Human Metasystem Transition Theory

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"This article proposes a theory of human evolution termed Human Metasystem Transition (HMST), suggesting that major transitions in human organization have been facilitated by the (Text sourced from emergence of new information media and energy sources. It posits that the current convergence of the Internet and renewable energy could catalyze a fourth metasystem transition, leading to a global superorganism with compressed spatial and temporal dimensions of human interaction. "



"The emergence of new levels of organization has occurred within the human system three times, and has resulted in three broadly defined levels of higher control, producing three broadly defined levels of group selection (e.g., band/tribe, chiefdom/kingdom, nation-state/international). These are “Human Metasystem Transitions” (HMST). Throughout these HMST several common system-level patterns have manifested that are fundamental to understanding the nature and evolution of the human system, as well as our potential future development. First, HMST have been built around the control of three mostly distinct primary energy sources (e.g., hunting, agriculture, industry). Second, the control of new energy sources has always been achieved and stabilized by utilizing the evolutionary emergence of a more powerful information-processing medium (e.g., language, writing, printing press). Third, new controls emerge with the capability of organizing energy flows over larger expanses of space in shorter durations of time: bands/tribes controlled regional space and stabilized for hundreds of thousand of years, chiefdoms/kingdoms controlled semi-continental expanses of space and stabilized for thousands of years, and nation-states control continental expanses of space and have stabilized for centuries.



Cadell Last:

"From the application of metasystem transition (MST) theory to the human system, we can identify three major system transitions throughout the evolution of our genus Homo. On each occasion a new level of organization has emerged, which has been stabilized by higher controls and higher group selection.

These metasystems broadly include systems commonly referred to as “band/tribe,” “chiefdom/kingdom,” and “nation-state/international” organizations (see Figure 2).

The structures of these organizations have been stabilized by the control of three mostly distinct primary energy sources: hunting, agriculture, and industry.

  • Band/tribe organizations manifested around the control of hunted and cooked animal meat: the Pyrian Regime.
  • Chiefdom/kingdom organizations manifested around the control of domesticated plant and animal resources: the Agrian Regime.
  • Nation-state/international organizations manifested around the control of ancient biomass (or fossil fuels): the Carbian Regime (see Niele 2005).

The control of these energy sources was always organized through the utilization of a new information medium to connect previously disparate subsystems.

  • During the transition to hunting organizations, modern language emerged to facilitate the formation of larger group sizes, which were capable of producing the social and technical expertise necessary for hunting to become a stable and reliable energy source (Dunbar 2003).
  • During the transition to agricultural organizations, written language functioned to track, collect, and stabilize a coordinated large-scale economy fundamentally built on domesticated plants and animals (Cooper 2004).
  • During the transition to industrial organizations, the printing press emerged allowing for the flourishing of scientific and technical expertise necessary for the exploitation and stabilization of fossil fuels, and consequently, the construction of the modern world (Niele 2005).

All of these human metasystem transitions (HMST) can be characterized by subsystems of lower control becoming integrated under new higher control regimes.

  • In the hunting transitions, parties and groups became integrated into bands and tribes.
  • In the agricultural transitions, bands and tribes became integrated or subsumed into chiefdoms and kingdoms.
  • In the industrial transition, chiefdoms and kingdoms became integrated or subsumed into the formation of the modern nation-state.

These are the most basic example of both the hierarchical and developmentally constrained nature of metasystems.

Metasystems are hierarchical because they emerge from integration at lower levels and developmentally constrained because they manifest similar organizational properties at each level. In this framework of thinking about the human system, the modern nation-state sits atop an ancient evolutionary HMST control hierarchy of ever-more diversely integrated subsystems.

Throughout this process of higher subsystem integration, the stabilization of a new HMST appears to compress spatial and temporal restrictions on human action, both within the control system and within society as a whole. The highest metasystem controls display an ever-broader extension of control over larger regions of space, and they can accomplish this spatial feat in shorter durations of time (i.e., physical space-time barriers to human action are consistently and progressively reduced).

Consequently, there is a trend toward accelerated metasystem emergence, as the space-time reach of human action progressively increases.

  • The hunting transition occurred over a period of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years,
  • the agricultural transition occurred over a period of thousands of years,
  • and the industrial transition has been occurring over a period of centuries.

This metasystem process has resulted in more complex human organizations directly and coherently controlling more of the Earth’s surface, faster. For individuals, the consequence is the emergence of systems that increasingly allow for action that is global (spatial) and instant (temporal). Therefore, in regards to both space and time, higher metasystem controls appear to facilitate a culturally and technologically mediated conquest of dimensionality.

Of  course,  it  is  unknown  whether  the  metasystem  conquest  of  dimensionality  will  be  further extended, but there is already evidence that a new information-energy 
relationship is emerging in the human system between the Internet (information medium) and renewables (energy structure). The  development and  stabilization of a  new 
information-energy feedback process  could provide the basic architecture for a further metasystem transition, which would mean a transition towards higher controls (i.e., 
global), greater systems complexity (i.e., higher subsystem integration), and further  reduction  of  space-time  restrictions  on  human  control and  action. Such  a  
metasystem transition  would  likely produce a human civilization best described as a “global village” (Last 2014a) with a “global brain” (Heylighen 2014a). ."

From the Conclusion

Cadell Last:

"I have tried to describe a complex systems theory of the human evolution – human metasystem transition (HMST) theory – based around the emergence of higher control organization through the stabilization of feedback between emergent information-energy systems. Both energy and information as phenomena appear to fundamentally influence human system structure and also appear to build on previously established processes, allowing higher controls to stabilize new organization and complexity. If this theory accurately maps the territory of human evolution, the emergence and establishment of new information and energy systems should present us with a signal that our current control structures will be challenged and potentially superseded this century. From an evolutionary cybernetic perspective, this theory has the potential to better integrate unique human species processes within a systems-level evolutionary model of all life. Previous biochemical metasystem transitions have followed very predictable patterns related to organization and complexity, and it appears as though the human system is not distinct in this respect even though a new and unique pathway (that of technocultural evolution) has emerged and continues to dominate change within our lineage. If simple fundamental mechanisms increase the probability of the establishment of higher-level organization within the human system, this may make our systems behavior easier to understand in relation to other complex systems."


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