VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
7. Systems History: Personal and Planetary Individuation
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton, 1998. A renowned work of scholarship that expands the study of the course of human history to include contextual factors such as ecologies and climates, agriculture, technologies and the impact of disease epidemics.
Edinger, Edward. The New God-Image. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publishers, 1996. A Jungian psychologist traces a Western sense of the Divine from animism to tribal, matriarchal, polytheistic and universal monotheism on the way to its current recast in terms of psychic individuation. In so doing a profound shift is made in history from a parental emphasis to a “continuing incarnation,” a Divine being in gestation through the collective Self of humankind.
Gaddis, John Lewis. The Landscape of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. The Yale University scholar resituates human history within the expanse of cosmic and earthly evolution, which can be seen in light of the complexity sciences to reveal a universal “self-similarity across scale.”
Galtung, Johan and Sohail Inayatullah, eds. Macrohistory and Macrohistorians. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997. A survey of twenty thinkers from world cultures spanning over two millennia – Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, Ibn Khaldun, Hegel, Marx, Toynbee, Spengler, Sorokin, Teilhard, et al - who have attempted a historical metatheory. The overarching issue seems to be whether history is linear, cyclical, or evolutionary.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. The classic study by the Lithuanian – American, Harvard University, archeologist of an original cultural milieu that was essentially feminine in kind. Along with careful descriptions of prehistoric human settlements based on thorough field research, a chapter cites the initial advent of scriptural symbols and alphabets.
It is a gross misunderstanding to imagine warfare as endemic to the human condition. Widespread fighting and fortification building have indeed been the way of life for most of our direct ancestors from the Bronze Age up until now. However, this was not the case in the Paleolithic and Neolithic. There are no depictions of arms (weapons used against other humans) in Paleolithic cave paintings, nor are there remains of weapons used by man against man during the Neolithic of Old Europe. (ix-x)
Goerner, S. J. A “Knowledge Ecology” View of Creativity. Richards, Ruth, ed. Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007. Systems philosopher Sally Goerner, Ph.D., is president of the Integral Science Institute in North Carolina. In this chapter, she summarizes her vision of a sequentially emergent cosmic creativity, now in evidence on a personal planetary scale.
I suggest that we need three ingredients to unify and mobilize the movement to a Global Integral Civilization: (a) a unified, scientifically sound worldview that has (b) emotional relevance, directs links to deeply felt aspirations and also common sense; and (c) practical utility, enough practical detail turn heartfelt dreams into well-functioning realities by providing effective solutions to pressing problems. (229)
Halal, William. The Lifecycle of Evolution. World Futures. 58/4, 2002. The seven stages of a global civilization as it emerges out of biological evolution are said to repeat the life course of an individual human being.
Harari, Yuval. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. New York: Harper, 2015. From our global retrospective vantage, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem historian can recount how we came to this occasion by way of three salient revolutions. Cognitive is the advent of hominid to human abilities to gain and avail a social, collaborative corpus of knowledge. An Agricultural phase of agrarian, village and urban life brought another. A natural Scientific phase commenced from realizations that it is possible to learn, civilize, and improve. The course of recorded time is thus about religions, money, injustice, empire, capitalism, industry, carnage, technology, a checkered past and present. This “international bestseller” could also reflect our current condition. As the quotes allude, the work closes with a contrast of physical science’s late cosmic despair and the sudden potential for human beings take up a technological transformation of all arbitrary evolution that went on before.
The Meaning of Life So our medieval ancestors were happy because they found meaning to life in collective (religious) delusions about the afterlife. As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan. Hence any meaning that ascribe to their lives is just a delusion. The other-worldly meanings medieval people found in their lives were no more deluded that the modern humanist, nationalist and capitalist meanings modern people find. (391)
Henriques, Gregg, et al.. The Tree of Knowledge System: A New Map for Big History. Journal of Big History. 3/4, 2019. A James Madison University psychologist and colleagues present an updated version of a nested cosmic evolutionary procession from universe to humans which our collective inquiry is just coming to verify and realize. It is then compared with this companion BH project, along with other models such as the major transitions scale (see the next section). See also The Star-Galaxy Era in Terms of Universal Evolution by Leonid and Anton Grinin in this same issue.
