Does evolution tend to converge on attractors?

On February 13, 2021, I left this comment on Pumpkin Person’s blog: “Maybe the long-term trend across the universe is towards orthogenesis, towards greater intelligence, towards technological singularity. Just like the long-term trend for matter and energy is the formation of stars and planets, galaxies and superclusters. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we as a species will always eventually get smarter. We’re just one species on one planet in the cosmos.

Pumpkin said he loved this analogy, and used it to introduce his next blog post, “Evolution is progressive: Debunking Gould’s drunkard walk metaphor“. That inspired me to keep contemplating this concept, but I don’t think its implications fully ‘clicked’ with me until I recently stumbled across this Wikipedia article about ‘attractors:’ “In the mathematical field of dynamical systems, an attractor is a set of numerical values toward which a system tends to evolve, for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system. System values that get close enough to the attractor values remain close even if slightly disturbed.

This beautifully expresses my basic point about intelligence being what I less accurately defined as natural evolution’s ‘long-term trend,’ although I won’t yet go so far as to claim that intelligence as we understood is literally and precisely an attractor in the formal sense meant here.

There are many other striking examples of convergent evolution, but what I’m talking about here is infinitely more detached from specific lineage or phenotype. Intelligence grants the ability to adapt to new situations and is therefore the ultimate adaptation, the meta-adaptation. The natural deduction is that wherever life arises in the universe, if its environment allows greater intelligence to evolve, some strain of it will eventually do so.

I suspect that the longer I think about these concepts, the more I will feel compelled to wax poetic in a manner that would distract from the central point, so I’ll save those expositions for another time.

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