Integration of Cosmic, Biological, and Social Evolution

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* Book: Evolution: Cosmic, Biological, and Social. Vol 1. of the Evolution Almanac. Edited by Leonid E. Grinin, Robert L. Carneiro, Аndrey V. Korotayev, Fred Spier. Uchitel, 2011.



This issue initiates the series of almanac under the common title Evolution, which is supposed to unite researchers working in all fields of evolutionary studies.

"The present issue may be regarded as a collective effort dedicated to the search for the contours and specifics of evolutionary mega-paradigms. In addition, in this issue we have tried to present articles that study problems on various scales. Yet in general this issue deals with studies on very large temporal and spatial scales, in other words: the issues of mega- and macroevolution."




Universal Evolution

  • Grinin, Leonid; Korotayev, Andrey; Carneiro, Robert L.; Spier, Fred

Introduction. Evolutionary Megaparadigm: Potential, Problems, Perspectives

  • Spier, Fred

How Big History Works: Energy Flows and the Rise and Demise of Complexity

  • Carneiro, Robert L.

Stellar Evolution and Social Evolution: A Study in Parallel Processes

Biological and Social forms of Evolution: Connections and Comparisons

  • Snooks, Graeme D.

Constructing a General Theory of Life: The Dynamics of Human and Non-human Systems

  • Lekevičius, Edmundas

Ecological Darwinism or Preliminary Answers to Some Crucial though Seldom Asked Questions

  • Reznikova, Zhanna

Evolutionary and Behavioural Aspects of Altruism in Animal Communities: Is There Room for Intelligence?

  • Grinin, Leonid; Markov, Alexander V.; Korotayev, Andrey

Biological and Social Aromorphoses: A Comparison between Two Forms of Macroevolution

Aspects of Social Evolution

  • Bondarenko, Dmitri M.; Grinin, Leonid; Korotayev, Andrey

Social Evolution: Alternatives and Variations (Introduction)

  • Chase-Dunn, Christopher

Evolution of Nested Networks in the Prehistoric U.S. Southwest: A Comparative World-Systems Approach

  • Heylighen, Francis

Conceptions of a Global Brain: An Historical Review


Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev et al. :

The contributions to this volume are subdivided into three sections:

  • Section I (‘Universal Evolution’, 2 articles);
  • Section II (‘Biological and Social Forms of Evolution: Connections and Comparisons’, 4 articles); and
  • Section III (‘Aspects of Social Evolution’, 3 articles).

Subjects and issues of the contributions to all three sections have a great deal in common and significantly supplement each other. As a result, the present issue may be regarded as a collective effort dedicated to the search for the contours and specifics of evolutionary megaparadigms. In addition, in this issue we have tried to present articles that study problems on various scales. Yet in general this issue deal with studies at very large temporal and spatial scales, in other words, the issues of mega- and macroevolution.

  • * *

The First Section of the almanac (Universal Evolution) starts with Fred Spier's article ‘How Big History Works: Energy Flows and the Rise and Demise of Complexity’. This article is written within the tradition of universal evolutionism, also known as the Big History. This research project aims at integrating the natural sciences and the humanities. In doing so it has become possible to detect a number of general vectors and trends in evolution as well as mechanisms and regularities, including their specific qualitative features at various evolutionary phases. The Big History emerged as a scientific discipline in the late 20th century. It offers an integrated model of the evolution of the Universe that connects the development of social, biological, and abiotic systems into a single consecutive process.[21] Such Big History models lead to the following question: is the information component within the triad ‘matter – energy – information’ a significant factor of evolutionary processes, or are two basic categories (energy and matter) sufficient for their description? The changes in the Universe during 13.7 billion years reveal certain simple trends.

Fred Spier advances an explanatory scheme for all of history from the beginning of the Universe until life on Earth today (Big History). His scheme is based on the ways in which energy levels as well as matter and energy flows have made possible both the rise and demise of complexity in all its forms.

According to Spier, the history of complexity in the Universe consists of a rather boring beginning, followed by a more exciting period of increasing local and regional complexity, which will subsequently peter out into total boredom. This is directly linked to the fact that, from the very beginning, the Big History has exhibited a trend towards lower energy levels as well as towards energy flows which first increased and then mostly began to decrease. As a result, in most places the level of complexity has remained rather low. This is first of all due to the fact that most of the Universe is virtually empty. Wherever there was sufficient matter, complexity rose in the form of galaxies, which are made up of stars, planets, and clouds of gas and dust, possibly with black holes in their centers. The growing range of chemical elements needed for life was cooked by exploding stars. This signaled another rise in complexity.

