Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The complexity bias (3)

Planet Earth formed around 4.54 billion years ago. Around 3.8 billion years ago, or 750 million years later, one cell or unicellular organisms, like bacteria, developed. This situation existed for some 2 billion years. Around 1.85 billion years ago, multicellular organisms developed. Ever since that moment, complexity in Life and Nature has increased: from funghi, to plants, to fish, to amphibians, to reptiles, to birds, to mammals, and finally to humans.

During these 2 billion years of solo reign by one cell or unicellular organisms, multicellular organisms must have tried – and failed – to successfully develop. This explains the 3rd question in my blog The complexity bias (part 2): Why did multicellular organisms not return back to single-celled life?

In a 2017 NASA Astrobiology article (“How Did Multicellular Life Evolve?”), it’s assumed that the development of multicellular organisms is usually about cooperation. The article acknowledges that cooperation is not a given and that cheaters and freeloaders profit from – and even harm – these other cells. The article mentions cancer cells as an example.

The unusual relationship between cooperation and complexity makes me wonder about the validity of the cooperation argument. Moreover, other studies contradict this cooperation argument. Science-2015: “new research shows that many ants in a colony seem to specialize in doing nothing at all.” Science Alert-2017: “40% of worker ants are actually lazy slackers, but they have their reasons” (original source: PLOS one).

Ants are not that different from humans. Humans also have productive and unproductive workforces. The national employment-to-population ratios give some indication but these exclude people <15 and >64 years of age. Students and retired people are also reserve workforces, especially in times of crisis.

The production of an automobile is a complex assignment. Mass production of automobiles can only be achieved by breaking up the production process into many simpler tasks. The assembly line fits the many different auto parts together into a complete and complex car. Cooperation exists within and between specialised teams. It’s doubtful that any automobile would ever get ready by just adding production workers to a factory (eg, Phys-2018).

Complexity has always been solved by introducing specialization: in parenting, in sports, in studies, and especially at work. The cooperation between specialised teams requires a lot of “brainpower” (eg, management). Similarly, our highly specialised human body would not be able to function without our brain and its immense power. 

Specialization is about reducing complexity by creating simpler tasks. A few days ago, I suddenly realised: If complexity is the direction of Life, then simplicity is its means to survive.

(Can you) See the Light (1988) by The Jeff Healey Band

artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

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