Many other observers (such as Ray Kurzweil) also see matter, life, and intelligence as phases in the evolution of the universe. But they use scale and complexity as a measure of progress. That presents a problem: galaxies are bigger than brains and nothing is more complex than random noise. Of course, they mean functional complexity, but neglect to clearly define what that function is.
Competition between cores favors more broadly instrumental elements within each. This leads to evolution of more “abstract” cores, that define lesser proportion of their more “bottom-up” phenotypes.
Superficially similar to my interpretation are The Major Transitions in Evolution and Meta-Systems Transition Theory. From John Stewart’s (hopelessly utopian) Evolution’s Arrow: “Two attributes that increase as evolution proceeds are the scale of cooperative organization and evolvability through the discovery of effective adaptations“. But pure cooperation is a product of group selection: a notoriously inefficient mechanism. In terms of conserved traits, what’s far more likely is preferential selection of a some common subset, while individual specifics become dispensable.
Entropy growth: equalization and stabilization of matter and energy distribution across space-time for all interacting entities. Maximized fitness here is equality of distribution or continuous recurrence.
Biological evolution: restoration and reproduction of genomes by selective acquisition of their constituents. The fitness here is discontinuous recurrence: mediated by differentiated phenotype.
Cognitive exploration: recognition and projection of correspondence between inputs and predictions. The fitness is hierarchically projected match between environment and a model: cognitive phenotype.
Living organisms metabolize matter and energy to propagate their pattern (information), while cognitive systems “metabolize” patterns: learn and forget information, to increase their predictive power.