In the beginning, the energy levels determined the level of complexity the Universe could attain. After about 400,000 years of expansion, however, the rise of complexity has come as a result of the interplay between energy levels and energy flows. The first level of material complexity would be reached as a result of the nuclear force. This complexity consisted of the smallest, subatomic and atomic particles. Electromagnetism would take care of the second, intermediate, stage, in which atoms, molecules and complexes of molecules would be formed. The effects of gravity would inaugurate the last stage and would bring about all the larger structures we know in the observable Universe.

Spier believes that greater forms of biological and cultural complexity are exceedingly rare in the Universe. During the past four billion years or so, the energy flows and levels on the surface of our home planet were suitable for the emergence of this type of complexity. The intricate energy flows on the Earth's surface first made possible forms of biological complexity. Life began to actively harness more and increasingly varied sources of matter and energy. A very similar process took place during the cultural evolution of humankind. This has led to the greatest levels of complexity known today.

Robert L. Carneiro (‘Stellar Evolution and Social Evolution: A Study in Parallel Processes’) suggests that the process of evolution can be seen at work in all domains of nature. Carneiro points out a number of parallels between the development of stars and the development of human societies. For example, the use of the comparative method has been prominent in the study of evolution in both fields. Also, there are parallels between the two, such as the use of stages to distinguish significant phases of the evolutionary process, the manifestation of both multilinear and unilinear evolution in both, and differential rates of evolution among stars and societies.

As has been already mentioned above, in his book First Principles (1862), published only three years after Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Herbert Spencer portrayed evolution as something far beyond ‘descent with modification’. He saw it as a much broader process, which had manifested itself throughout the Universe, from the tiniest microorganisms to the largest galaxies. The evolution of the stars, then, was clearly within his purview.

As a field of astronomical research, stellar evolution has been pursued with increasing vigor and impressive results since Spencer's time. In fact, it may well be that the results astronomers and astrophysicists have been able to accomplish in reconstructing the process of cosmic evolution stand among the greatest intellectual triumphs of all time.

Carneiro points to some striking parallels between the evolution of stars and the evolution of human societies which anthropologists are barely aware of. And while recognition of these parallels may mean very little to the powerful and sophisticated science of astronomy, it just may be of some interest and value to the fragile and beleaguered field of cultural evolution.

  • * *

The Second Section of the almanac (Biological and Social Forms of Evolution: Connections and Comparisons) considers a number of important macro-evolutionary problems of biology and sociology. However, it will not be an exaggeration to say that it is primarily devoted to what may be denoted as comparative evolutionary studies. All the contributions to this section deal with comparisons between mechanisms, factors, laws, and trends in various fields of evolutionary studies as well as with terminology developed and applied in those fields, while the authors also consider the possibilities of their use in other fields. These articles also deal with issues of the development of general evolutionary methodologies and terminologies. This section mainly deals with comparisons between biological and social macroevolution, mostly since social evolution is substantially closer to biological evolution rather than to the evolution of abiotic systems. However, we have no doubts about the intrinsic possibility of comparative research with respect to any types of evolution (such as, for instance, shown in Carneiro's contribution to the First Section). In addition, relatively close types of macroevolution (physical and chemical, chemical and biological, geological and biological, etc.) may share evolutionary processes to some extent. In many cases it may even be better to speak of co-evolution between them – for example, with respect to geological and biological macroevolution, or biological and social macroevolution. Especially during the 20th century new scientific approaches emerged and developed quickly based on the analysis of such mutual links and parallels, including cybernetics and biogeochemistry, which studies, among other things, the relationship between the evolution of life and of inorganic matter on the Earth.

Contributions to the Second Section of the almanac cover a wide range of topics, ranging from specific issues in biological and social sciences to the application of general systems theory to biological and social systems, including behavioral strategies. One of the main issues covered in this section is the problem of progressive change and its criteria in biology and history (this subject is discussed in the contribution by Leonid Grinin, Alexander Markov,andAndrey Korotayev). The notion of progress (together with the one of evolution) came to the evolutionary biology from philosophy. However, this term remains highly controversial and is rejected by many biologists and sociologists. While discussing the possibility of the use of this term in evolutionary biology, Grant (1991: ch. 34) poses the following questions:

1) Is it possible to transfer satisfactorily the notion of progress from the sphere of human activities to evolutionary biology?

