Why does everyone get evolution wrong?


In fact, as long as we don’t claim a theory of evolution we get it ‘about right’: we ‘see’ (??!) evolution in deep time as a progression of forms. But the moment we say ‘how that happened’ we get into trouble.

To see one aspect of the problem consider the ‘eonic effect’. This approach applies a frequency hypothesis to world history and surprisingly succeeds, but over a very short range. Each cycle starts with a transition which is like the ‘punctuation’ in ‘punctuated equilibrium’ ( a dangerous term to use). The nature of that frequency clearly indicates a dynamic but as we zoom in it becomes very complicated in the middle of simplicity: we have found a dynamic but it is simply a temporal progression. Again the theory eludes us although we can get a sense of the ‘evolution’ of civilization. But it makes every kind of sense to think that ‘evolution’ could operate that way.
But here’s the catch: as we zoom in on the transitions we find a hypermechanical set of processes: we see every aspect of culture is suddenly modified along mechanical, ethical, and aesthetic lines. We must explain everything from mechanics to art, in the mystery of creative action in dozens of separate individuals and all at once as this spreads over geographical regions in a larger pattern (global) of such regions. The amount of information involved is stunningly large. No dynamical equation we know is really like that. The information in a differential equation is fairly direct and explicit, and not so large: the orbit of a planet is the information in an ellipse (neglecting other factors for a moment) which is quite tractable. But in the evolution of a civilization we are confounded by something vastly more complex. Now it is at first dubious to compare an ‘evolving’ species to an ‘evolving’ civilization (we made the case a few days ago of the analogy, however) but in terms of processing information a civilization just might be simpler than an organism. Note that an organism can’t just evolve piecemeal, it must effect change in an immensely complicated assembly of organs that must somehow change in tandem. Whatever the case, our example of evolving civilization reminds us that ‘evolution’ has mechanical, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions and its ‘mechanical’ aspect is merely a kind of surface effect behind which lies a huge huge amount of information which is simply that, information, diverse and particular…To use the analog of a ‘novel’: the information in a novel is just that, ‘novel’ on every page, particular, specific, and not reducible to a formula. The dynamic here is, well, the sequence of chapters, say. That IS a dynamic, but a degenerate one, nonetheless a perfectly good dynamic, but it tells us very little in this case: the real meat and potatoes is the information of the plot events, etc… With evolution we are trying to reduce all that information to the chapter dynamic, but clearly it won’t work.

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