Evolutionary Megaparadigms

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Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev et al. :

"Although the notions of megaevolution and macroevolution are very similar at the moment and can well be regarded as synonyms, it may still make sense to discriminate between them. For instance, the term megaevolution could be used for the whole process of evolution, all of its phases and qualitative levels from the Big Bang to the forecastable future, whereas macroevolution may be useful to characterize the full course of evolution within a particular realm – in such cases we would speak of cosmic, geological, chemical, biological, social macroevolution. In this book we will use those terms in this way."



Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev, et al. :

"We can now provide a fuller, yet still preliminary, characterization of Evolutionary Megaparadigms. First of all, this involves general evolutionary laws, characteristics, and principles; vectors, levels, and rhythms of mega- and macroevolution as well as similarities of ‘behavior’ of different forms of matter in certain conditions.[14] While discussing these aspects we need to answer the following questions: 1) What are the specific subjects of evolutionary studies? 2) Can we detect a certain unity in evolutionary megaparadigms? Tentative answers to those questions may include the following: within this approach we are dealing with specific processes of qualitative transformations of objects and structures, resulting in the emergence of new levels of organization of matter with new qualities, possibilities, and perspectives.[15] We can identify at least three types of qualitative changes: a) changes leading to relatively small and localized qualitative changes; b) changes leading to more significant qualitative changes (for example, the emergence of a new level of integration); c) especially significant qualitative changes, whose emergence creates possibilities for evolutionary breakthroughs.[16] In the words of Henri Claessen: ‘Evolutionism then becomes the scientific activity of finding nomothetic explanations for the occurrence of such structural changes’ (2000a: 2). Such qualitative transformations are described by a number of general evolutionary principles, laws, and rules, some of which are mentioned below.

In the second place, megaparadigms may include mega-laws that should be regarded as certain principles rather than as rigid and fixed relationships. However, the significance of each of those principles can be rather different, depending on the nature of the evolving systems (cosmic, biological, or social). It is not sufficient to formulate only very general principles and laws. It is also necessary to translate these more abstract principles into methodological models for specific case studies. The present issue of the Almanac considers such laws, rules, and regularities. We hope that this will lead to more detailed discussions in subsequent issues.

In the third place, the notion of megaparadigms implies the possibility to detect not only large-scale regularities and rules but it also opens up the possibility to analyze the degree of applicability of particular rules to the various types of macroevolution. Indeed, the appearance of certain similar traits, principles, and regularities in different types of macroevolution does not necessarily prove that they are the same type of process. Large underlying differences may convey the impression of similarities. Such a discovery can lead to a better understanding of such differences.[17]

In the fourth place, we need to develop a common terminology. We have already mentioned a few such terms, e.g.,‘energy’, ‘matter’, ‘information’, ‘system’, etc.

However, are there any terms that are specific for evolutionary studies? We think these terms should include, obviously, evolution and coevolution as well as micro-, macro-, and megaevolution; numerous notions labeled with the adjective evolutionary; various terms characterizing evolution, such as speed, directionality, levels, forms, types; terms that characterize spheres of evolution, most notably, perhaps, the biosphere, the noosphere, the technosphere, etc.; possibly, perhaps, notions of progress or the lack of it; processes of selection and resulting variation. However, for a further development of evolutionary megaparadigms these terms may not be sufficient, and examples of the use of new terms can be found in some contributions to this Almanac. It is noteworthy that all the existing mega-evolutionary terminology is interdisciplinary by nature. More likely than not, therefore, new terms will also have an interdisciplinary character.

In the fifth place, there is a potential for the development of cross-disciplinary and comparative research that can establish similarities as well as detect differences of both methodological and practical nature; this may allow us to find new heuristic evolutionary theories. While the issues studied within different branches of sciences may be very specific, through the prism of the evolutionary approach it is often possible to find opportunities for interdisciplinary comparisons, the creative borrowing of methodology, the identification of common mechanisms, of ‘vectors’ as well as systemic properties that are characteristic of different forms of organization of matter, energy, and information in abiotic, biological, and social systems (cf. Carneiro, Spier, Snooks, Grinchenko, Grinin, Markov, Korotayev, Reznikova, Lekevičius, Heylighen in this Almanac). In forthcoming issues of the Almanac we hope to present more discussions about these aspects.

In the sixth place, research in terms of evolutionary megaparadigms frequently requires considering issues such as directionality (vectors or trends), speed, reversibility, etc.[18] In sum, the general nature of evolution requires attention to a great many fundamental aspects: ontological, epistemological, terminological and methodological.