2) If so, would it be possible to formulate scientific criteria that allow us to define the notion of progress in organic evolution?

Different scientists suggest diametrically opposite answers to those questions. There are even more problems with the application of the notion of progress to the study of social macroevolution (see, e.g., Korotayev et al. 2000; Korotayev 2004; Grinin 2006 for more detail).

In all these cases, it appears necessary to take into account the fact that both in social and biological macroevolution the point of view of an observer and her or his value system plays a major role in defining the notion of progress (Grant 1985). Furthermore, the application of the notion of progress to the study of social evolution introduces a number of ethical problems. Although a great many attempts have been undertaken to apply the notion of progress more objectively in such studies, it has turned out to be impossible to avoid ethically charged positive connotations with this notion. In fact, the claim to be able to define the social progress with the aid of ‘objective criteria’ may imply the claim by some groups to know ‘objectively’ better than other people what these other people really need.

In his article ‘Constructing a General Theory of Life: The Dynamics of Human and Non-Human Systems’Graeme Donald Snooks maintains that the ultimate objective of theorists studying living systems is to construct a general theory of life that can explain and predict the dynamics of both human and non-human systems. Yet little progress has been made in this endeavor. Why? The author suggests that this is because of the inappropriate methods adopted by complexity theorists. Snooks claims that by assuming that the supply-side physics model – in which local interactions are said to give rise to the emergence of order and complexity – could be transferred either entirely (social physics) or partially (agent-based models, or ABMs) from the physical to the life sciences, we have distorted reality and, thereby, delayed the construction of a general dynamic theory of living systems. According to Snooks, the solution can only be found if we abandon the deductive and analogical methods of complexity theorists and adopt the inductive method. With this approach it is possible to construct a realist and demand-side general dynamic theory, as in the case of the dynamic-strategy theory presented in this paper.

In his contribution ‘Ecological Darwinism or Preliminary Answers to Some Crucial though Seldom Asked Questions’ Edmundas Lekevičius asserts that evolutionary regularities might be deduced from basic principles describing how life functions, most notably part-whole relationships and control mechanisms. The author suggests adding the concept of functional hierarchy to the concept of the struggle for existence: no solitary individual or species is functionally autonomous. Life as we know it can exist only in the form of a nutrient cycle. Only two purely biotic forces – ‘biotic attraction’ and ‘biotic repulsion’ – act in the living world. The first one maintains and increases diversity and organizes solitary parts into systems integrated to a greater or lesser degree. The second one, in the form of competition, lessens biodiversity but at the same time provides life with necessary plasticity. On that ground, tentative answers to the following questions are given: (1) Why does life exhibit such a peculiar organization with strong integration at lower levels of organization and weak integration at higher ones? (2) Why did particular species and guilds appear on the evolutionary stage at that particular time and not at any other? (3) Why was the functional structure of ecosystems prone to convergence despite a multitude of stochastic factors?

In her article ‘Evolutionary and Behavioral Aspects of Altruism in Animal Communities: Is There Room for Intelligence?’Zhanna Reznikova analyzes the phenomenon of the altruistic behavior by animals from an evolutionary perspective. The altruistic behavior of animals is still enigmatic for many evolutionary biologists, even though a great many data have been analyzed and several rational concepts have been developed, such as the theory of inclusive fitness and the theory of reciprocal altruism. Altruistic behavior in animal societies is based on the division of roles between individuals who are dependent on each other as a result of their behavioral, cognitive and social specialization. It is a challenging problem to explain intelligence within the framework of social specialization in such animal communities. In this review, the characteristics of different levels of sociality are considered and the role of flexibility of individual behavior within the functional structure of animal communities is analyzed. In some situations, behavioral, cognitive and social specialization can be congruent; maybe this is the formula for happiness in animal societies.

