The Basic Building Blocks of Life: My Analogy for Evolution

The Basic Building Blocks of Life follow simple rules: red sides connect to blue sides and like-colored sides repel.
Single blocks cannot survive for very long in a harsh environment.
Some block configurations show unique properties that may be beneficial for their survival.

Energy

In order for a system to evolve, pieces within that system must be able to move. In order for things to move, they require energy. While the motion can technically be at any speed, such as slow moving plate tectonics, faster motion will help things evolve faster. One of the reasons that water is such a great facilitator for life on Earth is that it allows for a lot of fluid motion. Water, in its liquid or gaseous form, is very good at dispersing energy. Energy from the Sun and from the Earth’s core move water around. This movement, caused by the changing of densities and pressures, is critical for life formation since the movement instigates the mixing and combining of various chemicals.

Randomness

Reality is inherently random, which is great for evolution. Combining randomness with motion can yield some surprisingly ordered results, including creating something complex from something simple. Imagine a set of blocks whose motion is fixed (not random), oscillating back and forth next to each other for all eternity.

Combining randomness with motion can yield some surprisingly ordered results, including creating something complex from something simple.

Not very exciting. Without some randomness to spice things up evolution would not be possible; things would just follow their predefined paths and never go down the road less travelled which leads to exciting new possibilities that are unimaginable in a world with only fixed motions.

Survival of the Fittest

If evolution could have one defining feature it would be survival of the fittest. This concept is not only applicable to macro-sized animals where one needs to kill the other to survive, it also applies to the tiniest of systems. In our analogy we define that the more blocks that are stacked together the longer they will survive. Given random motion and enough time there would be lots of three-block stacks, four-block stacks, and probably some five and six-block stacks. These longer and longer stacks of blocks will connect to become “stronger” and build more and more complex systems. The random stacks of blocks that can live longest in their dangerous environments will be the ones to go on and possibly replicate.

Replication

Surviving is great, but no individual system can reasonably be expected to survive forever. In order for something to truly survive on a planet as dangerous as earth, the evolving system needs the ability to replicate its information. It’s great if a 500-block megastructure can survive a glacial ice-age, but eventually it will get destroyed by something, perhaps by a 6km wide meteor, and if it does not have the ability to replicate then it will be destroyed forever, never to be seen or heard from again in the remaining lifespan of the Universe. Yikes!

Time

Evolution doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s one of the slowest and most complex processes that exist on earth, taking billions of years to get to where we are today. For some insights into how complex life has evolved, one of the most basic organisms we know of, a single-celled bacteria called Mycoplasma genitalium, could be partially simulated by using 128 computers which needed to run for 9 to 10 hours and generated a half-gigabyte of data; and that’s just a very basic, single cell.

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Clay C. Edgar

Clay C. Edgar

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Engineer, business owner, father and thinker. I think great ideas are worth talking about.