LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

May 17, 2008


Filed under: Ch 05 Cyber Systems — Tags: , , , — insomniac @ 6:17 pm

I’m surely not the first to suggest applying systems analysis in biology. Microbiologist Lynn Margulis and chemist James Lovelock formulated the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1970s. They reached their conclusions by viewing the biosphere as a single system, made up of subsystems in self-regulating feedback relationships.

“The Gaia hypothesis is an ecological hypothesis that proposes that living and nonliving parts of the earth are a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism. Named after the Greek earth goddess, this hypothesis postulates that all living things have a regulatory effect on the Earth’s environment that promotes life overall.”
–Quoted from Wikipedia:

According to Lovelock and Margulis:
“Evolution cannot be explained by the adaptation of organisms to local environments, because a network of living systems is also shaping the environment.”

Makes sense to me. If everything is interconnected, what manages all those relationships? The dynamic environment we experience constantly changes, yet it maintains overall stability. The system view recognizes that the overall stability of a dynamic system requires constant readjustment of subsystems. Scientists call this process evolution.

Looking at natural selection from an individual perspective, it is a very important issue, like life or death. Who cares about the system at a time like that? But when viewed as a system, the evolutionary process is a balancing act between codependant subsystems that require they be constantly monitored and adjusted. The overall efficiency of the evolutionary process infers that these feedback loops indeed exist. Unless, we are going to believe in magic.

The path of evolutionary change is definitely in the direction of adaptation. When we consider that all adaptations are adapting to other adaptations controlled by the same process, and that some of these adapting subsystems appear not to have changed in millions of years, whereas others have changed significantly, almost overnight, it would seem obvious that there is an overall information processing system that manages evolution.

More from Lovelock and Margulis:
“…the whole Earth behaves like one self-regulating organism wherein all of the geologic, hydrologic, and biologic cycles of the planet mutually self-regulate the conditions on the surface of the Earth so as to perpetuate life.”
–Quoted from available)

In a system, behavior is controlled by information. If something behaves in a certain way, it does so because of the information it processes. Gaia acts as if it had an overall system of controls and protocols that manages all this “mutual self-regulation”.

Gaia has recently been upgraded to a “theory”, but hardly accepted by mainstream science as originally proposed. No matter how much science tries to adjust and amend Gaia to fit in with the tenets of neodarwinism, it just won’t work.

Neodarwinism is based on the individual point of view; the one that considers particles the second most important objects in the Universe, right behind the human brain. The structure used to organize evolutionary theory is the familiar hierarchial branching tree. When they get to mapping evolution using shared genetic information the resulting computer readouts are more like a field full of bushes than a tree. There is some sort of nonlinear process going on here.

The problem is that our present day scientists can’t get their heads out of their particle accelerators and microscopes long enough to really look at the systems approach. It is sort of like the left-brain, right brain test where you see either a vase or two human faces depending on how you look at it. Looking at biological life from the systems point of view gives us a very different picture. For some mind sets, “seeing” this version of reality takes more effort than they are willing to put out. Diehard reductionists are literally blind to this view of reality.


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