We are Going with the Cosmic Flow: But Will We Float or Sink?
1. A Quick Sketch Of Relevant Features From The Current Standard Picture of the Universe and its Evolution.
There is general agreement on a picture of an expanding universe, cooling as it goes. In the expansion process, we have a picture of phase transitions, leading to ‘matter’, or baryons.
Then follows a process of hierarchy building. Matter clumps in suns, suns in galaxies, galaxies in clusters of galaxies, and clusters of galaxies into superclusters.
Derivative from the sun building process, baryons brought together in the suns fuse, making composite atoms, in effect. These composites are built up in suns by well understood processes until we have the familiar table of elements.
These atomic composites, or aggregations, can then combine, when brought into correlations, or aggregates. The 90+differentiatiated atomic aggregates, when combined in various ways and in layers, or levels, or combinations, create the potentials for the experienced universe’s complexity.
In recent years, we have had an efflorescence of depictions of the evolution of the universe, almost always oriented to an eventuation expresses by our unique selves. The evolution story I like best is Eric Chaisson’s. Let me present you with two graphics from his highly rewarding 2001 Harvard Press book, ‘Cosmic Evolution’.
Please note that Chaisson has in his second set of graphs depicted organizations of matter, from galactic to computer chip scales, as embodying energy flows. He ranks organized states of matter according to ‘free energy rate density’. (This is the vertical scale on the right angle diagram: the horizontal axis is elapsed years of the universe.) This free energy rate density in matter organizations is associated with complexity in the operation of those matter organizations.
This graph might be taken to suggest that the whole universe has just arrived at high intensity social animal organization, just now, perhaps across a broad front. But I don’t think Eric means that. The universe might have had, one would suppose, such civilizations elsewhere heretofore, and it might have animal like civilizations evolving in various stages as we speak, so to speak (if we could imagine a framework for simultaneity across the Universe). But we can speak to what is on the local stage at this moment, as does his graph.
OK, so the Universe has been evolving high energy throughput manifestations in itself, over its 13 billion year career, and we are fortunate enough to embody that in our part of evolved earthlife.
2. A Look Under the Covers
Given this background, I want to invite your attention to a view of basic mechanics which generate these organized states of matter in the Universe, and our own earth-globalizing venture within it. In doing so I will invite you to consider, or perhaps reconsider, concepts which we commonly use, but rarely in an architectural way. These concepts, or signifiers of processes, are correlation, differentiation, and relational states and regimes.
We use the term ‘correlation’ in a wide variety of settings. We perceive its importance in a number of ways. Let us look at correlation as the basic mechanic which produces the ordered states in the Universe. Let us conceive of correlation as the coming into relational status of two or more elements – atoms, groups of atoms, suns, whatever. In correlation, degrees of freedom between the interacting elements are given up. The interactions between the ‘things’, become non random, or less random, less variable. This is so from what we call the quantum level up. In correlation, considered as a physical matter, relationships, rather than random impingements, are born.
Briefly to illustrate, let’s go back to a sun, in a galaxy. Gravity has brought hydrogen atoms which were a diffuse and random gas into close proximity with each other. Their actions vis a vis each other are restrained. In our sun, a great globular mass of correlation, hydrogen atoms are fused into helium. In larger suns, in various well understood stages, groupings of atoms are themselves fused, or correlated, into the full range of extant elements, as noted before.
This is all standard physics. We just don’t commonly call attention to the fact that all the fusings are exercises in correlation, producing tightly bound aggregates at the atomic level, which aggregates encapsulate much of the vast energies involved in their gravity-mediated assembly.
Likewise, on a different scale, taking things from sun upward, the galaxies, clusters of galaxies, etc. are all gravity mediated correlations, and correlations of correlations. When we look at the night sky, with the unaided eye or with instruments, what we see, in the patterning of electromagnetic radiation which impinges upon us, is the correlations of hydrogen, and heavier, atoms, and the groupings, or correlations, of those groupings of atoms. Were there no correlations, we would see nothing, only void. (However, we would not exist, to see the void.)
Now let us look at another widely used word, differentiation, and define it into an architectural role. Let us say that when elements – say atoms or groups of atoms – are correlated with each other in a way they are not correlated with other elements, the set of correlated elements is differentiated from the other elements. For example, when h2o molecules in a gas, as in the atmosphere, clump together to form a raindrop, we now have an inside, an outside, and, in short, a ‘thing’ – a differentiated something. That differentiated something is a differentiated set of relationships, having the characteristics we call a liquid.
