The evolution of species, according to Darwin, is driven by struggle – by competition between variant autonomous individuals for survival of the fittest and reproductive advantage; the outcome of this struggle for survival is natural selection. The Neo-Darwinians reframed natural selection in terms of DNA: inherited genotypes directly encode expressed phenotypes; a fit phenotype means a fit genotype – thus the evolution of species is the evolution of selfish, reproducing individual genotypes.
Four general characteristics of advanced forms of life are not easily explained by this Neo-Darwinian paradigm: 1) Dependence on cooperation rather than on struggle, manifested by the microbiome, ecosystems and altruism; 2) The pursuit of diversity rather than optimal fitness, manifested by sexual reproduction; 3) Life’s investment in programmed death, rather then in open-ended survival; and 4) The acceleration of complexity, despite its intrinsic fragility.
Here I discuss two mechanisms that can resolve these paradoxical features; both mechanisms arise from viewing life as the evolution of information. Information has two inevitable outcomes; it increases by autocatalyis and it is destroyed by entropy. On the one hand, the autocalalysis of information inexorably drives the evolution of complexity, irrespective of its fragility. On the other hand, only those strategic arrangements that accommodate the destructive forces of entropy survive – cooperation, diversification, and programmed death result from the entropic selection of evolving species. Physical principles of information and entropy thus fashion the evolution of life.
Updating Darwin: Information and entropy drive the evolution of life
Irun R. Cohen
Version 1. F1000Res. 2016; 5: 2808.
Published online 2016 Dec 1. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.10289.1