Victus Spiritus


One life theory, regions of stability in the chaos of mutations

08 Jan 2011

When it comes to life's intellectual pleasures I choose to savor them for as long a time as I possibly can. This is in contrast to my ravenous enjoyment of fine foods, iced coffee or enormous energy drinks. I took the opportunity early this morning to enjoy a little more of Kevin Kelly's latest book What Technology Wants. For reference according to Kindle for Mac, the idea I'm about to discuss is 27% of the way through the text.

Kevin Kelly discusses one life theory (* note is mine)

The incredible complexity of life disguises its singularity. There is only one life. All life today is descended along an unbroken line of duplication form one ancient molecule that worked inside one primeval cell that worked. Despite life's magnificent diversity, it is chiefly repeating, billions of billions of times, solutions that worked before. Compared to all possible arrangements of matter and energy in the universe, life's solutions are few. Because field biologists discover another organism on Earth every day that is new to us, we have reason to marvel at the inventiveness and exuberance of nature. Yet compared to what our brains could imagine, the diversity of life on Earth occupies a very small corner. Our alternative imaginary universes are full of creatures far more diverse, creative, and "out there" than the life here*. But most of our imaginary creatures would never work because they would be full of physical contradictions. The world of the actual-possible is much smaller than it first appears.

Impossible Inevitability

Earlier in the work, Mr. Kelly builds up an argument for regions of stability in the chaos soup of life's phenotypes. These recurring traits are independently evolved physical characteristics which are a function of underlying genetic coding. He is building a case for the impossible inevitability of life. In mathematical lingo, specific solutions will be found^.

Each structure within nature is impossibly complex, yet near optimal in it's efficiency. One example (out of several) referred to is rhodopsin, a protein which is highly sensitive to visible light. It transfers incident photons into electrical signals which natural nervous systems are capable of efficiently processing. What's striking about rhodopsin is that this protein has evolved independently in two separate Kingdoms (Archaea and Eubacteria). Life found the same answer in two separate evolutionary trials and has yet to find a better molecule.

* = I can see a connection between surviving startup business patterns and forms of life which are realizable due to natural constraints. We are capable of imagining a near endless variety of tools, products and services out of which only a tiny fraction are actual viable and valuable.

^= The impossible inevitability of life is a variation on the concept of determinism. While localized decisions are unbound, certain natural and technology forms may be predetermined.

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