EVOLUTION AND THE BIG SHIFT
Part 2 - New Theories of Evolution
In the past century there have been theories besides Darwin's that have had things to say about evolution. One of these is Chaos Theory, developed by Gaston Julia circa 1920, and Dr. Edward Lorenz and Dr. Benoit Mandelbrot in the early 1960s. To state the gist of this theory it is necessary to oversimplify and to try to put into words something that is usually described mathematically. It points out that there are sequences in nature that appear to be disorderly or chaotic - displaying no precisely measurable pattern. The shapes of snowflakes, weather patterns, the turbulence in flowing water and waves breaking on a beach are all examples of systems that appear to have no precisely repeating pattern of behavior. When viewed over long time periods, however, these sequences do occur in ordered, measurable patterns. Research has shown that such sequences display an underlying order.
This is only testable using computers capable of plotting and graphing the huge volumes of data representing these sequential movements, which would otherwise require far too much time. This data, when plotted in diagram form, would yield cyclical patterns, but ones where the ends of the circle do not meet, but rather, spiral on indefinitely. This implies that cycles do repeat themselves, but without ever coming full circle to the points at which they began, because there is no beginning and no end. These plotted diagrams form images which contain fractals, a term coined by Mandelbrot. They are smaller images within a larger image that are exact duplications of the larger image. These larger images are, in turn, exact duplications of even larger images, etc. Thus, ideally, these images would regenerate indefinitely into both micro and macro infinity. The concept of fractals seems to be yet another confirmation of the famous Hermetic axiom, 'as above, so below.' Some well-known examples of these fractal images are the Julia set, the Mandelbrot set and the Sierpinski triangle. Fractals also appear in depictions of the 'flower of life' and other examples of sacred geometry.
In 1991, Dr. Robert Wesson, in his book entitled 'Beyond Natural Selection', claims that we would do better to seek an understanding of the ways in which greater systems evolve, rather than focusing on the evolution of individual species. Does environmental change come about because of the evolutionary cycles or patterns of the larger eco-systems, of the Earth itself? Wesson suggests that, as described in Chaos theory, systems swing from chaos to order and then 'cascade' back to chaos, then begin moving again toward order. This pattern of evolution, this orderly sequence of change, applies to all types of systems. Just like the sequence of waves breaking on a beach, any system goes through a series of changes, which if observed and graphed over a long period of time, would yield an orderly, spiral, fractal pattern.
A species is a system unto itself, but it is also a sub-system, a product of the greater system of which it is a part. Change within the greater system triggers change in the sub-systems. For a system to remain stable, it is dependent on initial conditions within the greater system remaining the same. The slightest change in these initial conditions cause the system to begin to collapse, to cascade into chaos. There is a constant interaction between developing systems and their environmental systems - any change in the environment triggers change in the systems. Evolution, which could be described as a series of changes, happens in conjunction with the environment. Natural selection may play a role in determining whether a species succeeds or not, but the actual arrival of the species, according to Wesson, owes more to the chaotic effect of changes in surrounding systems, which constitute the environment. Evolution progresses like an ebb and flow.
Wesson further says, "Evolution can be conceived as a goal directed process insofar as it is part of a goal-directed universe, an unfolding of potentialities somehow inherent in this cosmos." In other words, systems evolve in this pendulum-like manner according to a predetermined plan, an underlying order as represented by the previously mentioned spiral patterns. This implies an 'intelligent designer'. Could this intelligence be the same web of consciousness of which we are all a part? Could it be that the machinations of evolution as purveyed by Darwinism - natural selection - are only a part of this greater design?
Another relatively new area of investigation relevant to the concept of evolution is one regarding morphogenetic fields. In plain English that translates as force fields that generate form. A force is an intangible, unexplainable power that has no observable substance, but which exerts an influence that can be observed. Science still does not know what magnetic or gravitational force actually is. Just as a gravitational or an electro-magnetic field possesses a mysterious ability to exert causal effect on the universe, morphogenetic fields, it is postulated, exert forces which cause primal substance or particles, if you like, to arrange themselves into specific forms.
The organistic view postulates that the morphogenetic field of any particular system generates a set of instructions that determine the qualities of that system. The morphogenetic field of any species, for example, contains the blueprint for the form and behavior of that species. This is much the same as saying that the collective consciousness of a species contains a template for the form and behavior of that species, and that any change in the species is preceded by a change in its collective consciousness. This would agree with ancient mysticism, which contends that all objects have a type of consciousness. The consciousness of a diamond crystal, for example, contains the blueprint that determines the crystalline pattern in which diamond particles will arrange themselves. (I believe that the more evolved the entity, the greater the potential for variation from the template. In other words, the greater the role played by free will, the greater the potential to intentionally alter the blueprint.)
This differs from the traditional mechanistic view that the universe is a giant machine, behaving in a predictable way according to predetermined laws. Within this mechanistic view is the notion that a living organism is a chemico-physical machine and that all aspects of life can be explained in terms of physics and chemistry. An organism takes form and behaves according to a set of instructions that are present in the DNA, in the genetic code. It implies that this very complex code came into being because the requisite conditions just happened to be present, leading to the chemical reactions that brought about life. In other words, the miracle of life was some kind of cosmic accident. The organistic view implies that nothing was accidental, that the DNA code and any other blueprint that may exist are part of a grand design, a grand intelligence.
The problem with this theory is that, although it seems to make sense, it is very difficult to test scientifically. In his book written in 1995 entitled 'A New Science of Life', Rupert Sheldrake sites some ways in which it has been tested. For example, tests have been done on rats to see if the consciousness of one group of rats can influence the consciousness of another group. Similar to the '100 monkey phenomenon', these tests show that a group of rats will more easily learn a task if a previous group of rats at a different time and place have been taught the task. The new group of rats seems to resonate with the energy of all 'ratness', including the change that occurred in the earlier rats. Sheldrake calls this phenomenon morphic resonance. He admits that although the tests bear interesting results, there is nothing resembling a definite proof of morphic resonance.
This 'organistic' view implies that there is a force field or collective consciousness at work and that it is subject to change, to evolution. This dovetails with chaos theory, and even with Darwinian theory, in that it suggests that a system, in this case a species, reacts to/evolves in conjunction with its environment. Rather than being driven solely by the laws of natural selection, this suggests that change occurs from some sort of learning, which further implies that some kind of decision was made in the collective consciousness. The fossil record seems to show that evolution occurs in abrupt bursts during which great numbers of species go extinct or come into being, rather than in a slow, continuous process of change. These bursts of change seem to happen in conjunction with environmental change. What triggers these environmental changes? Could these changes be part of a larger pattern, some sort of design? Is this design an accident?
Some people believe that we may be on the verge of another great burst of evolutionary change, that evolving conditions in the greater system are triggering change in its many sub-systems.
For a more thorough discussion of this topic you can access an excerpt from my book by clicking here: BOOK EXCERPT
Next month we'll look at some other theories of evolution.