V. Life's Corporeal Evolution Encodes and Organizes Itself: An EarthWinian Genesis Synthesis
A. A Major Emergent Evolutionary Transitions Scale
We chose the cover of this 1995 book by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szmathary which introduced their conceptual notice of a nested, developmental sequence because it depicts life’s creaturely evolution as proceeding to our human phase. The image has been criticized as an olden “great scale of nature” since currently a teleological goal denied, nor is it permitted. But if newly due to a worldwise sapienence coming to her/his (Charlotte and Charles EarthWin) own knowledge, an oriented, central course may indeed be quantified and set in place.
Major Transitions in Evolution. www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/major-transitions-in-evolution. A 24 part presentation of this 21st century model of life’s nested, scalar emergence from replicative biochemicals to human culture. Conceived by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary in the 1990s (search each), as evinced by a Great Course edition, it is now a widely accepted and availed replacement for gradual, Darwinian drift. But, we note, the old aimless version remains in textbooks, which still denies any direction or human phase. See Szathmary’s 2015 update Toward Major Evolutionary Transitions Theory 2.0 in PNAS (112/10104).
How and when did life on Earth get to be the way it is today? Imagine a world without bees, butterflies, and flowering plants. That was Earth 125 million years ago. Turn back the clock 400 million years, and there were no trees. At 450 million years in the past, even the earliest insects had not yet developed. And looking back 500 million years-a half-billion years before the present-the land was devoid of life, which at that time flourished in a profusion of strange forms in the oceans. These and other major turning points are the amazing story of evolution, the most remarkable force in the history of Earth, the organizing principle throughout the biological sciences, and the most important mechanism scientists use to understand the varieties of life on our planet.
Andersson, Claes and Petter Tornberg. Toward a Macroevolutionary Theory of Human Evolution: The Social Protocell. Biological Theory. 14/2, 2019. Within a context of the major transitions in individuality scale, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden systems scholars achieve an overdue perception whereof societal groupings can take on a guise akin to life’s original protocells. As early hominins form symbiotic bands, they achieve adaptive internal reciprocities as cellular wholes within Wholes. A tacit principle is an emergent recurrence of the same pattern and process. In each case, a bounded unit leads which then fosters cooperation, knowledge gain and selfhood in community. By way of this nested procession, life’s rise accrues “new channels of inheritance” and an oriented direction. In regard, this website has been citing a “social protocell” for some time, especially in Ecovillages. See also Group-Level Social Knowledge by Elizabeth Hobson, et al at arXiv:1810.07215 and The Cultural Brain Hypothesis by Michael Muthukrishna et al in PLoS Computational Biology (Nov. 2018) for other takes.
Despite remarkable empirical and methodological advances, our theoretical understanding of the evolutionary processes that made us human remains fragmented and contentious. Here, we make the radical proposition that the cultural communities within which Homo emerged may be understood as a novel exotic form of organism. The argument begins from a deep congruence between robust features of Pan community life cycles and protocell models of the origins of life. We argue that if a cultural tradition, meeting certain requirements, arises in the context of such a “social protocell,” the outcome will be an evolutionary transition in individuality. By so doing, traditions and hominins coalesce into a macroscopic bio-socio-technical system, with an organismal organization that is culturally inherited. We refer to this hypothetical evolutionary individual as a “sociont.” We go on to hypothesize that the fate of the hominin would be mutualistic coadaptation into a part-whole relation with the sociont. (Abstract excerpt)
Andersson, Claes and Tamas Czaran. The Transition from Animal to Human Culture Culture – Simulating the Social Protocell Hypothesis. Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B. February, 2023. In this special issue, a Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden and an ELKH Centre for Ecological Research, Budapest system anthropologists continue to articulate this vital perception (search CA) of life’s latest cellular occasion, after compartmental origins, as the formation of nominal 100 strong, diverse communities as a ubuntu-like me member and We group creative union coherence.