Likewise, a grouping of coordinated suns we recognize as a thing — a galaxy we call it — which we often perceive as a sort of swirl. What we now perceive, in this differentiated something, is a stable pattern of relationships. We see the correlations.
And that brings us to the third architectural step – that is, to conceive of the relational sets created by correlation and differentiation as relational regimes.
The first half of the step is not hard. We can easily see the raindrop, and the river or sea into which it falls, as a liquid sort of relational regime. In this regime, as to the h2o components, distance degrees of freedom are reduced, but not rotational degrees of freedom.
The differentiated thing acts in the particular sort of fashion we call liquid. Within it molecules slip and slide over each other with a great deal of freedom. But you can’t reduce its total volume, without taking some mass – some h2o components — out of it. If you put it in a solid field of relationships, like a pipe or a set of pipes, and push hard on one wall, the same push will be felt throughout the container, via the liquid in the container.
Things can float on the liquid. But you have to specify a number of states for this ‘buoyancy’ to occur.
Put the liquid in a solid containment vessel, like a seabed or a bathtub, one surface open to a gaseous system, and put the whole apparatus on the boundary of a large mass point like the earth, then select the open surface of the water facing away from the center of mass, and then put on that surface something less dense than the water, having less mass per unit of areal displacement. Now, after we specify all these relational conditions, we have the ‘simple’ characteristic of ‘buoyancy’ — the item put on the surface of the liquid and stays there rather than moving all the liquid in its area out of the way and moving through the liquid toward the center of mass.
Let’s take an ice cube formed from the liquid. We see this relational structure as the sort of system of relationships we call a solid. Both rotational and distance degrees of freedom are curtailed, underlying symmetries are expressed in fixed angles, etc.
We are familiar with the relational regimes we call liquid and solid. We just have to take the step of thinking of them as relational regimes – that is, arrangements, or systems, of relationships.
The second half of the step is a big one. I propose that we say that all which we can perceive as the sensible universe – atoms, molecules, suns, galaxies, etc – are just regimes of relationships, created by correlation and differentiation.
This is obviously a rather large proposition, and could be discussed at some length. Let us try to make it plausible briefly.
First, given what correlation and differentiation are and how they work, one can say that nothing is or can be built — become an ordered system — other than by these means, and thus by the relationships they construct.
But let us also take it from the top. What can we say any system (such as a complex atom, a molecule, a galaxy, a toaster, an automobile, an organism) ‘is’, from a physical standpoint, other than the relationships among the differentiated elements which make it up, and its relationship as a composite with respect to other systems in its environment?
It is fairly easy to adopt this point of view as to most of what we see in ‘nature’, at least as to ‘inanimate’ things. In our solar system, for example, we characterize the sun and the planets as made up of the relational states of gases. liquids, and solids. The very large planets, Jupiter and Saturn, are so characterized, even though the pressures are so great as to make hydrogen and helium adopt liquid phases under the outer gaseous layers. Asteroids are generally characterized as solids. Comets have some variation in states.
This form of description does get a bit strained as to some stars at the end of their life cycles, when they become white dwarfs and neutron stars. Here physicists speak of states such as nuclei contained in an electron gas, and gases of neutrons. I do not know how to characterize the interior states of black holes well, and will leave that to the physicists. It can be said that these objects form as a result of correlational processes, and they can be put in relational terms vis a vis other objects.
One encounters more complex relational systems in the inanimate structures created by complex life forms. But we can nevertheless use this form of analysis. Take the auto – the metal or plastic skin is merely a regime of atoms and molecules, in a ‘solid’ form of relational organization. The fuel is made of hydrocarbons in a liquid state, or relational regime, which can be explosively disassembled into gaseous states. The glass, at least that of the traditional sort, is a sort of frozen liquid, largely composed of silicon atoms. The tires are cunningly designed semi-solids with constrained degrees of freedom such that the components will depart from and return to a sort of ‘home’ configuration.
The car taken as a composite engages in a set of interactions with constrained degrees of freedom, with its human and inanimate occasional components, and with the streets, garages, other cars, and the like which make up its environment.
Life forms can also be described in these terms. I shall do so shortly.
