Multi-Evolutionism or Non-Linear Evolution Theory

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Contextual Quote

"The notion of evolution is not popular in contemporary Anthropology. Many researchers do not use it preferring to write about transformation, transit, or change. Evolution for them is synonymous to dogmatic understanding of human history (Yoffee 2005; Pauketat 2008). However, even critics of evolutionism do not appear to reject the very fact of continuous social change. In prehistory people were hunters and gatherers and were integrated in small bands. Later some of them experienced sedentarization and transition to food production, began to found towns and invent complex tools. It would be ridiculous to reject such changes. Another point is that contemporary vision of cultural transformations differs greatly from the naïve ideas of the 19th century evolutionists (see, e.g., Earle 2002; Claessen 2000; Carneiro 2003, Marcus 2008; Hanks, Lin-duff 2009; Earle, Kristiansen 2010 etc.). Contemporary approaches are more flexible and are based on a much more considerable set of evidence. That is why it would be wrong to criticize the scholars of the past for their knowledge of something worse than ours. They ought to be estimated in comparison with their contemporaries. So, we believe that the notion of evolution has a right to exist, and for already several decades we have been elaborating the ideas that can be called “new wave evolutionism”, or Multi-Evolutionism or Non-Linear Evolution Theory)."

- A_Korotayev_and_D_Bondarenko et al. [1]


Critique of Universal Evolutionism

"Universal evolutionism naturally has its own limits and vulnerabilities.

First, the universal evolutionism examines only one evolutionary trend (which is in certain respect the major one); meanwhile, it is necessary to pay attention to other trends and aspects as well Let us note that the similarities between objects and processes of different nature can become evident (and are often found) within the secondary trends (e.g., the similarity between social insects and the society).

Second, the universal evolutionism is supported by a rather narrow theoretical base of the unity of the world. In addition to distinguishing the historical and genetic unity it is necessary to find an ontological base for the unity which would be based on common principles, laws, and rules showing the internal similarity of the existence and functioning of the matter at all phases of its development.

Third, it is necessary to examine the common features disregarding the differences in nature and complexity of the objects; thus, one can formulate certain (but rather general) principles of ‘behaviour’ of the objects belonging to different evolutionary levels.

Fourth, one can postulate the unity of evolution proceeding from the assumption about the general principles (which originated genetically or typologically) of the world structure. To find out the general elements of this structure, one should compare the evolutionary levels (fields) applying different criteria."

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

Towards Mega- or Meta-Evolutionary Studies

Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev, et al.:

"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).[1]

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. Even fewer studies seek to systematize the general characteristics, laws, and mechanisms of evolutionary dynamics in order to allow a comparative analysis of different evolving systems and evolutionary forms. Furthermore, the history of evolutionary approaches and methods is rarely represented in the literature. Encyclopedias, for instance, pay very little attention to the notion of evolution and the development of evolutionary approaches to history.[5] This is remarkable, given the fact that the application of the evolutionary approach (in the widest possible meaning of the term) to the history of nature and society has remained one of the most important and effective ways for conceptualizing and integrating our growing knowledge of the Universe, society and human thought. Moreover, we believe that without using mega-paradigmatic theoretical instruments such as the evolutionary approach scientists working in different fields may run the risk of losing sight of each other's contributions.

What could have caused the current insufficient attention to evolutionary studies? First of all, the crisis of evolutionism in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in philosophy, biology, anthropology, sociology and some other fields (see, e.g., Zavadsky 1973: 251–269; Zavadsky et al. 1983: 21–26; Cohen 1958; Carneiro 2003: 75–99) was caused by the fact that some classic evolutionists (but not all of them, including Darwin himself) based their ideas on a rather naïve belief in the idea of the unilinearity of development and the universality of general laws, as well as that nature and knowledge coincide entirely (see Bunzl 1997: 105). As a result, the positivistic philosophy of evolutionism could no longer accommodate the rapidly developing scientific knowledge and was rejected together with the idea of uninterrupted progress (Parsons 2000: 44).

However, the mistakes of the early evolutionists, who tried to encompass all the processes with a single and eternal evolutionary law, should not be regarded as the main cause for the current lack of attention to mega-evolutionary research. Such ‘excesses’ are rather common during the formative period of scientific schools. Since that time, the evolutionary approach has been purged from many of these excesses. This explains to a considerable extent why many scientists have returned to using evolutionary ideas at a new level of scientific understanding as well as why they are developing them actively, not only within biology, sociology, or anthropology, but also within physics, chemistry and astronomy. During the same period in the 20th century, the scientific understanding of timescales related to the evolution of the Universe, life and humanity improved dramatically. The better understanding of often enormously long periods of time during which certain systems and structures were formed stimulated (especially within natural sciences) studies into the emergence of everything. These studies proved to be more successful when they were based on evolutionary paradigms.

However, we believe that a major cause for the lack of attention to evolutionary paradigms is connected with the deepening contradiction between, on the one hand, the aspiration for levels of scientific precision and rigor that can only be achieved through narrow specialization, and, on the other hand, the limited human ability to absorb and process information. In addition, perhaps more than any other theory, macro-evolutionary theories have to deal with the acute contradiction between the world and its cognizing agents; this contradiction can be expressed in the following way: how can infinite reality be known with the aid of finite and imperfect means? The wider the scope of studied reality is within a given theoretical approach, the more acute this contradiction becomes.

