Chris Girard, Associate Professor at Florida International University, explores COVID-19 and coevolving informatics, including comment on defence logic from meiosis to AI
The information revolution offers a fresh perspective on barriers. This becomes evident from a re-examination of system defences evolving from meiosis to COVID-19 vaccines. Jettisoning explanatory factors that are purely physicalist, static, and context-free, the digital age focuses on information flows, connectivity and flux. Linking computation in natural and artificial systems, the digital era has given birth to an informatics approach bridging many disciplines. The digital-age focus on computation can be integrated with transdisciplinary study of spatial partitioning and energetics. Linking these three coevolving dynamics — informatics, energetics, and spatial partitioning — reveals a fundamental pattern as complexity increases. Complex systems, energised by expanding exchange across porous physical barriers, increasingly shift defences toward high-speed information processing.
Two interrelated theoretical propositions flow from the proposed transdisciplinary synthesis. The first proposition applies if fixed-site resources — whether these are fixed in the human body or in other physical territory — are rivalrous. This means that access to resources by competitors reduces benefits, injecting a zero-sum dynamic. If this condition is met, payoff is based on resource holding potential or the capacity to win in an all-out power play. The power-play victors construct physical barriers to block or restrict horizontal exchanges of resources with competitors. However, these energy-supplying horizontal exchanges, according to the second proposition, eventually gain evolutionary ascendancy. In an advanced or more intensive phase of complexity, information-driven non-territorial adaptation diminishes dependence on physical barriers (e.g., post-war Europe). In this intensive phase, the second proposition postulates that rapid information exchange bestows greater adaptive fitness than expanding physical barriers. Significantly, if a system evolves toward greater complexity, signal-processing connections or topologies will tend to become increasingly independent from underlying physical connections or topologies. This signal-processing evolution is path-dependent, engenders conflict and resistance, and does not occur linearly.
Meiosis and defensive partitioning of space
Earth’s oldest and most abundant organisms, prokaryotes, rely on thick cell walls to defend against UV rays, viruses, and other entropic incursions. Subsequent evolution of more complex organisms, eukaryotes, led to the replacement of these thick cell walls by more permeable, exchange-oriented cytoskeletons. Illustrating prerequisite extensive complexity, four-billion-year-old mitotic cell duplication remains the key mechanism for expanding an organism’s boundaries. However, eukaryotes evolved cellular meiosis to recombine genetic information in male and female gametes (sperm and ovum), thereby boosting intensive complexity. A key fitness advantage afforded by male-female gametogenesis is more innovative information processing to defend against viruses, other pathogens, and a harsh physical environment. Illustrating the law of requisite variety, the sexually-transmitted exchange of genetic information exploits comparative advantages. Sex differences in size and shape (aspects of sexual dimorphism) increase the odds of information being exchanged over a distance. This gives signal topology greater independence from physical topology, the essence of the repartitioning of space and its resources by coevolving informatics.
Evolution from Neolithic-era fortifications to digital-age defences
Neolithic-era agrarianism spawned organised warfare along with fortifications for walled cities and settlements. By concentrating key resources and accumulated assets in fixed geospatial sites, sedentary agrarianism multiplied the comparative advantage of men’s dimorphism-based resource holding potential. Indeed, in besieging armies from ancient times to the Middle Ages, male testosterone moved battering rams and catapults, dug mines under walls, and wielded swords and axes. Insofar as hand-held weapons delivered their message only through victim contact, signal and physical topologies overlapped. The soldier’s physical size and strength were often decisive. However, because modern rifles can strike an enemy at 500 yards or more, hand-to-hand combat became infrequent. Ultimately, more women are being recruited into the digital-era military, wherein increasingly location-free signalling via drones and cyberwar transcends physically-rooted sexual dimorphism. As revealed by cyberwars using Stuxnet and Sandworm viruses, innovative and rapid information-processing prevails over defensive physical barriers.
The industrial age ushers in conflicting geospatial dynamics. Porous, exchange-based cities no longer construct walls for defence. Yet extensive complexity underlying growth requires battlefront-ready resource-holding potential. Expanding physical product initially outpaces information-intensive innovation, exacerbating multi-continent warfare (e.g., WWI) to cordon off fixed-site resources (cotton, coal, oil, etc.). On the other hand, the industrial age also spawns a barrier-penetrating signal topology. Relying on urban “information technologies” that include writing and money, industrialism unleashes a literacy revolution that spreads horizontally. Compulsory primary education, regardless of sex, is instituted in most of Europe by WWI. In the digital age, the internet reduces the friction of distance, further uncoupling signal and physical topologies. This networked intensive complexity enables global epistemic communities to challenge spatial barriers such as work-home gender segregation.
Defences offered by border-free professional-scientific networks arise from cybernetic parallelism. This entails voluntary exchanges of information on complex problems.1 For example, cooperating scientists from China and Australia released the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence onto the worldwide web on January 10, 2020. Within a few days, a U.S.-based company (Moderna) had transformed China’s data into an mRNA vaccine publically administered 11 months later. As an information-based defence, vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer transfer genetic instructions to the body’s ribosomal protein-producing factories. Moreover, to track mutations, global coronavirus data is being posted online by Germany’s GISAID. This enables rapid analysis using AI. Like prokaryotic cell walls, deployment of masks, shutdowns, and travel bans can block viruses. Yet in complex porous systems, high-speed information-processing offers a superior defence.
1 Girard, C. Globalization and the erosion of geo-ethnic checkpoints: Evolving signal-boundary systems at the edge of chaos. Evolutionary & Institutional Economics Review 2020, 17, 93-109.
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