Friday, 14 October 2016

Towards a unified theory of existence

John Campbell
August 2016

Richard Dawkins famously observed that [1]:

however many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead

This truism may well be extended to existence in general: however many ways there may be to exist, it is certain that there are vastly more ways to not exist. The world of existence appears to be only sparsely populated from the possibilities. For example, the 100-odd atomic elements which do have an existence are greatly outnumbered by the infinite number of possible combinations of protons and neutrons. The laws of nature ordain that the forces of attraction between most of these combinations are unable to overcome the forces of repulsion and it is only those few combinations where the forces of attraction dominate which may have an existence.


Science has very little to say about existence or about how phenomena come into existence. Some physicists have speculated on how something, in the form of a fundamental physical entity, was able to emerge from the primal vacuum, to transform from non-existence into existence. But this misses the important point that fundamental physics is only a small part of the larger story. What about the existence of complex phenomena such as occur in human culture? Although some physicists have named the anticipated theory the ‘theory of everything’ it will only explain existence at the most fundamental level, such theories hold no hope of explaining more complex phenomena. We are led to conclude that the existence of more complex systems may only be explained through an understanding of the evolution of complex phenomena from less complex forms. Such a general theory should explain both how phenomena comes into existence and how phenomena are maintained within existence.

Understanding how new complex forms come into existence is especially difficult as these are historical events which have left little direct evidence. Consensus on detailed explanations of the major transitions, such as from chemistry to biology or from biology to culture, are lacking even in their general principles.  

In thinking that a ‘final’ theory is within their grasp, physicists may have grossly underestimated the subtleties of nature. Vast realms of unexplored reality containing possible structures lurk at a scale below our ability to detect. Phenomena down to a scale of about 10-15 meters are currently amenable to experimental probes but the arena of space-time may extend down to the Planck scale at 10-34 meters.  We are largely ignorant of the phenomena within this vast unexplored arena.

Already some theories speculate on possible entities such as graphs and preons at smaller scales. Complementary to a theory explaining the how entities at the most fundamental scale come into existence would be a theory that explained how such entities evolved into more complex forms. As we will see below there are good reasons to suggest that a single evolutionary logic operates at all scales and across many subject matters.

Existence is the subject of the main branch of philosophy, Metaphysics. The earliest western philosophers focused on discerning the basic substance composing existence; earth, vapors and water were early contenders. Aristotle thought there might be four: air, earth, fire and water. Later some, such as Charles Saunders Peirce, would brilliantly philosophize on the nature of existence [2]. Needless to say, many definitions have been suggested in both science and philosophy. 

The definition I will work with is the one suggested by Wikipedia [3]:

Existence is commonly held to be that which objectively persists independent of one's presence

This definition has some strong points and a weak one. First the strong ones:
  1. Existence requires persistence. An existing phenomenon must persist, it must remain intact and retain its identity over some period of time. In more complex systems, such as biological ones, this aspect of existence is called homeostasis but we should recognize that even fundamental entities such as electrons must also maintain their identity.
  2. Existence is objective. This is often interpreted to mean that existing phenomena must be indicated by reproducible evidence and that existence is therefore described by science.
A weak aspect of this definition is that it may suggest that objective existence is described by science in a somewhat anthropomorphic manner. It may imply that something exists only when science can confirm its existence. We should be clear that scientific existence is not just another explanation for existence, science aspires to describe existing phenomena as it is, it strives to describe an actual ‘true’ reality despite being constrained by the fact that it is a cultural project.

In this paradigm all aspects of reality, not just scientists, are objective observers and existent objective phenomena must appear the same in their interactions with all aspects of reality. There must be a consensus on what exists and this consensus includes the experience of electrons just as much as the experience of scientists. 

Underlying the objective aspects of existence is the fact that phenomena may only exist if they are able to affect other entities in reality. This may be made clearer if we imagine, on the contrary, some entity that is incapable of interacting with anything else. In that case it could not be experienced by anything else and it could have no effect on anything else. Thus, it could not be said to exist in the wider reality.

Existence and Evolution

Scientific understanding of the history of the universe since its beginning in the big bang reveals an evolutionary history. In the very beginning there was only massless radiation. More complex fundamental particles including those having mass emerged in sequence from simple to more complex. This process has continued with the sequential emergence of atoms, molecules, complex chemistry, biology, neural-based behaviour and human culture marking some of the major landmarks in this evolutionary history. Perhaps the latter items only have an existence on our planet, perhaps there are further emergent forms to be discovered in more remote areas of the universe. However, there is good evidence that the earlier forms, those preceding biology, are common to all corners of the universe.