The origin of human cumulative culture is ofter seen as the appearance, some 2.0–2.5 my ago, of a capacity to copy the know-how about socially learned traditions. While plausible, this story faces a ‘startup problem.’ In contrast, the social protocell hypothesis explains that relative lore may have originated earlier as non-cumulative traditions via an emergent group-level channel of cultural inheritance. Hominin cultural lifestyles would have gained in complexity and sophistication as they become units of selection (socionts) via an evolutionary transition in individuality, similar to the origin of early cells. (Excerpt)
Barron, Andrew, et al. Transitions in Cognitive Evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.. June, 2023. Macquarie University, Cambridge University and Australian National University biophilosophers continue within this working model to finesse life’s developmental, quickening course by way of a stratified advance of cerebral faculties and abilities.
The evolutionary history of animal cognition appears to involve major transitional changes that opened up new phylogenetic possibilities for cognition. In regard, we discuss how an important feature of an evolutionary transition should alter what is evolvable so that new phenotypic spaces become possible. We focus on how selection might act on the computational architecture of nervous systems by way of five animal sequences. Transitional accounts allow a big-picture perspective of macroevolution by focusing on changes that have had major consequences. (Excerpt)
Bourke, Andrew F. G. Principles of Social Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. A University of East Anglia behavioral zoologist integrates the study of animal assemblies across many phyla into the major evolutionary transitions scale to gain a vital perspective. Life’s evident, sequential propensity to form cooperative groupings is then braced by factoring in inclusive fitness, (kin selection) theory. An expanded sense of recurrent communities from prokaryote microbes to homo sapiens can then be described. Bourke goes on to affirm the earlier work of Leo Buss (1987) who perceives a consistent “evolution of individuality” at each stage. With Brett Calcott (2011), Selin Kesebir (2012) and others, another confirmation of this major episodic model is stated, a latter, temporal “scala naturae.”
Bourrat, Pierrick. Evolutionary Transitions in Heritability and Individuality. Theory in Biosciences. Online May, 2019. A Macquarie University, Sydney philosopher of biology (search) continues to finesse and advance understandings of this nested, episodic, accepted model of life’s regnant reciprocity of persons in communities. See also Trait Heritability in Major Transitions by Matthew Herron, et al in BMC Biology (16/145, 2018). For later work by PB see Transitions in Evolution in Synthese at 198/3699, 2021, and Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality in Theory and Method in Biosciences at tmbiosci.org (12/22).
The literature on evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETIs) has mostly focused on the relationships between lower-level (particle-level) and higher-level (collective-level) selection, leaving aside contrasts between particle-level and collective-level inheritance. To that effect, I present a model to study particle-level and collective-level heritability both when a collective-level trait is a linear function and when it is a non-linear function of a particle-level trait. The upshot is that population structure is a driver for ETIs. (Abstract excerpt)
Calcott, Brett and Kim Sterelny, ed. The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. The volume is a decadal update upon this major theoretical advance, now much accepted, which still struggles with a nested scale of being and becoming from microbe to man at odds with prior Darwinian tenets. Players such as Daniel McShea, Samir Okasha, Peter Godfrey-Smith, and others wonder about its greater or lesser significance – is it really there, are the levels equal, what if anything drives its form, how about an evolving informational cause for each stage, and so on. While the overall pattern seems to evince an inherent self-organization, only one chapter by University of Adelaide philosopher Pamela Lyon touches upon complex dynamical systems. A summary retrospective by Eors Szathmary and Chrisantha Fernando goes on to note how this multilevel model quite provides a working structure for life’s evolutionary emergence.
In 1995, John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry published their influential book The Major Transitions in Evolution. The "transitions" that Maynard Smith and Szathmáry chose to describe all constituted major changes in the kinds of organisms that existed but, most important, these events also transformed the evolutionary process itself. The evolution of new levels of biological organization, such as chromosomes, cells, multicelled organisms, and complex social groups radically changed the kinds of individuals natural selection could act upon. Many of these events also produced revolutionary changes in the process of inheritance, by expanding the range and fidelity of transmission, establishing new inheritance channels, and developing more open-ended sources of variation. The contributors discuss different frameworks for understanding macroevolution, prokaryote evolution (the study of which has been aided by developments in molecular biology), and the complex evolution of multicellularity. (Publisher)
Carmel, Yohay. Human Societal Development: Is It an Evolutionary Transition in Individuality? Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B. February, 2023. The Technion, Haifa environmentalist and co-conceiver of this novel collection discusses how a wide-range of prehistoric and anthropological examples can indeed be seen as part of life’s on-going homo sapient planetary phase, as it may just now collectively recognize itself. The four aspects noted below are regulation control, individual benefits, conflict resolve, and climate awareness. Another tacit theme is a reciprocity between members and groups.
