Gavin Rowland

Multidisciplinary team proposes a “hitherto-unarticulated law” of increasing complexity.

28 November, 2023

A multidisciplinary team of scientists and philosophers recently published an important article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( Entitled “On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems.” The paper is from a nine member team including scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science, Cornell University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), with philosophers from the University of Colorado. Starting with stellar nucleosynthesis, the authors work their way through many of the features of our reality which underpin the growth in complexity within both living and nonliving systems, noting that “we owe our existence to all of these metastable features of our Universe.” They state that selection pressures are important but are not confined to living systems. Of the fundamental laws recognised by science, it is noted that “conspicuously absent is a law of increasing complexity”. (Those who have read my work would know that I proposed this in my 2015 book, as an expanding dimension of complexity.) The authors propose a “law of increasing functional information.”

On why it has taken science so long to discover this fundamental law, the authors note that Darwinian thinking about living systems has lead to a false equating of biological natural selection to the increase in complexity as a whole. They also note that scientists are reluctant to think about ‘function’ and ‘context’ as ideas worthy of inclusion in science. Subtext here – most physicists believe that if it can’t be measured, it isn’t worthy of inclusion in our understanding.

From my point of view, this is a step in the right direction. There is a major problem though, as the authors have dodged the question of why the fundamental laws and constants of the Universe are bio-friendly in the first place. And by proposing such a law they have to come very close to that question. All of this would have occurred to the authors, but hasn’t been stated as one of the reasons for the late appearance of this important law. The better informed reader will be aware that this question has been found unanswerable in the current scientific paradigm.