Much of contemporary evolutionary theory is predicated upon the notion that random genetic mutation is the cause of movement from simple life to more complex. However, if the last 14 billion years of evolution have shown one thing, it is that there seems to be an inherent direction in evolution. We either stay simple or move to something more complex.
What is the Scope of Evolution?
When looking at evolution as a whole, we can observe simple forms which exist cosmically. For example, electrons and protons move into elements like hydrogen, eventually developing into complex elements like carbon. In biological evolution, we can observe a similar phenomenon. Simple cells move to complex cells, into multicellular organisms, into conscious organisms, and eventually, into rational organisms. Once cells begin to specialize and interact with each other, those interactions can evidently go beyond the sum of how each individual cell operates.
What is the Origin of Life?
Emergence is the coming to be of entities that can’t fully be explained simply by virtue of their parts. The two effects of emergence which have the most profound impact are the origin of life and the origin of consciousness. To understand the origin of life we must look first to biological molecules. Molecules, such as amino acids and lipids, are known to express the ability to form spontaneously, whether in the meteors in space, or the bodies of animals. There is a fundamental difference, however, when comparing molecules with an individual cell. While the cause of how individual cells emerged is unclear, it is clear that something distinctly unique came into being. The first primitive cells on earth discovered ways to survive and cooperate with more complex (eukaryotic) cells and multicellular organisms to create the ecosystems we observe today.
What is Consciousness?
Arguably, the most surprising product of emergence is that of consciousness. The brain is composed of trillions of cells which are responsible for the sensations we encounter on a daily basis. The myriad of parts in our brain activate through the firing of neurons to give us a rich sensory experience in which we exercise the ability to recognize the world around us. Our rational ability to comprehend the existence of other conscious organisms speaks to the emerging complexity which is written into the universe. For after 14 billion years of evolution, the emergence of consciousness is the ultimate testament to the implicit order in the infinite complexity of the universe.
Purpose in the Universe
In the video, Dan Kuebler asks the question, “How do we reconcile the beauty of science with the idea that there is a purpose in the universe?” Although some scientists might posit that we are a meaningless speck in the existential void of existence, the science is consistent with the notion that there is a purpose to the universe. In fact, the universe could be the place where rational beings capable of thought and expression are supposed to come into existence. We are complex enough to contemplate the 14 billion year long story of the universe and attempt to uncover its meaning. These questions that we are drawn towards can ultimately lead us towards uncovering the beauty of the purposeful universe we call home.