Posted by: zyxo | April 19, 2008

Does Self-reproduction exist ?

Image via Wikipedia

In the intelligent universe by James Gardner he writes about the four essential elements for self-reproducing objects (John von Neumann) :

  1. a blueprint with the info
  2. a factory with the construction
  3. a controller to see to it that construction follows the blueprint
  4. a duplicating machine to copy the blueprint

Gardner uses this model to explain his model of cosmological replication.

But what about evolution/natural selection and this four essential elements?

In other words : does evolution works with self-reproducing objects like von Neumann machines, or does it use another mechanism?

Are these self-reproducing objects :

  • genes
  • chromosomes
  • bacteriums
  • mammals
  • chickens
  • eggs


What is a self-reproducing object ? stricty speaking : something, no matter where you put it, it replicates itself. Of course to the four essential elements, you have to add some basic matter, otherwise you can only make copies that are half the size of the original (if you split in 2 for example).

With self-replicating objects, there can be no evolution. The controller prevents any deviation from the blueprint, so everything will stay exactly the same. So far for the controller. This leaves us with a blueprint, a factory and a blueprint-copy-machine, or in other words :

  • information (= the blueprint)
  • an environment (=the factury, including the copy machine, but also the substrate to hold the information)

So where are we ?

We have som information that is stored on some substrate.


  • genes contain the information to build some creature, and that information is stored by means of DNA or RNA. To do the replication there is a whole environment providing the basic materials, the factory and the copy machine to replicate the genes. The replicate can be different from the original by copy errors/mutations
  • a meme is some information stored in for example a human brain, or is written in a book, or is being typed in a wordpad textprocessor right now. I you have an environment with humans and computers in it it can be duplicated by means of copy/past, by reading it loud and recording it … and adapting it, so it does not contain exactly the same information any more
  • a cristal that is growing contains information of how that cristal is built. The environment uses this information to add to that cristal
  • an egg contains the information to build a chicken. With the right environment (chickens, food ..) it becomes a chicken which lays eggs

What I mean by these examples is : to have -not necessarily exact- replication you only need something, information and an environment that can use this information to make a copy or to even make something else, provided the first information is used. And when you have this replication the result is evolution. This holds from the first nanosecond of the big bang to the selfish biocosm hypothesis (a cosmos where creatures develop that become so intelligent that they make new/altered copies of the cosmos).

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