Universal Darwinism and the Origins of Order

  • John O. Campbell
  • Michael E. Price
Conference paper
Part of the Springer Proceedings in Complexity book series (SPCOM)


In this chapter we describe the ‘universal Darwinism’ framework which proposes the following. The observable universe results from two types of processes: (1) disorder’s tendency to increase in isolated systems (the second law of thermodynamics) and (2) Darwinian selection, which produces orderly entities that can withstand the second law. Darwinian processes generate complex order not just in the biological domain but in all five domains of nature. These domains exist in a nested hierarchy as follows (in order of decreasing fundamentalness): cosmological, quantum, biological, neural, and cultural. Each qualifies as a distinct domain, because each is characterized by a distinct ‘knowledge repository’, that is, a cumulative store of information about existence requirements in that domain (e.g. in the biological domain, a genome). Knowledge repositories are probabilistic models which make guesses about how to exist, guesses which are then tested for accuracy by the ‘embodied adapted system’ (e.g. phenotype) encoded by the knowledge repository. The repository then undergoes a Bayesian update based on test results and thus becomes less ignorant and less entropic. These natural inferential systems evolve according to ‘variance–inheritance–selection’ Darwinian dynamics, with wiser knowledge repositories leaving more copies behind. Each new domain’s knowledge repository computationally transforms the substrate of the earlier domain (e.g. cultural repositories orchestrate the neural substrate) to generate innovative ways of overcoming the second law in the new domain. We conclude that Darwinian theory, as an explanation for the origins of complex order in the universe, may be far more fundamental than is conventionally supposed.


Universal Darwinism Universal selection Entropy Bayesian inference Inferential systems Quantum Darwinism Cosmological natural selection 



We would like to thank Karl Friston for a number of comments and suggestions which have been incorporated into this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • John O. Campbell
    • 1
  • Michael E. Price
    • 2
  1. 1.VictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Life Sciences, Centre for Culture and EvolutionBrunel University LondonUxbridgeUK

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