Evolution – The inevitable phenomenon

Ziauddin Ahmed - july 24, 2011

Opening Disclaimer 

I would like to begin by making it clear that the essay does not lay claim to be a scientific paper. It cannot give scientific or experimental proof of the hypothesis it projects. It is at best an attempt to marry and conjoin a philosophic approach to some scientific ideas.  Both rationality and conjecture   may be visible in it. The attempt is to look at the future from an angle of purpose and reasoning by the study of evolution through some examples of it. Evolution, in my opinion, should be seen as a phenomenon for the entire  creation as a whole, rather than a series of combinations at various specific levels and under different headings or separate subjects. In my talk today I propose to present three topics  to elaborate the idea, and have made an attempt  to deal with them in regards to the expansion of the notion of evolution in its entirety. These are: 

(a)   The theory of Holarchy

(b)  The concept of Accelerated Returns

(c)   Speculative direction of evolution

 Please bear with me to the end to see if the talk makes any sense,  for otherwise it may seem just an utterance of a speculative or a sceptic individual, trying to make something out of a storm in a tea cup. 

Defining Evolution 

Evolution is a natural phenomenon of modification which can neither be avoided nor denied. There is, however, a difference between change and evolution. While change may occur with the passage of time on any scale, evolution occurs with  the passage of generations themselves. Change, in some cases, can be avoided but evolution cannot. Change may be temporary but evolution is enduring.  Change can be an instantaneous process whereas evolution proceeds gradually. Change may be a reversible phenomena but evolution is not. 

Some examples of evolution and devolution: 

Healthy development in humans is a controlled division and multiplication of cells into the next generation -- taking into consideration and being subservient to the existence of the body they reside in. It is no less than a marvel of evolution that healthy cell division preserves this prerequisite of existence. For, if cell division becomes uncontrolled and is not to follow the principle of live and let live, both the cells and the host body would eventually be annihilated, as is seen in the case of cancer. Looking at it through another example -- a cancerous process is like an uncontrolled atomic reaction, much like a bomb, which is an unbridled release of energy -- causing the destruction of both itself and the surroundings. Healthy metabolic evolution, on the other hand, would then be comparable to a balanced and controlled nuclear reaction, as seen in the process of the generation of electric power.  

Having  got the gist of the idea, let’s see how  evolutionary processes occur, and how they  affect us. The Entire creations development is the result of a constant evolutionary process. It is also observable in every facet of the triad of human existence, which is thought, word and deed. The very evolution of this triad  constitutes the development of the individual and subsequently the evolution of the  entire human race.      

In humans the basis of evolution  is visible in the form of Curiosity and quest of knowledge. The more knowledgeable they become the higher they rise in their  stature. Their growth of knowledge starts with the start of life itself. The various phases of its development may be tabled as:- 

1.     Individual’s search and knowledge acquisition  -- starts as a baby.

2.    Sharing and Reconfirmation of ideas with others – as a toddler and child.

3.    Building up of self confidence – as an adolescent.

4.    Projection of ideas and attempt to influence others – as an adult.

5.     Self-satisfaction and contentment – as a mature individual.

6.    Self fulfilment – as a wise person.

7.    Evolution of the self – as at dotage. 

One field of knowledge that deals with evolution is The ‘Holonistic theory’, first proposed by Arthur Koestler in the 1950’s and later adapted by Ken Wilber. According to this theory all things consist of holons.  These Holons are  complete entities and wholes in themselves. E.g. the alphabets of a language a, b, c,…, Each is a complete entity and an individual holon. These can, however, evolve to the next higher holostic level and become parts of new holons; for example alphabets can be made into words, such as, cat, bat, mat… Which in turn become the building blocks for the next level, say sentences, e.g. ‘ a fat cat sat on the mat’, and so on. The level of holarchy goes on increasing with every successive step. Let’s take another example, this time from science, where it is seen that ‘atoms’ are holons  as they are wholes in themselves. They are the building blocks for molecules, which once again are holons in themselves, but a stage higher than atoms. A further evolution may convert molecules to amino-acids, which  may then go on to build cells, and so on and on.   Now, each set of holons that evolves must contain the holons of the previous level. These new holons  are different from their  predecessors  in as much as the previous ones have been integrated in them and have acquired something extra to establish a fresh identity of their own. They have in fact transcended the previous order and have acquired some more, new properties.  The higher mode  of holons  however, cannot exist without  containing  the lower levels,  but the lower ones can exist on their own even if the higher order of holons is destroyed. The higher the holons grow in the holonic hierarchy  the more autonomous they become and their capability or value increases or changes.  The Universe as a whole is an example of a holarchic system, in which every holarchy is part of a hierarchy.


