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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

Ingold, Tim. The Trouble with Evolutionary Biology. Anthropology Today. 23/2, 2007. The University of Aberdeen social anthropologist takes issue with the 2006 article by Alex Mesoudi, et al (search within) which seeks a “unified science of cultural evolution.” The problem for TI is not a project to join biology and society, but the employ of an antiquated Darwinism to do so, unaware that evolutionary theory is under radical expansion to include developmental and dynamical system influences.

By all means let us seek a way of embracing human history and culture within a wider concept of evolution: not, however, by reducing history to a reconstructed phylogeny of cultural traits but by releasing the concept of evolution itself from the stranglehold of neo-Darwinian thinking, allowing us to understand the self-organizing and transformational dynamics of fields of relationships among both human and non-human beings. (17)

Jenks, Chris and John Smith. Qualitative Complexity: Ecology, Cognitive Processes and the Re-Emergence of Structures in Post-Humanist Social Theory. London: Routledge, 2006. An impressive work, as its table of contents below attest, bent on reconceiving the field of sociology in terms of dynamic self-organizing social systems. This task is methodically pursued with an emphasis on autopoietic self-structuring, as Niklas Luhmann has earlier done, so as to provide a more appropriate understanding of real cultural phenomena. An academic postmodernism prevails to at once liberate the endeavor from linear modernity and to express an open, malleable fluidity. But this school precludes any imagination that underlying or encompassing the rush of events could be inherent natural commonalities.

Part One: The Interdisciplinary Field. Chapter 1. Complexity Theory: A Positioning Paper. 2. From Descartes’ Conjecture to Kant’s Subject & the Computer. 3. Autopoiesis in Cognitive Biology. 4. Emergentism, Evolutionary Psychology and Culture. 5. Prigogine’s Thermodynamics, Ontology and Sociology. Part Two: Critical Developments. 6. Modernism and Determinism: Linear Expectations and Qualitative Complexity Analyses. 7. Complexity Theory as a Critique of Postmodernism. 8. Cognition and the Renewal of Systems Theory. 9. The Evolution of Intelligence, Consciousness and Language. 10. Complexity, Language and Culture: social systems in qualitative, i.e. not formal terms. Part Three: The Fields of Complex Analysis: Contemporary Complexity Theory. 11. The Ethics of Pragmatism: Politics and post-structuralism in transition after the complexity turn. 12. The Topology of Complexity. 13. Re-interpreting Global Complexity as an Ontology: Human Ecology.

Juarrero, Alicia. Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999. New understandings of human activities are possible by means of the nonlinear sciences.

Kenett, Dror and Juval Portugali. Population Movement under Extreme Events. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109/11472, 2012. Boston University and Tel Aviv University systems geographers comment on a technical article in the same issue “Predictability of Population Displacement after the 2010 Haiti Earthquake” by Xin Lu, Linus Bengtsson, and Petter Holme which reports that even in such chaotic disasters can yet be found underlying patterns of mathematical regularity. By way of any philosophical muse then, whatever kind of reality, albeit capable of catastrophes, might collaborative humankind be at last coming upon, quantifying, reading? And if it may dawn that orderly natural principles do indeed exist, could they be availed to recreate a new, livable, sustainable Haiti and world?

The last 30 years have witnessed the emergence of complexity theories of cities (CTC) – a domain of research that applies the various complexity theories to the study of cities. CTC portray cities as complex, self-organizing systemic networks. They suggest that cities have originally emerged and are still developing out the space-time interactions between the many urban agents, this to say, the individuals, families, households, firms, and other entities that act and interact in the city. The activities and interactions between these urban agents give rise to the global urban multilevel network and structure that in turn affects the agent’s cognition, behavior, movement, and action in the city in a circular causality. CTC have demonstrated a whole set of resemblances between cities on the one hand, and natural, material, and organic networks on the other. (11472)

Kenrick, Douglas, et al. Dynamical Evolutionary Psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 6/4, 2002. A paper in a special issue on “The Dynamical Perspective in Personality and Social Psychology” maps out an “interactionist” union of complex systems principles and evolutionary theory.

