Complexity by Subtraction

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The eye and brain: standard thinking is that these devices are both complex and functional. They are complex in the sense of having many different types of parts, and functional in the sense of having capacities that promote survival and reproduction. Standard thinking says that the evolution of complex functionality proceeds by the addition of new parts, and that this build-up of complexity is driven by selection, by the functional advantages of complex design. The standard thinking could be right, even in general. But alternatives have not been much discussed or investigated, and the possibility remains open that other routes may not only exist but may be the norm. Our purpose here is to introduce a new route to functional complexity, a route in which complexity starts high, rising perhaps on account of the spontaneous tendency for parts to differentiate. Then, driven by selection for effective and efficient function, complexity decreases over time. Eventually, the result is a system that is highly functional and retains considerable residual complexity, enough to impress us. We try to raise this alternative route to the level of plausibility as a general mechanism in evolution by describing two cases, one from a computational model and one from the history of life. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • McShea, DW; Hordijk, W

Published Date

  • December 1, 2013

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 40 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 504 - 520

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0071-3260

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s11692-013-9227-6

Citation Source

  • Scopus