An evolutionary transition in individuality (ETI) occurs when a previously independent organism becomes a lower level unit within a higher hierarchical level (cells in an organism, ants in a colony). Using archaeological accounts from the last 12 000 years, I propose that human society has increasingly functioned this way. I evaluate societal development with regard to size, unity and specialization complexity in biological systems in the light of ETIs. My conclusion is this: human society is undergoing an evolutionary transition in individuality, driven much by socio-cultural-technological processes. I propose four predictions derived from the hypothesis that may be used to test it.
Carmel, Yohay and Ayelet Shavit. Operationalizing Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. February, 2020. Technion-Israel Institute of Technology scholars present a most comprehensive study to date of life’s ratcheted, sequential, scalar emergence of distinct “personal” organisms at each stage, which is now accepted as a valid structure. As the Abstract says, an interplay of diverse component entities as they join in bounded interactivity repeats in kind at each nested phase. With this consistency thoroughly described, Yohay Carmel notes that he is now at work on their further application as our homo sapiens transitions its global anthropic worldly consummation.
Evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETIs), such as the transition to multi-cellularity and to social colonies, have been at the centre of evolutionary research, but only few attempts were made to systematically operationalize this concept. Here we devise a set of four indicators intended to assess the change in complexity during ETIs: system size, inseparability, reproductive specialization and non-reproductive specialization. We then conduct a quantitative comparison across multiple taxa and their ETI. Our analysis reveals that inseparability has a crucial role in the process; it seems irreversible and may mark the point where group members become a new individual at a higher hierarchical level. Interestingly, we find that disparate groups demonstrate a similar pattern of progression along ETIs. (Abstract)
Carmel, Yohay, et al.
Human Socio-Cultural Evolution in Light of Evolutionary Transitions: Introduction to the Theme Issue.
Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B.
YC and Ayelet Shavit, Technion, Haifa, Ehud Lamm, Tel Aviv University, and Eors Szathmary, Institute of Evolution, Budapest, a co-originator in 1995 with John Maynard Smith of the major evolutionary transitions model, have seen fit to request, gather and post a diverse array of some 15 entries, (most noted below) that can now attest to and well verify the actual occurrence of a further Earthuman sapient personsphere phase. Akin to the 2020s Teleology Turn section, it has lately become quite deeply evident that an emergent person-planet beingness has achieved vivifying, intelligent envelope.
Modern human societies are intricately complex due to a division of labour, multiple hierarchies, communication networks, transport systems and everything else. Various scholars have proposed that a new spherical stage or phase which subsumes individuals may well be underway. Recent discussions of a global continuance of life’s nested, emergent scale evolutionary transition in individuality (ETI) involve many novel, relevant indications and features which are just indicating such an occasion. For the first time, this unique collection begins to consider and flesh out its beneficial reality. Four relevant aspects are engaged: (i) The general theory of ETIs. (ii) The unique aspects of cultural evolution. (iii) The evolutionary history and pre-history of humans. (iv) Specific routes of a possible human ETI. The 15 essays bring contributions from biology, anthropology, cultural evolution, systems theory, psychology, economy, linguistics and philosophy of science. (Abstract excerpt)
Chavalarias, David. From Inert Matter to the Global Society: Life as Multi-level Networks of Processes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. February, 2020. This synoptic survey which alludes to a next planetary phase is reviewed more in Network Physics.
Clarke, Ellen. Origins of Evolutionary Transitions. Journal of Biosciences. 39.2, 2017. In this Individuals and Groups issue, the All Souls College, Oxford, UK philosopher of biology surveys the lineaments and identities that drive and distinguish ascendant grouping of earlier, simpler wholes into new, beneficial, organism-like forms.
An ‘evolutionary transition in individuality’ or ‘major transition’ is a transformation in the hierarchical level at which natural selection operates on a population. In this article I give an abstract (i.e. level-neutral and substrate-neutral) articulation of the transition process in order to precisely understand how such processes can happen, especially how they can get started. (Abstract)