Rifkin’s Final Statement on Cosmological Natural Selection

The Multiverse Is Science's Assisted Suicide | Evolution Newsby Lawrence Rifkin

There were many confident-sounding statements in the previous post about which I’d suggest a general reader check in with mainstream expert friends and colleagues to weigh in on before accepting. The specific suggestion that I made that natural selection can explain high-information entities like life and mind without negentropy is a complete mischaracterization of what was written and a straw man argument.

The causal explanation for why the laws of our universe are apparently exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the formation of many billion trillions of stars (and life) cannot, I believe, be explained away by “negentropy” alone. The causal explanation for development of non-designed high-information entities like the human mind cannot, I submit, be explained away by thermodynamics alone. I believe naturalistic emergent explanations are needed and fundamental to explain and understand the development of these higher-level phenomena that quarks and energy flow underlie and sustain.

The puzzle of scientifically explaining life on Earth pre-Darwin seems analogous to me here. Natural selection explained the development of non-designed high-information entities, and at this point, we know of no other process that can explain the development of higher-level high-information entities like cells, bodies, and minds. One could say that energy flow and negentropy explain why you chose to read this right now, but wouldn’t one agree that higher-level fundamental explanatory explanations would be missing? For the analogy to biological natural selection to hold, cosmological natural selection would require cumulative change via differential survival of variants.

I do not intend to post further on this particular exchange. For readers interested in the underlying possibility of cosmological natural selection, I stand by my original publication in Scientific American Blogs and the links to other writers listed in this exchange. Physicist Lee Smolin popularized the idea of CNS in his book “The Life of the Cosmos,” in which he also promoted his idea for a possible mechanism. For anyone interested in videos and writings I’ve done on the intersection of meaning and science, my website is lawrencerifkin.com. I thank  Mr. Crawford for stimulating my responses and for his writing ability, and John Messerly for creating this forum for reflection and understanding. I hope this exchange stimulated thought, without needing to “take sides.”

And now, I am off to my very favorite bit of negentropy, the high-information system, exquisitely fine-tuned entity, that I prefer to think of as the love of my life.


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5 thoughts on “Rifkin’s Final Statement on Cosmological Natural Selection

  1. Well stated, Dr.
    I have said we all have interests, motives and preferences (IMPs). Those attributes (or drawbacks) may get us lost among the trees while we are looking for the forest. I respect your stalwart defense of your convictions, just as I have patiently read Mr. Crawford’s defense of his own. I have commented on other ideas expressed on this and other blogs, fully recognizing the expert status of people with far wider experience than I. CNS may yet be shown a holy grail. If that obtains, marvelous things may yet be knowable and known. If the whole thing does not blow up, break down, fall apart and wear out, before then.

  2. General Closing Remarks:
    * If I understand it right, the idea/notion of negative entropy, violates at least a portion of the second law of thermodynamics, which claims there is no negative entropy in the Universe. There is also precious little anti-matter and it is too costly and difficult to produce more. Possible, yes; costly, yes; and difficult. Is there negentropy in some other universe? Well, we can’t be sure of that either.
    * Are the “laws” of thermodynamics inviolable? I don’t know. Might they change, should we obtain new knowledge and/or evidence? Possibly.
    * Smolin is a theoretical physicist., albeit a respected one. Theory is an intuition pump, allowing those of us who are inclined to ask: what if?
    * CNS has been around awhile. So has Panpsychism. Neither of those stances are true by default of longevity, regardless of what their supporters say.
    * The cosmos has been around too. But to attribute any sort of natural selection to the cosmos also, by reference, misses the mark, IMHO. Even if one infers that cosmological history made life possible, that would matter and create dots to connect, if, and only if,we found or encountered other life forms—preferably, intelligent ones who were intelligible. Again, only my opinion. A good, prosecutable case requires evidence, not just theory, conjecture, physics and thermodynamic laws.
    * This has been one of the better argued debates I have read on origins. I am impressed. However, I remain pragmatic and skeptical. That is what keeps us honest about the “what ifs”.

  3. Mr. Van Pelt, please permit me to clarify some points. First, negentropy does not violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of a thermodynamically isolated system will never decrease. In the case of life on earth, the sun is pouring vast amounts of negentropy onto the earth, so the earth is not thermodynamically isolated. That solar negentropy drives the rise and evolution of life on earth.

    NO laws of physics, including those of thermodynamics, are inviolable. However, we have stupendous amounts of information about the thermodynamic behavior of many, many radically different systems, and not one of these systems has ever violated any of the laws of thermodynamics. That doesn’t make these laws inviolable, but we have to look for ever stranger phenomena in order to find any violations.

    Sure, it’s always good to ask “What if?” But it’s even better to find answers to that question, and so far the answers we have found do not support Mr. Smolin’s hypothesis. Until we find evidence to support his hypothesis, we must conclude that it is unsupported.

  4. Alright then. I reviewed notes and dug a little deeper. The short version of the second law states that the total entropy of a SYSTEM either increases or remains constant, in any SPONTANEOUS process; it never decreases (emphasis mine). In a longer rendition, the language used talks about the entropy of ISOLATED SYSTEMS (ditto)’ saying that, “left to spontaneous evolution,” entropy therein “cannot decrease, as they always arrive at a state of thermodynamic equilibrium…” Aha. I think, if it not too much of an assumption, an internal combustion engine, gasoline or diesel, is an isolated system. Whether that engine’s workings are spontaneous, is, I suppose, arguable, but, it burns fuel , generates heat and transforms energy. So, let’s go a little bigger.

    Is the solar system, inhabited by planet earth a SYSTEM or, an ISOLATED one? The notion of negative entropy or negentropy appears to rest, in part,on the answer to that question? Moreover, I think, suppose we ask the same question about the Universe, bigger still? I can grasp isolation in the first instance (the engine) described above. I am not well-wrapped within the concept of isolation as it applies, or does not apply to the solar system or the Universe. I guess Cosmological Natural Selection just does not fire my imagination either.
    Warm Regards, Paul V.

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