-like mouthparts, large wings to provide speed and manoeuvrability. But first the helpless prey must be found, identified as prey, and then tracked…. The compound eyes of dragonflies contain several hundred or even thousand facets, not all of which are equal. There are one or two acute zones, the ‘sights’. Larger facets provide higher magnification and better resolution – they see with greater sensitivity. One acute zone is positioned at the top of the eye, and this is used to identify prey insects against the sky. When a prey insect has been spotted, the dragonfly moves into its horizontal plane and tracks it with a forward facing acute zoned – the prey is now locked into a line of fire.[v]

 

One can only marvel at the level of complexity of this instinctual knowledge, the refined coordination of sight and flight that often succeeds in delivering a prey insect into the dragonfly’s mouthparts.

 

Much of the dragon files neural ability is genetically determined and the resulting insect hunting is instinctual. Most animals including ourselves have forms of instinctual neural knowledge, for instance the neural stimulation of our hearts or our instinctual fear of heights. Complementing this instinctual knowledge is knowledge gained by learning. Even the lowly sea slug is capable of a limited repertoire of sensitisation, habituation and associative learning.[vi] This coincidence of instinctual and learned knowledge in creatures with primitive nervous systems suggests that neurons served these dual functions almost since they first differentiated as a distinct type of cell.

 

Learning enables a dramatic shortening of the cycle required to acquire knowledge. Instinctual knowledge is inherited from ancestors via genetics. A gain of instinctual knowledge necessitates a range of variation amongst a generation in the manner in which their nervous system reacts to some environmental stimuli. Some of these variations will provide the individuals possessing them with a reproductive advantage over the other members of the population lacking the variation. The offspring of these individuals will compose a larger proportion of the next generation and will tend to inherit the advantageous variation. Thus over many generations this variation will come to be a dominant trait of population and can be said to be incorporated into the instinctual knowledge of the population.

 

Although the ability to learn is inherited, the learned content is not.  Learning is done by individuals in the course of a single life time and is often composed of a change in the likelihood of linking a given stimuli to a given behaviour. One type of learning, habituation, is the lessening of a behaviour, for example flight, provoked by a given stimuli, for example a loud noise, when the loud noise is often repeated but not accompanied by any threatening events. Another type of simple learning is association where an instinctual  behaviour, for example flight, that is instinctually linked to a stimuli , for example an electric shock, may become associated with another stimuli, say the ringing of a bell if organism experiences a number of situations where the electric shock is preceded by the ringing of the bell.

 

Learned knowledge is gained by individuals during their life time whereas instinctual knowledge is gained during the course of a number of generations. Instincts and learning often work closely together. For instance an organism may have an instinctual preference for sweet food and learn the best locations for finding fruit in its vicinity. Learning provides a mechanism for organisms to adapt their behaviour to phenomena that are specific to their individual experience such as their particular vicinity in both time and space.

 

Neural knowledge provided by the evolutionary moulding of instincts and learning proved to be generally beneficial in promoting survival. With the passing of evolutionary time emergent species continually set new records for the amount of neural mass. Many different routes were taken such as the social insects whose neural knowledge was not stored in individuals but rather in communities.

 

Increased neural knowledge allowed more sophisticated behaviour including more intensive care of young and complex social behaviour amongst larger groups. As the ability to learn evolved it sometimes encompassed the ability to learn from other members of the same species, in other words to mimic some of their learned behaviours. Some young birds learn their songs from adults and many young carnivores learn hunting behaviour from adults. The advantages possible through mimicking were realized most extensively amongst primates. With species such a Chimps it is possible to talk about ‘cultures’ where individual Chimps have learned some behaviour such as fishing for ants or using rocks to crack nuts and then this behaviour is mimicked by most members of that individual’s resident group.

 

Cultural Evolution

 

Human knowledge springs from both our biological and cultural inheritance. During our nine month gestation our development parallels the hard won adaptations discovered by the entire line of descent of our biological ancestors spanning the range from single celled life to fish to mammals. After our birth we are exposed to and we absorb, in general outline, the cultural accomplishments accumulated by our human ancestors, those in our cultural line of descent, since the dawn of the human species.

 

Our cultural knowledge may be based on our ability to imitate or mimic others.  Humans have taken mimicked behaviour and made it their trump card. It is likely the primary reason we have been able to dominate the planet. With us mimicry has been elevated to the status of a replication mechanism that can participate in the Darwinian process of progressive design. It has allowed us a much faster evolution of knowledge than other animals because the ability to mimic allows us to adopt new successful behaviours without undergoing a genetic mutation or learning the behaviour on our own. We can and do simply mimic successful behaviour we witness in others.

