Presented at the American Association of Cancer Research “Evolutionary Dynamics” Conference, Tampa, Florida, March 2022.
Abstract: All cells exhibit agency and evolve purposefully. This is why cancer has outwitted doctors for 100 years and why Stage 3-4 patients are no better in 2022 than in 1930. Evolution was presumed to be random and purposeless, yet all cells possess cognition (Shapiro 2020). Cell behavior is normally algorithmic, but uniquely responds to novel situations. This is what makes evolution (and cancer) possible.
Cognition—sensing and responding to the environment—is the unifying principle behind the genetic code, origin of life, evolution, consciousness, artificial intelligence, and cancer. Thus the central question in biology is: What is the nature and origin of cognition?
A solution to the origin of the genetic code, for which the presenter’s organization offers a $10 million prize, announced at the Royal Society in 2019, is an unsolved cognition problem. This choice is a non-deterministic action of a free agent with sensory capacity and memory. It is not computable from prior states. As well as reading and reacting to its environment, it anticipates future threats, chooses goals and reasons inductively. Computers do none of these things.
This new model explains the futility of reducing most diseases to a single random or algorithmic component, and suggests we should treat cancer as an autonomous purposeful agent with unique identity and capacity to choose.
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