Pulsing and Cultural Evolution in Agricultural States

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* Article: Pulsing and Cultural Evolution in China. Proceedings from the 4th Biennial Emergy Research Conference, 2007. By Thomas Abel. Emergy Synthesis 4, December 2007

URL = https://www.academia.edu/3052637/Pulsing_and_Cultural_Evolution_in_China?

Description

"This paper proposes a general model of pulsing human-environmental dynamics that focuses on

(1) the capture of renewable resources by humans and

(2) the consumption of stores of slow-renewable resources.

Examples of uses of slow-renewable resources in early agriculture-based states include topsoil (used and depleted in farming) and forest timber (depleted both by clearing for fields and harvesting for furnaces of bronze and then iron-making). Both of these resources are slow-renewable since, in relation to human time-scales, each requires a lifetime or more to fully recover after they have been consumed by human use."


Excerpts

China

Thomas Abel:

"China is one of five locations in the world of “pristine state” formation. Five thousand years of Chinese history are commonly recounted as one dynasty following another, in a continuous,expanding trend to the present. However, pulsing in space and time is a better characterization.Theories of pulsing or cycling dynamics in human ecosystems have generated increasing interest in recent years (Odum et al. 1995; Holling et al. 2002) as a central component of the study of complex systems (Kauffman 1993; Salthe 1993; Gell-Mann 1994; Depew and Weber 1995; Prigogine and Stengers 1997; Levin 1998; Van de Vijver et al. 1998). Particularly, Holling’s “adaptive cycle” (Holling 1978) and Odum’s “pulsing” (Odum 1982) are two examples of specific studies of ecosystem dynamics, as related to human use of ecosystem resources. It is argued by Odum and others(Richardson 1988; Kang 1998) that pulsing is a result of ecosystem self-organization for maximum power (i.e., maximized power intake, energy transformation, and those uses that reinforce production and efficiency). The history of China is indeed a history of almost countless rises and falls. The growth of Chinese states “pulsed” in both space and time. Within one “dynasty,” a capital might move six or eight times. Dynasties expanded into great empires, only to dissolve into regional states or even city states. There have been many meticulously reconstructed historical explanations of this history of rise and fall. But a far simpler explanation has not been offered, one that could be called an environmental “null hypothesis.” That is, can this pulsing history be explained with a model that accounts for the pulsed usage of natural resources by ancient farmers as they cut and cleared and farmed the ancient forests of China? This paper proposes a general model of pulsing human-environmental dynamics that focuses on (1) the capture of renewable resources by humans and (2) the consumption of stores of slow-renewable resources. Examples of uses of slow-renewable resources in early agriculture-based states include topsoil (used and depleted in farming) and forest timber (depleted both by clearing for fields and harvesting for furnaces of bronze and then iron-making). Both of these resources are slow-renewable since, in relation to human time-scales, each requires a lifetime or more to fully recover after they have been consumed by human use." (https://www.academia.edu/3052637/Pulsing_and_Cultural_Evolution_in_China?)


Maya Civilization

Thomas Abel:

"Joyce Marcus has studied the growth and contraction or collapse of early states around the world (Marcus 1998). Looking at the Maya State or Civilization as a whole, she argues that its growth and collapse was not a smooth ascent and descent, but rather was “sawtooth,” with intermittentexpansions and contractions (Figure 1). Of even greater interest, when she looked at the Maya State spatially, she found not a single rise and fall of the Maya State, but instead numerous spatially distinct rises and collapses (Figures 2 and 3). Therefore, in fact, there are two important dimensions to thedynamics of the Maya State. First, as a whole, the Maya State can be seen to pulse in time, with numerous periods of growth and contraction. Second, taken spatially, the Maya State moved about the landscape. It will be argued in this paper that this permitted the pulsed consumption of new areas of slow-renewables. Marcus used these insights to explore the dynamics of other early states. She found similar patterns in the Andes, in Mesopotamia, and Central America (Figure 4) (Marcus 1998). In other words,ancient states have often been found to ‘pulse’ spatially across a larger landscape area. This shared pattern of spatial and temporal pulsing suggests that a general explanation may be sought, one that exceeds particular political-historical accounts." (https://www.academia.edu/3052637/Pulsing_and_Cultural_Evolution_in_China?)