VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: 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)
Berzonsky, Carol and Susanne Moser. Becoming Homo Sapiens Sapiens: Mapping the Psycho-Cultural Transformation in the Anthropocene. Anthropocene. Online November, 2017. An independent scholar with a Pacifica Graduate Institute doctorate and a consultant with a Ph.D. in geography from Clark University shift from technical aspects to include Jungian sensitivities to help survive, mitigate, this human impact phase which envelopes and imperials us. To wit, they turn to and evoke a woman’s wisdom, a shared sapience, so that whole persons may be advised and moved to come together in humane, sustainable communities.
If it is true that humans are about to leave behind the environmental conditions we have known for the 150,000–200,000 years of our species’ existence, then we are now changing the context in which we have evolved to date. This means Homo sapiens will have to co-evolve further with the climatic and environmental conditions it is creating through its planetary impact in the Anthropocene. Given the rapidity of the changes humans have set in motion, however, this next evolutionary phase may be cultural rather than biological. This paper presents a model of psychological transformation from the fields of depth psychology and anthropology known as an archetypal death-rebirth process. It gives purpose and meaning to the suffering involved in transformations and, crucially, offers hope through the vision of renewal. Its tripartite progression of severance, threshold, and reincorporation provides a map for navigating this transformation. Finally, it offers an explication of how a transformation far more profound than changes in actions and policies may allow us to become the truly wise humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, our species’ name denotes we could be. (Abstract excerpts)
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.
Burger, Oskar, et al. Human Mortality Improvement in Evolutionary Context. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109/18210, 2012. With coauthors Annette Baudisch and James Vaupel, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research scholars report a three times increase in average life expectancy over the last century as humankind’s culture shifted to a global technological civilization. For more, view the MPIDR's “Modeling the Evolution of Aging” page where group leader Baudisch’s publications can be found, and also Oskar Burger, et al. “Industrial Energy Use and the Human Life History” in Nature Scientific Reports (1/56, 2011), second quote below. What does this passage it immortality mean and augur for?
Life expectancy is increasing in most countries and has exceeded 80 in several, as low-mortality nations continue to make progress in averting deaths. The health and economic implications of mortality reduction have been given substantial attention, but the observed malleability of human mortality has not been placed in a broad evolutionary context. We quantify the rate and amount of mortality reduction by comparing a variety of human populations to the evolved human mortality profile, here estimated as the average mortality pattern for ethnographically observed hunter-gatherers. We show that human mortality has decreased so substantially that the difference between hunter-gatherers and today’s lowest mortality populations is greater than the difference between hunter-gatherers and wild chimpanzees. The bulk of this mortality reduction has occurred since 1900 and has been experienced by only about 4 of the roughly 8,000 human generations that have ever lived. (PNAS Abstract)
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