This step of seeing just about everything we call matter as relational regimes, set within relational regimes, leads us to a number of perspectives which are not the central focus of this conference’s presentation, but do come into play in areas of our discussion here. Those perspectives include the identification of an ‘arrow of time’, an approach to defining complexity, an understanding of the ubiquity of the ‘power law’, and more. I will call on some of those perspectives where useful in this paper.
But let us, before we get to the life section of the paper and ultimately the globalization challenge humans confront, next focus on the implications for a couple of subject areas which are closely involved in this conference and this presentation – implications this way of seeing the mechanics of the evolution of the Universe has for hierarchy and emergence theories.
As you know or will rapidly find if you look at these fields, there are a variety or treatments and languages extant. I propose that we simplify our understanding of hierarchy in the universe with a simple, comprehensive basis allowing directness and consistency in analysis and expression.
We do this by rooting our understanding of hierarchy and ‘emergence’ in correlation processes.
We have pointed out heretofore that correlation can proceed by steps – units combine, correlate, into larger units, those larger units into yet larger units, etc. The examples are ubiquitous – because that is the way the universe is built. To use biological examples with which we are familiar, atoms combine into molecules, molecules into cells, cells into bodies, human bodies into local communities, local communities into regional units, regional units into nations, nations into alliances, etc.1
This is the physical basis for hierarchy theory. I do not here deal with the large scope of constructions in our language, or representation, systems, which use the hierarchy framework, often usefully, for a variety of tasks. Stanley Salthe, in his book “Evolving Hierarchical Systems” and in his succinct “Summary of the Principles of Hierarchy Theory”General Systems Bulletin 31: 13-17, 2002, and http://www.harmeny.com/twiki/pub/Main/SaltheResearchOnline/HT_principles.pdf, has provided some good traction for this, and George Ellis has inventive discussions of hierarchies.
But this physical basis is enough to give one access to much of what they and others say – particularly, as to the physical characteristics of physical hierarchies. Components are smaller than wholes, and the internal activity of components tends to be more rapid than the interactions between the aggregates they make up, given correlations between the aggregates at the next level; components are made so by constraint (correlation constraints); dynamics are partitioned off at the levels of aggregation – that is, the internal relationships differ from and do not directly come into play in the relationships between the ‘whole’ and other things with which the aggregate interacts.
Now let us get to the promised unification of hierarchy and emergence theories. We can do this, as to physical systems, and get some discipline into our thinking,, by the simple conceptual stroke of separating the act or acts of coordination, on the one hand, and on the other hand the relational activity of the coordinated, differentiated unit with other things. The first is the creation of hierarchy. The second is emergent effects from the creation of the aggregate unit.
Let’s use a biological example at our own scale or organization to illustrate this. Take a soldier, equip him/her, and organize him/her with others into squads, platoons, companies. After doing all this we have an army. These are actions of aggregation, and they create a well understood hierarchy.
The emergent result of doing this is generally not pretty. When the armed unit is active in brute-force situations, it intends to have the emergent effects of disorganization of another army, and often dismantling the civilization which created it. You can, if you are a skilled organizer with lots of resources, get a lot of emergent effects – like Hiroshima, the death highway from Kuwait to Baghdad, etc.
What we are dealing with, in ‘emergence’, is the relationships between the aggregate and other things. For example, take the same army, transport them off the Earth to interstellar space, abandon them, and you get no visible emergent effects. What was an army would be just a mass of corpsicles held together by weak gravitational effects, occupying some space like a meteorite would. This object the might conceivably one day have the emergent effects of hitting the earth like a low density, weakly bound meteorite would.
To take something smaller, the emergent effects of a frozen surface on a pond would be to support skaters, reduce the light available to living things in the water below, etc. Cut the pond ice up into blocks and ship the ice blocks to a human settlement, as we once did, and you can get emergent effects like cooling food in iceboxes, cooling drinks for humans, etc.
What ‘emerges’ is the interactions, or relationships, between the differentiated relational regime we are focusing on, and its surroundings. This set of relationships can be simple or complicated depending on the complexity of the relational system which is the object of interest and the complexity of the relational regime – let us say for illustration the dynamics — in which it is involved.
Were we to dwell on these perspectives, we could come to some interesting conclusions – like the visible universe being merely the emergent result of the correlation, differentiation, and aggregation processes of its dynamic. But let us move on here toward the issue of building an hierarchy of dynamic economic and social organization which we would call globalization on Earth.
