Natural selection is shown to be an extended instance of a Maxwell’s demon device. A demonic selection principle is introduced that states that organisms cannot exceed the complexity of their selective environment. Thermodynamic constraints on error repair impose a fundamental limit to the rate that information can be transferred from the environment (via the selective demon) to the genome. Evolved mechanisms of learning and inference can overcome this limitation, but remain subject to the same fundamental constraint, such that plastic behaviors cannot exceed the complexity of reward signals. A natural measure of evolutionary complexity is provided by mutual information, and niche construction activity—the organismal contribution to the construction of selection pressures—might in principle lead to its increase, bounded by thermodynamic free energy required for error correction.

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