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Evolutionary biologist Simon Conway Morris on how the universe became self-aware

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Okay, okay, that “self-aware” part is in the publisher’s title (based on the author’s own earlier usage though).

The book is generally about convergence in evolution, a subject on which Conway Morris is an expert. See Map of Life.

New book from Templeton, The Runes of Evolution, How the Universe Became Self-Aware :

How did human beings acquire imaginations that can conjure up untrue possibilities? How did the Universe become self-aware? In The Runes of Evolution, Simon Conway Morris revitalizes the study of evolution from the perspective of convergence, providing us with compelling new evidence to support the mounting scientific view that the history of life is far more predictable than once thought.

A leading evolutionary biologist at the University of Cambridge, Conway Morris came into international prominence for his work on the Cambrian explosion (especially fossils of the Burgess Shale) and evolutionary convergence, which is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

In The Runes of Evolution, he illustrates how the ubiquity of convergence hints at an underlying framework whereby many outcomes, not least brains and intelligence, are virtually guaranteed on any Earth-like planet. Conway Morris also emphasizes how much of the complexity of advanced biological systems is inherent in microbial forms.

It’s a hard thesis to test, really, because we don’t know of any other Earth-like planets. And if origin of life researcher Robert Hazen is right (Earth is mineralogically unique in the cosmos), we might be a while finding a suitable test.

By casting a wider net, The Runes of Evolution explores many neglected evolutionary questions. Some are remarkably general. Why, for example, are convergences such as parasitism, carnivory, and nitrogen fixation in plants concentrated in particular taxonomic hot spots? Why do certain groups have a particular propensity to evolve toward particular states?

And questions like, do bees dream?

Speaking of patterns in evolution, see also Researchers say larger size is a genuine pattern in evolution, not neutral drift

If there is such a pattern, it implies some sort of inherent design in the universe, no?

Darwin follower Jerry Coyne, who hasn’t read the book, doesn’t like it already. But then Coyne called Simon Conway Morris a creationist in 2009. (In recent years, “creationist” has become merely a content-free term of abuse, based on who is called one.)

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News: Thanks for this alert about Coyne and Conway Morris. I haven't read Conway Morris's new book, so I will refrain from contesting Coyne's speculations about what might be in it. However, based on what is generally reported about the thesis of Conway Morris's earlier book, I do have some observations regarding Coyne's general position here. Yes, you are right that Coyne throws around the word "creationist" as a term of abuse, and that calling Conway Morris a "creationist" is a misuse of the term. Still, I find Coyne's column valuable in one respect. He points out the difficulty of holding together neo-Darwinian randomness with any view of the inevitability that evolution will lead to man. And he takes to task not only Conway Morris but Ken Miller and Karl Giberson for intellectual incoherence in trying to be 100% Darwinians (as Miller proudly claims to be) and also trying to hold out for inevitable evolutionary outcomes. He thinks that if you are going to be a consistent Darwinian, you have to bite the bullet and abandon teleology in evolution altogether. I think he is right. It is interesting that Michael Denton--who like Conway Morris holds the view that the tendency of the evolutionary process to produce "humanoids" (to use Coyne's word)--is *not* a Darwinian; he does not think that evolution occurs in the way that Conway Morris, Miller and Giberson do. Thus, Denton is not guilty of Coyne's charge of inconsistent thinking. You *can* believe that evolution has a natural tendency to produce man, if you aren't restricted by the chancy Darwinian mechanism. Of course, Coyne would say that Denton was wrong, too, but for a different reason: he would say that Denton's error is in not accepting random mutation + natural selection as the primary mechanism of evolution. But that's a different complaint from the complaint of logical inconsistency which Coyne levels against the TE/EC crowd. Of course, the feud between Coyne and TE/EC generally has been long-running. Coyne was at first self-restrained, being a good little boy and accepting TEs as allies against ID, in line with Eugenie Scott's Machiavellian strategies. But not being a political animal, as Scott is, he could not maintain the NCSE party line for long; he truly believes that if one *really* accepts the implications of Darwinian theory, there can't be any teleology in the evolutionary process, and that TE/EC -- at least in its most popular forms -- Miller, Giberson, Falk, Conway Morris -- represents an unstable halfway house between atheism and Christianity that can't be maintained. And he thinks that as a scientist he should say that out loud, regardless of tactical considerations. So though I think Coyne is pretty narrow-minded in his scientism, I have to give him points for not engaging in NCSE politics, for forcing the issue that many TE/EC folks would like to avoid confronting. He's demanding to know how a Darwinian can believe that the evolution of man or of anything else is inevitable. It's a good question, even if his motives for asking it are not yours or mine. Timaeus
OT: News here is tidbit you may like: Is it just me or is Hawking becoming more and more paranoid as he grows older? First Artificial Intelligence, as our dark overlords, was going to do away with us, now our own aggression is. (Although I admit this is more plausible than Artificial Intelligence doing away with us, since I am now suppressing a desire to strangle Hawking for saying such things :) ) Stephen Hawking Warns That Aggression Could 'Destroy Us All' - By Ed Mazza - 02/23/2015 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/23/stephen-hawking-aggression_n_6733584.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592 bornagain77
Conway Morris is said to be a devout Christian. (It wasn't mentioned in the article.) It is quite possible, in these times, for a devout Christian to sound like a "pure naturalist atheist" Indeed, there are organizations dedicated to that sort of thing. But I haven't studied his work to know enough whether that would capture his approach. News
Sounds to me like another just-so story invented to protect the essential anti-theistic narrative. They don't really care what kind of convenient, self-refuting, magical, miraculous, self-annihilating, unprovable nonsense is proposed to serve the narrative as long as there is no god involved. William J Murray

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