Evolution, time machines and language

0. Preliminary

Evolution (of living things, engineering designs or whatever) proceeds through construction of instances of the evolving object, such as an insect. For each instance, the details of its construction are a bit different, according to the set of genes which it carries. In the case of computer programs (for example), the term "genes" is not to be understood literally but as source code, which can have different versions.

The various instances are then subjected to the natural forces of the world in which they are supposed to survive. The more successful instances are "rewarded" by having more offsprings which are similar to them in the future. For example, genes which make an insect more successful in its struggle for survival - have better chance of being propagated to the next generation of insects. This is simple Survival by the Fittest.


1. Big question

Now, the question is asked what would happen to the world of evolving objects if a time machine were introduced into it. For the purpose of our discussion, a time machine is an apparatus which can be used to transmit information from the future to the past.

The interesting information in our case is instructions (such as genes or software or engineering designs) for construction of very successful objects.

In the following I'll argue that the only effect of introduction of a time machine will be to speed up the rate of evolution.


2. The Leonardo de-Vinci phenomenon

For information transmitted from the future to be useful by evolving creatures, it must be interpreted by them and acted upon. In the case of genes, they must be introduced into nuclei and be activated. In the case of software, there must be computers with sufficiently large memory to be able to execute it. In the case of engineering drawings, there must be methods for manufacturing the suggested articles. In the case of books with information, the language (including any specialized jargon) must be understood by the humans who are supposed to act upon it.

When the infrastructure does not exist, the information from the future is useless (an example is the designs of Leonardo de-Vinci, which were not manufacturable and were useless in the world of his days).


3. Conclusion

In order for information from the future to be useful, the infrastructure for interpreting it and acting upon it must already exist. On the other hand, once the requisite infrastructure exists, it is possible, given enough time, to generate all combinations of instructions for manufacturing more successful insects (or better computer programs), and try them out. Thus, the only effect of information from the future is to shorten the time required to experiment with all possibilities - by eliminating those possibilities which we have been informed from the future that they won't work.

Therefore, the only effect will be to shorten the time scale in which evolution proceeds.

Last update: 
2005 Dec 3