Stuart Kauffman

Paper #: 96-08-072

The most general aim of "Investigations" is to explore whether there might, conceivably, be some general laws governing a certain class of non-equilibrium systems--namely the class of coevolutionary self-constructing communities of autonomous agents. The first lecture discusses the general character of "fitness landscapes," of coevolutionary processes in which the adaptive moves of one "agent" deforms the fitness landscapes of its partners, and tries to show that an endogenous coevolutionary process allows "agents," each adapting for its own selfish "fitness," to tune the couplings and ruggedness of their fitness landscapes such that the entire system achieves a specific self-organized critical state. The second lecture discusses a theory of the origin of life as a phase transition in chemical reaction networks from subcritical to supracritical behavior. In the third lecture I turn to a key issue: What properties must a physical system have such that it can be said to be able to "act on its own behalf." In the forth lecture I attempt to consider autonomous agents as non-equilibrium Maxwell Demons. Lecture 5 focuses on a formulation of a working hypothesis suggesting that communities of autonomous agents will come to lie in the vicinity of three apparently different phase transitions. In the sixth lecture I raise new issues, then try to bring several strands somewhat together. I note that there is an indefinite hierarchy of Agents, for Agents can be comprised of Agents. The hierarchy reflects a hierarchy of combinatorially complex entities. I discuss the emergence of true novelty in evolution--what biologists call "exaptations," and raise the question as to whether any basement language of "functions" could prestate all possible functionalities that can arise in coevolving hierarchies of agents. In the seventh lecture I try to sketch some possible extensions of the ideas about a biosphere to the universe itself.