One of the exciting discoveries emerging from studies of complex systems is a ubiquitous tendency toward self-organization. (347) What an evolutionary analysis adds to the dynamic perspective is a focus on content. By focusing on adaptive content, we should be able to make more specific predictions about which self-organizing structures and patterns will emerge within human minds and across social landscapes. (355)

Kesebir, Selin. The Superorganism Account of Human Sociality. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 16/3, 2012. The Turkish-American, University of Virginia social psychologist describes her thorough doctoral study of how human groupings seem to possess or be moving toward organism-like traits and states. She first reviews prior colony models, and goes on to the major transitions view of emergent evolutionary stages, which are seen akin to superorganisms. Five salient features are then applied to human assemblies: Integration of lower-level units through communication, Shared intentionality and social identity processes, Low heritable variation among the entities, A common destiny, and Mechanisms to resolve conflicts. As the quotes aver, she concludes that some form and temperament like this does appears to be going on. It is worthwhile to compare with Andrew Bourke’s Principles of Social Evolution, which likewise joins genomes and cells with persons and communities, (first quote) as a confirmation of life’s episodic scale of being and becoming.

Life forms are organized in nested clusters. Genes are bundled in chromosomes that occur in cells. Cells are joined together in multi-cellular organisms, and some multi-cellular organisms, such as bees and ants, live in societies. This hierarchical organization strongly suggests that the amazing diversity of life forms is partly due to the grouping of biological units into higher-level units. Although this idea has been endorsed since the end of the 19th century, it has not been part of the mid-20th century evolutionary synthesis, most likely because it lacked a strong theoretical underpinning (Bourke, 2011). The dynamic underlying the hierarchical organization of life forms has been called major transitions in evolution (Maynard Smith & Szathmáry, 1995). A major transition in evolution occurs when individual organisms become so integrated that they transform into a higher-level organism in their own right. (235)

Looking at human societies through a superorganism lens allows for a clearer appreciation of the full scope of human existence. A unifying narrative emerges for phenomena that are treated piecemeal within an individualist paradigm. According to this narrative, cultural meaning systems, shared intentionality, norm compliance, deference to authority, social identity processes, religiosity, and morality can be understood parsimoniously as manifestations of the same dynamics that create superorganism-like social structures. Superorganisms thus offer a useful heuristic around which to organize our understanding of human sociality. (251)

The task of this paper was describing how and when human groups are like superorganisms. The answers raise a third question that I have not addressed: Why are human groups like superorganisms? The why question invites an evolutionary explanation. Specifically, we have to ask whether the superorganism metaphor works because humans actually have gone through a major evolutionary transition to arrive at superorganismic capacity. Do we have in our hands a case of convergent evolution rather than just a surface resemblance? Even though this paper did not seek to make an evolutionary case for a major transition account, the reviewed evidence speaks to the possibility of a major transition for two reasons. First and simply, the abundance of superorganismic human features suggests that a major transition might have taken place. If human groups act like superorganisms in so many ways, we have to consider the possibility of a major evolutionary transition. (251)

Kiefer, Kate. Complexity, Class Dynamics, and Distance Learning. Computers and Composition. Article in Press, 2006. Educational classrooms can be seen to express emergent self-organization, wherein student interaction is more effective than in remote, virtual experiences. Check the journal website via Google.

Kolodny, Oren, et al. Integrative Studies of Cultural Evolution: Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries to Produce New Insights. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Vol. 373/Iss. 1743, 2018. OK and Marcus Feldman, Stanford University, and Nicole Creanza, Vanderbilt University introduce an update issue for research findings as they take on a life of their own about how small and larger societies evolve and accumulative knowledge. Some entries are Enquire Within: Cultural Evolution and Cognitive Science by Cecilia Heyes, Generative Inference for Cultural Evolution by Anne Kandler and Adam Powell, and Cultural Complexity and Evolution in fluctuating environments by Laurel Fogarty. See also Cultural Evolutionary Theory: How Culture Evolves and Why It Matters by Nicole Creanza, et al in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (114/7782, 2017) and Game Changing Innovations by Oren Kolodny, et al in PLoS One (December 2016).