In the seventh place, any serious scientific paradigm requires a study of its own history. We are planning to publish such overviews and discussions in future issues of the Almanac.[19]

In the eighth place, we believe that there are common methodological principles and approaches to evolutionary studies, even though we are dealing with processes that never fully repeat themselves.

In contrast to the system approach that considers systems and structures as essentially static (or concentrates on their functioning), evolutionary approaches focus on those special conditions and factors that determine qualitative evolutionary transformations and reorganizations of such systems. These factors themselves become the subject of theoretical analysis. This may lead to the development of analytical instruments which are common for different branches of the evolutionary studies.

In evolutionary studies, the attention is usually focused on what is considered to be the most important, on qualitative changes and transformations (reorganizations). Leading questions include the direction of such changes: for example, if they lead to a decrease, or increase, in complexity; whether they constitute a transition to a new evolutionary level; or whether they are similar to, for instance, the mechanism of adaptive radiation in biology; whether it is possible to trace some genetic links.

The ‘historical method’ employed in evolutionary studies differs from the ‘logical method’ of traditional philosophy. Within such philosophical approaches ‘the logical’ was supposed to clean ‘the historical’ from various contingencies in order to detect its essence. However, in this ‘cleansing’ process the resulting logical constructions tended to lose their connection with reality entirely, which is unacceptable within evolutionary studies. This will be elaborated below.

Finally, a few epistemological aspects and principles are common to all evolutionary studies, because they stem from the peculiarities of self-organizing processes (see Grinin and Korotayev 2009: ch. 1 for more detail). As direct observations of complex large-scale objects and processes are impossible, our reflection about these things constitutes a multi-layered indirect process of cognition that is complicated greatly by linguistic ambiguities and other semiotic problems.

In conclusion, evolutionary megaparadigms must be based on empirical observations and plausible hypotheses, which allow the application of the standard scientific procedures of verification and falsification.[20] They must be able to accommodate most, if not all, of the existing evidence. We want to encourage as much open discussion as possible about evolutionary studies, in hope that from a new diversity of approaches a new unifying approach may emerge sometime in the future."


Similarities Between All Types of Macro-Evolution

Leonid E. Grinin and Andrey V. Korotayev:

"One can find many similarities between all types of macroevolution. However, unfortunately, there are few works on the opportunity to reveal them. In the present Introduction we will briefly consider a number of quite important similarities but unfortunately in a rather unsystematized manner as they are presented here only as an illustration of some important aspects which in our opinion clearly show the systemic-structural and evolutionary functional unity of the world starting from the microworld up to contemporary global humankind. In fact one can distinguish several similarities and group them into large blocks.

The capacity for development, self-preservation and self-organization.

Evolution, that is the changes of objects, actually means the destruction of their stability and identification. From this point of view, at any stage and in any sphere of evolution the matter can be divided into two types: the first one is able to self-preservation and the second one is able to self-transformation (of course, these characteristics are present to a different degree). In other words, one can speak about evolving and non-evolving matter. There exist rather conservative elements even within human society and there still exist some societies which are not quite prone to changes, especially this phenomenon was strongly pronounced in the previous epochs. An average lifespan of a biological species is less than 10 million years. At the same time there are species which have endured for 200–300 million years, and the presumable age of blue-green algae is several billions years, that is they have not changed significantly since the Archean Eon. At any phase, the evolving matter makes up the minority (see Nazaretyan 2011); thus, the light (baryonic, stellar) matter according to some current views amounts for only 3–5 per cent. And such proportion is relevant even to the human society in which, according to some reports, the number of innovators is also 3–5 per cent. But at the same time, we suppose that just in the course of evolution of this comparatively small part of the matter the latter acquired the ability to self-organization. Many scientific disciplines, including Complexity Studies and Cybernetics, deal with the processes of self-organization of the matter. Self-organization is one of the most important and universal properties of the matter at any stage of evolution. One can say that the stronger the property of the matter to evolve, the stronger is its ability to selforganization and interaction with the environment. The issue of interaction with the environment, which is typical of evolution, can be illustrated by the problem of ‘wastes’ resulting from objects’ functioning and of the best ways to get rid of the wastes. This is a cross-cutting evolutionary and more urgent problem of the present time. Fred Spier considers this aspect from a rather interesting point (Spier 2011b). Let us note once again that the inability to evolve means the ability of the matter to self-preservation; thus, the dark matter (the composition of this matter is still unknown) has probably undergone no significant changes over the last 13–14 billion years after the Big Bang, and perhaps, it had existed before this event. Though the latest discoveries confirm the consistency of the dark matter and dark energy (cosmic vacuum), one can suppose that they are capable to transformations, but it takes much more time for the dark matter to transform than for the light matter. But some time ago the stars used to be considered unchangeable too.

