A children story on the early life of protocells, by Stuart Kauffman

Stuart Kauffman

Stuart Kauffman, a complex system researcher at The Institute for Systems Biology (Seattle) is reknown for arguing that the complexity of organisms might result as much from self-organization as from Darwinian natural selection.

During a conference at ISC-PIF, he recently presented his children story on the early life of protocells : “Surprising True Story of Patrick S “The First”, Rupert R., Sly S., and Gus G. Protocells in Their Very Early Years”.

The Surprising True Story of Patrick the First Protocell and his Friends” is a serious “children’s story that discusses the unpredictable emergence of novelty in the evolving biosphere and economy. At issue is the fundamental question of why the biosphere has become diverse and complex, as has the global economy in the past 50,000 years. The latter has grown from perhaps 10,000 goods and services to over a billion. Why and how? Each species, or good affords a niche, often new and not prestatable, that is an opportunity for further new species and goods.

The story is now available on our website, in exclusivity!


“I will tell the full story of Patrick S “The First”, Rupert R., Sly S., and Gus G., Protocells, imagined to have existed about 3.7 billions years ago. Patrick and his friends are autopoetic systems that can “build themselves”, thus they are Kantian wholes, where the parts exist for and by means of the whole. The universe is vastly non-ergodic above the level of atoms. By orders of magnitude, the universe has not had time to create all possible complex molecules. Most complex things will never come to exist. One way to exist above the level of atoms is to be a self-reproducing and evolving Kantian whole such as Patrick and his friends. We think, since Pythagoras and Newton, that we should be able to mathematize the becoming of Patrick and company. We cannot. Nor can we prestate what will happen. We do not even know what can happen. Patrick, Rupert, Sly, and Gus, even if imaginary, unleashed an open ended, unprestatable, radically emergent creativity of the evolving biosphere and above that literally changed the history of the universe. The very coming into existence of Patrick The First affords a new niche, an opportunity for Rupert to emerge, whose very existence then affords a new niche opportunity for Sly. And Patrick, by existing, also affords a new niche for Gus. What is an “affordance or “opportunity” to exist and “for whom” is it an opportunity? Mere rocks are not, so far, “opportunities”, nor are they “for whoms”. What creates “opportunities” that can be “seized” by a “for whom” it is an opportunity? Opportunities explode in diversity along with the autopoetic “for whoms” that, by now existing, create yet more opportunities for yet more “for whoms” to come to exist. Species, by coming to exist, create niches explosively for even more new species. I ask you to listen to their tale, pretend it is true, and help me understand what the story tells us.”