Many fascinating phenomena in nature show different behaviours on the micro and the macro level. Here I am especially referring to phenomena that are symmetric on the micro and asymmetric on the macro level. Let me give an examples from physics:
Arrow of time: Physical processes at the micro level are completely time-symmetric, if you reversed time, all laws would remain the same. Yet on a macro level they are not time-symmetric, we have an obvious direction (flow) of time.
It seems to me that we have a similar situation with evolution:
On the micro level it is really only about adaption (and not about improvement): You put some beings into an environment and they adapt, you change this environment and they adapt. No improvement, just blind "back and forth".
Yet looking at the whole tree of life on the macro level we have a different picture, we see all kinds of emergent phenomena:
- explosion in diversity
- emergence of complex interconnected ecosystems with completely new dynamics of their own
- true innovations in functionality (sensors, actuators, information processing etc.)
- and finally of course higher order functions like abstract intelligence (and even qualia)
To make the difference more concrete I will give a gedankenexperiment of two planet simulators. In both cases you accelerate time so that one hour translates into one billion years. Both simulators function differently in a subtle way but you don't know how. You throw some simple sims onto both planets and let the evolution simulation run. You don't switch your computer off and go to bed, the next morning you decelerate time and take a look:
- Planet 1: The simple sims quickly adapted to the environment as expected (but they stayed simple because evolution is not about improvement but about adaption).
- Planet 2: Some strange looking sims wish you a good morning and want to discuss the technicalities of the Riemann hypothesis with you.
What are the minimal conditions that have to be met to get this kind of bootstrapping (symmetry breaking from micro to macro level) started. And what is going on at the core of this transition from micro to macro.
My specific point is about the symmetry breaking process in the sense of system dynamics. To give an example of a possible answer it could be something like Parrondo's paradox, a fascinating phenomenon from game theory where you combine two symmetric (losing) processes to get a (winning) asymmetric process. More can be found here: Parrondo's paradox.