VII. Our Earthuman Moment: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality
2. Complex Local to Global Network Biosocieties
Mayntz, Renate. Chaos in Society. Grebogi, C. and James Yorke, eds. The Impact of Chaos on Science and Society. Toyko: United Nations University Press, 1997. A more appropriate sociological science ought to be informed by the dynamics of nonlinear self-organization.
Human societies obviously display all the characteristic features of nonlinear non-equilibrium systems: unpredictability due to complex interdependencies and recursive processes, hysteresis, phase transitions, and critical mass phenomena. (300)
Mesoudi, Alex. Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. With this book and prior articles (search here and AM’s website), the University of London psychologist is in the forefront of a 21st century quantitative confirmation, long in the offing, of a seamless continuity (how could it be otherwise) between prior biological and recent societal realms. As noted below, “culture” includes linguistic, psychological, economic, neural, and ethnic dimensions. Compare with Etienne Danchin, et al, with AM as a coauthor, as a new generation of researchers are able to join much recent evidence to flesh out and confirm this expanded evolutionary developmental syntheses. An update article by AM is Cultural Evolution: A Review in Evolutionary Biology (Online April, 2015).
In this book I survey a growing body of scientific research that is based on the fundamental premise that cultural change – by which I mean changes in socially transmitted beliefs, knowledge, technology, languages, social institutions, and so on – shares the very same principles that Darwin applied to biological change in The Origin a century and a half ago. In other words, culture evolves. (viii)
Mesoudi, Alex. How Cultural Evolutionary Theory Can Inform Social Psychology and Vice Versa. Psychological Review. 116/4, 2009. From the University of London, an update on Mesoudi’s project, along with colleagues cited in a long bibliography, to at last forge a realistic, comprehensive parallel and continuity between biological evolution and the currency of human linguistic societies. By such an achievement, it is contented that various academic disciplines which deal with similar aspects can be effectively informed and expanded in their theoretical and practical endeavors.
Cultural evolutionary theory is an interdisciplinary field in which human culture is viewed as a Darwinian process of variation, competition, and inheritance, and the tools, methods, and theories developed by evolutionary biologists to study genetic evolution are adapted to study cultural change. (929)
Mesoudi, Alex. Pursuing Darwin’s Curious Parallel: Prospects for a Science of Cultural Evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114/7853, 2017. As the extended Abstract says, the University of Exeter cultural psychologist (search) continues his project, as David S. Wilson and others, to reconcile and join life’s biological phase with our human linguistic societies. A working answer is in sight as better finesses of field, experimental, and conceptual domains come aboard. See also by AM and collaborators Shared Group Membership Facilitates the Persistence of Cultural Transmitted Behavior (PsyArXiv 2018)
In the past decades, scholars 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 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 by phylogenetic methods. Since then, there have been major efforts to understand the sociocognitive mechanisms underlying cumulative cultural evolution, the consequences of demography along with social learning biases, transformative and selective processes, and quantitative phylogenetic and multilevel selection models. (Abstract excerpts)
Mesoudi, Alex, et al. Is Human Cultural Evolution Darwinian? Evolution. 58/1, 2004. An update on the contentious project from Charles Darwin to the present to explain a continuity of biological and social evolution. A main issue is identifying the cultural units of inheritance, such as memes, which seems to be a matter of semantic definition.
In short, the unifying framework of Darwinian evolution has the potential to synthesize the social sciences as it has the natural sciences. (9)
Mesoudi, Alex, et al. Towards a Unified Science of Cultural Evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 29/329, 2006. Along with Andrew Whiten and Kevin Laland, all from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, a peer-reviewed proposal of paths to a social evolutionary synthesis similar to and in accord with biological Darwinism. This is seen as a doable and necessary project with which commentators generally agree. As usual in this exercise much discussion goes on over a cultural ‘genetic’ equivalent, still not yet worked out.
We suggest that human culture exhibits key Darwinian evolutionary properties, and argue that the structure of a science of cultural evolution should share fundamental features with the structure of a science of biological evolution. (329)
Miller, John H. and Scott Page. Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Miller is professor of economics and social sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and Page is professor of complex systems, political science, and economics at the University of Michigan. A rapid tour of complexity modeling approaches such as emergence, self-organized criticality, automata, networks, diversity, adaptation, and feedback. But the work comes across an unorganized and unedited pastiche of subjects and claims with little sense of a common CAS as proposed by Murray Gell-Mann and John Holland, who are barely mentioned. Compare or combine with Eric Beinhocker’s magisterial The Origin of Wealth noted in A Planetary Physiology.
