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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

2. Complex Local and Global Societies

Urry, John. The Complexity Turn. Theory, Culture & Society. 22/5, 2005. An introduction to a special issue about rethinkings in social and cultural sciences via nonlinear systems to move beyond reductionist analyses. As a result, emergent complex adaptive systems,” as a “neo-vitalism” of “vital matter,” are being found from flocks of birds to global polities. But the postmodern mindset of these British and Continental deliberations inhibits an imagination of a greater genesis that such common phenomena spring from and exemplify.

Vallacher, Robin, et al. Dynamical Foundations of Intractable Conflict. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. 16/2, 2010. In a special issue on Dynamical Systems Theory and Conflict, Vallacher, Florida Atlantic University, with Peter Coleman, Columbia University, Andrzej Nowak, University of Warsaw, and Lan Bui-Wrzosinska, Warsaw School of Social Sciences, who are also main members of the International Center for Complexity and Conflict, (Google) strive for novel complex sciences insights to such rampant destructive carnage, very bad for children, women, villages and the environment. A typical extraordinary paper might be Bartoli, Andrea, et al. “Peace is in Movement: A Dynamical Systems Perspective on the Emergence of Peace in Mozambique.” See also Complex Human Dynamics by Nowak, et al (2013).

This special issue conceptualizes and investigates intractable social conflict from the perspective of dynamical social psychology. This approach represents a distillation of the concepts, methods, and tools associated with dynamical systems and complexity science that were initially developed in mathematics and the natural sciences. In this article, we provide an overview of the dynamical perspective on conflict, identify the key concepts that are directly relevant to understanding how conflict can transform from constructive to destructive, and suggest how an understanding of the dynamical bases of conflict can be used to resolve conflicts that appear intractable. (Abstract)

We hasten to note that the dynamical approach is not a form of reductionism, the rather out dated notion that higher-level phenomena can (and must) be understood in terms of the mechanisms operating at lower levels. To the contrary, the dynamical perspective is defined in terms of system-level processes that characterize phenomena across all domains of science, from bacterial growth to galaxy formation. Scientists over the past 30 years have come to appreciate the generality of these processes, focusing their energies on identifying how diverse topics can all be understood in terms of such notions as self-organization, emergence, bifurcation, and attractor dynamics. (114)

Vallacher, Robin, et al. Rethinking Intractable Conflict: The Perspective of Dynamical Systems. American Psychologist. May-June, 2010. With co-authors Peter Coleman, Andrzej Nowak, and Lan Bui-Wrzosinska, who are associated with the “Dynamics of Conflict” project (view website and links), an important contribution about how constant warfare, often over ethnic, religious, or territorial issues which act as “attractors,” can be understood in such terms of an underlying mathematics of complexity. By virtue of these insights, real, heretofore elusive, pathways to resolution may present themselves.

Indeed, recent years have witnessed the advent of a perspective in the physical sciences and mathematics that identifies the dynamic and inertial processes that are common to everything from slime molds to galaxy formation. (263) Although developed in mathematics and the physical sciences, the principles of dynamical systems and complexity have potential application to the fundamentals of human experience. This potential has become increasingly manifest since the 1990s, and the dynamical perspective has emerged as a primary paradigm for the investigation of psychological processes at different levels of personal and social reality. (263)

Wade, Nicholas. Chimps, Too, Wage War and Annex Rival Territory. New York Times. June 22, 2010. The above item cites behavioral field studies, with comments by Richard Wrangham and others, who find a deep continuity between apes and people for unrestrained violence. A concurrent Times video blog chronicles the death by mortar fire of a teenage civilian girl in Afghanistan. But even with worldwide, instant, graphic reportage, can we human beings ever seem to learn anything, are we as stupid as monkeys to stop the senseless slaughter? Can we ever summon the humane courage and vision to see how mad is our obsession with weapons, with war for its own and any sake, immune to perpetual carnage?

Wagner, Roy. An Anthropology of the Subject. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Having published earlier on culture and symbols, the University of Virginia scholar completes his trilogy by going to their source in human subjectivity. Of interest his working model of a “human hologram,” set in an Indra’s web of recurrent identities, part in whole in part. But although Wagner achieves such insights, he is immersed in the field’s postmodern wordiness, which prohibits an encompassing meta-narrative of a greater creation.

Weingart, Peter, et al, eds. Human by Nature: Between Biology and the Social Sciences. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1997. Many contributions seek common ground and cross-fertilization between these previously isolated disciplines and realms. In so doing, an attempt is made to meld evolutionary, biological, behavioral, and cultural findings into a unified scenario of multilevel complexity.

Whiten, Andrew, et al. The Extension of Biology Through Culture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114/7775, 2017. AW with Francisco Ayala, Marcus Feldman, and Kevin Laland, introduce a Sackler Colloquium on this title topic. The collection is notable because an integration of biological evolution with primate and human cultural societies, has had a problematic course. A satisfactory consensus at last seems possible by way of 2010s advances such as genomic aspects. A premier array of 18 authoritative papers include Cultural Evolutionary Theory by Nicole Creanza, et al, Gene-Culture Coevolution in Whales and Dolphins by Hal Whitehead, Cultural Macroevolution Matters by Russell Gray and Joseph Watts, Cumulative Cultural Learning by Cristine Legare, and Pursuing Darwin’s Curious Parallel: Prospects for a Science of Cultural Evolution by Alex Mesoudi.

