Many Branches on the Tree of Life? (Nick NIELSEN)


The origin of life is a major threshold of emergent complexity, but is there is one and only one form of emergent complexity—life as we know it—that springs from this threshold, or might there be other forms of emergent complexity that are the peers of life, but which are not identical to life? The latter conception I call emergent complexity pluralism.

Peers to terrestrial life are best understood as descendants from their common ancestor of astrochemical precursors. Emergent complexity thresholds familiar to human beings that have followed after the origins of life on Earth—complex life, consciousness, intelligence, technology, civilization—may all represent opportunities for branching complexities that diverge indefinitely from life as we know it. New concepts may be necessary to understand peer emergent complexity on a cosmological scale, and new sciences may be necessary to study them.

Nick NIELSEN, Icarus Interstellar