Relationship Between Cognitive Complexification and the Level of Cultural Evolution of Societies

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Brendan Graham Dempsey:

"Later work by developmental psychologists such as Robert Kegan of Harvard University has yielded similar, corroborative findings at the individual scale with his Constructive Developmental Theory (CDT), while research by Ronald Inglehart and the World Values Survey project provide over 30 years of contemporary empirical data at the cultural scale (see, for instance, Inglehart’s book Cultural Evolution).

Given the relationship between information processing, social complexity, and worldview, studies in human developmental cognition have added clarity to some of the mechanics of such cultural evolution. Jean Piaget’s pioneering work in genetic epistemology, for instance, established a clear sequence to cognitive development — an endeavor that has since been advanced by neo-Piagetian researchers like Kurt Fischer and Michael L. Commons.

Commons’s “Model of Hierarchical Complexity” formalized the sequence, showing that cognition complexifies according to a part-whole logic, wherein each successive level builds on (and thus includes) the level before it in a tiered, hierarchical manner. The Model allows for the ranking of tasks and modes of thought according to a mathematically deduced complexity metric. In this way, conceptual paradigms can be assessed in terms of their relative complexity.

In his 2017 book The Listening Society, metamodern sociologist and philosopher Hanzi Freinacht (a protégé of Commons) argued for a direct connection between the hierarchical complexity of Commons’s cognitive stages and those from developmental psychology (e.g., Graves’s levels), suggesting an evolution of psycho-cultural metamemes whose advance is correlated with cognitive complexification and growing information processing capacity.


We thus begin to see how cultural evolution and the complexification of worldviews follows the same trajectory as neurological, biological, and cosmic evolution. In the process, more of reality is mapped and modelled at higher and higher resolution. Evolution produces knowledge of the universe, first encoded in DNA, then experienced by minds, until minds become self-conscious through language, and more and more complex societies and worldviews emerge.

As Jantsch concludes in The Self-Organizing Universe:

- It becomes possible to view evolution as a complex, but holistic dynamic phenomenon of an universal unfolding of order which becomes manifest in many ways, as matter and energy, information and complexity, consciousness and self-reflection. …Natural history, including the history of man, may now be understood as the history of the organization of matter and energy. But it may also be viewed as the organization of information into complexity or knowledge. Above all, however, it may be understood as the evolution of consciousness …

All of this further validates the Unifying Theory of Reality articulated by Bobby Azarian, which posits a universe ever evolving according to a learning algorithm that increases in information processing capacity and deepens in conscious depth. That is the great story of the cosmos, one that leads directly to us. “We are the cosmos come alive,” Azarian writes, “not metaphorically, but literally.”

Looking at the bigger picture, we see that biological evolution, adaptive learning, and scientific progress all reflect an accumulation of uncertainty - reducing information encoded in genetic [Life], neural [Mind], and cultural [Culture] memory.

The integrated evolutionary synthesis — based on

- the evolutionary epistemology

- universal Darwinism

- universal Bayesianism framework —

recognizes that life, mind, society, culture, science, art, and technology are all manifestations of one evolutionary process, one thermodynamic process, one computational process, unified by the concept of knowledge—adaptive complexity’s solution to the eternal problem of uncertainty and disorder.

And with this, we come full circle, since our history began with a consideration of the transition from the metameme of traditional religion to the modern reductionist metameme, which has itself yielded at last to the neo-holistic paradigm of complexity. We can now see that this very transition has been part of the learning process of complexification through time—the cosmic story of metamodern Emergentism, which arises at a moment when integrating the entirety of this process into a single justification narrative represents an urgent societal need."