In their contribution ‘biological and social Aromorphoses: A Comparison between Two Forms of macroevolution’ Leonid Grinin, Alexander Markov, and Andrey Korotayev emphasize the point that the comparison between biological and social macroevolution is a very important although insufficiently studied subject, whose analysis offers new significant possibilities to comprehend the processes, trends, mechanisms, and peculiarities of each of the two types of macroevolution. Even though there are a few important differences between them, it appears possible to identify a number of fundamental similarities. At least three fundamental sets of factors determining those similarities can be singled out. First of all, in both cases we are dealing with very complex non-equilibrium (but rather stable) systems whose principles of functioning and evolution are described by General Systems' Theory, as well as by a number of cybernetic principles and laws. Secondly, in both cases we do not deal with isolated systems but rather with complex interactions between both biological and societal organisms and their external environment. The reaction of such systems to external challenges can be described in terms of certain general principles that are expressed, however, rather differently within biological and social reality. Thirdly, there is a direct ‘genetic’ link between the two types of macroevolution and their mutual influences.

The similarity of the principles and regularities of these two types of macroevolution does not imply that they produce the same results. Remarkable similarities are frequently accompanied by enormous differences (see, for example, the above mentioned case of the impressive similarity between genomes of chimpanzees and of humans).

According to the authors it appears reasonable to consider biological and social macroevolution as one single macro-evolutionary process to at least some extent, even though their concrete biological or social manifestations may display significant variations, depending on the specific properties of the evolving entities. This implies the necessity to comprehend general laws and regularities that describe this general process. An important notion that may contribute to our understanding of the differences and similarities of these two types of macroevolution is the term social aromorphosis. This term was developed as a counterpart to the notion of biological aromorphosis, which is well established within Russian evolutionary biology. Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev regard social aromorphosis as a rare qualitative macro-change that increases in a very significant way complexity, adaptability, and mutual influence of social systems, and thus opens up new possibilities for social macro-development. In their contribution, they discuss a number of regularities that describe biological and social macroevolution by employing the notions of social and biological aromorphosis, including such regularities as rules of ‘module evolution’ (or the evolutionary ‘block assemblage’), ‘payment for arogenic progress’, etc.

  • * *

The Third Section of the almanac (Aspects of Social Evolution) starts with the contribution by Dmitri Bondarenko, Leonid Grinin, and Andrey Korotayev ‘Social Evolution: Alternatives and Variations (Introduction)’. The article deals with important theoretical problems of social evolution. In the authors' opinion, a number of general evolutionary ideas, principles and conclusions formulated in the article may not only be significant for the study of social evolution but also for evolution as a whole. The authors' basic ideas and principles are as follows: Evolutionary alternatives can be found for any level of social complexity. Very often, different social and political forms have co-existed and competed with each other for a long time. Within specific ecological and social niches, some models and variants could be more competitive first, only to be taken over by other forms later. As a result, many statements about certain ‘inevitable’ outcomes of evolution can be considered correct only in the most general sense and within certain conditions. The underlying reasoning is that evolutionary outcomes are usually the result of long-lasting competition between different forms, sometimes resulting in their destruction, or in transformations, social selection, adaptation to various ecological milieus, etc. This means that evolutionary outcomes are not inevitable for each and every particular society.

These ideas are illustrated at different levels, including pre-state societies, most notably chiefdoms. The notions of homoarchy and heterarchy as labels for ideal models of rigid (invariable) and non-rigid (variable) social structures respectively, are also discussed. The authors argue that it may be possible to postulate heterarchic and homoarchic evolutionary trajectories that embrace all cultures throughout all of human history. Special attention is paid to the analysis of models of politogenesis, in the course of which alternative models of transition to complex societies were realized. This idea is suggested as a replacement for the outdated theory that represents the transition from non-state to state societies as direct and unilinear. The authors show that this transition was multilinear. They introduce the notion of early state analogues and propose a classification of various types of early state formation. Furthermore, some societies resembling early states can, in fact be regarded as complex non-state societies that are similar to early states in terms of size, socio-cultural and/or political complexity, functional differentiation level, etc., while they did not share some salient features that are typical of early states.