Over the history of the universe a large number of complex forms have progressively emerged into existence. It is evident that these forms represent a hierarchy in which the more complex entail the less complex and also that they emerged into existence in a sequential manner from the simple to the more complex over time. A unified theory of existence would include a detailed description of this evolutionary process.

There has been a number of recent theoretical advances in evolutionary theory. Beginning with the research of Steven Frank it has been made clear that the mathematics of Darwinian evolution are a form of Bayesian inference [4, 5]. It has also been demonstrated that processes described by the mathematics or Bayesian inference may also be cast as theories based on the principle of variational free energy [6, 7]. More recently it has been found that evolutionary theory based on the principle of variational free energy may, in turn, be cast in terms of gauge theories [8].

A great advantage of viewing evolutionary theory in these various theoretical frameworks is that different aspects are exposed. Describing evolutionary processes in terms of Bayesian inference draws attention to ‘learned’ fitness while descriptions in terms of free energy provide a focus on internal models and the tendency of evolutionary processes to reduce the prediction error of their models. Casting evolutionary theory in terms of gauge theory draws attention to mechanisms which systems develop to maintain stability or homeostasis.

Unfortunately, these theoretical frameworks have been applied only to post-physical phenomena, those forms which have emerged from the physical substrates including biology, neural based behaviour and culture. The broad scope of scientific subject matter within the physical sciences has not been brought within this framework. This is important as post-physical phenomena evolved both later than and out of physical phenomena. A unified theory would necessarily include purely physical phenomena.

The unifying theoretical framework of the physical sciences is gauge theory which has been used to describe all physical forces. As gauge theory also provides a unified framework for post-physical evolutionary systems, its explanatory power in the physical sciences may hint at a unified approach. To date however, it has not been demonstrated, to the satisfaction of most researchers, that physical systems can be cast as evolutionary systems.

Three of the four physical forces are described within the standard model of particle physics as quantum gauge theories. General relativity is also a gauge theory and may be understood as an effect of quantum entanglement [9].

Zurek’s development of quantum theory

Quantum theory is replete with interpretational issues but rapid progress has been made during recent decades in understanding quantum decoherence, the process by which information is exchanged by quantum systems. Foremost in this advance has been the research of Wojciech Zurek and a small group of colleagues.

Zurek has an illustrious scientific pedigree. His mentor and close colleague for many years was John Archibald Wheeler. Wheeler had an extraordinary ability to guide his associates to brilliant scientific accomplishments. His graduate students include David Deutsch, Richard Feynman, Hugh Everett and Jacob Bekenstein, some of the most creative physicists ever. Within his field of quantum decoherence, Zurek is the acknowledged expert and some, including a Scientific American blog, consider it likely he will eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize [10].

Early in Zurek’s career he co-edited, with Wheeler, the authoritative Quantum Theory and Measurement (1983). This subject has remained the focus of Zurek’s research, except that he has come to think in terms of interactions instead of measurements. Quantum measurement is widely recognized to present a problem which has plagued the theory since its inception known as ‘the measurement problem’. This problem is baked into quantum theory as it is written into the axioms which underlie quantum theory. A common list of the axioms is summarized [11]:
  1. States are represented by vectors in Hilbert space
  2. Evolutions are unitary (Schrödinger’s equation)
  3. Immediate repetition of a measurement yields the same outcome
  4. Outcomes correspond to eigenstates of the measured observable, and only one of them is detected in any given run of the experiment.
  5. Probability of a measurement outcome is given by the square of the associated amplitude, known as Born's rule.

The word ‘measurement’ is used in three of the axioms. Axioms 4 and 5 describe measurement predictions and these suggest that upon measurement the quantum system ‘jumps’ to a particular state but this appears to be in contradiction with axiom 2 which describes the evolution of quantum states as being continuous, that is, without jumps. Thus the ‘measurement problem’. Less discussed but more troubling, the word ‘measurement’ has suggested to many that human involvement is required for quantum interactions to take place.

Fortunately, Zurek’s research program, extending over thirty-five years, has largely rescued physics from this disorder. He has simplified the axiomatic foundations of quantum theory [12, 11, 13], showing how the problem axioms 4 and 5 are logically implied by the first three. In the process, we see that the use of the word ‘measurement’ is misleading in its suggestion that quantum interactions are dependent upon human actions. 

