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Darwin’s theory, notably after the update by the Modern Synthesis from the 20th century, developed into the main paradigm of today’s biology.

It is not only a synthesis of different results which support the theory. The theory also explains the relationship, the similarities and the differences, between all living animals and plants. The link is the process of common evolution. That’s the grand principle of unification - or the principle of grand unification - in biology.

The theory of evolution gives weight to the historical aspect in science, the viewpoint of processes and dynamics – against the static viewpoint of essence. The theory does not dismiss the concept of stability. Instead, it often shows that stability does not mean immutability like a static state, but is the result of a stationary process of interaction.

My questions:

  1. How far can one generalize the concept of evolution into the two directions: to the microworld and to the macroworld?

    In both domains we have enough examples that evolution happens: On the level of macromolecules, and on the level of stars and also the universe as a whole.

  2. Which principles are universally valid, while others are specific for the evolution on a given scale?

    To explain evolution on the different levels, probably one cannot just carry over the same mechanism and driving forces from biological evolution.

  3. Does the process-oriented concept of evolution claim a similar unification power like principles searched by the pre-socratic philosophers of nature, and also by Parmenides and Plato?

    They searched for the primordial element, or considered immutability as the universal sign of the basic essence.

Note. My question is motivated by the paper “Gerhard Vollmer: The concept of evolution as a synthetic tool in science. Its strengths and limits. In W.A. Koch (ed.): The nature of culture (Symposium Bochum 1986). Bochum: Brockmeyer 1989, 500-520”, The nature of culture. (German translation: Der Evolutionsbegriff als Mittel zur Synthese – Leistung und Grenzen. In: Gerhard Vollmer: Biophilosophie, Reclam 1995)

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    +1 One interesting aspect is the relationship of mass and time: time slows with increasing mass. So it's possible that the microworld experiences time differently than the macro world which would affect the relative evolution between the two worlds. Commented Mar 22 at 16:47
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    @Idiosyncratic Soul Do you have some quantitative estimates about the effect you are considering?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Mar 22 at 16:51
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    No not at moment. Your question inspired the thought. Relativity deals with time differences due to changes in gravity (mass). Start with two planets with identical resources. Now let's say that the mass of one is half the other (half the gravity). Would one planet "evolve faster " relative to the other? Commented Mar 22 at 17:02
  • My comment was really meant to say I like your thought-provoking question. :-) Commented Mar 22 at 17:09
  • This might be an interesting topic of discussion, but it seems too broad and non-specific for a Q&A.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 22 at 18:23

2 Answers 2

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How far can one generalize the concept of evolution into the two directions: to the microworld and to the macroworld?

Humans have developed many software simulations that simulate the process of evolution. The answer to this question, I think, can be found in the simulations:

Since the simulation doesn't simulate an entire animal, it must simulate some much more minimal amount of things in order to create an evolutionary process. I feel like your question "how can we generalize evolution?" could be answered by the answer to another question: "what minimum features must a system have in order to be subject to the process of evolution?" And that's exactly what simulations do.

So what features do simulations of evolution tend to implement? I don't have the full and complete answer to this, but I have some ideas about where to start:

  1. Heritability. A way for members to pass on traits.

  2. Variation (potentially with limited mutation). This is a point that pairs with number 1: there's no point inheriting traits if everything is the same. Things must be different.

  3. Selection - the system must favour some traits more than others to be inherited more. If there's no real practical difference between members with different features - if they all survive at the same rates and pass on their heritable features at the same rates - then the traits get moved around the population essentially at random. An environment with selection pressures which favour some traits over others can de-randomize this process to some degree.

Pretty much all simulations of evolution will have these features in some form or another in the system.

And that's how you'd generalize it. If you want to look for another system which might be under evolutionary processes, check for these features.

Video game design is a great example that I just thought of. Successful video games have their features copied more by future video games (heritability). There are selection pressures (the people who spend money on video games). And there is variation - new video games with new ideas being created all the time. We've just discovered a system subject to evolution!

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I would suggest a different angle to this question.

What fraction of reality (in relative terms) can modern science prove/confirm in the concept of evolution?

​For example, let's say if we examine Darwin's theory at the technical level of his time, it would be 50% reality.

And given the resolution capacity of the latest electron microscope, it would be a 70% reality.

Obviously, until we can reproduce in a lab Darwin's theory on a molecular level (find the way to synthesize new proteins), we cannot confirm the theory of evolution as a 100% reality.

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    ... huh? Evolution is the change in allele frequency in a population over generations, as a result of inheritable random mutations and natural selection. For example, there is random variation in the beak shape of birds, this is inherited, and certain shapes are better suited to certain environments, so those are selected for. You don't need to get anywhere close to a microscope to confirm that this happens. It would be weird to say something that factually happens is "50% reality". The fact that we've studied this on a microscopic level only adds a ton more evidence supporting the theory.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 22 at 18:32
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    @NotThatGuy - I have an impression that you don't make a difference between the perspective of a casual observer vs biologist armed with the latest scientific tools. As a casual observer, you would not make a difference between a high resolution photo of the flower and the actual flower if you look from far enough. Quantum physicists struggle with uncertainty they observe in the sub particle world the same way as some biologists trying to create mathematical models of Darwin's theory on a molecular level. Commented Mar 22 at 18:50
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    Just think about the main engine of Darwin's evolution. A particle coming from space randomly knocks out a molecule in the DNA chain and voilà, you've got a new functioning protein created. Now, try to repeat the same in the lab. Commented Mar 22 at 19:03
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    I brought up the beaks of birds because observing this played an important role in Darwin's conceptualisation of the theory of evolution. A biologist can study evolution without a microscope (although a microscope allows you to study it in more detail or study other parts of it) - that was my entire point. You seem to have some twisted view of what evolution is or how science works - the evolution of bird beaks (among a lot of other evolution) is reliably demonstrated scientific fact, regardless of the underlying mechanism causing it to happen.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 22 at 19:11
  • "I brought up the beaks of birds" - people were observing sunrise and sunset and concluded that the sun rotates around the Earth. So what? How can casual observations advance our philosophical understanding of life? Commented Mar 22 at 19:38

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