24 May 2021

Entanglement of Evolutionary Systems

Posted by jofr

In my first book “The emergence of complexity” I have tried to find answers to the question how complex systems can emerge from simple rules and parts. Where does the marvellous complexity we see in the world around us come from? The answer is of course life and evolution. The rules of evolution are well known. What we can do is nevertheless finding interdisciplinary connections to increase our understanding of evolution in general. One thing I have tried is for instance to apply concepts from physics like tunneling in Quantum Mechanics to evolutionary fitness landscapes.

Quantum tunneling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon where a wave function can propagate through a potential barrier. Unlike a classical particle which can not pass through such a barrier a particle in quantum mechanics can tunnel through a potential barrier. The wave function of a quantum particle describes the probability of finding the particle in this place. Inside of the barrier it is exponentially decreasing. The larger the barrier, the lower the probability that it can tunnel through it. We can indeed apply the concept of tunneling through a barrier to complex adaptive systems. For example a startup which tries to find a way to generate revenue is like a quantum particle that moves through a barrier. The longer it takes, the lower the probability it can make it. It needs to borrow enough venture capital to pass the barrier and to invent new technologies. If the startup is successful, it leads to the emergence of new companies.

The emergence of religions and nations can be similar: as a proto-state a colony depends for a long time on the occupying colonizer and often borrows ideas from them. In ancient Israel, people borrowed ideas from the Babylonian (law codes), Egyptian (temples) and Phoenician (alphabets) cultures to invent their own religion, which eventually lead to the evolutionary transition from tribalism to “scribalism” [1]. Can we model this transition from tribalism to scribalism and eventually to nationalism by an agent-based model, even if the real history is based on a complex narrative [2] ?

Agent-based models of the different *-isms like tribalism, communism, nationalism, authoritarianism or fascism would require multi-dimensional evolutionary models which describe how large collective entities like states and nations develop and dissolve on multiple levels. This is difficult because even one-dimensional evolutionary models can exhibit complex predator-prey dynamics. But if we succeed, we can gain valuable insights from these modeling attempts [3] using the toolbox of complex adaptive systems [4].

As far as I know there are no agent-based models of fascism so far, although it can be understood like cancer as a social dysfunction. Like cancer, fascism can be seen as an aggressive selfish rebellion of an entity that does not want to obey the social contracts in the community of other entities. Cancer cells are rule-breaking cheaters in a multi-cellular organism [5] which applies to dictators in authoritarian and totalitarian systems as well. They relentlessly break and bend the rules: they lie, steal, murder or invade neighboring countries. Nevertheless they also depend on cooperation, but not necessarily the same cooperation which is common in the multilateral world they live in. If cancer can be described in general as a broken social contract, how can we model this social dysfunction within a community by a generic agent-based model that is applicable to social forms of cancer like fascism?

We have developed complex models of cooperation [6], but we still need to understand how selfish entities can break and bend the rules of cooperation that enable the existence of large-scale multi-cellular organisms [7]. If they use a form of cooperation, how does this cooperation differ from the cooperation in the original organism? Do they use a more ancient form of cooperation which lacks differentiation and is no longer in use but still available? Agent-based models of cancer (in biology) and fascism (in society) could help us to answer these questions and to untangle the complex systems which result from evolution.

When I read a blog post from Marion Blute (who wrote the book “Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution” [8]) it struck me that we can use another term from Quantum Mechanics for evolution: in humans biological and cultural evolution are “entangled”. It is this entanglement that makes us human, and which produces on a larger scale the various *-isms that cause so much trouble. Can we untangle the mysteries by using agent-based models? I would like to work on these questions in my remaining time.

[1] Mark Leuchter (Ed.), Scribes and Scribalism, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020

[2] Jacob L. Wright, War, Memory, and National Identity in the Hebrew Bible, Cambridge University Press, 2020

[3] Lars-Erik Cederman, Emergent Actors in World Politics: How States and Nations Develop and Dissolve, Princeton University Press, 1997

[4] John H. Miller, Scott E. Page, Complex Adaptive Systems, Princeton University Press, 2009

[5] Athena Aktipis, The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer, Princeton University Press, 2020

[6] Robert Axelrod, The Complexity of Cooperation, Princeton University Press 1997

[7] Robert Axelrod, David E. Axelrod, and Kenneth J. Pienta, Evolution of cooperation among tumor cells, PNAS September 5, 2006 103 (36) 13474-13479

[8] Marion Blute, Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution: Solutions to Dilemmas in Cultural and Social Theory, Cambridge University Press, 2010

(Image from Gerd Altmann on Pixabay)

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