This article summarizes the Tree of Knowledge (ToK) System (Henriques, 2003; 2011), and compares and contrasts its depiction of cosmic evolution as four “dimensions of existence” (Matter, Life, Mind and Culture) with Big History’s eight thresholds of complexity. Both systems are concerned with the current fragmentation in academic knowledge and advocate a more consilient and integrative vision that places the disciplines in coherent relationship to each other. The major differences between the two perspectives are how the ToK conceptualizes the various stages, with more emphasis on psychological aspects. In regard, Matter, Life, Mind and Culture are seen to occur due to semiotic or information processing systems that give rise to strongly emergent properties. (Abstract)
Hornborg, Alf and Carole Crumley, eds. The World System and the Earth System. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2007. From a conference at Sweden’s Lund University, edited proceedings on the topic of ‘Global Socioenvironmental Change and Sustainability since the Neolithic.’ A wide range of perspectives is thus brought to engage its theme of the interaction of human societal influences as set within their natural, planetary milieu. Several papers employ nonlinear science principles to consider local and global civilizations as complex ecosystems, such as Historical Ecology: Integrated Thinking at Multiple Temporal and Spatial Scales by Carole Crumley, Thomas Abel’s World-Systems as Complex Human Ecosystems, and Ages of Reorganization by George Modelski.
Complex systems are a general class of phenomena found ubiquitously in nature. While definitions vary, complex systems can be described as open, dissipative structures that self-organize into forms that are multi-scaled and hierarchical, that exhibit emergent properties, that make use of information at many scales from genes to culture, and that exhibit complex dynamics of pulse and collapse, discontinuous change or “surprise,” and nonlinearity, leading to multiple stable states. (Abel, 56)
Inayatullah, Sohail. Alternative Futures for Muslims: Challenges to Linear and Cyclical Macrohistory. Futures. 37/1195, 2005. Muslim cultures are currently rent between trying to recover a perceived pure Islamic state and to join a modern, technological albeit secular society. A middle way is proposed of a “virtuous spiral” at once respectful of past glories while open to future progress. Signs of this movement were evident at recent international Islamic conferences where these commendable goals were stated: an alternative economics to world capitalism, gender cooperation based on dignity and fairness, self-reliant ecological communities, advanced technologies to link these communities, and a governance system that is fair, just, representational and wise.
This recovery of the past in the context of future-oriented progress – the virtuous spiral – becomes the final scenario. This future is the most hopeful for Islam and the rest of the world. In this alternative trajectory, after a brief foray into postmodernism – endless consumer choices but no ground of reality – a new global ethics may emerge. (1198)
Johnson, Neil, et al. New Online Ecology of Adversarial Aggregates: ISIS and Beyond.. Science. 352/1459, 2016. An eleven member systems physics team mainly from the University of Miami, Florida including Chaoming Song and Stefan Wuchty, along with Daniela Johnson of Harvard, draw broadly on statistical theories, complexity science and network phenomena to discern regularities underlying even the most chaotic, senseless violence. Again one might perceive that human affairs, as long suspected and contingently tragic on their surface, are yet constrained manifestations of an intrinsic mathematical domain. The work merited a New York Times report Fighting ISIS With an Algorithm, Physicists Try to Predict Attacks (June 16, 2016). See also by this group and colleagues the paper Women’s Connectivity in Extreme Networks in Science Advances by Pedro Manrique, et al (2/6, 2016, search PM).
Support for an extremist entity such as Islamic State (ISIS) somehow manages to survive globally online despite considerable external pressure and may ultimately inspire acts by individuals having no history of extremism, membership in a terrorist faction, or direct links to leadership. Examining longitudinal records of online activity, we uncovered an ecology evolving on a daily time scale that drives online support, and we provide a mathematical theory that describes it. The ecology features self-organized aggregates (ad hoc groups formed via linkage to a Facebook page or analog) that proliferate preceding the onset of recent real-world campaigns and adopt novel adaptive mechanisms to enhance their survival. One of the predictions is that development of large, potentially potent pro-ISIS aggregates can be thwarted by targeting smaller ones. (Abstract)