Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (ToE) recently turned 150 years old. Before the ToE, and even now, many of us quite reasonably assumed that God made us. It has been a bit of a journey coming around to the observation that all forms of Life are inter-related and that we are simply a particular expression of Life’s journey on this planet. Currently, about 50% of Americans choose to believe that the ToE is a disprovable opinion, ignoring that the word (Scientific) Theory means undisprovable – not able to be proven false – which along with an enormous amount of supporting evidence, and testable premises, is as close to a fact as it is possible to get.
Comprehending the ToE can be challenging because it pervades every aspect of biology. In this website a very narrow perspective of evolution is tackled – our ancestral lineage. These are the creatures from which we evolved going back to the very beginning of Life on Earth over three billion years ago. When examining this lineage one can be easily misled by thinking that evolving means “turning into” – that the ancestors of vertebrates turned into the myriad of sea and land creatures that have a spine. While marginally correct, thinking this misses the key point that all living things can only change by adding additional competencies, not exchanging them, which would require a risky leap into the unknown rather than the sequential, incremental development which we observe in the fossil record. This refinement of the ToE is called Exaptation, which defines a core premise enabling the connections forming the models presented on this website.
Take a brief stroll down the path our ancestors took to get here:
TREE OF LIFE WEBSITE
Life has been successful on our planet because embedded in its actions are underlying schemes that work. One such scheme1 is described by the theory of Exaptation. Intrinsic to Exaptation is that an organism does not change, but rather genetically duplicates successful code which can then be mutated without disrupting the role of the original code. Because we reproduce/die even if 99.99% of these mutations are detrimental, .01% of creatures gain the opportunity to migrate down a novel path, while their forefathers without that mutation persevere. It is obvious that this strategy over time works extremely well, having covered pretty much the whole of the planet with a diversity of lifeforms. It also seems likely that life would not have moved beyond a primordial soup of organic molecules if it had not adopted this tactic. A key to understanding the nature of Exaptation is that these mutations extend rather than replace pre-existing functions – inexorably field testing ever more complex forms of life.
Why this is important is that for any Living Thing, one can trace its evolution by classifying structural and functional attributes by the sequence of stages of that life form’s evolution. In our species, every attribute can be understood better by studying it in the context of the transformations it underwent in support of greater complexity and specialization. For example, in our brains, a common distinction is made between our ancestral Reptilian, Mammalian, and modern Neo-Cortex, each more “primitive” layer being an evolutionary stage from which a more “evolved” animal emerged. However, each of these more complex layers is an extension of and references back to the underlying layer. Another example is our arms, which evolved from the forelimbs of four-legged animals and still retain attributes of the structure and function of locomotion underneath the fine motor skills of our hands. Including Exaptation in our study of human structure and function illuminates the “why” of the way we are, facilitating a more illuminated application of our structure to our actions.
Understanding exaptation can greatly clarify the study of human neurology and physiology. When we view our human condition from the top down, as we are habituated to do, it can be challenging to recognize the layers of the underlying foundational neurophysiology that were successful enough, long enough, to enable experimentation with more complex forms. This website attempts to present human neurology and physiology from the bottom up, examining the contributions of our ancestors from the most ancient, to the most recent. The neurophysiology of each of these layers is still integrated as a whole, although the functional expression of each layer is moderated by more complex, more recent adaptations. Because each layer is a functional unit, we can then better understand the holistic system by examining these subsystems individually.
As we develop as infants we work through the process of integrating each layer, and by the age of two, we are busy learning to manage these evolutionary paradigms holistically as the mechanism of expression of our needs. If this process of integration is incomplete before we move on to integrating more recent evolutionarily layers, whatever level of integration we have attained is frozen as it becomes established as the foundation for integrating more complex functions. A very common example is the child who begins walking before their underlying crawling reflexes (which on this website are associated with the Vertebrate layer of evolution) have fully matured. When we observe dysregulation in a child and additionally observe that their crawling reflexes are not fully developed, guiding the child in further maturation of these reflexes will facilitate improved global self-regulation1. The Diagnostic Frameworks and Developmental Assessment are an aspect of this website to assist with assessment, and the Training Protocols to assist with maturation of identified evolutionary layers. Exaptation profers insight into the fabric of evolution that facilitates comprehension of why these tools, and more essentially, how we work.
Chaos Theory illuminates the mechanisms of action of Exaptation. Bifurcation and Strange Attractors model how a system that has settled into a steady-state may be prone to sudden shifts in state. Fractals and the Fibonacci Sequence describe the mathematical guidelines organisms follow to express Life’s creative drive. Gene Duplication is the mode of action of most of these shifts. When viewed from the perspective of Chaos Theory, Exaptation illuminates the core behaviors of living systems.
Chaos Theory, as well as the physics of Tensegrity (also presented on this website), are even useful in forecasting how our complex social structures behave, suggestive of their “archetypal” influence on our surroundings. It is rewarding to expend the effort to further one’s understanding of how Chaos Theory illustrates the underlying mechanisms of the evolution of complex systems, which includes the evolution of our species.