VII. Our Earthuman Moment: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality
7. Systems History: Personal and Planetary Individuation
Historians and philosophers have long sought to discern deep forces and trends that might underlie, impel and trace the arduous course of peoples, cultures, nations, migrations and civilizations. Because these efforts are fraught with issues, baggage, sparse signs, a quest for such a “metanarrative” has been mostly abandoned. But as global complex self-organization theories may now augur for a phenomenal genesis universe, the project may be actually possible. A prime scholar in regard has been the University of Connecticut historian Peter Turchin and colleagues through writings and a Cliodynamics: Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History journal.
Allen, Peter. Models of Creativity: Towards a New Science of History. Sander van der Leeuw and James McGlade, eds. Time, Process and Structured Transformation in Archaeology. London: Routledge, 1997. System scientist Allen argues that previous social models were cast in a Newtonian equilibrium mode. A better understanding of culture and economics can now be gained through nonlinear dynamics set in an evolutionary cast.
Amadiume, Ifi. Re-inventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion and Culture. London: Zed Books, 1997. Now Chair of African Studies at Dartmouth College, Professor Amadiume is a leading authority on the interplay of gender roles in African societies past and present. As an expansion of the breakthrough work of the scholar Cheikh Anta Diop, (see Gender Complements) this work continues and strengthens the case for an original, indigenous matriarchal milieu. But such a communally supportive matrix remains deeply fractured today due to a patriarchal colonialism, which is at the root of the continent’s struggles.
My recent re-reading of West African ethnography shows the presence of the mkpuke matricentric structure in all our varied societies. The implication of this finding is that there is a missing matriarchal structure in African studies. The mkpuke as a female generated, paradigmatical cultural construct demolishes the generalized theory that man is culture, and woman is nature in the nature/culture debate in anthropology, a theory which sees man as the maker of culture and woman as the voiceless/muted chaotic/unordered object to be classified and ordered. (19)
Balbi, Amedeo. A History of Cosmic Habitability. Journal of Big History. 4/2, 2020. This paper presented by the University of Rome Tor Vergata astrophysicist at the Life in the Universe: Big History, SETI and the Future conference in Milan in July 2019 provides a widest scientific retrospective scan of our resultant human worldwide presence. And by a philosophical view, one might wonder about what kind of overall scenario is being revealed to us. Whom are we regnant, curious, valiant peoples to be able to learn this, and for what reason and purpose?
Our understanding of the universe is based on the big bang cosmological model, which describes an expanding universe whose development began 13.8 billion years ago from a hot, dense state. This model introduces a strong evolutionary and historical perspective to the account of many observed physical phenomena, including the origin of life and its possible distribution in the universe. I discuss how properly taking the “big picture” and its temporal unfolding into account is relevant for the scope of astrobiology and SETi. (Abstract)
Bearman, Peter, et al. Networks and History. Complexity. 8/1, 2003. As historians become informed by the new complex system sciences, the outlines of constant, intrinsic patterns and dynamics over the course of human civilization can finally be made discernible.
If history has this structure, it follows that contingency, while possible, is constrained by deeply complex, fractal event structures that absorb events of the present and future. It could hardly be otherwise. (71)
Bocchi, Gianluca and Mario Ceruti. Complexity and the Unfinished Nature of Human Evolution. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Volume 879, 1999. A study set within a “global anthropological perspective and multidisciplinary context” which contends that after millennia of migratory diaspora from African origins, since 1492 humankind has been constructing a planetary age. This process of hominization is still incomplete, a work in progress not yet fulfilled.
Bohan, Elise, et al, eds. Big History. New York: DK Publishing, 2016. A large, 440 page, illustrated exposition of this vital synthesis of our temporal human moment with its evidential cosmic evolutionary source. Eight lavish chapters are: The Big Bang, Stars are Born, Elements are Formed, Planets Form, Life Emerges, Humans Evolve, Civilizations Develop, and Industry Rises. While a salient theme for latter sections is a progression of Collective Learning and Intelligence, akin to Walter Alvarez (search 2016), the phrase Goldilocks Conditions persists through the text. Among many quotes, maybe unawares, Stephen Jay Gould about human contingency and Richard Dawkins on an absence of any purpose or goal are cited.
A large, 440 page, illustrated exposition of this vital synthesis of our temporal human moment with its evidential cosmic evolutionary source. Eight lavish chapters are: The Big Bang, Stars are Born, Elements are Formed, Planets Form, Life Emerges, Humans Evolve, Civilizations Develop, and Industry Rises. While a salient theme for latter sections is a progression of Collective Learning and Intelligence, akin to Walter Alvarez (search 2016), the phrase Goldilocks Conditions persists through the text. Among many quotes, maybe unawares, Stephen Jay Gould about human contingency and Richard Dawkins on an absence of any purpose or goal are cited.
