Big Historical Foundations for Deep Future Speculations About Cosmic Evolution
* Article: Big Historical Foundations for Deep Future Speculations: Cosmic Evolution, Atechnogenesis, and Technocultural Civilization. Cadell Last. Found Sci, 2015 [10.1007/s10699-015-9434-y Doi]
"The most important addition to the literature offered in this paper involves taking bio-cultural evolution seriously as a natural phenomenon of equal significance to the hierarchy of cosmic processes that also include physicochemical and biochemical forms of evolutionary change. The failure to understand culture, and in particular the relationship between biology and culture as part of cosmic evolution, may be one of the primary failings of science in the modern world. This is a factor in holding back progress in our understanding of both the nature of humanity and the future of humanity. Therefore, in my approach to the deep future I focus on the emergence of the big historical cultural era."
"This is where cosmic evolutionary theory has a chance to re-organize our perspectiveand provide new insight. Throughout the development and evolution of our local universethere has been an interconnected growth of complexity from physical, chemical and bio-logical systems, as well as cultural and technological systems. This growth of complexityappears to open up new possibilities for the exploration of new relationships and newopportunities for experience in the universe. When we consider humanity from this per-spective we find that our scientific focus shifts towards the human system which nowoccupies a frontier position of highest complexity and cognition. Consequently, we arecapable of directing the future of evolution, and whatever emergent possibility could stemfrom our uniquely cultural and technological activities. Or said in another way, whatever‘act’ comes next in the ‘cosmic drama’ it will emerge from within the domain of collectivehuman social values, cultural creativity, and our exploration of latent technological pos-sibility. In this way the universe gives the appearance of internalizing its future potentialitywithin a network of billions of biocultural nodes that in aggregate represent a phenomenoncapable of producing yet another level of complex organization.This perspective does not succumb to the trap of anthropocentrism as I am not arguingthat humans are ‘reclaiming centrality’. Instead I am making the philosophical argumentthat humans could represent an important process in the context of the growth of localcomplexity that is part of a much larger ‘multi-local’ cosmic phenomenon. Of course this isspeculative but it is entirely plausible that cosmic evolutionary theory has application on auniversal scale."
- Cadell Last 
"Big historians are attempting to construct a general holistic narrative of human origins enabling an approach to studying the emergence of complexity, the relation between evolutionary processes, and the modern context of human experience and actions. In this paper I attempt to explore the past and future of cosmic evolution within a big historical foundation characterized by physical, biological, and cultural eras of change. From this analysis I offer a model of the human future that includes an addition and/or reinterpretation of technological singularity theory with a new theory of biocultural evolution focused on the potential birth of technological life: the theory of a-technogenesis. Furthermore, I explore the potential deep futures of technological life and extrapolate towards two hypothetical versions of an ‘Omega Civilization’: expansion and compression."
Describing the problem
1. On the relative failure of reductionist science to understand complex phenomena:
"Our inability to understand the nature of cultural phenomenon and its future implications has many causes, but is made all the more difficult due to the ‘‘two cultures’’ divide that has pervaded academic inquiry for decades (see Snow 1959; Wilson 1998; Kauffman 2010). The heart of this divide is created by fundamentally different epistemological worldviews that emphasize different approaches to understanding natural phenomenon. Historically (and broadly) the sciences attempt an understanding of the world that is predictive and approaches objectivity through the formulation of timeless, context-independent physical laws. In contrast, the humanities have mainly focused on narrative construction and the subjective dimension of human experience, with special emphasis on context, choice, and latent possibility within any event. This epistemological division prevents the construction of unifying conversation between diverse fields within biology and anthropology, and more broadly between the ‘physical/life sciences’ and the ‘social science/humanities’. The most relevant consequence of the ‘two cultures’ divide in respect to this paper is that there has been little research that specifically attempts to understand cosmic processes connecting the development and evolution of physical and chemical systems to the development and evolution of biological, ecological, cultural, and technological systems (Heylighen 2011). As a result, no dominant academic conceptual framework comfortably situates the human phenomenon within an evolutionary context of the whole cosmos. Furthermore, dominant academic paradigms within academia do not lend themselves to such an analysis. In the sciences, many researchers have (often successfully) employed a physically reductionist program to understand life and the universe with the belief that all phenomena can be understood through an analysis of the mechanisms of its constituent parts. Consequently most ‘higher phenomena’ (i.e. more complex) are conceived of as representing ‘epiphenomena’ ultimately reducible to lower-level phenomena. The reductionist program has proven successful in many domains of physics and chemistry, but does not help us in understanding the evolution of complex adaptive systems (CAS) like organisms, ecosystems, and civilizations. "
2. On the relative failure of the postmodern culturalists:
"Alternatively, over the past several decades, many influential social theorists have developed a postmodern relativistic program, within which grand narratives explaining the human experience are explicitly rejected, and modern notions of a historical direction towards greater ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, and ‘progress’ are problematized. The postmodern program has proven successful in critiquing many naıve and western-centric assumptions inherent to the original conception of the modern project, however it offers us no new alternative model within which we can construct a common humanistic sociopolitical direction.
