Evolution and entropy

One of the mysteries of life is the question of how organic forms seem to absorb energy and information from the environment and sequester it permanently in an orderly fashion. This is seemingly in contravention of the Second Law of Thermodynamics which is often interpreted as predicting a general decrease of order in the Universe.

Scientists studying biology from this perspective almost unanimously claim that the body somehow maintains itself ‘far from thermodynamic equilibrium’, meaning that there is something special about living systems that allows them to maintain large reserves of energy and information which is not dissipated but is stored in an organised fashion in either chemical or physical processes and made available for use, as and when needed.

Keith Baverstock interprets thermodynamics and entropy in terms of their original formulation, not as an increase in disorder but rather as a movement towards a ‘least energy’ solution. This represents a de facto tendency towards an equilibrium state which Baverstock claims is now a selectable property in a Darwinian-style evolutionary process.

As an example, first consider a glass of water. The water retains its shape despite lots of Brownian motion of the molecules, owing to the fact that it is constrained within the glass. Now up-end the glass on a flat surface and lift to allow the water to flow freely. The water will fall and spread. This will be initially via gravity but will continue as Brownian motion causes the pool to spread as a statistical average of the sum of the motions of the molecules.

Now since the vibrations of the molecules are assumed to be random, there is a small theoretical chance that they all just happen to collect back together into a small pool and even draw themselves up into a glass shape. In practice though, this doesn’t happen and the water will adopt a configuration that is statistically most likely and energetically most economical; a puddle.

Now place a dry bath sponge in the middle of the puddle. The water will be drawn up against gravity and will be held suspended by capillary action. Furthermore, the shape of the water is not disordered or even tending to disorder. Instead the opposite is true; order is maintained and even increases.

No extra energy has been put into the system and energy is actually dissipated by sound waves as the water bubbles up inside the sponge. So ‘order’ here is accompanied by an energy loss as opposed to an increase, an output rather than an input. A ‘least energy’ state is achieved and maintained as an equilibrium state.

This state is not just a ‘least energy’ state but also a ‘most likely’ state from a statistical point of view.

What has this to do with evolution? Evolution is observed to proceed via a pattern of punctuated equilibrium whereby a relatively stable phenotype will occasionally be subject to a dramatic change to produce a new species before settling down again for a few hundred thousand years.

The outward form and function of animals are controlled by an internal attractor pattern and it a sudden phase change in the attractor that gives rise to new species. Once a new species has been established, minor changes in the attractor can give rise to good or bad traits for natural selection to fine tune the species to its environment.

So now let us imagine that our sponges are in a hot environment which will tend to dry them out, thus killing them and preventing reproduction and the continuation of their lineage. Sponges who manage to adopt a shape that enables the absorption and retention of the most water will have an added Darwinian advantage.

So what exactly is being selected for?

  • Fitness– the ability to not dry out. Enabled by..
  • Function – The ability to retain water. Created by ..
  • Form – an outward shape propitious for the retention of water. Created via ..
  • A physical ‘least energy’ solution for the relationship between sponge and water.

It is this last property which is the most basic, necessary and fundamental but also the one that is never mentioned by evolutionary theorists.

Organisms are not just fine-tuned to their environment but will also need to refine their own internal developmental patterns in order to achieve optimum performance.

It is no good looking at the fossil record and simply assuming that the environmental conditions were what ‘created’ a particular feature. It must be physically possible and even likely that that feature could come into being. You cannot select for something that has not yet evolved or that is unfeasibly improbable.

Therefore form must precede function and its development is thereby de-coupled from the selection of that form. The outward shape of an organism is not created by the future function or even fitness within the environment, but by the laws of physics that allowed it to happen and the laws of statistics that made it likely that it would happen.

The current theory of random mutations of DNA causing ‘traits’ in an unspecified way gives the impression that almost anything is possible and that certain features will inevitably arise if the need is great enough. Some texts will even present selection itself as a ‘driver’ of evolution, putting the cart before the horse and invoking a ‘final cause’ without regard for the mechanics of how this is achieved.

The idea that development is so incremental that it is practically parallel with selection is just nonsensical sophistry, akin to a conjuror telling you that you are seeing one thing happening when something completely different is going on right before your very eyes.

“The laws of physics must be obeyed” – Konstantin Meyl.

New species then, arise from sudden phase changes in the evolutionary attractor (see: Evolution and Inheritance) and once a species has been established, small perturbations to the attractor will tend towards a low energy solution via natural selection. The species is being ‘optimised’ to its environment. Least energy solutions are the most stable and energy efficient ways of maintaining an organism and both stability and efficiency are certainly necessary and propitious qualities as far as survival of the species is concerned.

Least energy states are probably so stable as to be irreversible. Evolutionary change has stopped and the only way to progress is for another significant phase change from the attractor.

In summary, we propose that the life process is based not on genetic variation, but on the second law of thermodynamics .. and the principle of least action, as proposed for thermodynamically open systems by De Maupertuis (Ville et al. 2008), which at the most fundamental level say the same thing. Together they constitute a supreme law of physics..” – Baverstock and Rönkkö


Keith Baverstock’s homepage https://www.kbaverstock.org/

The evolutionary origin of form and function – Keith Baverstock, Mauno Rönkkö

Evolution in two parts: as seen in a new framework for biology – Keith Baverstock

Natural selection for least action. Proc Roy Soc A 464, 3055–3070. (2008).
– Ville R, Kaila I & Annila A