Make your own free website on Tripod.com

SPONTANEOUS ORDER, EVOLUTION, AND NATURAL LAW

As noted above, Dennett (1995b, p. 206) asserts that "if Darwin is right, your great, great... grandmother was a...macro...That is the unavoidable conclusion of the previous chapters ...you descended from macros..." According to Dennett (1995b, p. 156), "we all know it well in outline: before there were bacteria with autonomous metabolisms, there were simpler quasi-living things, like viruses...viruses...'do things'...they reproduce or self-replicate...Computer programmers call a cobbled together fragment of coded instructions that performs a particular task a "macro", so I propose to call these pioneers macros to stress that...they are...bits of program or algorithm...like computer viruses..." "[I]t is now clear," Dennett (1995b, p. 206) writes, "that they spent the better part of a billion years evolving on Earth before there were any [truly] living things [things with autonomous metabolisms]."

In the first place this scenario, "we all know well", a scenario developed from Dawkins, is empirically false. Early life, or "quasi-life" as Dennett describes it, would have had to have evolved under water to escape the intense ultra-violet rays hitting the Earth at that time due to the absence of a protective ozone layer atop the atmosphere (that came into being with the ascendancy of global oxygen levels beginning some 2 billion years ago). This presents a fatal problem for Dennett's scenario. The Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and until roughly 4 billion years ago, as a consequence of meteoric bombardment, it was too hot for oceans to form (e.g., Schopf, 1983; Cloud, 1988). Bodies of water, in other words, would have evaporated. But 4 billion years ago is just when prokaryotes (bacteria) are known to have appeared on Earth, namely, as soon as the Earth was cool enough to support oceans (e.g., Cloud, 1989). Thus, there was no one billion year window for the imaginary world of "naked algorithms" that Dennett asserts got life going. In addition, even if there were such a billion-year window, there is no other evidence that such a world of naked algorithms ever existed.

The Category Error-Life As Metabolic

Beyond the aforementioned empirical problems, there is a major theoretical problem with Dennett's scheme, the understanding of which has profound importance to the understanding of living things and their relations to their environments, and the epistemic dimension of the world in general. In one sense, the DNA strings that are typically used in the replication or reproduction of living cells are like computer viruses: just as no computer virus has ever been found to function without a computer, and no computer outside of a human cultural system, no DNA string, or biological virus has ever been known to function independently of a living metabolizing cell. DNA strings or molecules, or viruses (whether computer or biological), are not alive.
In short, life at its origins was metabolic, or, using the more technical term "autocatakinetic", not algorithmic. Autocatakinetic systems are process structures constituted by the continuous motion or flux of their components through the use, or breakdown, of environmental energy potentials or resources. Figure 1 shows a schematic drawing capturing the generalized minimal ontology

A schematic of the conjunction capturing the generalized 'minimal ontology' of an autocatakinetic system. The left side represents the conservation (time-symmetry) out of which the autocatakinetic system and environment relation arises, and through which it is maintained. The right side shows the autocatakinetic-environment system relation. The large arrows capture the irreversible minimization of potential (the irreversible production of entropy) or time-asymmetry, in the flow of the conservation from source to sink, and the small arrows capture the continuous circular relations through which the autocatakinetic system is constituted.

 back

 contents

 next