Zurek’s revolution is to derive axiom 5 and most of axiom 4 from the first three axioms [14]. As axioms 4 and 5 constitute what has been known as the ‘measurement problem’ this derivation has substantially resolved that problem as quantum ‘jumps’ are given a detailed explanation and shown to be implied by the first three axioms and thus to be an integral part of quantum theory. 

His approach to quantum theory focuses upon the nature of interactions which quantum systems have with entities in their environment and the information exchange which takes place during these interactions. Prior to information exchange the quantum system and the entity in its environment with which it will interact become entangled. In this peculiar state of entanglement both entities lose their individual identity and become instead a composite entity described by a single wave function. As the information exchange is completed they separate, or decohere, and again become individual entities but now the quantum system is aligned with the information placed in the environment. Quantum theory provides a probabilistic prediction of the exact nature of the information which is transferred to the environment. Often the prediction forms a probability distribution over possible outcomes where the probability of any single outcome is less than 1.

Due to this process of decoherence the quantum system and the information concerning it in the environment become synchronized in accord with axiom 3. If the quantum system becomes immediately entangled again with the same environmental entity it will exchange the same information as it did the first time but this time with probability 1. This means that during the first interaction the quantum system and the information transferred to the environment were updated to have complete mutual information; if you know the state of one of them you also know the state of the other. In the second interaction, the quantum system is ‘pure’, it only contains the same information as that transferred during the first interaction and is now constrained to transfer that same information again.

We might note however that axiom 3 talks about this interaction in terms of measurement, while Zurek describes it as decoherence or information exchange. A great advantage of Zurek’s approach is that he describes quantum interactions in general rather than the specific interactions which take place when humans perform measurements. As Zurek explains, a measurement is only one possible type of quantum interaction [13]: 

Any process of quantum measurement necessarily involves an interaction between two or more systems. That this is true can be seen by considering that a measurement, by definition, involves a transfer of information between systems: system S has been “measured” only if there exists another system E, that carries information about the state of S

With this subtle shift decades of hubris requiring human involvement in quantum processes is swept away. When information transfer between a quantum system and its environment is examined, it turns out that the symmetries of entanglement imply that only an extremely small subset of the information required to fully describe a quantum system may be transferred to the environment and survive there in other than minute quantities. Although it is limited, this information is all that other entities may experience of the quantum system, it is the only aspects they can know. Thus, this scanty information is all that exists of the quantum system in the outside reality.

The information which can survive and proliferate in the environment and exist in many redundant copies is classical information and this is why we experience a classical reality rather than a weird quantum reality. It is not only us who experiences this; all entities, including fundamental particles such as electrons, experience the same classical reality. Thus, we are rescued from being alien beings who experience reality in a different manner from the rest of nature.

In Zurek’s paradigm, the widely distributed classical information is the basis of our objective reality; numerous observers, each examining a small fragment of the environment in the vicinity of a quantum system, will find identical information regarding the quantum system. This leads them to objectively agree on the details and thus the existence of the quantum system. Such objectivity provides a ‘point of view invariance’ confined not just to human observers but one experienced by all entities.

Quantum Darwinism

Zurek has named his theory, by which many redundant copies of classical information are selected from quantum information and are able to survive in the environment, the theory of quantum Darwinism. Like other Darwinian processes, quantum Darwinism follows the mathematics of Bayesian inference [15], that is, it learns or discovers through a process of trial and error those forms capable of an existence.

The agency of Darwinian processes in quantum physics would go a long way to providing a unified theory of existence. The fact that a Darwinian theory has been posited at the basis of quantum physics by a leading authority is intriguing but after more than a decade this theory remains largely ignored and far from a consensus. However, as we will see below the link it provides between fundamental physics and Darwinian processes may be crucial.

The application of the Darwinian paradigm to processes in basic physics is unusual but it may assist our search for a generalized description of how simple entities evolve into more complex forms. Outside of fundamental physics the Darwinian process is widely understood as the evolutionary agent governing complex entities in biology, neuroscience and culture [5]. Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the initially understood Darwinian process, ultimately describes the process by which new biological forms are brought into existence. Biological forms enjoy an existence while they are reproductively successful, those that are not reproductively successful cease to exist. The change in frequency of biological traits over generations, which underlies natural selection, is merely the change in frequency of those traits which exist. The theory of universal Darwinism [5, 16, 17] which generalizes natural selection to subject matters other than biology retains this dependence on the changing frequency of traits which exist. 

