Winter 2018, Vol. 24, No. 1, Pages 29-48
© 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Robustness and Contingent History: From Prisoner's Dilemma to Gaia Theory
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In both social systems and ecosystems there is a need to resolve potential conflicts between the interests of individuals and the collective interest of the community. The collective interests need to survive the turbulent dynamics of social and ecological interactions. To see how different systems with different sets of interactions have different degrees of robustness, we need to look at their different contingent histories. We analyze abstract artificial life models of such systems, and note that some prominent examples rely on explicitly ahistorical frameworks; we point out where analyses that ignore a contingent historical context can be fatally flawed. The mathematical foundations of Gaia theory are presented in a form whose very basic and general assumptions point to wide applicability across complex dynamical systems. This highlights surprising connections between robustness and accumulated contingent happenstance, regardless of whether Darwinian evolution is or is not implicated. Real-life studies highlight the role of history, and artificial life studies should do likewise.