Mirolli, Marco and Stefano Nolfi. Evolving Communication in Embodied Agents. Nolfi, Stefano and Marco Mirolli, eds. Evolution of Communication and Language in Embodied Agents. Berlin: Springer, 2010. Institute of Cognitive Science and Technologies, CNR, Rome, researchers employ a “complex adaptive system” model of interacting entities as the creative dynamics of emergent behavior. See also Nolfi’s chapter in Hooker, et al, eds. Philosophy of Complex Systems.
Mosko, Mark and Frederick Damon, eds. On the Order of Chaos. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005. Social anthropologists propose to set aside mechanistic models and counter postmodern qualms by reconceiving their field studies in terms of the iterative structures and dynamics of complex systems. The several quotes are from Mosko’s Introduction. A distinguishing quality of indigenous cultures, with reference to Claude Levi-Straus’ binary theories, is a recurrent fractal-like scale which spans individual, gender, tribe and cosmos. In addition to Piot, other typical papers are Jose Antonia Kelly: Fractality and the Exchange of Perspectives, and Mark Mosko: Peace, War, Sex, and Sorcery.
The organic analogy is only one anthropological instance among many of basic epistemological tropes exhibiting forms of fractal scaling. A major share of the classic analyses and interpretations of myth, ritual, social structure, political organization, and economic exchange is based on the notions of metaphor and analogy, for example, of specifically fractal proportions. Durkheim and Mauss’s Primitive Classification (1963), which outlines the recurrent patterning of spatial form at various levels of societal organization – the clan, the village, the tribe, the cosmos, etc. – among numerous tribal societies and early civilizations, is a straightforward illustration of fractal self-similarity. (26)
Muthukrishna, Michael, et al. The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How Culture Drives Brain Expansion, Sociality, and Life History. PLoS Computational Biology. November, 2018. London School of Economics, University of British Columbia, Arizona State University and Harvard University (Joseph Henrich) system anthropologists trace and verify the presence of a tandem interplay between human sociality, cerebral capacity, and a resultant common knowledge resource. Once again, as life and mind evolves and advances an oriented transitional ratcheting seems at work toward a more effective individual and group cognizance and viable survival.
In the last few million years, the hominin brain more than tripled in size. Comparisons across evolutionary lineages suggest that this may be part of a broader trend toward larger, more complex brains in many taxa. Efforts to understand the evolutionary forces driving brain size have focused on climatic, ecological, and social factors. Here, building on research on learning, we analytically and computationally model two closely related hypotheses: The Cultural Brain Hypothesis and the Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis. The Cultural Brain Hypothesis posits that brains have been selected for their ability to store and manage information. The model reveals relationships between brain size, group size, innovation, social learning, mating structures, and the length of the juvenile period. We then derive the Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis for the conditions that favor an autocatalytic take-off characteristic of human evolution. The resultant evolutionary pathway may help explain the rapid expansion of human brains and other aspects of our species’ life history and psychology. (Abstract)
Nowak, Andrzej. Dynamical Minimalism: Why Less is More in Psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 8/2, 2004. In a paper cited as a theoretical basis for the 2013 volume Complex Human Dynamics, edited by Nowak, et al, the University of Warsaw systems psychologist provides a succinct distillation of various takes upon complex self-organization found to be recur across nature and society. In essence, many local agents from proteins and people, with necessary autonomy, constantly interact via simple yet fluid rules, from which arise intricate, nested living assemblies.
The principle of parsimony, embraced in all areas of science, states that simple explanations are preferable to complex explanations in theory construction. Parsimony, however, can necessitate a trade-off with depth and richness in understanding. The approach of dynamical minimalism avoids this trade-off. The goal of this approach is to identify the simplest mechanisms and fewest variables capable of producing the phenomenon in question. A dynamical model in which change is produced by simple rules repetitively interacting with each other can exhibit unexpected and complex properties. It is thus possible to explain complex psychological and social phenomena with very simple models if these models are dynamic. In dynamical minimalist theories, then, the principle of parsimony can be followed without sacrificing depth in understanding. Computer simulations have proven especially useful for investigating the emergent properties of simple models. (Abstract)
Nowak, Andrzej and Robin Vallacher. Dynamical Social Psychology. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. A synoptic text introduces complex systems theory as a way to begin to explain the many diverse phenomena of social interaction. A 2008 update summary “The Dynamics of Human Experience” by the authors appears in Stephen Guastello, et al, eds. Chaos and Complexity in Psychology. A significant 2013 volume Complex Human Dynamics (search) by Nowak and colleagues, with many real world applications, continues valiant project.