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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

7. Systems History: Personal and Planetary Individuation

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)

The Singularity Physicists define the Big Bang as a singularity. It is a point at which all the known laws of nature did not exist. Time too did not exist. It is thus meaningless to say that anything existed “before” the Big Bang. We may be fast approaching a new singularity, when all the concepts that gave meaning to our world – me, you, men, women, love and hate – will become irrelevant. Anything happening beyond that is meaningless to us. (411)

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)

Kawamura, Kunio. A Biosystematic View of Civilizations. Comparative Civilizations Review. 73/Fall, 2015. In this online journal of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations, the Hiroshima Shudo University environmentalist posts his latest complementary contrast of Japanese and Western cultures, which draws much from Tadao Umesao’s (1920-2010) volume An Ecological View of History (1967, 2003). See also Civilization as a Biosystem by the author in BioSystems (90/1, 2007).

Kawamura, Kunio. Civilization as a Biosystem Examined by the Comparative Analysis of Biosystems. BioSystems. 90/1, 2007. An Osaka Prefecture University chemist draws discerns correspondent parallels across nature and society. We offer an extended quote from the Abstract.

Darwinian evolutionary theory has played a central role in the life sciences. However, this principle is rarely applied to exceptional life-like systems such as human societies and the life-like chemical systems associated with the origin of life. The existence of analogies among biosystems at different hierarchical levels has frequently been discussed. The present paper, however, focuses on the analogies of the structures and functions of different biosystems, based on the following perspectives. The roles of an individual biosystem and its building blocks in relation to the environment are evaluated from the standpoint of the hierarchies of organisms, whereby the principle of which hierarchy is regarded as an “individual” biosystem is proposed. In addition, the definition and characteristics of civilization are discussed on the basis of this principle. The analogies between cell-type systems, civilizations, ecosystems, and other biosystems are qualitatively evaluated. It is reasonable to regard all biosystems as possessing clear or ambiguous boundaries. Biosystems at higher levels than prokaryotes comprise both living and non-living building blocks, while prokaryotes comprise only non-living building blocks. Furthermore, the analogy between different biosystems concerning metabolism, self-reproduction, mutation, the relationship between genotype and phenotype (information and function), individuality, and stability are evaluated. The proposed analytical approach not only provides an insight into the characteristics of civilizations as biosystems, but also the characteristics of biosystems at different hierarchical levels. (139)

Khroutski, Konstantin. Introducing Philosophical Cosmology. World Futures. 57/3, 2001. A survey of Russian cosmic scenarios which typically envision an incomplete, embryonic universe brought to fruition by the free creative agency of collective human intellect.

Kirschner, Suzanne. The Religious and Romantic Origins of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. An incisive synthesis of religious tradition, Neoplatonic romanticism, and 20th century psychology as it studies the spiral path of psychic individuation. In such a framework, history proceeds from world-negating preoccupation with heavenly reunion to increasing affirmation of a humanistic, world-affirming society. Psychoanalysis, broadly conceived, becomes a secularized form of the Christian exodus of fall and redemption. What is significant here is the ability in global retrospect to perceive macrohistory as personal individuation writ large, with these four stages:

The earliest version is the Christian mystical doctrine of mankind’s fall and ultimate redemption….Neoplatonized Biblical history took on a more worldly and interiorized cast, as can be seen in the writings of radical Protestant mystics. (4) The definitive secularization of the narrative was effected during the early nineteenth century by English and German Romantic philosophers….Finally, a fourth link is added to this genealogical chain, that link being the story of development as told by contemporary Anglo-American psychoanalytic theorists. (5)

Korotayev, Andrey and David LePoire, eds. The 21st Century Singularity and Global Futures: A Big History Perspective. International: Springer, 2020. As the summary next says, here are collected essays within a World-Systems Evolution and Global Futures series with a Russian cosmist philosophy (search) context. Their general message is a need for an expansive Earthwide spatial vista, set not only within a historic train but all the way back to cosmic evolutionary origins. By many aspects such as information, mobility, gene sequence, industry, and cities, a consummate, imminent moment for our rarest, cognizant planet then becomes evident. While notice of Ray Kurzweil’s tech takeover (search) is made, a broader, epochal transformation is well sketched. With regard to this resource site, a second ecosmic singular event of universal import does seem in imminent occurrence as Earth life’s emergence reaches its spherical superorganic spherical transformation.

Typical chapters are Singularity of Evolution and Post-singular Development in the Big History Perspective by Alexander Panov, The Twenty-First Century’s Mysterious Singularity” in the Light of Big History by Akop Nazaretyan, Big History as a Roadmap for the Future by Elise Bohan, and Global Brain: A Distributed Singularity by Cadell Last (search). See also the Journal of Big History, issue 4/2, 2020, for companion papers from a Life in the Universe: Big History, SETI and the Future conference in Milan, July 2019.

Andrey Korotayev heads the Laboratory for Sociopolitical Destabilization Risks at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. David LePoire holds a PhD in Computer Science from DePaul University, and a BS in Physics from CalTech.

This book introduces a 'Big History' perspective to understand the acceleration of social, technological and economic trends towards a near-term singularity, marking a radical turning point in the evolution of our planet. It traces the emergence of innovation rates through global history and highlights transformations throughout the evolution of life, humans, and civilization. The chapters survey historical mega-trends with regard to technology, population, energy, and information, models that can help understand mechanisms, future scenarios, along with paths and decisions that are required, philosophical perspectives on the meanings and implications of trends towards singularity, and finally the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. (Synopsis)

Krakauer, David. The Quest for Patterns in Meta-History. SFI Bulletin. Winter, 2007. Thoughts on a recent conference and programs at the Santa Fe Institute to explore whether nonlinear science can discern common regularities amongst the contingent rush of temporal events. But as is often the case with the application of complex system principles, a degree of detail and jargon sets so the project becomes a difficult task. Signs of a recurrent dynamic universality may also be elusive because the tacit particle physics model does not support it.

Krakauer, David, et al. An Inquiry into History, Big History, and Metahistory. Cliodynamics: Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History. 2/1, 2011. An introduction to a special issue in this journal founded by University of Connecticut historian Peter Turchin. A dozen papers are posted arising from Santa Fe Institute discussions on this large, ultra-complex realm by stellar authors such as Murray Gell-Mann, David Christian, Geoffrey West, John Gaddis, Fred Spier, and Geerat Vermeij. One might comment that their dense content affords its expansive subject, but still sans a sense of witnessing and engaging a greater reality unfolding via its own drive and destiny.

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