Evolutionary Systems
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Evolutionary Systems

Working Definition: Systems of whatever material base that undergo evolutionary processes.

In the important characterizing sources (Laszlo, l987; Csanyi, l989 see also Goonatilake, l99l) these have been restricted to living and linguistic systems (focusing on genetic information and its consequences) but the work of, e.g., Prigogine's school on dissipative structures, opens up the high probability that minimally some abiotic systems are also "evolutionary". Unless this is so the origin of life will remain an unapproachable puzzle.


The field has its sources in general systems theory and, I believe, in structuralism. Both are concerned with structural commonalities (in both form and behavior) between systems of different material embodiment. Other fields currently feeding into the basic construction of evolutionary systems include non-equilibrium thermodynamics, information theory, cybernetics (of the "second" kind), hierarchy theory (to the extent that its contribution is distinct from that of general systems), dynamical systems, constructionist mathematics, category theory, semiotics, and philosophical analysis is crucially important at the present time.

Mainstream synthetic evolutionary theory from biology (neodarwinan population biology) has had little impact here , although it could be said that most workers involved accept natural selection as being involved in greater or lesser degree, at one or more scalar levels; the field, however, does not appear in most hands to be driven by this concept. This is especially so because most studies focus on the regularities of change (what darwinians might term ' evolutionary trends', which for them are extremely problematic and always require careful qualification so as to avoid "teleology").

Here we uncover an important difference between standard darwinian thought and that in evolutionary systems. The former is resolutely mechanistic, while most versions of the latter, more or less explicitly, tentatively at least, reject mechanistic materialism as their basic philosophy. On this score we find interest in ideas like self-organization, autopoiesis, autogenesis, autocatakinesis, autognosis, semiosis and other ideas linked to change being generated from within a changing system rather than from outside in newtonian/darwinian style, and to the necessity for bringing the subjective observer explicitly into representations.

C) Current problems which would form the basis of discussions at a conference

(1) understanding the need for this field at the present time

(2) agreeing on working definitions of basic terms: e.g., evolution, self-organization, development, emergence

(3) comparisons of currently competing concepts - autopoiesis, autogenesis, autocatakinesis, etc.

(4) how to formalize non-mechanistic systems

(5) the role of semiosis in natural science

(6) seeking the appropriate role of natural selection in evolutionary systems

(7) The problems of self-referential systems

(8) the problem of subjectivity in science

(9) reviewing again the ever present confusions about thermodynamics, as well as its role in evolutionary systems


Csanyi, V., l989. Evolutionary Systems and Society: a General Theory. Duke University Press.

Goonatilake, S., l99l. The Evolution of Information: Lineages in Gene, Culture and Artefact. Pinter Publishers.

Laszlo, E., l987. Evolution: the Grand Synthesis. Shambala.

Copyright© l993 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

S.N. Salthe

Feb, l993


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Evolutionary Theory

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