The Growth of Structural and Functional Complexity during Evolution

Although the growth of complexity during evolution seems obvious to most observers, it has recently been questioned whether such increase objectively exists. The present paper tries to clarify the issue by analysing the concept of complexity as a combination of variety and dependency. It is argued that variation and selection automatically produce differentiation (variety) and integration (dependency), for living as well as non-living systems. Structural complexification is produced by spatial differentiation and the selection of fit linkages between components. Functional complexification follows from the need to increase the variety of actions in order to cope with more diverse environmental perturbations, and the need to integrate actions into higher-order complexes in order to minimize the difficulty of decision-making. Both processes produce a hierarchy of nested supersystems or metasystems, and tend to be self-reinforcing. Though simplicity is a selective factor, it does not tend to arrest or reverse overall complexification. Increase in the absolute components of fitness, which is associated with complexification, defines a preferred direction for evolution, although the process remains wholly unpredictable.

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Reaqd also: The Emergence of Distributed Cognition – a Conceptual Framework

Modelling the Emergence and Evolution of Distributed Cognition

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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