The controversial Gaia hypothesis sees Earth as a superorganism adapted to be perfect for life. A weird type of evolution may finally show how that actually happens
IN 1948, cybernetics pioneer Ross Ashby built a curious machine. The Homeostat was constructed from four interconnected bomb-control units scavenged from the UK’s Royal Air Force. It featured four pivoting magnets, the position of each being determined by that of the others and guided by feedback mechanisms generated using a table of random settings. When Ashby turned the machine on, the magnets would start to oscillate wildly. Sometimes they would return to a stable equilibrium position. If not, Ashby had wired the Homeostat to reboot itself with a new selection of random settings. Over time, this basic algorithm – if unstable, try again – always eventually led to equilibrium. That was the machine’s sole purpose: to show that a simple, dynamic system would regain stability in response to changes in its environment.
Ashby believed this “ultrastability” to be a governing principle in nature, explaining, among other things, the adaptation of species to their niche – a process that appears purposeful, but actually arises from random processes. It may seem a stretch to describe the Homeostat’s change over time, from wild motion to stability, as “evolution”. After all, it lacks all the trappings we associate with Darwinian evolution – such as life and reproduction. Yet, there is a growing belief that the same forces driving Ashby’s machine hold the key to a wider concept of evolution, one that can encompass semi-living and even nonliving systems. This new view may prove essential to understanding the functioning of ecosystems and even the origin of life. Most intriguingly, it bolsters …
View Article Here New Scientist – Earth