The isotopic composition of carbonate carbon (“delta 13C”) in the rock record is a central benchmark for global geochemical change, because it tracks the relative amount of organic and inorganic carbon flowing through the ocean and sediment systems, which connects it to oxygen, ocean alkalinity, temperature (via CO2), and numerous other processes. One of the most immediately obvious features of the delta-13-C record over the entire course of Earth’s history is that the amplitude and period of fluctuation declines over time. In this paper, myself and my colleagues Tais Dahl, Christian Bjerrum and Donald Canfield conduct a comparative study of different mathematical models seeking to explain the nature of such delta-13C fluctuations. We note that many of the more realistic explanations center on low oxygen levels in marine sediments – and we suggest, roughly speaking, that when moving animals evolved and ventilated such sediments, these fluctuations became less likely.
From a broader point of view, this fits in with a general principle first identified by Vladimir Vernadsky; that life is the source of qualitative change in the thermodynamic field of the biosphere. One interpretation of this principle is that when we observe a clear directional change in the geochemical record, a biological influence is the first thing we should check for.
This paper reviews the fossil evidence and theoretical scenarios pertaining to the second biggest (the first being the origin of life) unanswered question in evolutionary biology; the origin of eukaryotes (large complex cells with nuclei). I suggest that this event illustrates a general principle: Qualitative transitions in biological complexity occur when the physical environment forces survival, rather than fecundity, to become the dominant component of fitness. I also argue that this is relevant to the general idea of novelty as a result of the forcing together of qualitatively different systems that function in similar ways but are composed of different stuff…
Philosophical arguments are developed concerning the definition and manifestation of novelty, from the perspective of long-term life/environment coevolution:
1) Novelty is most usefully defined as discontinuity in the distribution of cause and effect relationships within time (where a causal relationship is defined in a simple sense as a repetitive temporal association between changes, and a change is in turn defined as the conjunction of identity and temporality).
2) A pragmatic reading of the history of life on Earth (and, more generally, any non-steady state cosmology) justifies the claims that novelty (according to this definition):
(a) Is unequivocally real, but also rare and step-like in nature.
(b) Is the natural phenomenon that imparts direction to time – both in terms of objective application of the scientific method to the past, and the unique importance of time in consciousness/human subjectivity.
(c) Exhibits a closer analogy to symbiosis, in the biological sense, than to any other natural phenomenon.
3) A necessary but not sufficient condition for the occurrence of novelty is the prolonged interaction of systems with similar function but different structure.
(a)Where function is defined, with respect to a given system, as causal repetition unique to, and operating within that system, and structure is defined as repetition dictated by the nature of that system’s material constituents, and imposing constraints on function.
(b) The actual instant at which novelty occurs is identifiable by the fact that changes that initially occur in a temporally inconsistent manner, due to random consequences of the structural difference between the systems, begin to occur consistently at the level of the two initial systems combined.
(c) Both the phenomena of symbiosis and of genetic assimilation may be relevant analogies.
4) The reality of novelty provides a metaphysical grounding for the fact that all objective language must continuously semantically evolve, reconciling the early and late works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and having implications for philosophical treatments of subjectivity relative to linguistic expression.
5) Although empirically speaking, novelty can only ever be identified retrospectively, it is suggested that development of a mathematical framework for the tracking of causal discontinuity within contexts that give rise bottlenecks of prolonged interactions between unrelated systems, may be of exploratory value.
I have written a book about why new things happen, here’s a pdf. There is a short summary at the front. If you would like to buy a paper copy or higher quality Ebook-style pdf, please visit the amazon profile:
Or buy directly from the publisher (University Press of America) here: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780761867081/Natural-Novelty-The-Newness-Manifest-in-Existence
Thanks for your interest.