In earlier eras of scientific studies one could hope to know reality interpreted as a ‘thing’ that is hidden from the human eyes by the armor of ‘phenomena’ (see Bachelard 1987: 17–18). The speculative philosophy dominant in the mid 19th century was based on the assumption that the search for universality implied the presence in the Universe of some form of essence that did not permit any relationships outside itself. It was the task of speculative philosophy to discover such an essence (Whitehead 1990: 273). Today, however, this type of approach has largely been abandoned.

If Popper (1974) and Rescher (1978) are right by maintaining that for any concrete scientific problem an infinite number of hypotheses is possible, and if it is correct that the number of scientific laws in any scientific field is an open system with an indefinite number of elements (see, e.g., Grinin 1998: 35–37; Grinin and Korotayev 2009: 45), then what could be a possible total number of hypotheses in evolutionary theory? Furthermore, the need to master colossal amounts of information as well as complex scientific methods makes research into macroevolution rather difficult. However, if the human mind had always retreated while confronting problems of cognition that appeared overwhelming, we would have neither philosophy nor science today. The complexity of such tasks and the difficulties in reaching solutions both stimulate the search for new theoretical and experimental means (including bold hypotheses, theories, and methods). As we see it, evolutionism as an interface theory that analyzes historical changes in natural and social systems and as a method that is appropriate for the analysis of many directional large-scale processes will occupy a most important place in the struggle for human understanding of the outside world.

In the past, philosophers and thinkers could try to embrace the whole universe with a single idea. Today, it seems as if the epoch of great universalists and polymaths, who could make great discoveries in very diverse fields of knowledge, will never return. However, the need for conceptual organization and unification of knowledge still exists and is felt as such by many scientists. As Erwin Schrödinger (1944) noted, even though it has become almost impossible for a single mind to master more than one small specialized field of science, some scientists should still try to synthesize facts and theories into large-scale overviews.

The fact that the need for modern analyses of a great variety of large-scale processes remains rather strongly felt and is even increasing today is not surprising. The currently globalizing world needs global knowledge. That is why we see the emergence of forecasts of the future of the Universe, of our planet and our World System; the development of gigantic data bases; the study of trends and cycles with enormous lengths and with very diverse characteristics. The trend toward multi-disciplinary approaches is also becoming ever more evident today.

However, we still need to develop effective meta- and mega-theories that allow us to study the development of nature, society, and, indeed, the entire universe on suitable scales of time and space. We need effective theories that provide good ways for linking universal and local levels as well as relatively objective instruments for comparing various systems using a range of parameters. Only this will make it possible to detect common features and trends in the endless flow of change and diversity observed in reality. This may also allow us to identify hierarchies of causes that influence the course of change and development.

We need epistemological key terms in order to understand change in nature and society in its entirety. There are not that many scientific notions that could play the role of such key terms. We think that evolution is one of them. As we see it, the idea of evolution remains important for the unification of knowledge. Yet one should not overestimate the importance of evolution in the way of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1987), who believed that the evolutionary theory is more than scientific theory. To be sure, no scientific method can claim to be the only one. There will always be alternative points of view. Any method or approach has its limitations. Today, the evolutionary approach seems especially valuable. Evolutionary studies constitute one of the most fruitful fields of interdisciplinary synthesis, where representatives of the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities find common ground for research and analysis.

We are entirely ready to acknowledge that evolutionism (as any other paradigm) has its limitations."


More information


* Article: Cosmic Evolution and Universal Evolutionary Principles. By Leonid Grinin. In: [[Evolution Almanac]]: Evolution: From Big Bang to Nanorobots.


"The present article attempts at combining Big History potential with the potential of Evolutionary Studies in order to achieve the following goals: 1) to apply the historical narrative principle to the description of the star-galaxy era of the cosmic phase of Big History;

2) to analyze both the cosmic history and similarities and differences between evolutionary laws, principles, and mechanisms at various levels and phases of Big History.

As far as I know, nobody has approached this task in a systemic way yet. It appears especially important to demonstrate that many evolutionary principles, patterns, regularities, and rules, which we tend to find relevant only for higher levels and main lines of evolution, can be also applied to cosmic evolution."


* Book: Alternatives of Social Evolution / Ed. by N. Kradin, A. Korotayev, & D. Bondarenko. Vladivostok: FEB RAS, 2000

URL = [2]

"The first part includes theoretical studies of non-linear evolution:

1 Problems, Paradoxes, and Prospects of Evolutionism Henri J.M.Claessen

2 Alternativity of Social Evolution: Introductory Notes Andrey V. Korotayev, Nikolay N. Kradin, Victor de Munck, and Valeri A. Lynsha

3 Process VS. Stages: A False Dichotomy in Tracing the Riseof the State Robert L. Carneiro

4 The Change of Non-Change: Evolution of Human Regimesand the Structure of World History Nikolai S. Rozov

5 Cultural Evolution: Systems and Meta-System Alex Brown

6 East and West in History: A Short Abstract Leonid S.Vasiliev