Three Trends in the History of Life: An Evolutionary Syndrome
The history of life seems to be characterized by three large-scale trends in complexity: (1) the rise in complexity in the sense of hierarchy, in other words, an increase in the number of levels of organization within organisms; (2) the increase in complexity in the sense of differentiation, that is, a rise in the number of different part types at the level just below the whole; and (3) a downward trend, the loss of differentiation at the lowest levels in organisms, a kind of complexity drain within the parts. Here, I describe the three trends, outlining the evidence for each and arguing that they are connected with each other, that together they constitute an evolutionary syndrome, one that has recurred a number times over the history of life. Finally, in the last section, I offer an argument connecting the third trend to the reduction at lower levels of organization in “autonomy”, or from a different perspective, to an increase in what might be called the “machinification” of the lower levels.
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