In essence, the new law states that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexity. In other words, evolution is not limited to life on Earth, it also occurs in other massively complex systems, from planets and stars to atoms, minerals, and more.
Authored by a nine-member team — leading scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Cornell University, and philosophers from the University of Colorado — the work was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
“Macroscopic” laws of nature describe and explain phenomena experienced daily in the natural world. Natural laws related to forces and motion, gravity, electromagnetism, and energy, for example, were described more than 150 years ago.
The new work presents a modern addition — a macroscopic law recognizing evolution as a common feature of the natural world’s complex systems, which are characterised as follows:
- They are formed from many different components, such as atoms, molecules, or cells, that can be arranged and rearranged repeatedly
- Are subject to natural processes that cause countless different arrangements to be formed
- Only a small fraction of all these configurations survive in a process called “selection for function.”
Regardless of whether the system is living or nonliving, when a novel configuration works well and function improves, evolution occurs.
The authors’ “Law of Increasing Functional Information” states that the system will evolve “if many different configurations of the system undergo selection for one or more functions.”
“An important component of this proposed natural law is the idea of ‘selection for function,'” says Carnegie astrobiologist Dr. Michael L. Wong, first author of…