Information theory, predictability, and the emergence of complex life

Darwinism emphasizes fast replication and large progeny. To this end, it pays off being small and simple. Complex structures might be penalized, yet different levels of complexity have been realized by living systems—thus posing a conundrum. Stephen J Gould proposed that, actually, simple life forms dominate the biosphere. The ‘incidental’ complexity we observe would result from a random drift. Gould insisted that there are not evolutionary drivers pushing evolution toward higher complexity. We argue that such evolutionary pressures do exist. We hypothesize that a tradeoff is in place between i) fast, cheap replication and ii) an organism’s ability to process meaningful information—thus predict its environment. This tradeoff sits at the origin of more complex life forms. To study this tradeoff we introduced bit-guessers, a minimal model that brings together information theory and Darwinian dynamics. This toy model allows us to show explicit evolutionary pressures that select for complex organisms. Our latest results examine the role of parasites, revealing yet stronger pressures toward increased complexity; often with outstanding dynamics despite the simplicity of the model. The bit-guessers paradigm turned out to be very rich, suggesting plenty of open research questions about its dynamics. It is also very apt to model an array of biological scenarios at a very fundamental level involving Darwinism and information theory alone.

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Llorenç Serra
971 17 28 05
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