An Autonomous Agent

exploring the noosphere

Category: adjacent possible

Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from the Edges of Science – Dorion Sagan

Being a huge fan of Carl Sagan’s books, I was delightfully surprised when I found that his son, Dorion Sagan, is a prolific writer on the subjects of science, philosophy, and evolution. The first of his works which I decided to read is entitled Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from the Edges of Science. For a good review see Maria Popova’s review here. I loved reading the book and I look forward to reading more of Sagan’s writings.

The Future Materials of Earth’s Life-Forms

In Investigations, Stuart Kauffman writes about the adjacent possible. While reading this section I couldn’t help but wonder whether the idea of pollution needed revision. For example, imagine 700 million years into the future and the organisms which may exist. At this time the adjacent possible will have explored one long path in the space of possible paths. I think it would be extremely likely for there to be life forms which incorporate materials which humans have deemed “pollution.” Fish or insects may roam the planet with polyethylene skin or shells. Or imagine a creature with a defense mechanism made of concrete or steel, much like an ankylosaurus — but with a concrete ball at the end of its tail, instead of a calcium bone. I can envision such possibilities  but could they actually occur? As long as materials like concrete, polyethylene, or steel ended up in the food supply, I think this is a potential outcome of evolution.
Thus, are the materials we consider pollution a bad thing for the environment? Because in the future they could be a valuable resource for an organism. Certainly these materials may be toxic to modern life-forms, but what about evolution. Polyethylene never existed in the universe before and neither did concrete, steel and many other materials created by man.
Maybe the young parts of the universe, like the outer arms of spiral galaxies, look at the old galactic center and think “wow! look at all the pollution in the center of the galaxy. There is so much carbon, copper, iron, and oxygen which react with our precious hydrogen.” In other words, pollution is only relative.

The Emergent Fool

After searching for images of Adjacent Possible, I ran across a blog called The Emergent Fool.  The author has a post on the Adjacent Possible with an interesting picture:

The blog also contains many articles on economics and emergence. Topics I love. I will have to take some time to read through this blog.

Investigations – Stuart Kauffman

Investigations seems to be a further expansion of the ideas presented in Kauffman’s book Origins of Order (see other post). As a note, I found that both are very dense and hard to read. However, the concepts presented within are worth the effort. The book provides a novel approach at explaining the origins of life. I found the most fascinating concepts in the novel to be the Adjacent Possible and the idea of Autonomous Agents.

An Autonomous Agent is simply a system which reproduces itself and carries out a work cycle.

The idea of an Adjacent Possible shines light on the idea of entropy in the universe. Investigations contains an entire section talking about Maxwell’s Demon and the nonergodicity (see ergodic hypothesis) of the universe. Briefly, the Adjacent Possible is the set of all “next” states of the universe. To give an example, consider the early universe. Consisting almost entirely of Hydrogen and Helium, we would say that the universe was in a “Actual State” of Hydrogen and Helium. The Adjacent Possible of chemicals would be the empty set — that is, no chemical states can be “formed” from Hydrogen and Helium (gravity has yet to create stars).  Then, once stars began to form, the Adjacent Possible began to include more states; elements like Carbon and Oxygen are the “next” states in the interior of stars under the right temperature and pressures.  Fast forward billions of years and human organisms are creating “next” states in the chemical Adjacent Possible (assuming alien civilizations have not already created these states). For example, humans have created nylon, plastic, Teflon, and various other molecular states.  These states would have been considered elements of the Adjacent Possible in the early 20th century; now, they are elements of the “Actual State” of the universe.

Thus, the universe can be considered nonergodic. It has yet to explore, and most likely will not explore, a large portion of the possible states of the universe.

Kauffman also talks about economics. He explains that modern economic theories fail to predict and account for the persistent innovation of human “goods” into the Adjacent Possible of “goods.”

I would highly recommend Investigations. It really is a must read! (ISBN-13: 978-0195121056)

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