In the past few decades, scholars from several disciplines have pursued the curious parallel noted by Darwin between the genetic evolution of species and the cultural evolution of beliefs, skills, knowledge, languages, institutions, and other forms of socially transmitted information. Here, I review current progress in the pursuit of an evolutionary science of culture that is grounded in both biological and evolutionary theory, but also treats culture as more than a proximate mechanism that is directly controlled by genes. Both genetic and cultural evolution can be described as systems of inherited variation that change over time in response to processes such as selection, migration, and drift. The foundation of cultural evolution was laid in the late 20th century with population-genetic style models of cultural microevolution, and the use of phylogenetic methods to reconstruct cultural macroevolution. Since then, there have been major efforts to understand the sociocognitive mechanisms underlying cumulative cultural evolution, the consequences of demography on cultural evolution, the empirical validity of assumed social learning biases, the relative role of transformative and selective processes, and the use of quantitative phylogenetic and multilevel selection models to understand past and present dynamics of society-level change. (Mesoudi)

Humans live in culturally constructed niches filled with artifacts, skills, beliefs, and practices that have been inherited, accumulated, and modified over generations. A causal account of the complexity of human culture must explain its distinguishing characteristics: It is cumulative and highly variable within and across populations. I propose that the psychological adaptations supporting cumulative cultural transmission are universal but are sufficiently flexible to support the acquisition of highly variable behavioral repertoires. This paper describes variation in the transmission practices (teaching) and acquisition strategies (imitation) that support cumulative cultural learning in childhood. Examining flexibility and variation in caregiver socialization and children’s learning extends our understanding of evolution in living systems by providing insight into the psychological foundations of cumulative cultural transmission—the cornerstone of human cultural diversity. (Legare)

Wilson, David Sloan. Darwin’s Cathedral. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. As the overall model of evolution shifts from a branching tree to a sequential multilevel structure, a view of social groups as adaptive organisms gains increasing validity. A leading proponent explains how religious societies provide a prime example of organic behavior on a communal scale.

Wilson, David Sloan, et al. Cognitive Cooperation. Human Nature. 15/3, 2004. By clever “twenty questions” experiments, the subliminal presence of a group mental activity and semblance of a collective mind can for the first time be quantified.

Cognitive cooperation needs to occupy center stage in evolutionary psychology, which in turn can provide a unifying conceptual framework for all research on group cognition. (248)

Wilson, Edward, O. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: Norton, 2012. The octogenarian entomologist and philosopher proceeds with another erudite, concerned volume. Drawing upon lifelong studies of colonial insects, and on recent collaborations with Martin Nowak and David Sloan Wilson, the work goes on to emphasize the active, evolutionary role of “group selection” in propelling our Homo Sapiens Sapiens take over. The message is that if properly understood, admitted and availed, the wisdom might help temper our species’ obsession for internecine conflicts.

Wu, Bin, et al. Evolution of Cooperation on Stochastic Dynamical Networks. PLoS One. 5/6, 2010. Peking University, Max Planck Institute, and Harvard University systems scientists propose to solve the Darwinian dichotomy between our human penchant for community and natural selection alone which should be in opposition to this. If the involvement of complex network processes can newly be factored in, they serve to explain how individual gains can accrue from ones appropriate behavior to foster a supportive social viability.

Cooperation is ubiquitous in the real world ranging from genes to multicellular organisms. Most importantly, human society is based upon cooperation. However this cooperative behavior apparently contradicts natural selection. Selfish behavior will be rewarded during competition between individuals, because selfish individuals enjoy the benefits from the cooperation of others, but avoid the associated costs. Therefore, the puzzle how natural selection can lead to cooperation has fascinated evolutionary biologists since Darwin. (1)

Cooperative behavior that increases the fitness of others at a cost to oneself can be promoted by natural selection only in the presence of an additional mechanism. One such mechanism is based on population structure, which can lead to clustering of cooperating agents. Recently, the focus has turned to complex dynamical population structures such as social networks, where the nodes represent individuals and links represent social relationships. (1)

Yang, Wu, et al. Nonlinear Effects of Group Size on Collective Action. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110/10916, 2013. Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University, researchers update prior work with complex systems science, as the Abstract explains, to achieve better guidance for a human abide and benefit for individual, community, and environment. The working unit is a “household,” but it is not said how many members. In any event, once again an “intermediate group size” that reciprocates “free-riders” and communal values, i.e., a balance of chaos and order, appears best. While this is not seen as an independent principle, one could cite a “me + we,” ubuntu, competitive coherence, or “creative union” exemplar. And what collective faculty (the seven authors are Chinese and American) has now appeared out of human millennias able to so quantify and reflect?

For decades, scholars have been trying to determine whether small or large groups are more likely to cooperate for collective action and successfully manage common-pool resources. Using data gathered from the Wolong Nature Reserve since 1995, we examined the effects of group size (i.e., number of households monitoring a single forest parcel) on both collective action (forest monitoring) and resource outcomes (changes in forest cover) while controlling for potential confounding factors. Our results demonstrate that group size has nonlinear effects on both collective action and resource outcomes, with intermediate group size contributing the most monitoring effort and leading to the biggest forest cover gain. We also show how opposing effects of group size directly and indirectly affect collective action and resource outcomes, leading to the overall nonlinear relationship. The findings also suggest that it should be possible to improve collective action and resource outcomes by altering factors that lead to the nonlinear group-size effect, including punishing free riding, enhancing overall and within-group enforcement, improving social capital across groups and among group members, and allowing self-selection during the group formation process so members with good social relationships can form groups autonomously. (Abstract)

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