My point here is to emphasize that both reductionism and postmodernity, albeit successful in different ways within the sciences and humanities, cannot help us in terms of formulating a better understanding of big history and its meaning for the human species moving forward into our common future. The physically reductionist program cannot explain the emergence and intensification of hierarchical local complexity, as well as the existence of goal-oriented, purposeful systems (Corning 2002a). Consequently, everything that humans are (e.g. complex, goal and value-oriented, conscious, subjects) and everything the human system exhibits (e.g. emergence, purposeful organization, autonomy)becomes alien, unnatural, and impossible to predict and reduce. In contrast, the postmodern relativistic program ignores or fails to confront the implications of rising technological complexity and global convergence, leaving human civilization goal-less on the deepest scales of time (Stewart 2010). As a result, any sociopolitical insight we can gain from understanding large-scale patterns and processes discernible over big historical scales are not fully appreciated."
Constructing a Cosmic Evolutionary Theory
"What is the function and purpose of humanity? Are we mere epiphenomena, here for the blink of a cosmic eye, destined to perish on a universal stage that did not expect us and does not need us? Is the historical process really directionless and meaningless with no escape and no hope for a higher state of humanity in relation to each other and the universe? This is where cosmic evolutionary theory has a chance to re-organize our perspective and provide new insight. Throughout the development and evolution of our local universe there has been an interconnected growth of complexity from physical, chemical and bio-logical systems, as well as cultural and technological systems. This growth of complexity appears to open up new possibilities for the exploration of new relationships and new opportunities for experience in the universe. When we consider humanity from this perspective we find that our scientific focus shifts towards the human system which now occupies a frontier position of highest complexity and cognition. Consequently, we are capable of directing the future of evolution, and whatever emergent possibility could stem from our uniquely cultural and technological activities. Or said in another way, whatever ‘act’ comes next in the ‘cosmic drama’ it will emerge from within the domain of collective human social values, cultural creativity, and our exploration of latent technological possibility. In this way the universe gives the appearance of internalizing its future potentiality within a network of billions of biocultural nodes that in aggregate represent a phenomenon capable of producing yet another level of complex organization. This perspective does not succumb to the trap of anthropocentrism as I am not arguing that humans are ‘reclaiming centrality’. Instead I am making the philosophical argument that humans could represent an important process in the context of the growth of local complexity that is part of a much larger ‘multi-local’ cosmic phenomenon. Of course this is speculative but it is entirely plausible that cosmic evolutionary theory has application on a universal scale, with other analogous levels of local complexity developing via a type of ‘universal culture’. Therefore, in this attempt to understand the deep future, I do not attempt to specifically focus on understanding the role of mysterious impersonal forces such as dark energy and dark matter, but rather seek to understand how intimately familiar processes related to culture, technology, language, and mind could reshape the universe and/or possess a cosmic function in the operations of the cosmos itself, consequently adding new dimensions of purpose to our lives today and hope for a higher future. In short, we stand on the frontier of cosmic evolution and a future of tremendous possibility unforeseen by most historical humans."
"Big history is the study of the human past in relationship to the history of the universe (see Christian 2004; Spier 2011). This endeavor attempts to utilize the entire collective body of human knowledge in order to construct a deeper understanding of all natural processes(e.g. Aunger 2007a, b; Chaisson 2011a, b) from ‘‘Big Bang to Global Civilization’’ (e.g. Rodrigue et al. 2012). In contrast with the traditional attempt in physics to construct a ‘grand unified theory’ of the universe, big historians see the subject as providing the beginnings of a working ‘‘grand unified story’’ of the universe (Christian 2004, p. 4). From my perspective this goal should not be to eventually develop ‘one unchanging objective story’, but rather to develop the empirical framework for a story of our collective history that everyone can in turn relate to and utilize on a personal level. Thus big history has the opportunity to become simultaneously one story of our shared world as well as an infinite number of stories of how individuals can relate to that world. The usefulness of such a common origin story is that it can always be re-symbolized depending on contemporary sociopolitical context and scientific understanding. Consequently, big history offers humanity a deeper perspective and an opportunity for cosmic reflection in relation to the meaning of human life from an exploration of the processes that culminated in our existence."