Gauge Theories

As we have seen evolutionary theory may be framed in numerous mathematical forms. While the nature of these various forms is not important at this stage, it is important to note that evolutionary theory may in general be cast as gauge theories as this provides a common theoretical link to physical phenomena.

Gauge theories are typified by an ability to provide, via the gauge field, point of view invariance [18], that is the laws of nature look the same to all observers despite their particular circumstances. Gauge theories create this invariance by introducing a gauge field or force which serves to act upon phenomena so that it retains a point of view invariance. This is the basis of an objective reality; one where various observers agree as to what they are observing. 

One might wonder why the free energy principle or gauge theory captures significant features of universal Darwinism. Why for example should natural systems minimize their free energy or produce gauge fields to maintain their homeostasis? The short answer is that only those complex systems which act to minimize their free energy or maintain their homeostasis can exist [19]. 

The standard model of particle physics is another scientific path to ‘point of view invariance’, or objectivity at the fundamental physical level. This model is a virtuoso as it exactly accounts for all known fundamental particles; all the particles it describes and only the particles it describes have been experimentally verified.  In addition, it describes three forces through which the fundamental particles may interact. The theories describing these forces take the form of gauge theories. In addition, gravitational theory may also be formulated as a gauge theory. Thus, the best theories of all four forces found in fundamental physics are gauge theories.


We have arrived at the remarkable situation where all evolutionary theories outside of physics as well as the four forces of fundamental physics may be cast as gauge theories. If it were possible to understand the gauge theories of fundament physics as evolutionary theories then we would have approached the goal of a single theoretical framework that explains evolutionary processes taking place in nature, it would provide progress towards a unified theory of existence.

A direct route to this conclusion would be provided if the theory of quantum Darwinism is confirmed. Darwinian theories are Bayesian and therefore may be cast as gauge theories. If quantum Darwinism proves true, then consistency requires that its formulation as a gauge theory must be equivalent to the gauge theories of the standard model.

The gauge theories of the standard model describe four particles called gauge bosons (five if we include the graviton). All interactions between fundamental particles are mediated by the gauge bosons which are said to carry the gauge field. 

We may take gravity, described by the general theory of relativity, as an example. The experience of an observer in free fall is special, they do not experience a gravitational force. Accelerated observers, those not in free fall, do experience a gravitational force. This gravitational force serves to make the experience of the two observers compatible, it acts via an exchange of gravitons to make the experience of observers equivalent; using the theory of gravity all observers will make the same predictions.

We might note that quantum Darwinism provides an alternative understanding to gauge theory of an objective ‘point of view invariance’; it arises because only specific, consistent and redundant information that has been selected by this Darwinian process is available to a large number of observers. Observers of quantum systems may experience those systems only by accessing the available information. All observers will experience the same information and will thus agree on the objective nature of the system. Thus, both gauge theories and quantum Darwinism account for the experience of ‘point of view invariance’ within quantum phenomena, a necessary component of objective existence. However, gauge theories appear conceptually quite different from Darwinian theories. We must dig a little deeper to discover their compatibility.

Friston and colleagues have shown that gauge theories may be constructed from any theory based on variational free energy [8]. They also note that many aspects of biology and neuroscience are describe by variational free energy. Free energy is a measure of the discrepancy between an internal model and the evidence it receives. The principle of variational free energy states that systems will act to minimize the free energy or amount of error between their internal model and the evidence they experience. 

In biological systems, the internal model takes the form of DNA and in neuroscience it takes the form of generative mental models. In biology, for example, an organism’s genome is an internal model which contains a strategy for survival or existence. The free energy principle predicts that organisms will act to minimize errors in their strategy, that they will attempt to survive by accurately and efficiently executing the strategy coded in their genome. 

An organism’s survival may be understood in terms of homeostasis or the maintenance of an internal equilibrium in the face of environmental fluctuations. Maintaining themselves in homeostasis allows the organism to achieve the two main components of existence, persistence and objectivity.

No organism can stray into states too far from its programmed state of equilibrium and continue to exist. As in the Dawkins quote there are far more ways of being dead than being alive and if an organism once strays into a state of death there is no coming back. An organism’s survival and existence depends on its ability to perform its programmed strategy for homeostasis.

When these theories, cast in terms of free energy, are transformed to gauge theories, the actions or behaviours which an entity may employ to maintain homeostasis may be considered gauge fields. They are forces which the entity can employ to maintain itself within existence.

