Punctuated equilibrium, in the sense of Eldredge and Gould in 1972, and path dependence (Gould in 2002), dominate evolutionary processes, many of whose dynamics can be expressed in terms of interacting information sources (Wallace in 2010). Argument based on Feynman's (in 2000) characterization of information as a form of free energy leads to a close, if inverse, analogy between evolutionary transitions and economic ratchets. Driven by such a ‘self-referential’ mechanism, increases in available metabolic free energy – via the aerobic transition – led to the eukaryotic transition and to life as we know it. Formal analysis focuses on groupoid symmetries associated with the cognitive processes of gene expression, an extension of the symmetry breaking/making perspectives of physical science into biological phenomena. This suggests that understanding modalities of cognitive gene expression, as opposed to focus on genes themselves, provides the deepest insight into evolutionary phenomena, a perspective at some variance with current simplistic gene-centred views that constrain evolutionary theory.