Pre-programming in Nature
Sir Richard Owen's 1851 Concept of Species Revelation (Updated)

Owen's super-pattern (his "archetype") was a transformer, which, when acted upon by signalling, transformed into the various species. Owen's "archetype" is of the backboned, or vertebrate animals, but his concept applies to all categories of life.

The concept of a super-pattern (or "archetype") may be applied to the development of aeroplanes. The Wright Flier is not the ancestor of aeroplanes. All aeroplanes are a product of information. This information can be expressed mathematically. There are design features, which may be reduced to a mathematical code, basic to all aeroplanes. This essential component of all aircraft designs could be called a super-pattern.

A collection of a variety of aeroplanes - shared features are obvious.

Aeroplanes are a variation on a basic engineering theme, or archetype. There is a basic numerical code, or computer program, which is fundamental to all aircraft. It is the "common denominator" of all the successful designs. Every aircraft is a variation of this fundamental pattern.

We may visualise the mathematical basis of all created things in this way:

lines drawn between numbers

The information stored in DNA guides the growth of an animal's body.

DNA codes resulting in different sized bones

Owen thought that each category of life – such as the vertebrates – was the visible expression of a super-pattern and of pre-arranged expressions of variations of this pattern. Owen was thinking in terms of computer programs before the age of computers!

Shown below is Owen's concept of the super-pattern, or archetype, of the vertebrates. His archetype was a remarkable attempt to explain the structural relationships that exist between the vertebrate classes, representatives of which are shown.

Owen's archetype and vertebrate skeletons

The Archetype Related to Vertebrate Head Bones in Finer Detail

The numbers relate each head-bone to a bone of the archetype. The colours show grouping by functional purpose. Some numbers are missing from some of the illustrations – perhaps by oversight or because nature isn't always predictable.

head bone skeletons related to the archetype by numbering of the individual bones

Note that the archetype is the physical expression of an information code – not the biological ancestor. It is the "common denominator", the super-pattern, of which the other patterns are variants and extensions. Because life forms are a marriage of life and mathematical information, and mathematical information can be stored, species revelation can be pre-programmed!

We now come to the obvious question of how the computer program or code was modified so that each species would appear. Since the simplest living organism is far more complex than the most complicated thing man has ever made, we may assume that the processes involved in species revelation will be a challenge to the world's cleverest computer programmers! The super-patterns must have been sophisticated. Information, interacting with the super codes, gave rise to many different visible outcomes.

Information codes can only respond to relevant signals. Information content can only be increased by signalling information which is readable. Increase in the information content of the super-pattern presumably may have occured through at least two mechanisms: a) the super-pattern containted latent information and environmental pressure triggered the activation of this information b) the code was so structured that it united with similar coded information in nature and thus increased its overall content. Darwin's contribution was to highlight the importance of environmental conditions, presumably acting as triggers. Owen's contribution was to raise evolutionary thinking to the level of modern information technology concepts.

Follow these links for more discussion of this pioneering field of science:

How were the species revealed?

The riddle of the species.