The “synergism hypothesis,” and the closely related concept of “synergistic selection,” involves a theoretical frame shift. The theory proposes that cooperative functional effects (synergies) of various kinds have provided selective advantages over time and has driven the evolution of complexity; the theory is concerned with the benefits and costs of various forms of cooperation.
Living organisms are not passive objects of “chance and necessity” (as Jacques Monod put it). Nor is the currently popular concept of “phenotypic plasticity” sufficient. Organisms are active participants in the evolutionary process (cybernetic systems) and have played a major causal role in determining its direction.
Although Claude Shannon’s statistical approach to information has made many valuable contributions, it is blind to the functional properties of information. Here we propose a new kind of cybernetic information that we call “control information.” It is defined as the capacity (know how) to control the acquisition, disposition and utilization of matter/energy in “purposive” (cybernetic) processes. We also propose a formalization in terms of the quantity of available energy that can be controlled by a given unit of information in a given context.
The implicit “social contract” that binds together any reasonably stable and harmonious society is corroding in this country, with ominous potential consequences, and it is time to re-define fairness and re-write the social contract in a way that puts fairness first. Here I will provide a synopsis of a new, biologically-grounded paradigm and will outline some of the implications for public policy.
Synergy has played a key causal role in the evolution of complexity, from the very origins of life to the evolution of humankind and complex societies. This also applies to social behavior, including the use of collective violence for various purposes: predation, defense against predators, the acquisition of needed resources and the defense of these resources against other groups and species. In nature and humankind alike, collective violence is, by and large, an evolved, synergy-driven instrumentality.
Here a more systematic approach to the concept of adaptation is proposed in terms of basic needs, which can be specified empirically, and it is argued that much of our economic and social life is directly or indirectly related to meeting these needs.
The accumulating scientific evidence regarding human evolution and human nature indicates that the core ideological assumptions of both capitalism and socialism are simplistic and irreconcilable. A biologically grounded approach to social justice provides a new ideological paradigm that I call “Fair Shares.”
From the perspective of the growing theoretical and research literature in the biological sciences on the “progressive” evolution of complex living systems over time, as well as the science of cybernetics (communications and control processes), politics in human societies represents a variation, and elaboration, on a major evolutionary theme. Political processes have played an indispensable functional role in goal-oriented cooperative systems at all “levels” of biological organization, including the evolution of humankind.
Here I briefly explore the case for a paradigm shift in evolutionary theory to focus on the economics and the role of functional synergy as a distinct class of causal influences.
Times have changed and the theory proposed in my 1983 book has had a complex journey. Herein lies some lessons about the culture and politics of science.