VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
7. Systems History: Personal and Planetary Individuation
Christian, David. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. A rare, expansive work on the scale of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme’s The Universe Story. Although it spans the trajectory from cosmic origins and life’s earthly evolution to modern global times and onto a far future expiration, it does so in usual fashion without wondering is an intrinsic development going on. The book is actually two main sections of a big bang to hominid recount along with a standard historical chronicle. But a notable contribution is to recognize that the quality which most distinguishes human beings is an immense ability to learn, which results in a collective social intelligence as the driver of this emergent brain evolution. Our era of “One World” is seen as “collective learning at a species level.” In a preface, the historian William McNeill lauds the courageous project and notes that Christian does allude to a recurrent evolutionary pattern for both stars and civilizations. Check Christian's article in the Mindkind section for further thoughts on his concept of a cumulative knowledge of humanity.
Christian, David. Origin Story: A Big History of Everything. New York: Little, Brown, 2018. The Macquarie University, Australia scholar (search) is the original conceiver in the early 2000s of the now popular academic field of “big history” whence our human phase is joined with the entire course of life’s cosmic, galactic, stellar, and planetary evolution. This is neatly told by a series of eight Thresholds from the big bang to an anthropocene currency. This long retrospective view opens upon salient themes and vectors such as an increase of relative complexity, informational knowledge, and a main trend of a rising collective intelligence. As Vladimir Vernadsky once saw, a noosphere of shared global reason appears to be forming over the biosphere. One might tnote that while Pierre Teilhard took a similar view, he read an oriented rise to our phenomenal humanity. Here the evolutionary passage is said to go on by Darwinian selection alone via an interplay of physical necessity and chaotic chance.
Most historians study the smallest slivers of time, emphasizing specific dates, individuals, and documents. But what would it look like to study the whole of history, from the big bang through the present day, and even into the remote future? David Christian set out to answer this question when he created the field of "Big History," the most exciting new approach to understanding where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. In Origin Story, Christian takes readers on a wild ride through the entire 13.8 billion years we've come to know as "history." By focusing on defining events (thresholds), major trends, and profound questions about our origins, Christian exposes the hidden threads that tie everything together -- from the creation of the planet to the advent of agriculture, nuclear war, and beyond.
Christian, David, et al. Big History: Between Nothing and Everything. New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2013. David Christian is a Macquarie University, Australia, historian and main founder of this vast panorama that rightly situates human history within cosmic evolution. He is joined by Cynthia Brown, a Dominican University, California, historian and author, and Craig Benjamin, a Macquarie University historian, to provide this thorough textbook. Chapters flow from The Universe, Stars, and New Chemical Elements to The Emergence of Life, Origins of Agriculture, Toward the Modern Revolution, and onto The Anthropocene: Globalization, Growth, and Sustainability, and coverage of all else in between. An overarching theme and thread is an ever increasing in complexity, along with recent propensities for collective learning.
Clemens, Walter. Complexity Science and World Affairs. Albany: SUNY Press, 2014. The emeritus Boston University political scientist and author presents a rare perspective upon recent history as a manifestation of nonlinear dynamic systems phenomena. In this view, their effects can be seen to explain national or political success or failure, and hence provide better guidance if properly understood and applied. A salient example (search WC) are the Balkan states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after the breakup of the Soviet Union. A Foreword by his friend Stuart Kauffman who met long ago when they were counselors at a summer camp, embellishes the endeavor.
Why did some countries transition peacefully from communist rule to political freedom and market economies, while others did not? Why did the United States enjoy a brief moment as the sole remaining superpower, and then lose power and influence across the board? What are the prospects for China, the main challenger to American hegemony? In Complexity Science and World Affairs, Walter C. Clemens Jr. demonstrates how the basic concepts of complexity science can broaden and deepen the insights gained by other approaches to the study of world affairs. He argues that societal fitness—the ability of a social system to cope with complex challenges and opportunities—hinges heavily on the values and way of life of each society, and serves to explain why some societies gain and others lose. Applying theory to several rich case studies, including political developments across post–Soviet Eurasia and the United States, Clemens shows that complexity science offers a powerful set of tools for advancing the study of international relations, comparative government, and, more broadly, the social sciences. (Publisher)
Clemens, Walter. The Baltic Transformed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. A Boston University professor of political science applies a rare blend of Darwinian tenets and complex system science to uniquely understand the successes and failures of national societies and peoples. As a microcosm, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are studied from their years under Communism to many struggles in the 1990’s to redefine and reconstitute themselves. Whether they become self-sufficient or not in terms of a relative social “fitness” depends on their degree of self-organized viability. This extraordinary work exemplifies a new historical method that not only draws on evolutionary theory but situates human cultures within a dynamically creative universe.