The law of the age stages/phases of object's life.

Oswald Spengler (1993) and Arnold Toynbee (1991) are known for their theories of civilization which stated that every civilization passes through certain stages of life (birth, youth, maturity, and decline) before the collapse. The similar idea was suggested more categorically by Lev Gumilev, who stated that the life period of any ethnic group from its birth till death lasts for 1500 years and during its life time an ethnos passes through the same stages (see Gumilev 1993). This idea still arouses discussions; but still the idea of certain phases of social organisms' life is rather reasonable. But while in social life a society can prolong its life and retrieve its dynamism at the expense of innovations and reformations, in the case of evolution we clearly observe that all material objects and systems have a certain lifespan and pass a certain phase. It is quite obvious among the biological organisms and even species. The stars also have certain life phases. After the phase of ordinary thermonuclear reactions, which is called the main sequence phase, is completed, a star transforms into a white dwarf (after passing the red giant stage) or (having a large mass) into a neutron star. One can find certain phases within the life span of many other objects as well.

The rule of ‘block assemblage’ in evolution

This rule was formulated by Grinin, Korotayev and Markov (see Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev 2009, 2011) for the analysis of the similarities between biological and social macroevolution.6 However, it is quite relevant for the cosmic, chemical and geological phases of evolution. The essence of this rule is that in the course of evolution there emerge some elementary and more complex units, systems and constructions which are used in different variations. The elementary particles are the units which form the atoms. With the emergence of atoms there also emerge the stellar systems, and in the stellar interior new types of atoms including heavy elements are formed from additional elementary particles. Due to the diversity of emerging atoms one can speak about a chemical evolution. Atoms are the universal units and components for the formation of various molecules and this marks the beginning of geological and then of a complex molecular organic evolution leading to life. The cell becomes an element for the formation of living organisms; there progressively emerge entire blocks of organs and systems which are surprisingly similar in different classes and even types of living organisms. One can recall genes and chromosomes as standard components and blocks of biological systems. One can insert a gene of a mouse into an elephant DNA, and the human gene – into the bacteria! Thus, there is a striking standardization of elements and ‘components’ at all evolutionary levels; and since entirely new objects within evolution are for 90–99 per cent created from the already existing components, the speed of evolution increases dramatically. Let us also add that in human society the borrowing occurs rather frequently: societies adopt (sometimes as complete wholes) religions, legal, political and technological systems. As a result we observe the phenomenon of globalization in the course of which the unification reaches an unprecedented level.

The unevenness and catastrophes (gradualism and catastrophism)

Within evolution, periods of slow changes (accumulations), that is of an evolution in its narrow sense, are alternated by rapid metamorphoses and qualitative transformations (which sometimes look like revolutions) and periods of explosive growth are followed by catastrophes. In geology and paleontology there were hot debates between proponents of catastrophism (the school of the famous paleontologist George Cuvier) and adherents of gradual changes (e.g., Charles Lyell) whose approach is known as ‘gradualism’. The victory of the latter was a progress; however, later it became clear that it was very difficult to explain many things by slow and insignificant changes only. Thus, the evolutionary theory was enriched by the ideas of leaps, revolutions, and catastrophes enabling us to understand how and why the world kept changing. It is important to note that catastrophism is an essential part of evolution at all its stages. The idea of ‘Big Bang’, the biggest ‘catastrophe’ in the history of the Universe, underlies its origin. Thus, catastrophes appear to inevitably accompany the development and evolution, to be a kind of compensation for the development and rapid growth (and at certain evolutionary stages – a compensation for progress). In cosmic life, catastrophes are an inevitable result of long life of stars which, after having depleted their energy reserves, turn into the white dwarfs or red giants and sometimes they produce extremely bright outbursts of light – the outbursts of supernova. In the field of biology, the catastrophes are the great extinctions which enabled new progressive species to appear. It should be noted that the catastrophes provide an abundant data for the scientific reconstruction of the past events. Thus, as a result of the study of supernova's outbursts, the spectrum shift analysis served a firm foundation for the discovery (one of the most important in astrophysics and the most important for the last 15 years) of antigravitation of cosmic vacuum (the so-called dark energy) which constitutes the vast majority of the total mass of the Universe.

