The Creativity of Evolution

Mark Bedau
Reed Colleg and Portland State University
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland OR 97202-8199, USA

This is the abstract of a talk prepared for the International interdisciplinary seminar on new robotics, evolution and embodied cognition (IISREEC).12th to 15th November 2002, Lisbon, Portugal

Abstract: Biological evolution has been remarkably creative. From simple one-celled prokaryotes evolution has produced the remarkably diverse contemporary biosphere, which exhibits many kinds of adaptive complexity and intelligence. What explains this creative power of evolution?

Many people think that evolution's creativity presents no special mystery, because they assume that it can be explained by one or another familiar mechanism. These mechanisms include (i) diffusion through the space of genetic possibilities (and possibly the discovery of what Daniel Dennett calls "forced moves" in that space); (ii) coevolution with an endogenous fitness function in an indefinitely large space of genetic possibilities; (iii) the resources of computation theory (especially universal computation) and dynamical systems theory (especially strange attractors); and (iv) the conjunction of genetic modularity and developmental programs mediating the genotype-phenotype relation.

After describing evolution's creative power and the explaining what an adequate explanation of it would look like, I will review why the existing candidate explanations are wrong or questionable. Then I will sketch a new candidate explanation, and explain how it suggests that there is a deep analogy between biological creativity, cultural creativity, and intelligent behavior.

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Last Modified: November 4, 2002