Physical complexity and cognitive evolution

In Carlos Gershenson, Diederik Aerts & Bruce Edmonds (eds.), Worldviews, Science, and Us: Philosophy and Complexity. World Scientific. pp. 221--231 (2007)
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Our intuition tells us that there is a general trend in the evolution of nature, a trend towards greater complexity. However, there are several definitions of complexity and hence it is difficult to argue for or against the validity of this intuition. Christoph Adami has recently introduced a novel measure called physical complexity that assigns low complexity to both ordered and random systems and high complexity to those in between. Physical complexity measures the amount of information that an organism stores in its genome about the environment in which it evolves. The theory of physical complexity predicts that evolution increases the amount of ‘knowledge’ an organism accumulates about its niche. It might be fruitful to generalize Adami’s concept of complexity to the entire evolution (including the evolution of man). Physical complexity fits nicely into the philosophical framework of cognitive biology which considers biological evolution as a progressing process of accumulation of knowledge (as a gradual increase of epistemic complexity). According to this paradigm, evolution is a cognitive ‘ratchet’ that pushes the organisms unidirectionally towards higher complexity. Dynamic environment continually creates problems to be solved. To survive in the environment means to solve the problem, and the solution is an embodied knowledge. Cognitive biology (as well as the theory of physical complexity) uses the concepts of information and entropy and views the evolution from both the information-theoretical and thermodynamical perspective. Concerning humans as conscious beings, it seems necessary to postulate an emergence of a new kind of knowledge - a self-aware and self-referential knowledge. Appearence of selfreflection in evolution indicates that the human brain reached a new qualitative level in the epistemic complexity.

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