Combination & decomposition

Despite the lack of frenzy action that is the hallmark of living organisms, the inanimate world surrounding them is no stranger to change. It only takes more time for differences to show.

Two mechanisms drive constructive change: combination brings things together, while variation exposes things to different conditions (such as light, heat, or pressure). Consider geology as an example: sediments result from combination, metamorphic rocks from variation. Together these two mechanisms created the entire inanimate world: from simple atoms and more complex chemical elements to solar systems and galaxies.

From a human (anthropomorphic) point of view, we like to ascribe this creation either to a ‘prime mover’ or to serendipity and chance. Yet we have to recognise that everything in the inanimate world, from the smallest to the biggest, came into existence without agency, purpose, or meaning, solely through combination and variation.

Once again, there are destructive mechanisms at work: physical degradation and chemical decomposition. We have many technical terms describing these processes, for example erosion, corrosion, and dissolution. Together, they cause what we experience as wear and tear: things that appeared to be perfectly fine do come apart, sometimes slowly, sometimes all of a sudden.

Counter-acting mechanisms giving rise to novelty and causing decay have shaped the universe for billions of years. They originated with the Big Bang and the uneven distribution of matter and energy that fuelled all change ever since.

This is the sixth in a series of short posts on the origins of innovation.

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