This gets us to the life process, and how it builds hierarchies.
3. Life and Hierarchy
Let us strip life down to its basics. Because of the accumulated insights of a number of investigators, including very early on Schroedinger and Prigogine, then Brooks and Wylie (in “Evolution and Entropy”, Chicago, 1988) and Smolin (“The Life of the Cosmos”, Oxford, 1997) (and I would add myself, in a presentation on Science and Religion in a conference of the Institute For Liberal Studies, in 1998), in the 1980 – 1990s period, then Kauffman (in “Investigations”, Oxford, 2000), and recently Ursula Goodenough and Terry Deacon (in Chapter 50 of The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion and in presentations at 2006 and 2008 conferences of the Institute of Science and Religion on the topic of “Emergence”, at Star Island), this is not as hard as it had long appeared.
First we need to recognize that with life we are dealing with what has come to be described as ‘non-equilibrium thermodynamics.’ That can be taken to mean that energy flows through a system of interest. 2
Secondly, we need to bring to the forefront of our attention the fact that ‘dynamic’ processes can and do have regularities, or patterns.
With this framing in hand, we can say that life units are patterned processes which intake energy and reproduce.
Smolin would add that the life units would have an internal coding system. This – in earthlife the genetic system — is a great convenience on Earth, but I am not sure it is a sine qua non over the entire universe. Kauffman would add that the life unit must include at least one thermodynamic ‘duty cycle’. I would say that the process must be topologically circular, to remain stable and replicate a coherent pattern. I think we are making basically the same point.
Biologists would suggest, I would take it, that the reproduction system(s) for the life units must be stable and sustainable over time, and such as to facilitate the exploration of a variety of potentials for states or modes of system operation. This would give the life units the ability to cope with a variety of conditions on this earth, and would develop the potentials of the life system over time. In other words, the reproduction system should allow for evolution of the life units. I would, obviously, grant the point if we are to describe earthlife. 3
There is more to be said to fill out the picture, of course. But this permits us to focus on some basics. Taking all this together, we have a usable framework for considering what life is and for approaching questions concerning what it requires for continuance.
Now let us put this framework into the universe’s hierarchy building system. First off, life has been group building from the start. Its trajectory points directly at the potential for a comprehensive grouping of humankind. Consider the following graphic
I am indebted to the wonderful biologist Leo Buss for the basic prose articulation of this picture, in one of the appendices to his book “The Evolution of Individuality”, Princeton, 1987.
Note that very early on in life, billions of years ago, single celled creatures created billion-unit group living, in the ‘stromatolites’ which still exist in the oceans’ shallows. A small picture of the stromatolite is put near the base of the life layer cake.
After a couple of billions of years, give or take, the evolutionary process developed reproducing groups of cells – that is, one seed cell would proliferate into a cooperating group of cells, which functioned as one operational unit, and which had the capacity to participate in generating the next multicellular unit.
This occurred first, as far as we know, with what we call the eukaryotic cell, and then blossomed in the set of developments occurring roughly around what we call the Cambrian Explosion of about 550-600 million years ago. This is the type or level of life our multicellular eyes can see, and our multicellular hands sensibly grasp.
And then in the last few hundreds of millions of years, the group building processes of the Universe, began the development of large groupings of such multicellular animals — what we call ‘social animals’. Social animals have taken one more step up the process of making groups of groups.
Arthropods got there before mammals, most visibly in the great hives of ants and termites. But now we primates, humans, have achieved the multibillion unit level, and are eying global integration of our entire human enterprise.
This development is greatly facilitated by our language, or group-built representation systems, our ability to manipulate our surroundings, and our large-animal mobility,
But also note that this large scale success is -– necessarily – energy driven. First it exploited the photosynthesis based energy system of earthlife, then the fossil energy treasures of earthlife, and now we are groping for large scale energy sources to follow.
First I suggested that group — and then hierarchy — building is the central mechanic of the sensible universe. We have now shown that that dynamic has animated the evolution of life on this earth from its beginning to now.
So globalization of some sort – making one global group of all human groups — should be, evolutionarily speaking, a Done Deal, right?
