Emergence and adaptation

Minds and Machines 18 (4):493-520 (2008)
I investigate the relationship between adaptation, as defined in evolutionary theory through natural selection, and the concept of emergence. I argue that there is an essential correlation between the former, and “emergence” defined in the field of algorithmic simulations. I first show that the computational concept of emergence (in terms of incompressible simulation) can be correlated with a causal criterion of emergence (in terms of the specificity of the explanation of global patterns). On this ground, I argue that emergence in general involves some sort of selective processes. Finally, I show that a second criterion, concerning novel explanatory regularities following the emergence of a pattern, captures the robustness of emergence displayed by some cases of emergence (according to the first criterion). Emergent processes fulfilling both criteria are therefore exemplified in evolutionary biology by some so-called “innovations”, and mostly by the new units of fitness or new kinds of adaptations (like sexual reproduction, multicellular organisms, cells, societies) sometimes called “major transitions in evolution”, that recent research programs (Maynard-Smith and Szathmary 1995 ; Michod 1999 ) aims at explaining.
Keywords Adaptation   Causation   Cellular automata   Emergence   Evolutionary transitions   Macrostates   Robustness
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