What is a protocol and how are protocols essential to evolution?

Protocols serve as a grammar for evolution. A grammar defines constraints on what is possible and what is not, and to what degree something might be possible. The irony is that if everything were possible, then nothing could exist, or if it did exist, it could not be recognized as existing.

Protocols are habits or constraints that allow otherwise independent systems to interoperate, forming more highly articulated systems.

For something to be recognized as existing, it must be distinct. Nothing would be distinct amidst the infinitesimal gradation of variation arising in a world of unlimited possibility. Therefore, it is only because some things are not possible that gaps exist in the spectrum of possibility, and these gaps are what distinguish each entity.

While protocols deny possible courses of action, their service as grammar makes them the cradle of evolution. They seem paradoxically to unlock possibilities rather than limit them. This is intuitive; without civil law, we also would be slaves to brutality.

Protocols are not directives. They are not forceful, and in fact, they characterize a more relaxed state than immediately surrounding states. A graph of a protocol's energy state, if such a graph is possible, would show the protocol as a gully in the midst of a high plain.

The physical economics of protocols mean that protocols have the lowest cost configuration of all participating systems. Alternatives exist with lower costs, but protocols prevail over competitors when costs are considered globally.

A protocol defines the global minimal energy state for all participating systems. Being minimal energy states, protocols are quite stable once established.

Because individual players must generally move away from their most relaxed isolated state in order to move into a protocol-directed relaxed state, the odds are stacked against the emergence protocols. Other mechanisms must come into play.

An example of such a mechanism might be a motor that arranges a system for its own energy economy, but then later disappears after having pulled other players into a globally minimal state that was convenient for the motor. After the motor disappears, the arrangement remains as a protocol.

Another protocol-inducing factor might be an oscillation, or more likely, a set of oscillations that might periodically push isolated parts of the system into regions where the protocol could emerge. Analyzing how protocols emerge from such oscillations could be quite complex and technically difficult.

Identifying and understanding these mechanisms will yield interesting insight into how systems boostrap themselves. The bootstrapping dilemma, in turn, is central to understanding self-evolution and the distinction between life and non-life.

Michael Webb, 2001

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