Information Theory Applied to Evolutionary Theory

“Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.” (303)

In Blindsight, there are several references to Information Theory.  Admittedly, Information Theory covers a lot of shit.  In this blog, I’ll try to limit discussing information theory as it pertains to consciousness, a topic that comes into prominent play in the later part of the novel.

One of the really cool things about Information Theory is that scientists think it could explain evolution better than Darwinian theory.  Indeed, several times in the novel Cunningham dismisses outright the traditional notions of Darwinian evolution.  Darwinian evolutionary theory stresses the survival of the fittest, specifically (and, basically, exclusively) the survival of the fittest individual.

However, several species exhibit behavior contrary to Darwinian evolution.  Ants and bees, for examples.  In each, a hive or colony revolves around the queen and a few, select males that pass on their genetic material.  The vast majority of these insects are actually sterile.  As such, there is no intra-species competition.  The priority of all the individuals in the hive or colony is to protect the queen.  And, consequently, to protect her genetic code.

And so, where here Darwinian theory has failed (even if only in the minority of cases, it’s still technically disproved), Information Theory can fill in the gaps.  By protecting the queen, the ants or bees are protecting the genetic code of the species.  However, the notion of “survival of the fittest” falls by the wayside.  It’s merely survival of information, in this case genetic code.

And so, the debate that Watts wages within the course of Blindsight is actually quite valid.  Given the inter-species competition of self-aware and, by default, self-concerned organisms, that old scifi trope of The Hive Mind may be more justified than the genre’s cliches would lead you to think.

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3 Responses to Information Theory Applied to Evolutionary Theory

  1. young says:

    Do you mean intraspecies (within species) competition? If so, are you sure there’s no competition between male bees (drones) to mate with the queen? I was led to believe that they do compete against each other for the chance to “tap it”, as it were.

    Also, isn’t passing genetic code, or information as you say, the mechanism through which evolution plays out? Biological “fitness” means increasing the frequency of one’s genes in the next generation so “survival of the fittest” (which wasn’t Darwin’s expression btw) and “survival of information” appear to me to be one and the same.

    P.S. check out this…amusing video about bee sex:

    • dcallan says:

      Inter vs intra duly noted, and fixed.

      I think you’re right about male drones having some competition. But, all of the females are sterile except for the queen and maybe a few females who could take her place, should anything happen to the queen. However, the non-sterile females can’t actually reproduce until the queen dies. Thus, competition is hugely diminished.

      Survival of the fittest is survival of information, but survival of information is not necessarily survival of the fittest. Darwinian evolution explains most evolution. Information theory could explain it all.

  2. dcallan says:

    Also, I’m really rusty on the topic. It’s been a hot minute since I brushed up on it.

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