Scientists Discover Nature’s ‘Missing Law’

Nearly 164 years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, a team of scientists and philosophers have proposed a new law of nature that applies to the world beyond living organisms.

Beyond biological evolution

Darwin and Alfred Wallace discovered that natural selection drove evolution. Here, selection pressures result in organisms best adapted to their environment. The new paper, On the Roles of Function and Selection in Evolving Systems, suggests that a similar law underpins many non-living natural systems. That includes planets, stars, atoms, minerals, and even weather.

The scientists argue that these systems evolve, becoming more complex and diverse.

cell division

Cell division is a sea urchin embryo. The paper argues that, like life, non-living organisms also evolve to become more complex. Photo: Shutterstock


Nature’s missing law

“We have well-documented laws that describe such everyday phenomena as forces, motions, gravity, electricity, magnetism, and energy,” Robert Hazen, a co-author of the study, told Reuters. “But these laws do not, individually or collectively, describe or explain why the universe keeps getting more diverse and complex at scales of atoms, molecules, minerals, and more.”

The researchers named this missing law the “law of increasing functional information.” They identified three selection pressures that apply to evolving systems. These are novelty, stability, and the ability to continue the processes that lead to this more general evolution.

Stars evolve too

According to the authors, one example of an evolving non-living system is stars. The first stars formed after the Big Bang were mainly composed of hydrogen. As time went on, their cores formed some 20 heavier elements. When they exploded at the end of their cycles, it led to the next generation of stars. These newer stars eventually generated more than 100 elements.

A well-known emission nebula with regions of star formation in the constellation of Cassiopeia.

A well-known emission nebula with regions of star formation in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Photo: Shutterstock


“Earth’s biosphere is the most complex evolving system we know of so far,” author Michael Wong of Carnegie Institution for Science told The Guardian. “We ought to ask ourselves: What functions are we promoting (or damaging) in our own evolving biosphere? What features of our present-day society are conducive to not only long-term persistence but long-term thriving, and what aspects require changing?”

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

Martin spent most of the last 15 years backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. Whether it was hitchhiking through Syria, getting strangled in Kyrgyzstan, touring Cambodia’s medical facilities with an exceedingly painful giant venomous centipede bite, chewing khat in Ethiopia, or narrowly avoiding various toilet-related accidents in rural China, so far, Martin has just about survived his decision making.

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam, Martin can be found out in the jungle trying to avoid leeches while chasing monkeys.