Within physical gauge theories, gauge fields take the form of gauge bosons, such as photons, particles capable of transferring information between fundamental particles. It is the information carried by gauge bosons which allows systems of fundamental particles to appear invariant to local transformations, that is to achieve homeostasis. This information transfer is a quantum interaction and provides the fundamental means by which one entity may gain information of another. As discussed above an entity that in incapable of providing information of itself to other entities cannot be said to exist. Thus, it is also the case with physical gauge theories that the gauge field maintains entities within existence.

Quantum Darwinism also describes the interactions mediated by gauge bosons but has a focus on the transfer of information that these carry between a quantum system and entities in its environment. It describes this information transfer as a Darwinian process, one where many possible forms are attempted but only a few are selected for their ability to survive and reproduce, where only a few forms can achieve homeostasis and objective existence. During an interview at Perimeter Institute Zurek explained [20]:

It turns out in quantum mechanics you can understand the emergence of things which are stable and therefore are candidates for things that are classical using essentially Darwin’s idea. First of all they should be stable in spite of what the environment is trying to do to them …. So that information about the stable states gets multiplied, proliferates, stable states spawn information theoretic copies all over the place, so this is the proliferation of the species, a la Darwin. 

Naming his theory quantum Darwinism is a tribute to Zurek’s intellectual breadth and his ability to recognize analogies across the scope of scientific understanding. It is also a testament to his courage as it has not been popular amongst physicists. Physicist have traditionally viewed themselves as the preeminent scientists whose standards set a very high bar for other fields. Rutherford famously typified biology as ‘stamp collecting’ and Darwin’s most challenging contemporary critic was Lord Kelvin who incorrectly claimed to have demonstrated the impossibility of natural selection. 

The reaction of many physicists to Zurek’s placement of biology’s most central theory at the foundations of physical theory has been to ignore it. Despite its great theoretical advance and support from empirical evidence, Zurek’s biological analogy has largely been shunned. 

Physicists preferred theory of fundamental interactions, Gauge theory, describes quantum interactions as the interaction between a gauge field and a particle. Quantum Darwinism tells us that another way of viewing this interaction is as a Darwinian process. In this view the classical information describing quantum systems which exists and is available in the systems’ environments are adaptive forms; they have been selected by a Darwinian process for their ability to survive and reproduce. This identification of physical gauge fields as adaptations provides a crucial link between physical and post-physical gauge theories.

Scientific understanding of the history of the universe since its beginning in the big bang reveals an evolutionary history. In the very beginning there was only massless radiation. More complex fundamental particles including those having mass emerged in sequence from simple to more complex. This process has continued with the sequential emergence of atoms, molecules, complex chemistry, biology, neural-based behaviour and human culture marking some of the major landmarks. Perhaps the latter items only have an existence on our planet, perhaps there are further emergent forms to be discovered in more remote areas of the universe. However, there is good evidence that the earlier forms, those preceding biology, are common to all corners of the universe.

Over the history of the universe a large number of complex forms have progressively emerged into existence. We may now be on the verge of being able to describe, at least those forms which have emerged in our neighborhood, in terms of a single theoretical framework: gauge theory. It is evident that these forms represent a hierarchy in which the more complex entail the less complex and also that they emerged into existence in a sequential manner from the simple to the more complex over time. 

A unified theory of existence should include a detailed description of this evolutionary process. Again, given that physical gauge theories may be equivalent to quantum Darwinism and post-physical gauge theories may be equivalent to a formulation in terms of the free energy principle, gauge theories may be capable of explaining this evolutionary process. To see how this could work we can first examine the approach taken by Karl Friston and colleagues. His research considers self-organising systems, those systems that have emerged through post-physical evolutionary processes [8]:

The basic idea is that any self-organising system, at nonequilibrium steady-state with its environment, will appear to minimise its (variational) free energy, thus resisting a natural tendency to disorder. This formulation reduces the physiology of biological systems to their homeostasis (and allostasis); namely, the maintenance of their states and form, in the face of a constantly changing environment.

Self-organising systems capable of regulating themselves within homeostatic bounds must contain an internal model which details the required regulation [21]. The system’s challenge is to maintain itself in a state close to that prescribed by its model. This can be viewed as minimizing the error of its model or the surprise experienced by the system. Mathematically this reduction of surprise is bounded by the free energy of the system so the efforts employed by a self-organizing system to maintain its homeostasis may be described mathematically as the minimization of free energy. Friston has proposed this free energy principle as a unifying principle in biology and neuroscience [19].