Let us see how this  theory explains  evolution – and,  as we shall see in a minute it goes on to explore phenomena even beyond.    Matter, the physical manifestation of the Kosmos --  ( this is different from the Cosmos ,  better explained in books on holonic theory. Briefly, it is the cumulative manifestation of all matter, energy and even the psyche of the Universe.),  -- may be taken as the starting point for our understanding of the levels of holons.   A higher level of development, or further evolution of matter, would be  the holon of life or bio-physics.     ( In between these there may be some sub levels, but we are avoiding them for the sake of     simplicity ).  The new holon, the holon of life has developed over the holon of matter by the incorporation of  the phenomena of  self-replication and the  multiplication to it. This would thus be a step higher  in holarchy, and would be the next stage of the  evolution of matter. The result is the manifestation of living organisms, i.e. plant and vegetation. A further stage of advancement of plant life is the incorporation of mobility in the holon to reach the next higher stage --  animal life.   A further evolution and  development of some species to the next stage, is the holon of the mind. Here the holons of life have  evolved to the stage where it  has acquired the ability to act on its own.  Further development of the mind would lead to a species which not only thinks for itself but is also conscious of the process of thinking, and what it can think.  This is the stage of  psychological interplay incorporated with the holons of the animal mind and body.  Humans are the manifestation of this stage of evolution in the holarchy.   It seems that over the millennia some cognitive and creative phenomenon has evolved life from the unicellular amoeba to the multi-cellular animal. This holon of the animal by some process of ‘natural selection and nurture’ has then been upgraded to the holon of the thinking and conscious mind. Now, as per the holonistic principle the holon of the mind cannot exist without incorporating and transcending the holon of the body, which means that for the mind to have come about it is essential to have gone through an evolutionary phase of the body. And only after the body went through the required steps of change and readjustment it got prepared to be incorporated in the holon of the mind.    Let us stop here for a minute and see how far we have come.  It will be observed that  for the  holon of the mind to exist it needs to encompass the holons of the animal,  which in  turn must have advanced over the holons  of plant, and which in its turn developed from matter.  And so, on and on it goes.   

All  stable systems in Nature have one thing in common -- they  all show balanced evolution.  A controlled evolutionary change is perhaps  more enduring and longer lasting than a violent revolutionary one.   Observe both the macrocosm and the microcosm.  The solar system maintains its stability because it is balanced and evolving.  At the other end of the spectrum of the Cosmos,  the classical atomic structure follows the same principle of balance and poise.  

As an evolving system progresses and reaches the stage of self- perpetuation,  it becomes self-participating and self-directing  as well.  For, if it is not so, the result would be self-destructing and self-diminishing. Now, the tendency of self-destruction  in an evolving system is a negative or detrimental trait, and does not serve the very logic of  its  existence in the first place.   Humans  are  also a part of this Self - perpetuating system and are positioned at a very high level in the whole spectrum of evolution -- whereby  they have gained the capability of being conscious of the System itself. They may not fully  appreciate or understand the purpose of the System of which they are a part, yet they are aware of it and know that some such  structure exists. They probe and search for its meaning in everything around them. As said elsewhere, they do so  by the use of their most important and uniquely private tool – the conscious mind.   

Some ideas of Evolution worth exploring 

Raymond Kurzweil is an inventor, a futurist and a scientist  steeped in his knowledge of information technology and its repercussions. He propagates the theory of change and evolution and the rate at which it manifests itself. He starts his essay  ‘ The Law of Accelerating Returns ’ March 2001, by saying: 

“An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience  100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). …. There is exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to the Singularity—technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and non-biological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.” 

Now one of the most important concepts to understand  in Evolution is the rate of change or speed with which is occurs. Take a chess or a draft board and start with a simple count. If we start counting from 1 to 30, the amount gradually increases with every subsequent square. Say 1,2,3….30. This is linear counting; but if we were to take counting as 1 being the first number, then double it to 2 as the next number, and then double that to four as the third step, and keep doubling the numbers at each step as we go along, we see that by the time of the 30th square we have come to over half billion.

 This is an example of exponential growth.  This is the way knowledge grows in its content. However, thinking is usually a linear advancement.    

The inception of evolution 

It is interesting to note that evolution started right from the time of the big bang, when everything came into existence. The time scale of evolution from the primordial gases to  solidification to matter took billions of years. The rate of change has since accelerated and further evolution on the time scale is relatively much more rapid. Later phenomena worked on the time scale of  millennia instead of billions of years.  The evolution of Homo sapiens from the first human to the present is on the scale of thousands of years instead of millions. The total transformation from pre-modern to modern man is on the scale of centuries in comparison to previous phenomena. Knowledge, which in the last millennium used to compound in centuries, is at the present time reduced to a few years span instead. This type of growth would be exponential in comparison to the rate of the evolution of phenomena before the stage to the time of humans. Recent political events in the Middle East have further reduced the time of change of human history to months as against years and centuries. The present world situation is also a form of a ‘revolutionary evolution’ of the human psyche. It is in fact an exponential rate of change as against the previous linear one.  

