Entropy and information in evolving biological systems

Biology and Philosophy 4 (4):407-432 (1989)
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Integrating concepts of maintenance and of origins is essential to explaining biological diversity. The unified theory of evolution attempts to find a common theme linking production rules inherent in biological systems, explaining the origin of biological order as a manifestation of the flow of energy and the flow of information on various spatial and temporal scales, with the recognition that natural selection is an evolutionarily relevant process. Biological systems persist in space and time by transfor ming energy from one state to another in a manner that generates structures which allows the system to continue to persist. Two classes of energetic transformations allow this; heat-generating transformations, resulting in a net loss of energy from the system, and conservative transformations, changing unusable energy into states that can be stored and used subsequently. All conservative transformations in biological systems are coupled with heat-generating transformations; hence, inherent biological production, or genealogical proesses, is positively entropic. There is a self-organizing phenomenology common to genealogical phenomena, which imparts an arrow of time to biological systems. Natural selection, which by itself is time-reversible, contributes to the organization of the self-organized genealogical trajectories. The interplay of genealogical (diversity-promoting) and selective (diversity-limiting) processes produces biological order to which the primary contribution is genealogical history. Dynamic changes occuring on times scales shorter than speciation rates are microevolutionary; those occuring on time scales longer than speciation rates are macroevolutionary. Macroevolutionary processes are neither redicible to, nor autonomous from, microevolutionary processes.



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John Collier
University of KwaZulu-Natal