Erwin Schrodinger, a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian theoretical physicist who developed a number of foundational principles in the field of quantum theory including the Schrodinger Equation delivered a series of public lectures at Trinity College, Dublin in 1943.
It was his attempt to bring together a range of fundamental forces and elementary particles in physics into a unified field theory — statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics, general relativity, cosmology etc…
Schrödinger’s lectures focused on one important question:
“How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?”
These lectures formed the basis of his 1944 book — What is Life? The physical aspect of the living cell.
The book was anchored in 2 of the core elements relating to the nature of life.
Firstly, it focused on hereditary — a key characteristic of life based off the transmission of information — which he believed required substances in the cell (code-script) to be chemically stable. In essence he presented an early theoretical description of how the storage of genetic information could work.
Secondly, it highlighted the importance of the ability to self-order in a world of chaos.
This observation was founded in how a living system fights the Second Law of Thermodynamics to create structure and information over time.
More recently, US Philosopher Daniel Dennett extended these observations in his 75th Anniversary Trinity College lecture of Schrodinger’s 1944 book.
Life depends on the oversimplification of a world of complexity — it is through generating & testing — or — oversimplifying & monitoring that life evolves.
Oversimplification gets you into the arena where you can learn from your mistakes by working out the implications and undertaking a reality check.
By the late 20th and early part of the 21st Century these foundational evolutionary principles had been extended to form the basis of new theoretical frameworks for evolution, intelligence and to simply better understand how we as humans navigate the prevailing state of reality — Complexity & Uncertainty.
- United Air Force Colonel John Boyd in 1961 introduced the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) to US airforce combat operations;
- In the 1970s Karl Weick, an American organisational theorist introduced the concept of “sensemaking” into organisational studies.He explored how people try to make sense of organisations, and organisations themselves try to make sense of their environment. In this “sensemaking”, Weick paid attention to questions of ambiguity and uncertainty — how we frame and act in the unknown and give meaning to our collective experience. Since that time, the framework has been extended beyond the organisation as a way to build intelligent knowledge for decision making. A further abstract decision making and intelligence tool anchored in perception, context and patterns — a compliment to logic and an increasingly abstract form of reason that have dominated decision making since the Age of Enlightenment and the mental structure forms of consciousness (Jean Gebser) embraced by modern civilisations for the last 2300 years (Aristotle);
- In the early 2000s French Computer scientist Jean-Louis Dessalles and colleagues shaped a Cognitive Theory (Simplicity Theory) to explain how through observed drops in complexity we make decisions on how to navigate reality;
- Hungarian-American Investor and philanthropist — George Soros’s Theory of Reflexivity — outlined how humans perception interplays with reality through feedback loops; and
- United Kingdom Neuroscientist — Prof Karl Friston’s — Free Energy Principle — which explains how biological systems maintain order (i.e. mitigate entropy) by minimising uncertainty (‘surprise’) — an embodied intelligence — the interplay between the Mind, Body & Environment. Abstract Models of reality that are constantly being tuned through a form of Bayesian analysis and thermodynamics (free energy).
At a broader systemic level there were also some profound advancements.
- In 1995 Romanian-American Engineering Professor and a leading global academic in Thermodynamics — Dr Adrian Bejan published a paper that outlined the Constructal Law. A law that changes everything and sees Physics converge with the Natural World. A concept that bridges the gap between physics, evolutionary biology, the natural world, technology, and social organisations. The law states that for a finite flowing & moving system to endure (i.e. survive) over time it must have the freedom to ‘morph’, ‘change’ & ‘move’ more and more easily. In essence, it captures the notion that to “live” is to “move” and “change”. A living system must evolve to provide easier and easier access to the “currents” that flow through it. The law applies to inanimate systems such as rivers and technology, it applies to animate systems such as the evolution of life, growth of trees, human lungs, olympic athletes etc.. and it also applies to social design such as laws, government and social systems.
- In 2017 Olivia Judson an evolutionary Biologist and writer published an essay “The Energy Expansions of Evolution” in Nature Ecology and Evolution. She set out a theory of successive energy revolutions that purport to explain how our planet came to have such a diversity of environments that support such a rich array of life, from the cyanobacteria to daisies to humans. She divided the history of the life on Earth into five energetic epochs, geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh, and fire. Each epoch represented the unlocking of a new source of energy, coinciding with new organisms able to exploit that source and alter their planet. The previous sources of energy stay around, so environments and life on Earth become ever more diverse — a “step-wise construction of a life-planet system.”
This multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the nature of Reality, Life, Complex Systems, Physics, Innovation and Evolution culminated in a simple mathematical equation and principle that was presented for the first time by Prof. Stuart Kauffman — a US medical doctor, theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher- in his 1996 book At Home in The Universe: The search for the laws of self organisation and complexity and more recently in 2019 in a presentation titled The Shape of History.
The central concept that builds on biology, information, networks and complexity theory was The Adjacent Possible (TAP) which was described by US writer Steven Johnson as:
“The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself…[the adjacent possible] captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation”…
In the book, Stuart Kauffman illustrates the shear scale of the possible mathematical permutations possible via evolutionary biology through simply combining the 20 biological amino acids to form strings of proteins of 100 length.
A quote from the book:
“If such a tiny fraction of the potential diversity of proteins of length 100 have ever felt the sun’s warmth, then there is plenty of room for human explorers to roam. Evolution can have sampled only the tiniest reaches of “protein space.” And since selection tends to stick with the useful forms it finds, evolution’s search has probably been even more restrictive”…
- Stuart A. Kauffman, At Home in the Universe
He also extends Darwins Theory of Evolution by illustrating how the science of complexity are the engines of the biosphere.
It is through the interplay of self-organisation, selection and chance that if enough different molecules pass a certain threshold of complexity, they begin to self-organise into a new entity-a living cell.
The same The Adjacent Possible principles can apply beyond biology to the evolution of our biosphere, technology, human ideas, knowledge and innovation.
Welcome to emergence.
A break in Symmetry – these Universal Structures & Patterns – is Emergence
An evolutionary dance — embracing The Adjacent Possible — a flow — an interplay — between living systems, their agency and their environment in a world of increasing complexity (& entropy).
 — Erwin Schrodinger — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Schr%C3%B6dinger
 — Theoretical Physics — https://home.cern/news/series/in-theory/what-theoretical-physicist
 — Schrodinger Equation — https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae329.cfm
 — Schrodinger Dublin Lectures — https://www.tcd.ie/Physics/news-events/events/schrodinger/
 — Book — What is Life? The physical aspect of the living cell — https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/6294646
 — Second Law of Thermodynamics — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics
 — Daniel Dennett 75th Anniversary Trinity College lecture — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ1YxR8qNpY
 — OODA Loop — https://fs.blog/2021/03/ooda-loop/
 — Sensemaking in Organizations — https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/sensemaking-in-organizations/book4988
 — Jean Gebser — Consciousness — https://digitalcommons.ciis.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=cejournal
 — Simplicity Theory — https://simplicitytheory.telecom-paris.fr
 — George Soros — Theory of Reflexivity — https://www.ft.com/content/0ca06172-bfe9-11de-aed2-00144feab49a
 — Prof Karl Friston’s — Free Energy Principle — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIu_dJGyIQI
 — Constructal Law — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2871904/
 — The energy expansion of evolution — https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-017-0138
 — At Home in The Universe: The search for the laws of self organisation and complexity — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/319006.At_Home_in_the_Universe
 — The Shape of History — The Adjacent Possible — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9Mn1bppV7U
 — The Genius of the Tinkerer — https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703989304575503730101860838
 — Darwin Theory of Evolution — https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/theory-evolution/