Complexity theory modifies Darwin’s emphasis on natural selection as the key to evolution. Survival is determined not just by luck (the correspondence between genetic mutations and environmental conditions), but by a capacity for self-organization and mutual aid. (13) Complexity theory converges with liberal peace theory and a normative theory of mutual gain grounded in interdependence. The synthesis of these theories suggests that a fit society is likely to be self-organized for the mutual gain of its members and, as international conditions permit, with other societies. (16) Good government is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for high societal fitness. For that, broad and deep structures of self-organization are also required. Self-organized fitness depends not only on constitutions and free elections but on social capital, a democratic political culture, civil society, and human development. (73)
Clemens, Walter. Understanding and Coping with Ethnic Conflict and Development Issues in Post-Soviet Eurasia. Harrison, Neil, ed. Complexity in World Politics. Albany: State University of New Press, 2006. Further synoptic insights from the pioneer scholar, via the Santa Fe Institute, of dynamic national societies, for better or worse, as self-organized complex systems.
Combs, Allan and Stanley Krippner. Process, Structure, and Form: An Evolutionary Transpersonal Psychology of Consciousness. www.saybrook.edu/publications/IJTS.. This 2003 article appears in the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies accessible through the Saybrook Institute website. A synthesis of humanist, integral, and spiritual psychologies with dynamic systems theory and the thought of William James and Alfred North Whitehead. Persons are more than isolated objects, as per 20th century reductionist psychology, rather intra- and inter-relational processes are equally real and illuminate an archetypal progression of psychic individuation. A complex self-organizing system is then observed in effect from the course of evolution and history to instant streams of consciousness. By these lights, a deep accord accrues between individual development from infancy to adult and the psychological emergence of humankind across historical ages.
We argue that consciousness experience is constructive in the sense that it is the result of ongoing self-organizing and self-creating (autopoietic) processes in the mind and body. Similar constructive transformations of consciousness appear to have occurred across the course of human history. In this sense, phylogeny indeed recapitulates ontogeny. (47)
Cousins, Ewert. The Convergence of Cultures and Religions in Light of the Evolution of Consciousness. Zygon. 34/2, 1999. Coincident with a new millennium and the global emergence of humanity, a great historical arc is visible from an original animist, tribal matrix to a “First Axial Period” of the major religions and onto an analytic, critical, individual consciousness. After recent centuries of a mechanistic paradigm, this trajectory may now culminate in a “Second Axial Period” which must be able to recover its primal, organic spirituality. Another online version of my long time friend Ewert's unique corpus is: "Religions of the World: Teilhard and the Second Axial Turning" posted at: http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/October2006/Cousins10-06.pdf.
Crawford, Ian. Introduction to the Special Issue on Expanding Worldviews: Astrobiology, Big History, and the Social and Intellectual Benefits of the Cosmic Perspective. Journal of Big History. 3/3, 2019. This edition gathers papers from BH conferences and beyond as a collaborative Earthkinder stirs to a visionary sapience of our ancient heritage traced all the way to a singular cosmic origin. As a mainly male endeavor, the scenario remains bereft of any phenomenal nature and significance of its organic own which might explain and provide purpose. Among the entries are The Keen Longing for Unified, All-Embracing Knowledge by David Christian, Cosmic Perspectives and the Myths We Need to Survive by Charles Lineweaver (Abstract below), The Biological Overview Effect by CL and Aditya Chopra, Big History in its Cosmic Context by Joseph Voros, and Is the Universe Enough? by Mark Lupisella. See also a Life in the Universe 2019 conference (search Balbi) for more activities and vistas.
Big history can be defined as the attempt to understand the integrated timeline of the cosmos, Earth, life and humanity. The aim of this paper is to describe a dilemma that such a scientific, Darwinian big history must face: the inevitable incompatibility between an objective scientific search for truth and an evolutionary compulsion for brains to harbor useful fictions — the myths we need to survive. Science supports both sides of this dilemma. New and improved cosmic perspectives can’t just be scientifically accurate. To be of use they must leave room for the myths we humans need to survive. But, what are those myths? I discuss and question whether the following ideas qualify as such myths: a belief in an objective meaning for human life, humanism/speciesism, human free will and stewardship of the Earth. (Lineweaver Abstract)
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. The Mythic Potential of Evolution. Zygon. 35/1, 2000. Rather than seen only as technological progress, history should be equated with human personal growth as taught by the Buddhist progression from material to spiritual development. In such a view, “phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny” as human culture ascends through the same evolutionary stages.
de Landa, Miguel. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York: Zone Books, 1997. A fledgling attempt to use complex systems theory to interpret the three historical aspects of geology or materiality, biology and genetics, and the profusion of languages. De Landa then finds that: “…the same basic processes of self-organization take place in the mineral, organic and cultural spheres.”
Devezas, Tessaleno and George Modelski. Power Law Behavior and World System Evolution. Technological Forecasting & Social Change. 70/9, 2003. The authors employ complexity theory to discern “deep and general laws” and “common patterns” as the human species evolves “toward self-organization and higher complexity, i.e. a world system.” This entire historical course unfolds as a “millennial learning process” by way of self-similar, iterative dynamics.
The phenomenon at hand (the cascade of world evolutionary processes) is then a cascade of scale-invariant, interdependent, and structure-transforming processes at several levels of organization of the self-organizing complex world system. (852)