Christopher Chase-Dunn in his paper ‘Evolution of Nested Networks in the Prehistoric U.S. Southwest: A Comparative World-Systems Approach’ uses a nested interaction networks approach to interpret patterns of social evolution in the late prehistoric U.S. Southwest within a comparative and world historical perspective. Place-centric interaction networks are arguably the best way to bound human systemic processes, because approaches that attempt to define regions or areas based on attributes necessarily assume homogenous characteristics, whereas interaction itself often produces differences rather than similarities. The culture area approach that has become institutionalized in the study of the evolution of pre-Columbian social systems is impossible to avoid, but the point needs to be made that important interactions occur across the boundaries of the designated regions and interaction within regions produces differences as well as similarities. Networks are the best way to bound systems, but since all actors interact with their neighbors, a place-centric (or object-centric) approach that estimates the fall-off of interactional significance is also required. The comparative world-systems approach has adapted the concepts used to study the modern system for the purpose of using world-systems as the unit of analysis in the explanation of human social evolution. Nested networks are used to bound systemic interaction because different kinds of interaction (exchange of bulk goods, fighting and allying, long-distance trade and information flows) have different spatial scales. Core/periphery relations are of great interest but the existence of core/periphery hierarchy is not presumed. Rather the question of exploitation and domination needs to be asked at each of the network levels. Some systems may be based primarily on equal interdependence or equal contests, while others will display hierarchy and power-dependence relations. It should not be assumed that earlier systems are similar to the modern global system in this regard. Rather it should be a question for research on each system.

This section ends with Francis Heylighen's article ‘Conceptions of a Global Brain: An Historical Review’.The ‘global brain’ is a metaphor for the intelligent network formed by the people of this planet together with the knowledge and communication technologies that interconnect them. The different approaches leading up to this conception, by authors such as Spencer, Otlet, Wells, Teilhard de Chardin, Russell and Valentin Turchin, are reviewed in their historical order. The contributions are classified in three major approaches: organicism, which sees society or the planet as a living system; encyclopedism, which aims to develop a universal knowledge network; and emergentism, which anticipates the evolution of a suprahuman level of consciousness. The shortcomings of each perspective lead us to propose an integrated approach based on evolutionary cybernetics. Its selectionist logic allows us to analyze the process whereby initially selfish individuals self-organize into a synergetic system functioning at a higher level of intelligence, making use of an advanced version of the World Wide Web."



Evolution: History of the Concept

By Leonid Grinin, Leonid; Andrey Korotayev, et al. :

"The formulation of the first scientific theories of the evolution of nature began at least two centuries ago. However, the philosophical roots of evolutionary ideas are much older (see, e.g., Vorontsov 1999; Asmus 2001; Chanyshev 1976, 2001; Barg 1987; Ilyushechkin 1996; Losev 1977; Nisbet 1980). An incipient understanding of the historical dimension of natural processes can already be found among the ancient Greeks (e.g., Heraclitus, Anaximander, Empedocles, etc.). In the late Modern period these ideas strengthened in conjunction with the idea that historical changes in nature can be described with the aid of rigorous laws. This type of thinking created the evolutionary approach in science. However, these ideas penetrated rather slowly in various branches of science. Nevertheless, supported by a growing body of firm evidence, the evolutionary approach became gradually established during this period in geology, cosmology, biology and social sciences.

It is commonly believed that the concept of evolution was first formulated by Charles Darwin, but that was not the case. Although it is not generally known, Darwin did not even use the word ‘evolution’ in the first five editions of The Origin of Species. Not until the 6th edition, published in 1872, did he introduce the term into his text. Moreover, he used it only half a dozen times, and with no more of a definition than ‘descent with modification’.

It was Herbert Spencer who, in First Principles – a book published ten years before the 6th edition of The Origin – introduced the term into scientific discourse. Stone by stone, over the seven chapters that make up the heart of that book, Spencer carefully built up the concept of evolution, culminating in his classic definition: ‘Evolution is a change from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to a definite, coherent heterogeneity, through continuous differentiations and integrations’ (1862: 216).

And – that is especially important for our subject – whereas Darwin applied evolution exclusively to the world of life, Spencer saw it as a process of universal application, characterizing all domains of nature.

There followed a series of works – The Principles of Biology (1864–1867), The Principles of Psychology (1870–1872), and The Principles of Sociology (1876–1896) in which Spencer showed, in great detail, how evolution had manifested itself in each of these fields. Already in the 19th century it was possible to see Darwinian and Spencerian evolution as two contrasting – and indeed competing – interpretations of the kinds of change phenomena had undergone.

Thus, after works of Darwin and especially Spencer in the final decades of the 19th century the idea of evolution in nature and society, together with the notion of progress, became a major component of not only science and philosophy, but also of social consciousness in general,[4] leading to an overall picture of the world development. In the second half of the 20th century the related ideas of historism and evolutionism had penetrated rather deeply into natural sciences such as physics and chemistry.

While this respectable scientific tradition has quite ancient roots, even today there is only a rather limited number of studies that analyze the evolution of abiotic, biological, and social systems as a single process."


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