Schneider and Sagan claim that energy flows “generate, perpetuate, elaborate,” biological complexity. They claim too much for thermodynamics and slight the functional, economic drivers – the costs and benefits in a given environment and natural selection.
“Emergence” is a concept with a venerable history and an ambiguous standing in evolutionary theory. This paper briefly recounts the history of the term and details some of its current usages. The reductionist approach to explaining complexity has entailed a search for underlying “laws of emergence.” Another alternative is the “Synergism Hypothesis,” which focuses on the “economics” – the functional effects produced by emergent wholes and their selective consequences.
There have been many different ways of characterizing and describing the phenomenon of life over the years. Synergy should be added to the list.
Calls for a paradigm shift, a refocusing of evolutionary biology to address the rise of complex systems over time and their emergence as distinct units of selection, with special reference to the causal role of synergy, thermodynamics, information theory, and the bioeconomic influences underlying evolutionary change.