Take another interesting example of exponential progression, this time in the field of human activity. The invention of the wheel < time lapse ?> Agricultural revolution < time lapse 8000 yrs> Industrial revolution <about 120 years> light bulb < about 90 years> Moon landing <22 years> world wide web <9 years> Human genome sequencing.   This type of growth rate is again exponential instead of liner. This compounding of knowledge is due to its internal multiplication and growth in all directions in a parallel manner simultaneously.  

Human intellectual supremacy 

Human intelligence is based on pattern recognition and its analysis, and it is also characterized by projecting these traits to make predictions. Computers are now quickly being developed to master this art. To fully fathom a process or thing the best way is to study it from the present position going backward all the way to the beginning, or to reverse engineer it.  Reverse engineering of the human brain is quite an advanced science and is rapidly approaching mastery. According to Kurzweil  it is estimated that a complete understanding of brain functions of human brains will be reverse engineered within a decade or two, or more precisely by the first quarter of 2000. Alongside this is the immense development in the field of size reduction and the increase in the power of the computers. The two fields of development are leading in the direction of the inter-phase of the nanotechnology with the brain and the approach of the singularity of the man-machine conglomerate. This evolution in the computing  power of the brain will then enable scientists to build its replica and other bio-robots that will be capable of manipulating humans in an unimaginable number of acts. To get some more such ideas just visit the internet and scan the field of exoskeletons, and also watch U tubes on       

 Man machine inter –phase 

Kurzweil said ‘Man has been expanding his capabilities ever since he picked up a stick to extend his reach to higher branches’. Until recently most machines were mainly employed externally to increase the capacity and efficiency of man, but  advances in medical sciences and technology has now made it possible to even supplant them within the bodies and brains of humans to correct or improve functions of their organs. The next step is to integrate them in more innovative ways to enhance their inherent capabilities. With the reduction in size and advancement of techniques, nano-size robots and implants may soon be invasively inserted in the ‘human organ system’ to change and increase their basic design and functions. This is the stage of the next singularity that humanity seems to be geared towards. 

The birth of an idea  itself may be  instantaneous  or revolutionary in its nature, but its establishment as a durable concept has to be nurtured and groomed by a process of slow and gradual evolution.   We thus infer that balance and evolution are not only the keys to a successful existence, they are also its basic principle. It is thus safe to conclude  that evolution is the inherent nature of Nature. It is It’s very principle of existence and sustenance, and that  advancement in any field of knowledge is the result of it.   

Having seen some examples and directions of evolution the question that arises in the mind is where is all this leading to and what is the eventual aim of all evolutionary processes?

Subjective Concluding Speculations

Only a subjective speculation can be made for there is no apparent way to give an objective answer. The purpose  of  human existence  cannot be  the all   ‘here and now’, -- or as it has been said, “ Eat, drink and be merry,  for tomorrow you die”.    Notice, that every   Now  ( which is also known as present)  was once out  There  ( that is  also called the future), and  will eventually  become a  Then  ( which is the past );  and so the natural cycle of life continues to churn.  This is how time is spent, and with it, all human effort.  Or to say it another way;  -- time and effort seem to recede or deplete. In a way they go back.  Now, according to the laws of Physics and so also of Nature – ‘to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’.  Hence, if time  and everything connected with it goes in a certain direction, something should come out of it as the ‘effect of that cause’, and would proceed in the opposite direction. The outcome of this decrease in time, etc.  is the increase in knowledge and/ or awareness.  In other words there is a price to be paid for everything. In yet another way, gain in awareness is the return of one’s investment of time and effort. This may not be a monetary gain, but believe me it is worth much more. This way of utilizing the resource of time and effort can also be called the  ‘consummation  of self ’.  One thing that comes out of all human activity is the unveiling and expanding of new  vistas  of vision i.e. the furthering of knowledge.  Every step in physical, mental and spiritual advancement is basically the increase of awareness and knowledge which consequently leads to  ‘self-growth’ and further evolution.   

As said earlier, evolution in humans is making them more conscious and aware of the workings of Nature and its phenomena. The final quest of man seems  to be to find means to reverse engineer himself and eventually aim at further self improvement. Being part of a self correcting and a self- perpetuating system, humans wish to achieve the  end result of immortality.  The eventual aim of evolution of the human triad of the mind, body and soul would be to become knowledgeable enough in order to fill in the gaps of the understanding of the system they are parts of. They  may then be able to promote their own evolution willingly and consciously, and  perhaps in consonance with the inherent design of Nature. Whether this is at all possible is an open ended question and your guess is as good as mine.

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