Order from Disorder and Elsewhere


Life is a spurt of energy at a point in space and time! Yet, the spurt isn’t a shot in the dark. There is a beautiful order in a life form’s interaction with other life forms, both during its life and over the course of evolution. As Carl Jung famously noted,

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

The order is transmitted across progeny in the form of information stored in their genetic material. Order is what ensues on reception of the information. As randomness decreases, so does the entropy of the system.

Self-organization

It is a characteristic property of natural systems. It initiates with random fluctuations. Most of these die out and the remaining get amplified by positive feedback. Pretty much like in evolution. It leads from disorder to order. Self-organization is evident in the fundamentals of systems as diverse as physical, chemical, mathematical, biological systems, cybernetics, traffic flows etc. Self-organization doesn’t require any input from the inside or outside of the system. The determinants of the order generated are implicit in the final state. Examples in biology are protein-folding, morphogenesis, creation of social structures in animals and the evolution of life itself.

John Horton Conway, a British Mathematician, developed The Game of Life which is a cellular automaton that describes how an initial configuration evolves by self-organization. The universe of the Game of Life is an infinite two-dimensional orthogonal grid of square cells, each of which is in one of two possible states, alive or dead. Every cell interacts with its eight neighbours, which are the cells that are horizontally, vertically, or diagonally adjacent. At each step in time, the following transitions occur:

Gosper's glider gun: An example of a cellular automaton in the Game of Life.
Gosper’s glider gun: An example of a cellular automaton in the Game of Life.
  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

Order from existing information

  1. Order can arise from existing order. This refers to further information arising from the existing, leading to increase in the volume of information. This is mostly at the expense of increase in disorder elsewhere in the system. Examples in biology include templating processes like DNA replication or transcription.
  2. Order can also arise from dis-orderlies present in the existing order. This refers to information arising from noise. In this case, some microscopic information is subject to macroscopic expression. The information in the genome of a zygote is equivalent to that in of the whole individual. That doesn’t have to mean that zygote is as complex as the whole individual. During the development of zygote, minor cues from the environment are given a meaningful macroscopic expression.

Reference:

Jeremy J. Ramsden, Bioinformatics: An Introduction, Kluwer Academic Publishers

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