Evolution is parallel computing

Let’s say you created a program with a simple yet specific goal: to persist. This program would iterate by replicating itself and branching off into new directions with very simple changes to the underlying code. Each version of the program is without volition, yet, if successful in persisting long enough to replicate, it will pass along key components to the next version. This would grant further success and the program would survive.

DNA is this program and we who inhabit the earth are its compiled result. If all life is the result of this process of iteration (biological evolution), it makes sense that to iterate more rapidly and efficiently it would help to have multiple branches, populations, and individuals iterating in parallel rather than attempting to iterate serially from a single line of individual organisms. In other words, maybe our rich biodiversity is the result of Life increasing its processing power by developing in parallel.

DNA HelixLife started out with a limited ability to create new versions with significant variation. In the beginning, presumably only a handful of different organisms existed (maybe even an ur-lifeform, or grandfather organism) and these tended to be unicellular with minute amounts of genetic information. As life forms evolved and grew more complex, they incorporated other single-cell organisms into them and adapted sexual reproduction, which granted enhanced variability in genetic information through the combination of two sets of different yet fundamentally compatible DNA sequences.

Other thoughts:

  1. Life has developed from simple forms with limited genetic information and a limited impact on its environment, to complex forms with complex genetic information and a more pronounced impact on its environment. How will this trend continue? Will it?
  2. Life has developed multiple methods of reproduction trending from simple to more complex, which has led to greater genetic diversity. Is there a logical improvement on sexual reproduction? Intelligent, self-directed mutation? A networked organism comprised of intelligent individually evolving components?
  3. The human genome consists of 3 billion base pairs, which is equivalent to about 750 MB. Our genome contains genetic information from more primitive organisms (bloatware?) just as our physical structure has primitive antecedents.
  4. Our biological systems have tended from simple to complex. Consider the development of the eye, or the heart (fish have a two-chambered heart, birds a three-chambered heart, and mammals a four-chambered heart), for example. Is technology the proper extension of this complexity? (This is a point made in The Singularity is Near)
  5. Semi-related: The symbolic use of information in religious sources like the Bible is reminds me of the idea of DNA as living information: From John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” and Revelation 1:8 “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
  6. Zawinski’s law: “Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.”

Tags: , ,


  1. Chris, What an interesting post! I like this kind of thinking, even though I am not equiped to write it….I can think it. This very morning Alice and I were walking this same street, trying to see how much further it may go. Perhaps we need a GPS to show us the way. What is scary is that some populations, all kinds, expand untill they die. Mayby we will come back as mosses or lichens, or both.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Hollis, eventually it may even be a luxury to get lost as we’ll probably always know where we are!

  3. Your connection to biblical scripture is something I’ve been researching for a while now. The idea is that we now know that all life on earth is intimately related and use the same basis, that is DNA, genetics, natural selection, etc. If such is the case, it begs the question: Does ancient and supposely sacred scripture ever describe this most profound fact of life. I’m not just talking about Luke 8:11 ” The parable is this: the seed is the word of God” (indeed a seed is the container of DNA and the elements of life), or the sort of “In the beginning was the word” phrases, although they are interesting. I was looking for more, for a more complete description of DNA. I encourage you to check out my new book “Coils of the Serpent” on the topic here: http://www.coilsoftheserpent.com. I think you’ll find it interesting. (I chose to use fictional characters to describe the pattern match, so it is a novel, but it is expressing nonfiction.)