Most people are familiar with the idea of natural selection. Some things
survive better than others - and the world which observers witness is
populated by the things that are good at surviving. The idea is sometimes
known as "survival of the fittest".
However, many people associate this idea with life - and with living systems.
What is less-commonly understood is that the principle of natural selection is
a broad and deep one, which also applies to systems which are not alive.
Natural selection affects everything that comes into existence. Whether
or not it comes into existence via a copying process is irrelevant.
For example, when you see the pebbles on a beach, the ones you see will
mostly be hard ones - which are made of materials which are difficult to erode.
This is because softer and more fragile stones have already been
been pounded into sand - and have sunk to the bottom.
Also: clouds often appear to be white, light and fluffy because natural
selection has already dragged any heavy water droplets out of them, and
fine water vapor particles are usually all that is left.
The principle of natural selection is not confined to living
systems. Its effects can be seen in action everywhere. So:
When observes look at the sky, they see the stars that are shining - and
not the ones that have previously burned out or exploded;
The elementary particles that are observed in the universe tend to be
the stable ones - the ones with long half-lives;
The tops of mountains tend to be covered in hard rocks that resist erosion -
since any soft rocks there tend to get washed away;
The meteorites, comets and satellites observed in orbit are the ones that
have not yet crashed into any planets or stars.
I am not aware of an existing term for this idea - and so I think it needs
christening. I think the most obvious terms for the idea are "
pan-selectionism" and "universal selection". Both terms are
already currently being used in different contexts:
"Pan-selectionism" is used as a derogatory term - which means more-or-less
the same thing as "pan-adaptationism" - a term used to refer to the idea that
evolution is driven almost exclusively by natural selection, and that all
features of organisms have an adaptive explanation;
"Universal selection" has been used mainly to refer to the ideas about
cultural evolution in Gary Cziko's book, Without Miracles.
I think "universal selection" is the best term for the idea. I think
this idea has a better claim on the title that is represented by the ideas in
Without Miracles - so I think the best thing to do is to simply to
adopt usage of the term.
The term "selection" has been criticised for falsely implying a selector - and
for falsely implying a choice beween discrete and disjoint alternatives.
"Filtering" or "sorting" would probably be a more accurate literal description
of what happens to the persistent patterns - though even those terms are not
quite right. However, the term "selection" is already used
ubiquitously in this context - so: my current assessment is that fighting
against that terminology is a batttle that was lost some time ago.
The idea of Universal Selection can be classified as belonging with
other ideas about self-organising systems - which is an area associated with
maths and physics.
If evolution can be thought of as consiting of reproduction, variation and
selection, then only reproduction is confined to living systems - both
variation and selection occur in non-living ones. That means that we can
expect to see some Darwinian dynamics exhibited in non-living systems. Indeed,
that is what we see - many self-organising systems that are not
alive nontheless exhibit some of the qualities normally associated
with living systems - such as the ability to maintain homeostasis in the face
of environmental perturbances.
Self-organising systems is an area which is currently represented poorly
within the eduction system - and "Universal Selection" is a poorly-recognised
idea in the field. As a result of these factors, many people are not aware of
Natural selection is currently taught in biology classes. It should probably
be taught in physics classes. It is a fairly basic principle, broadly similar
to the laws of thermodynamics. Natural selection in biology is best understood
as a special case of this much more general and fundamental principle.