The typical and the unique objects

On the one hand, one cannot help wondering at the Nature's ‘production-line’ ability to create millions and billions of exceptionally similar copies of the same objects. The issue of ideal eternal essences and real copies-existences of things has been the philosophers' main concern since ancient times. But, on the other hand, the variability of objects which are similar in type is undoubted. In fact, every star is very different from another even if it belongs to a narrow classification group (and there are a lot of such groups). And even if the stars are formed (like enzygotic twins) from one gasdust cluster (as a result of a single outburst of supernova, etc.), still they differ in mass, chemical composition, the presence or absence of planetary system (and in the planetary system types), brightness, characteristics of reactions, and position. None of the biological species is identical with another. The same refers to human beings (various papillary patterns on the fingers, unique genetic code, etc.). Not so long ago we believed that animals act like mechanisms according only to their genetically determined instincts. But at present, ethology identified a large range of individuality among animals as well as among insects (see, e.g., Reznikova and Panteleyeva 2012). Thus, typical and unique (individual) characteristics are peculiar to all macroobjects in nature. At the same time individuality increases as the evolution develops. Probably, the number of variability attributes increases along with the complication of systems (e.g., in human society, language, social position, nationality, etc. are added). Such analysis allows identifying the roots of the features which seem typical of humans only, as though they were inherent to Nature's grand scheme. The variability of typical objects (belonging to one class, species, group, etc.) is the most valuable tool of evolution which allows selecting variations of attributes (as well as their concentration, etc.) which are the most appropriate for a variety of tasks. A qualitative breakthrough can occur only as a result of the emergence of unique circumstances (whose possible occurrence is significantly increased through variability). Finally, only the endless variety of stars, planetary systems, planets and preceding events could be a trigger of emergence of life on planets of the Earth type. But it is quite likely that, in the field of microworld, elementary particles, atoms and molecules might also have some individual features which may be found out to affect (through certain mechanisms) some properties. It is impossible to identify the differences between the grains of sand with the naked eye, but it is easy to do it under the microscope.

Recombination, or the circulation of matter of similar class in nature

The Nature's workshop is based not only on the selection from the diversity but also on a constant remaking of objects. Every object has its own lifespan, therefore its decaying substance is involved into the circulation and new objects are formed from it. New stars are formed from exploded stars but they differ from their predecessors and this brings about an increasing diversity and enhances chances of the emergence of something brand new. Decayed biomass is a source of nutrients to support the reproduction and life of other living creatures. On debris of a destroyed empire a new one appears. On the one hand, in inanimate nature we observe a strong ability to direct and reverse transitions (contraction and expansion of the matter), transformation of energy into matter and vice versa; thus, the rebirth of a star from a gas-dust cloud is possible (but it is impossible to make an exact reproduction of a unique object as it is the general characteristic of nature). The irreversible character of processes is much more evident in animate nature. But in human society we observe an increasing irreversibility of typical processes at a certain level (not in the sense of revival of people but of the revival of social organisms which are very different from the animated organisms in a number of parameters). Thus, the decay and revival (in different ways) of objects (organisms) is a general law of evolution/the Universe. We say ‘of the Universe’ because these processes are ensured by the laws of perdurability of matter and energy. We say ‘of Evolution' because these processes allow some constant testing of new variants (in biology they also include mutations and in human society – deliberate changes which accelerate the given process, but its general basis consists in individualization of objects and recombination of the matter/energy). On the other hand, as the evolution becomes more complicated, the effect of mutual influence emerges resulting from the recombination of matter. Thus, the living matter produces a huge impact both on geological changes (organic raw materials – coal, oil7, soils, etc., not to mention the oxygen which appeared in the atmosphere as a result of the greatest aromorphosis in animate nature – of the transition from anaerobic to aerobic dissimilation) and on the geographic ones (the emergence of islands, etc.) while the anthropic matter influences both animate and inanimate nature (channels, ploughing up, etc.)."


Source: Introduction. Once More about Aspects, Directions, General Patterns and Principles of Evolutionary Development. By Leonid E. Grinin and Andrey V. Korotayev. In: Evolution: From Big Bang to Nanorobots 2015 5–19 (Evolution Almanac, Vol. 4