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Out of Control

Evolution is a structure of organized change. But it is more. Evolution is a structure of organized change which is itself undergoing change and reorganization.

Evolution on Earth has already undergone structural changes in its four-billion-year lifespan and will probably undergo more. The evolution of evolution can be summed up by the following series of historical evolution types:

1) Auto-genesis of systems
2) Replication
3) Genetic control
4) Somatic plasticity
5) Memetic culture
6) Self-directed evolution.

In the prebiotic conditions of early Earth, before there was any life to evolve, the dynamics of evolution favored the survival of anything stable. (There is a Uroboric tautology lurking here because in the very beginning stability is survival.)

Stability permitted evolution to operate longer, and so stability allowed evolution to generate further stability. We know from the work of Walter Fontana and Stuart Kauffman (see chapter 20) that a fairly straightforward chemistry of simple compounds which can catalyze their own production results in a kind of chemical self-supporting ring. The first stage of evolution was thus the evolution of a matrix of self-generating complexity, which gave evolution a population of persistent things to work on.

At the next stage, evolution evolved self-replicating stabilities. Self- reproduction provided the possibility of errors and variation. Evolution then evolved natural selection and unleashed its remarkable search power.

Next, the mechanics of inheritance split from mechanics of survival, and evolution evolved the dual system of genotype and phenotype. By allowing a compact genotype to describe huge libraries of possible forms, evolution entered into a vast space to operate within.

As evolution evolved more complex body forms and behaviors, it made bodies that reshaped themselves and animals that chose their own niches. These choices opened up the space of bodily "learning" for evolution to evolve further.

Learning hastened the next step which was the evolution of a complex symbolic learning machine -- the human brain. Human thinking evolved culture and memetic (idea) evolution. Evolution could now accelerate itself in a self-aware and "smarter" way through a vast new library of possibilities. This is the stage of history we are at now.

God only knows where evolution may evolve next. Will human-made artificial evolution set the stage for another realm of evolution? The obvious course that evolution seems bound to hit sooner or later is self-direction. In self-direction, evolution itself chooses where it wants to evolve. This is not discussed by biologists.

I prefer to rephrase this history and say that evolution has been, and will keep on, exploring the space of possible evolutions. Just as there is a space of possible pictures, a space of possible biological forms, and a space of possible computations, there is also a space -- how large we don't know -- of ways to explore spaces. This metaevolution, or hyperevolution, or deep evolution, or perhaps even ultimate evolution, wanders the landscape of all possible evolutionary games looking for the trick that will allow it to complete its search of all possible evolutions.

Organisms, memes, biomes -- the whole ball of wax -- are only evolution's way to keep evolving. What evolution really wants -- that is, where it is headed -- is to uncover (or create) a mechanism that will most quickly uncover (or create) possible forms, things, ideas, processes in the universe. Its ultimate goal is not only to create forms, things, and ideas, but to create new ways in which new things are found or created. Hyperevolution does this by bootstrapping itself into a layered strategy that continually increases its reach, continually creates new libraries of possible places to explore, and continually searches for better, more creative ways to create.

That sounds like fiddle-faddle double-talk, but I don't know any less recursive way to say it. Perhaps: Evolution's job is to create all possible possibilities by creating the spaces in which they could be.