Nature has many means of winnowing phenomena out of existence which may be summarized as the second law of thermodynamics. It is well known that the adaptations which allow organisms to resist these forces towards disorder have evolved through the Darwinian process of natural selection and it has been shown that the Bayesian mathematics describing Darwinian processes are equivalent to a formulation in terms of the free energy principle [5]. Friston and colleagues have recently proposed that the resistance to disorder employed by complex systems may also be formulated in terms of gauge theory [8]:

If the minimisation of variational free energy is a ubiquitous aspect of biological systems, could it be the Lagrangian of a gauge theory? This (free energy) Lagrangian has proved useful in understanding many aspects of functional brain architectures; for example, its hierarchical organisation and the asymmetries between forward and backward connections in cortical hierarchies. In this setting, the system stands for the brain (with neuronal or internal states), while the environment (with external states) is equipped with continuous forces and produces local sensory perturbations that are countered through action and perception (that are functionals of the gauge field).

In a gauge theory, it is the gauge field which is responsible for countering local asymmetries or fluctuations and maintaining homeostasis. Biological theory understands that it is adaptations, evolved through Darwinian processes, which serve to achieve homeostasis.  This suggests that gauge fields, in post-physical gauge theories, may also be interpreted as adaptations brought into existence by Darwinian processes which in turn suggests a unified interpretation among gauge theories of homeostasis maintained by the actions of adaptations brought into existence through Darwinian processes.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the development of physical gauge theories was the process of renormalization by which finite predictions concerning the state of a system can be made. The main idea of renormalization is to correct the original Lagrangian of a gauge theory by a series of counterterms. If the minimization of free energy may be the Lagrangian of a post physical gauge theory, as suggested by Friston et. al, then the renormalization of this theory would perhaps involve the adding up of the counter terms provided by the gauge field, in this case the sum of the system’s adaptations. The sum of the adaptations may act to maintain homeostasis and allow existence.

Explaining the evolutionary transitions to a new, more complex, hierarchical form is a greater challenge for evolutionary theory than explaining the maintenance of homeostasis within an existing form. For example, a detailed explanation of the evolution of chemistry to life has eluded researchers for decades. Recent research indicates that this may finally be within our grasp. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have constructed a ribozyme from chemical building blocks that can basically serve both to amplify genetic information and to generate functional molecules. In the opinion of some experts, the one remaining barrier between this chemistry and life is to have the ribozyme make copies of itself. As the lead author, Gerald Joyce, explains [22]:

“A polymerase ribozyme that achieves exponential amplification of itself will meet the criteria for being alive,” Joyce said. “That’s a summit that’s now within sight.”

Researchers are now working feverishly to accomplish this last step.

Perhaps for our purposes it is more important to understand how life might be discovered or selected from the multitude of possible chemical reactions and established within existence as a new self-organizing system. The technique used by Joyce’s team in their discovery is called in vitro evolution or directed evolution. This is a Darwinian process developed by chemists for the discovery of new chemical forms. Basically, the process starts with a first generation of potential molecules having some variations amongst them, then these molecules are tested for the desired chemical qualities and a relatively small number which have qualities closest to the goal are retained. In the next generation, many copies of the retained molecules are made having small random variations and the process is repeated. The long sought discovery of Joyce’s ribozyme was accomplished in the 24th generation.

If it proves possible to go the next step and create a life form, it will demonstrate that this Darwinian process is a method capable of creating complex systems which are themselves subject to evolution. It seems likely that nature accomplished the initial transition from chemistry to life using a similar method. We might note that in this view the Darwinian process is a constant over time. It operates in the realm of chemistry, per the principles of quantum Darwinism, discovering and retaining complex forms capable of existence and when it accomplishes the transition to life this transition is typified by a new type of Darwinian process, natural selection, which continues to discover and retain further complex forms capable of existence.

We may understand systems, such as the one created by Joyce’s team, both as adaptations selected by a Darwinian process and as gauge fields capable of maintaining homeostasis in a new complex system. This may again suggest the view that gauge fields can be considered evolutionary agents capable of bringing new complex systems into existence.

This essay has argued that much of the phenomena studied by science may be described using gauge theories and that the gauge fields of these theories may be typified as adaptations which have evolved through Darwinian processes. In this view Darwinian processes are responsible both for bringing new phenomena into existence and for maintaining systems within existence. This approach may go some way towards developing a unified theory of existence.
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