Bousquet, Antoine and Robert Geyer. Introduction: Complexity and the International Arena. Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 24/1, 2011. A special issue on this scientific advance as it reaches the super-social domain of otherwise intractable chaos between nations, cultures, and peoples, of all tribes and tenets. Typical papers are “Crisis Foreign Policy as a Process of Self-Organization” by Kai Lehmann, Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Brazil, and “The Use of Complexity-Based Models in International Relations” by Armando Geller, George Mason University.
Foreign policy crises have traditionally been seen as turning points. Avoiding crises or, if they occur, resolving them has been a key objective of international politics. Historically, responses to crises have followed clear and predictable patterns: power centralizes around the leader of the executive, who, in turn, uses such power to formulate a seemingly unambiguous response that should lead to a clear end, the resolution of the crisis. This framework has been applied to events ranging from world wars to short-term events and is enshrined in many state constitutions, as well as built into national bureaucratic systems. It is based on order, reductionism, predictability and determinism. In this work, it will be argued that such responses are based on a misconception of what crises represent. It will be shown that crises represent complex adaptive systems. Political leaders should respond to crises by quickly decentralizing the policy process in order to enable a process of self-organization. Suggestions will be made on how this should be done. (Lehmann, 27)
Boyden, Stephen. The Biology of Civilization. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2004. The public health ecologist author was many years a proponent of “biohistory” which is the study of human settlements in their natural setting. This edition provides a popular introduction. An intentional new phase of civilization is now mandated to attain a global sustainability by way of an informed “biosensitive” society that appreciates the indispensable web of living systems.
Boyer, Pascal. Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the World Humans Create. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. As one peruses this erudite retrospective essay by the Washington University, St. Louis anthropologist upon the historic panoply of engendered cultural societies, an impression is gained of a single, cumulative, emergent learning experience. The author is also cited as a Professor of Collective and Individual Memory. From our late vantage, while locally indigenous and quite multifaceted, religious, familial, ethnic and economic varieties give steady rise to near and further complex, cooperative minds. Again in this long view and vista “cognition and communication” proceed apace. We are the better if we can begin to understand, mitigate, conciliate, and guide.
“There is no good reason why human societies should not be described and explained with the same precision and success as the rest of nature.” Thus argues evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer in this uniquely innovative book. Integrating recent insights from evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology, economics, and other fields, Boyer offers precise models of why humans engage in social behaviors such as forming families, tribes, and nations, or creating gender roles. In fascinating, thought-provoking passages, he explores questions such as: Why is there conflict between groups? Why do people believe low-value information such as rumors? Why are there religions? What is social justice? What explains morality? Boyer provides a new picture of cultural transmission that draws on the pragmatics of human communication, the constructive nature of memory in human brains, and human motivation for group formation and cooperation.
Brague, Remi. The Wisdom of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. A history of the shifting premises and metaphors of the human encounter with an earthly, cosmic and Divine reality. But in the latter twentieth century, this grand endeavor has fallen to pieces, hope evaporates and angst reigns.
Bynum, Edward Bruce. The African Unconscious. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999. A Nigerian-American psychologist provides a luminous exposition of the holistic, animate roots of civilization now lost to a materialist Western world. Their integral recovery is possible by way of nonlinear science, which can recognize a fractal-like recapitulation of personal and planetary embryogenesis.
When it comes to the emergence of civilization in many areas of the Earth, we will observe how the presence at critical times of Kemetic influence along the Nile profoundly affected an emerging civilization. This ‘butterfly effect’ or ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’ is seen in early Olmec and Dravidian civilization. Also, this influence in concert with the natural tendency of systems to re-create themselves from a common mold will be seen to reinforce this belief and perception. This is the so-called self-similarity of structures, or the ‘infinite nesting’ effect. This can operate because again there is a common root, a shared stock of genetic, anthropological, morphological, embryological, and blood or serological reality to work with. These all point through the depths of history and blood to the African origin of human consciousness. (7)
Christian, David. A Single Historical Continuum. Cliodynamics: Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History. 2/1, 2011. The Macquarie University historian and main founder of the “Big History” view surveys the course of human imaginations of more expansive spatial and temporal vistas. This is traced from Before the Chronometric Revolution, onto a sense of deepening time, to realizations through the 19th and 20th centuries, and just now a marriage of cosmos and civilization as a singular development, most tracked by an increasingly energy efficient complexity. What makes its human phase special is our social formations of collective intelligences.
So far I have talked about constructing a Grand Unified Story embracing all parts of the single historical continuum. Is it possible to think even more ambitiously? Might it be possible, through collaborative work between all the disciplines that make up the single historical continuum, to tease out general principles of change that explain how change works across the entire continuum? Might it be possible to unify our understanding of change in the human and the biological realms just as the discovery of an “electro-weak” force unified understanding of the electromagnetic and weak forces in the early 1980s? Is it possible that, lurking behind the emerging GUS there is the historical equivalent of a GUT, a Grand Unified Theory of History? (24)