My Take on the Law of Accelerating Returns (myLAR) Part II - Templatization

by phil on Saturday Sep 20, 2003 12:06 PM
Law of Accelerating Returns, evolution_old

Read more about tools and algorithms that aid biological evolution, and in tandem systems of accelerating complexity.

Groups of related organisms are 'variations on a theme' -- the same set of bones are used to construct all vertebrates. The bones of the human hand grow out of the same tissue as the bones of a bat's wing or a whale's flipper; and, they share many identifying features such as muscle insertion points and ridges. The only difference is that they are scaled differently. Evolutionary biologists say this indicates that all mammals are modified descendants of a common ancestor which had the same set of bones. (Introduction to Evolutionary Biology)

Mammals for example, all share a similar underlying framework, while the various common parts are simply scaled differently. A bigger brain here, a longer leg here, shorter mandible there, and voila you get a wonderfully different organism.

Scaling is also easy, as we discussed with runaway sexual selection. Relative bone size increments or decrements within a specie could be selected for constantly, allowing those parts to grow over time. So imagine a little bud of a claw on some rodent, being stretched into the huge leg of a dog. Or imagine if the females of our ape-like ancestors were attracted to males with the largest skulls of the group, then overall capacity of the brain would definitely expand.

Templates with even a modestly sized feature set can allow for tremendous complexity. Take the 206 bones of the adult human body. If the size of 30 of those were cut in half and another 30 doubled, the nature of our existence would be dramatically changed. We'd seek different food, we'd have different capabilities, the tools we would make would be different, etc. In other words, our niche in the ecosystem would shift.

Since the nature of our actions is based on the combination of all of our parts, changes to a small set of features propogate large changes to the whole system.

This ability for small changes to have large impacts is important for rapid adaptations. As environments change and competition for resources becomes fiercer, a species cannot be re-written from scratch. So groups of organisms that can make small modifications to a templated organism will be better suited at discovering new niches as old ones disappear.

Templatization appears naturally in other systems. Look at blogging for example. The ability to create date-based journal entries existed about as early as I can remember on the Internet with places like BluesNews. It wasn't until somebody made a standard template of imagery, dated entries, and links that we have this "revolution" called Blogging. By the simple scaling of those three features we get a tremendous range of complexity in blogging. Take Howard Dean's Blog for America. There we see the imagery using a patriotic color scheme, with his picture in there showing he's active, and a general cleanliness that evokes a sense of pure democracy. Then look at the scaling on the dated entries. His blog updates so frequently that he puts himself into the category of a "mega-blogger." But even beyond that, these entries are scaled up by allowing for mulitple authors form his campaign team plus the comments of visitors. Then look at his blogroll or list of links. The number and choice of various pundits and other Dean sites turns his site into a portal for political change. All Dean did was cater the style to a certain message, scale up the date-based entries, ramp up the size of the blogroll, and all of a sudden Dean has created a standarbearer for an emerging genre of "blog-portals." (Note, by Dean I mean whoever created his blog).

Similarily, the same blog template can be used for a personal diary. I could scale the blogroll down to zero, and use a default style, and focus on daily entries of the same tone.

Once again, small changes in scale, large changes in purpose.

Templates are readily apparent in human systems, such as business hiearchies, programming systems such as object-oriented-programming, or religious frameworks such as "Christianity." If you make a few changes to any of those templates, you get a unique organization with a rich new set of pursoses to fulfill.

Templates are a powerful expedient of complexity. And since they occur naturally within systems that seek creative ways to fulfill niches, it's no wonder than accelerating returns happens as fast as it does.

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