There has been a self-propelling gore-meme building here about the cosmic butcher’s yard. It might be necessary to scrub that (or perhaps hose it down). Until we’re discussing a nuked butcher’s yard, we’re not approaching a topic Gnonologists should be ready to get out of bed for.
‘Extinction Events Can Accelerate Evolution’ argue Joel Lehman and Risto Miikkulainen (at the link cited). Their abstract:
Extinction events impact the trajectory of biological evolution significantly. They are often viewed as upheavals to the evolutionary process. In contrast, this paper supports the hypothesis that although they are unpredictably destructive, extinction events may in the long term accelerate evolution by increasing evolvability. In particular, if extinction events extinguish indiscriminately many ways of life, indirectly they may select for the ability to expand rapidly through vacated niches. Lineages with such an ability are more likely to persist through multiple extinctions. Lending computational support for this hypothesis, this paper shows how increased evolvability will result from simulated extinction events in two computational models of evolved behavior. The conclusion is that although they are destructive in the short term, extinction events may make evolution more prolific in the long term.
(The computer dimension catches Kurzweil’s attention, but that’s a distraction right now.)
Chronic cosmic holocaust, it seems, is just for the tweaks. It’s mostly conservative, preventing deterioriation in mutational load, through quasi-continuous culling of nature’s minor freakeries. In order to actually up the game, nothing quite substitutes for a super-compressed catastrophe (or mass extinction) which cranks evolution to the meta-level of superior ‘evolvability’. By gnawing-off and burning entire branches of life, crises plowing deep into the X-risk zone stimulate plasticity in the biosphere’s phyletic foundations. As Kurzweil glosses the finding: “… some evolutionary biologists hypothesize that extinction events actually accelerate evolution by promoting those lineages that are the most evolvable, meaning ones that can quickly create useful new features and abilities.”
Or, as the Lehman and Miikkulainen paper explains:
The overall hypothesis is that repeated extinction events may result in increasing evolvability. By creating a survival bottleneck dependent upon unpredictable phenotypic traits, extinction events may indirectly select for lineages that can diversify quickly across the space of such phenotypes. … if radiating through niches generally requires modifying phenotypic traits, then this process of stochastic emptying and re-filling of ecological niches may select indirectly for the ability to radiate quickly, i.e. higher evolvability.
Gnon isn’t Malthus. It’s the thing toasting Malthus’ liver — in the fat-fed smoldering ashes of the biological kingdom it just burnt down.