Sunday, 24 September 2017

Megaclones

Large-scale cloning is common in both organic and cultural evolution. Multi-cellular organisms are largely clones of a single genotype, though some "somatic mosaicism" does happen. In the cultural realm, there are large-scale clones of a variety of books, music files, vidoes and pieces of computer software.

Though there's not much difference between organic and cultural evolution in this respect, they do seem a little bit different when it comes to spatially-distributed megaclones. In the organic realm, megaclones are mostly single organisms. Asexual reproduction does produce a similar effect. For example, dandelions reproduce asexually, and nearby dandelion plants are often closely related. However, there's no coordination maintaining the genetic similarity, and so over time the genomes diverge.

In the cultural realm, if you look at software like Android or iOS, these are massive distributed megaclones. These are good examples of cultural eusociality. The manufacturer is like the queen, while the individual phone handsets are like drones. Unlike the situation with ants or bees, variation due to sexual recombination is pretty minimal - so the whole system is closely related and can be modelled as being a single distributed cultural organism.

Money is another classic example of a large-scale distributed cultural megaclone. The notes and coins are typically identical on a large scale (not counting their serial numbers). Here the "queen" is the mint, while the notes are the "drones".

Megaclones are often important determinants of what counts as an evolutionary unit. A megaclone can be modelled as an individual, or an organism, without too much concern for conflict between the cloned units.

That distributed megaclones seem more viable in the cultural realm has an important effect on the evolutionary dynamics involved - namely cultural evolution has lifted the size limit on organisms. Blue whales are pretty big animals, but cultural megaclones, can span the entire planet easily these days. It looks as though some future organisms will be enormous.

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