Evolution and the Laws of Nature

Tetsunori Koizumi, Director

Evolution is the most pervasive force that is behind change and transformation of all systems in the universe, from tiny organisms to human beings, from social systems to stellar systems. It is the creative force that has given rise to living systems we observe in the world around us. It was indeed a remarkable insight of Charles Darwin to recognize that it was the creativity of nature itself that is responsible for all the myriad forms of life.

Regardless of the forms they take, living systems are subject to the cycle of birth and death at the individual as well as at the species level. At the species level, the cycle of birth and death corresponds to the cycle of speciation and extinction, which are the two aspects of the same process called evolution, as Stuart Kaufman points out: “Speciation and extinction go roughly hand in hand. … Life, then, unrolls in an unending procession of change, with small and large bursts of speciations, and small and large bursts of extinctions, ringing out the old, ringing in the new.”1 One way to explain how speciation and extinction come about is in terns of the concept of kata as it is applied to open systems in nature, which living systems are.

An open system, as it interacts with other systems in the environment, is under constant pressure to maintain its homeostatic equilibrium and stability, its structural cohesion and viability. One way in which a system goes about maintaining its equilibrium, stability, cohesion, and viability is by forming a kata, a Japanese word that is widely used to refer to a “structured pattern of interaction” among its constituent elements.

A system has a propensity to form katas because having a well-defined kata confers, if only for a while, the benefits of having a structured pattern of interaction among its constituent elements which contributes to maintaining its equilibrium, stability, coherence, and viability. That a system has a propensity to form katas for its evolutionary benefits is only half the story, however, for there are positive as well as negative sides to katas. While having a well-defined kata helps a system to maintain its equilibrium, stability, cohesion, and viability by assuring its continuity, order, and security, it can also inhibit initiatives and suppress creativity on the part of individual constituents, which is needed if a system is to continue to exist and evolve in its evolving environment. When the negatives outweigh the positives, a system will have to abandon the existing kata in favor of a new kata more suited to a new environment.

The replacement of an old kata by a new kata may not happen immediately. There may indeed be a period during which the old and the new kata contravene with each other before the advantage of the new kata is firmly established. When this happens, the old kata fades into oblivion, or is dissolved. In this sense, the propensity of a system to form katas can be regarded as a fundamental principle of evolutionary change in natural and human systems and involves the four phases of “formation”, “preservation”, “contravention”, and “dissolution”.

The evolution of a system can thus be characterized as a process of successive appearances and disappearances of katas. The “formation” phase of a kata in a species corresponds to what Kaufman calls “speciation” in the quote above. As is especially the case with natural systems, the formation of a well-established kata is the process by which a natural system, or a species, finds its ecological niche in the environment. On the other hand, the “dissolution” phase of a kata leads to “extinction” of a system, or a species, for it can no longer maintain its equilibrium, stability, cohesion, and viability in the face of changes taking place both internally and externally.

That evolution can be seen as the process of successive appearances and disappearances of katas in systems implies that the laws of nature are subject to change and transformation. Rupert Sheldrake is quite justified to ask a rhetorical question, “If everything else evolves, why don’t the laws of nature evolve along with nature?”2 This realization has led him to talk about the laws of nature as “habits” which a system acquires during its evolutionary process, which are preserved as “internal memories”, so to speak: “Evolution may be the result of an interplay between habits and creativity. New forms and patterns of organization appear spontaneously, and are subject to natural selection. Those that survive are more likely to appear again as new habits build up, and through repetition they become increasingly habitual.”3 Habits, as well-established katas, help a system, or a species, to maintain its ecological niche in the environment. However, sooner or later changes taking place both internally and externally render existing habits, or katas, unsuitable in a new environment. Speciation and extinction thus go hand in hand, and are inherent in the process of evolution from natural systems to social systems. Moreover, we cannot dissociate consciousness from the process of evolution because it is up to us humans to recognize habits, or katas, in all the systems around us.

  1. Kaufman, Stuart A., At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 14-15.
  2. Sheldrake, Rupert, Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery, New York: Deepak Chopra Books, 2012, Chapter 3.
  3. Ibid., Chapter 3.