 

Humans are very good a mimicking. New styles in everything from clothes to hairstyles to cars can sweep nations. New jargon, received wisdom from business authorities, styles in music or details of a new health diet are all easily mimicked and spread. We are all intensely attentive, especially when we are young, to the latest trend. We are all great as mimics.

 

Imitation cannot escape being a Darwinian replicator. It is a type of reproduction. It displays heredity; offspring have similar characteristics to their parents. The copied offspring are variable, with some of the variable memes being more adapt at surviving than others. All three requirements check, we don’t need to consider the matter any further, meme replication is a Darwinian process.

 

During the five million years since we had a common ancestor with the great apes, the most notable biological divergence from them has been the remarkable increase in the size of our brains. Our common ancestor with apes had a brain capacity of 400 to 500 cubic centimetres while our species from around 100,000 years ago, had a brain size of around 1350 cubic centimetres.[vii] Why did we evolve this three fold increase in such a biologically costly organ?

 

The answer postulated by memetics is that our huge brain size evolved in order to allow us to be better mimics. The ability to mimic or imitate allows successful cultural adaptations to spread quickly and benefit all those able to mimic them. Other than our big brains humans do not have any outstanding biological traits. We can’t run the fastest and we do not have huge teeth and claws for defending ourselves. We do have the ability to use tools and it has been our use of tools that gave our early ancestors the ability to succeed and spread over the planet. The use of tools requires the many skills required for identifying the raw materials used in tool making, making the tools, maintaining the tools and using the tools effectively. All of these things are much more easily accomplished if we can mimic this behaviour in those that have already adopted the successful techniques rather than each one of us having to discover our cultural repertoire on our own. To be good mimics is not easy, it requires a big brain. Our ancestors found this winning move in design space and we have been running with it ever since.

 

When modern humans first spread out from Africa and began to inhabit the rest of the world about 70,000 years ago they were accomplished tool makers and had a rich cultural inventory. Since then our species has discovered the behaviour required to inhabit almost all areas of the planet except those in the most extreme latitudes. Colonization of each new habitat required variations on existing tools and other cultural adaptations. As this knowledge evolved it quickly became widespread through our ability to imitate successful behaviour.

 

The human habitation of the planet has only recently been completed. The Americas were probably not inhabited until about 17,000 years ago. More remote areas including the far north and some of the pacific islands were only inhabited in the past thousand years. No sooner was the habitation of the entire planet substantially completed then we began to even further intensify our dependence on cultural knowledge. Our food supply, until recently, had been largely natural food procured through hunting and gathering. Around 10,000 years ago agriculture was discovered and our food supply became increasing dependent on our cultural knowledge. Population growth accelerated to consume these increasing resources and cultural knowledge expanded further to provide irrigation and other methods supporting more intensive agriculture. Cultural, political and religious memes, including the great religions, evolved in response to the challenges of organizing the large dense human populations made possible by agriculture.

 

 

With this increased freedom in their evolution memes were empowered to explore designs providing more abstract forms of knowledge that in turn provide better cultural survivability. During the past 400 years the scientific worldview has evolved and provided us with first the industrial and now the electronic revolutions. The resulting increase in resources has allowed human population growth to continue at exponential rates.

 

Science has proven its worth as meme that exists for the purpose of persisting complexity. Quite simply modern cultural groups that do not adopt this meme are unable to compete in the global arena. The recent Iraq war underlines the decisive advantage enjoyed in military competition by those with science well integrated into their tool kit but science is equally decisive in competitions involving trade, agriculture and manufacturing.

 

Science in many ways is the culmination of the evolution of knowledge through cosmic time. It is able to unleash powers unrivalled by any other system of knowledge and is true in a pure sense. The scientific worldview reveals an objective reality removed from our personal concerns and day to day preoccupations. This reality is awe inspiring and beautiful in a mystical sense. It is the reality identified by Einstein as the spiritual home of history’s ‘religious geniuses’ and the source of the ‘cosmic religious experience’. Science thus provides us with a worldview freed from the worldly concerns of our biological nature. This worldview may provide mankind with a fresh opportunity to chart the course of our future evolution in a spiritual and responsible manner.


 

horizontal rule

[i] Plotkin, Henry C. (1993). Darwin Machines. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusettes

[ii] The RNA World: http://www.panspermia.org/rnaworld.htm , last viewed January 7, 2005

[iii] Ridley Matt. (1999). Genome. Perennial

[iv] Parker A. (2003). In the Blink of an Eye. Perseus Bublishing

[v] Parker A. (2003). In the Blink of an Eye. Perseus Bublishing

[vi] Plotkin, Henry C. (1993). Darwin Machines. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusettes

[vii] Blackmore S. (1999). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press