Cosmic evolution is not a simple accumulation of smaller parts which are just getting more complex and bigger. Distinct stages can be identified, which share common structures and, when these structures evolve into something totally new, the next stage emerges. When we talk about Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Technology, we are, in a certain way, acknowledging the different stages in the evolution of the universe but, in my opinion, with a very simplistic and anthropocentric view. For the last ten years I have been developing a Theory on the Evolutionary Stages of the Universe that can better define how these stages are divided by first understanding what life really is and how it evolves from the point of view of systems theory. In the next posts, I will be developing my theory further, first by explaining what I believe is life and then how each stage in the evolution of the universe has emerged from this basic definition of life.
Apart from giving a very detailed explanation on how the universe evolved and should continue evolving, I believe this theory has huge implications on the definition of life, why I think life is autopoietic and why it has been so hard to draw a line between living and non-living systems.
How can a non-living structure evolve into a living organism? Isn’t life a requirement for evolution? Maybe cellular organisms are just more complex living systems but life, in its basic autopoietic form, has always been present, only at a simpler stage. I believe the concept of life used in Biology is anthropocentric, arbitrary and only useful taxonomically. Instead of defining first what the basic requirement for being alive is and then finding out which systems fulfill this requirement, Biologists have worked it backwards by first establishing arbitrarily which organisms are alive and which are not and then assuming that life is whatever features these organisms have. That is a taxonomical definitions but not a systems theory definition. In the end, system theorists have been forced to include all those features into their living systems just to please a taxonomical definition. It would be just as possible to assume that only animals are alive and then forcing the definition of life to be systems with a neural network just because it is what separates animals from plants. This is also what has been done with the definition of intelligence. That is why we still don’t have a logical definition of life from a Biological point of view because the system has to fit a definition which is arbitrary and includes features which have evolved randomly in this planet: whatever features cellular life on Earth has, they have to be included into the definitions of a living system without even knowing what being alive really is. I believe we have to start thinking the other way around: see first what life really is and then find out which systems in the universe (not just Earth) include this feature. It has to be just one feature, not a bunch of randomly evolved features. The same with intelligence, once we really understand what it is to be intelligent, we will be able to determine which systems in the universe have intelligence. We will realize, in the same way as with life, that intelligence is present in all evolutionary stages of the universe but in a simpler form.
Exobiologists could also use this theory to understand better how living systems could have evolved in other planets. Maybe cellular life is just one possibility out of many other forms of evolution from molecules. If we understand that sub-atomic particles are capable of evolving into molecules that have adapted to our planet, maybe sub-atomic particles can evolve differently in other planets, and create very different molecules and polymers which will then evolve into some other life form different from our planet’s cellular evolution. Maybe we do not need water or carbon if we can think of polymers that can survive in very different conditions.
Another implication for this theory has to do with future evolution, or evolution beyond our multi-cellular organisms and how this will affect climate change. Maybe every evolutionary level modified the planet’s climate in unforeseen ways which were unfavorable to their living conditions but this change was necessary for evolution to kick-in and adapt so a new evolutionary level was created. Suppose cyanobacteria did not convert our planet’s atmosphere into an oxygen rich one, would animal life forms had evolved? Maybe those cyanobacteria are not capable of evolving into animals and only into plants. Maybe other life forms which were adapted to living in a CO2 rich atmosphere would have evolved into very different kinds of animals, but maybe not. Is our current climate change a similar transformation required for us to evolve into the next level, which I call meta-organisms?
Is a society or a city the next level of evolution? I don’t think it is, just like the next level of evolution of bacteria is not a colony but a multi-cellular organism. By extrapolating the way the universe has evolved from energy to subatomic particles and then to molecules, cells and multi-cellular organisms, we can see that the next evolutionary level is not a society or a colony of humans but a very different kind of meta-organism which has not yet evolved. Just like the first molecules had to evolve into complex polymers in order to form the structures needed for the first cells to evolve, and just like the first simple cells had to evolve into eukaryotic cells to form the first multi-cellular structures from which plants and animals evolved, humans need to evolve into something much more complex and advanced before the first structures needed to form meta-organisms evolve.