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.

My question
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.

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    $\begingroup$ This would require an entire book. There are several books on biochemical as well as mathematical explanation to how diversification could have happened. Most of our understanding is also incomplete. You have to ask a precise question or it is highly likely that this question would be closed for being too broad. Also, it is really essential for you to know some basic concepts of molecular biology, biochemistry and evolution. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jan 9 '16 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ I wish to reiterate that we are not being hostile towards you. Any good answer on this topic would require a good knowledge of biology. The issue with general evolution questions is that anyone who has read a popscience book comes up with a handwaving answer. So, please focus on a specific point instead of asking how and why the world is as it is. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jan 9 '16 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ @vonjd just because you produced an answer doesn't mean that the question itself isn't too broad, and I'm not even sure that it answers the question in a self-contained manner. You also need to stop ascribing motivations to people that may not have them, as many of your previous comments have done. This just makes other users less and less likely to answer your questions. No one on this site has a vendetta against you, but we all care about the quality and focus of this site, and so vote accordingly. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jan 9 '16 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ Good well written questions would attract clear good quality answers - yours don't, they're consistently attracting junk. Anyone can turn up and vote on SE - they might know nothing about evolution, or (like me) might be an active researcher in the evolutionary biology community with a phd and masters degree in the subject... you should be more selective about whose voices you listen to if you want to learn. $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jan 9 '16 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ @vonjd 1. Comments are not used for answering 2. Your question is broad even after the edit and if you think your own answer was what you were expecting then I don't think that is clear from the question. Please see MattDMo's comment. There is nothing wrong with this community; many people here also participate in other SEs. Vague and broad questions are not accepted in any SE. Perhaps you are better aware of other subjects so you don't end up asking vague questions in other SEs. None of your "supporters" are active here and probably even bio graduates. Your question is broad. Period. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jan 10 '16 at 14:07

I found a paper which gives four conditions that have to be met:

  • Condition 1: A rule should be enforced that individuals must meet some minimal criterion (MC) before they can reproduce, and that criterion must be nontrivial
  • Condition 2: The evolution of new individuals should create novel opportunities for satisfying the MC
  • Condition 3: Decisions about how and where individuals interact with the world should be made by the individuals themselves
  • Condition 4: The potential size and complexity of the individuals’ phenotypes should be (in principle) unbounded

Source: Soros, Stanley (2014): Identifying Necessary Conditions for Open-Ended Evolution through the Artificial Life World of Chromaria

Chromaria is "an experimental platform that allows the exploration of evolutionary theories in an intuitive and visually engaging way" from EPLEX, the Evolutionary Complexity Research Group at the University of Central Florida (UCF)

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    $\begingroup$ @vonjd "Later I found that it is still a huge research topic to find out what we are missing (keyword: "open-ended evolution")" You are still misstating this - it's not that we are missing big chunks of information about how evolution works, algorithms simulating evolution are missing a lot. That's what people have been trying to tell you. $\endgroup$ – YviDe Jan 10 '16 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @vonjd you seem to be completely comfortable just taking the other view, though, that Biologists must be missing something that's "breaking symmetry". As for why I am comfortable saying that the fault is in the models and not in our understanding - because I actually used to study Evolutionary Bioinformatics (MSc) and we acknowledged that we lacked computer power to model everything when doing simulations. $\endgroup$ – YviDe Jan 11 '16 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ It's called Occam's razor. We know our simulations are lacking, so if they don't produce the desired result we need to first look at our models and computations to find the fault, and only if we can exclude that (which we can't) should we look at the theory behind the simulations. $\endgroup$ – YviDe Jan 11 '16 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ @vonjd If you want to ask about a right model to simulate the evolutionary process then your question should have these: 1. Kind of outcomes do you expect (i.e what exactly you are looking for) 2. The scale of the model 3. Assumptions you can allow 4. Kind of model (deterministic or stochastic) 5. Computational resource available (optional). You should explain what you have thought of and then ask. You should also go through the existing algorithms. If you are unaware of those then your question should be a reference request asking for papers on evolutionary simulations. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jan 11 '16 at 8:19
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    $\begingroup$ @vonjd As for why you got such a strong response, I am guessing it's because our inability to simulate evolution well has led to it being used as an argument against evolution again and again. See, for example biology.stackexchange.com/questions/40845/… $\endgroup$ – YviDe Jan 11 '16 at 10:58

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