Culture evolves according to dynamics on multiple temporal scales, from individuals' minute-by-minute behaviour to millennia of cultural accumulation that give rise to population-level differences. These dynamics act on a range of entities—including behavioural sequences, ideas and artefacts as well as individuals, populations and whole species—and involve mechanisms at multiple levels, from neurons in brains to inter-population interactions. In this article we highlight some specific respects in which the study of cultural evolution has benefited and should continue to benefit from an integrative approach. We showcase a number of pioneering studies which illustrate the value of perspectives from different fields for understanding cultural evolution, such as cognitive science and neuroanatomy, behavioural ecology, population dynamics, and evolutionary genetics. They also underscore the importance of understanding cultural processes when interpreting research about human genetics, neuroscience, behaviour and evolution. (Abstract edits)

Lansing, J. Stephen, et al. Adaptive Self-Organization of Bali’s Ancient Rice Terraces. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114/6504, 2017. A seven member team from the Santa Fe Institute, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Stockholm Resilience Center, and the Medical University of Vienna (Stefan Thurner) add a new level of sophisticated analysis to these anthropologist Lansing studies (search) over two decades about how these mathematical and geometric fractal-like forms arise naturally via coordinated human behaviors. See also a similar work by Ron Eglash and colleagues with regard to African villages and artistic designs.

In Bali, the cooperative management of rice terraces extends beyond villages to whole watersheds. To understand why, we created a model that explores how cooperation can propagate from pairs of individuals to extended groups, creating a resilient system of bottom-up management that both increases and equalizes harvests. Spatial patterns of collective crop management—observable in Google Earth—closely match the predictions of the model. The spatial patterning that emerges is nonuniform and scale-free. Although the model parameters here are tuned to Bali, similar mechanisms of emergent global control should be detectible in other anthropogenic landscapes using multispectral imagery. Recognizing this signature of emergent system-wide cooperation may help planners to avoid unproductive changes to successful bottom-up systems of environmental management. (Significance)

Lansing, Stephen. Perfect Order: Recognizing Complexity in Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. The University of Arizona anthropologist achieves an unique understanding of intricate, long standing cultural practices by way of complex system principles. In collaboration with the Santa Fe Institute, these studies find that the terracing and irrigation of rice planting in central, mountainous Bali, which is maintained by water temple networks, farmer cooperatives, pest control programs, and so on, can be modeled as a self-organizing complex adaptive system. Centuries old efforts to form a vertically ordered society as a cosmological microcosm can today be appreciated in their temporal dynamic sustainability. Check also Lansing's website.

Lee, Edward D., et al. Emergent Regularities and Scaling in Armed Conflict Data. arXiv:1903.07762. I have been tracking the scientific quest for a natural, commonly recurrent, formative principle since general systems in the 1960s. When I visited the Santa Fe Institute in 1987, this endeavor was an incentive and Grail goal. Into Spring 2019, computational theorists EDL and Christopher Myers, Cornell University along with Jessica Flack, David Krakauer and Bryan Daniels, SFI, post a good example whence “dynamic self-similarities and large-scale symmetries” can be discerned even for violently chaotic human behaviors. As the quotes allude, an independent, universally exemplified, mathematical code indeed seems in effect across cosmic to social phases. As long intimated, a second immaterial source is now being found which moves and constrains our travails and micro-social mayhem. See also Universal Scaling Across Biochemical Networks on Earth by this collaborative team in Science Advances (5/1, 2019).

Large-scale armed conflict is a characteristic feature of modern civilization. The statistics of conflict show remarkable regularities like power law distributions of fatalities and durations, but these properties have remained disparate, albeit prominent, features of conflict. We explore a large, detailed data set of 105 armed conflict reports spanning 20 years across nearly 104 kilometers. By clustering proximate events into conflict avalanches, we show that the number of conflict reports, fatalities, duration, and geographic extent satisfy consistent scaling relations. The temporal evolution measured by these scaling variables display emergent symmetry, reflecting self-similarity in the trajectories of conflict avalanches. A natural interpretation of our findings is a criticality state, suggesting that armed conflicts are dominated by a low-dimensional process that scales with physical dimensions in a unified and predictable way. (Abstract)

Taken all together, these features furnish quantitative constraints for the prediction of armed conflict. In kind, universal features and scaling laws have now been found in a variety of large-scale social systems demonstrating that ideas from statistical physics can structure our understanding of social phenomena. In this wider context, our findings hint at the intriguing possibility that these emergent regularities reflect underlying physical principles that shape the evolution of armed conflicts. (4)

Lenski, Gerhard. Ecological-Evolutionary Theory. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2005. The emeritus University of North Carolina sociologist and author, long an advocate of an expanded natural context for human societies, provides a summary volume of his thought and teachings from the Stone Age to the modern era.

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