Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Shannon's Theory of Evolution

Jayita and I were chatting this evening about the "evolution vs. intelligent design" debate that is still being regurgitated over three quarters of a century after the Scopes trial of 1925.

I've occasionally mulled over the idea that we've stopped evolving in the true Darwinian sense. Given the medical advances that level the playing field of life expectancy, survival of the biologically fittest no longer works the way it used to. I remember vividly a conversation I had with a colleague of mine several years ago, during which we came upon the idea that in this age, it is a measure of information fitness that should be used to evaluate the survival probability of a population.

Call it Claude Shannon's other theory.

Simply put; it is how well a community evolves around and absorbs new ideas and information that determines whether it arrives at the top of the information heap, or whether it is doomed to the information-centric form of extinction: irrelevance. The point extends to dogmatic belief both religious and scientific. A scientist that espouses Newtonian mechanics has to face its inadequacy at explaining relativistic phenomena or risk being left behind in the wake of novel research.

Statistically (at least), it is the section of the population that is fearless enough to continually adapt, test, tear-down and rebuild its information substrate, that is the most successful in the so-called information age. The successful species is always the one that adapts.

Stubborn faith in a single isolated nugget of information without re-evaluating it in the light of newly collected facts and ideas is fatal. Ironic that the community that is least open to ideas such as the theory of evolution, will probably be its swiftest victim.

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