I will try to indicate why we have no certainty of successfully and sustainably globalizing human organization first with statistical arguments. The next illustration contains a formula called the Drake Equation, originated by Frank Drake in 1960, and the now familiar image of a power curve, put in juxtaposition on one page, as follows.
The Drake Equation :
A simplified power law graph:
Basically, the Drake equation takes us through five fractions of fractions in showing how rare advanced civilizations are likely to be.
R* is the average rate of starformation per year
F p is the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f§¤ is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
When you get several iterations of a fraction of a fraction you can get to a pretty small fraction. The logic of the formulation leads to estimating that advanced civilizations are likely to be quite rare in the Universe. (Of course, it is a big universe so ‘rare’ might still amount to a big number in human terms, accustomed as we are to the number one.)
The power curve leads us to the same conclusion by a logic superficially different but based on the same probabilistic mechanic in operation at the astronomical scale. The curve can be used to array the number of events, let us say earthquakes, on the vertical logarithmic axis and, often the size, or here the degree of development, on the horizontal logarithmic axis.
If we make the curve of interest here represent something like complexity, with highly advanced, high energy density civilizations being highly complex, the curve will indicate that these highly complex processes are rare.
In effect, the Drake equation shows, in one way (but not the only way) something of the mechanic of the power law curve; the power law curve in a way validates the prediction of the Drake equation.
Now let’s anchor both these curves with some hard numbers.
Staying close to home, we can say that the Earth’s mass, of ~6.0×1024 kg is about .00003 of the mass of our local solar system (about 2.0 1030 kg). Humanity’s mass, at about 3×1011 Kg (6.6 billion @50 kg average) is about .00000000000033 of the mass of the earth.
So we have a local example of where Drake’s formula and a power law curve both would put earthlife, and humanity as to energy throughput and complexity. Earthlife is an extremely rare phenomenon. And high civilization of the sort we tend to visualize when we visualize a global ecumene must be expected to be even rarer.
The whole program of producing these rare phenomena is a probabilistic one. It would take a while to spell out why this is so, but I will suggest that one of the reasons Drake’s formula has lodged firmly in the human conceptual universe is that his approach implicitly assumes this to be the case, and it squares with what we can see around us.
When we put in probabilistic terms the building of highly complex aggregates of living things, we need to distinguish between whether the Universe’s machinery will create such things, on the one hand, and on the other hand the frequency with which it does so.
Put another way, the universe’s organizational dynamic is such that it will create highly complex things like us. This is inherent in the basic settings and dynamics of the Universe. But all the evidence and the logic of the universe’s operation shows that it will do so, at least in the current organizational state of the Universe, quite rarely.
If we put sustainable global integration of human life in this context, we would see ourselves as climbing Mount Improbability, trying to write our own Instruction Manual as we climb.
That incomplete, evolving civilizational instruction manual already has a formidable catalogue of crevasses, sinkholes, shale slides, and the like we should try to avoid. You can compile your own Threat List just by googling around, or dipping into Amazon’s book trove with some well selected search words.
We might categorize some of the possible show stoppers as Particular Resource Failures (e.g. hydrocarbons, water, phosphorous) and fighting over them; Nuclear War Eruptions, Commons Management Failures (e.g. ocean resources, global warming) ; Killer Rocks From Space, the Bugs Getting Us, and Malthus Redux. You can add to this the issue of whether after a major world civilization crash we will be badly handicapped in the recovery effort by the prior depletion of high concentrations of the resources we now exploit.
So what are some draft construction notes we might try to put into our Sustainable Globalized Ecumene Instruction Manual, based on the preceding discussion of characteristics of the ordering process of the Universe?
4. Applying The Concepts – What We Need to Do
a. Keep the Energy and Materials Flowing
The energy flows derived from our harnessing of fossil fuels have driven our advances in learning, our expansion of the human life mass, our cities and our nations, and the great complex of goods and services exchanges which are now called globalization.
We now have two types of metabolism in our high energy civilization, One is the metabolism of our bodies. This feeds off the fruits of the land and sea, the biological yield from photosynthesis. The other is the metabolism of our cities, factories, transport systems and industrial farm operations. This metabolism is driven by fossil fuels, largely, accompanied by a peripheral admixture artifactual energy sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear power facilities.
If we are to maintain this civilization at a high level, we are going to have to come up with massive energy supplies other than fossil fuels. If we do not have industrial energy to support this industrial metabolism, our industrial civilization will wither.
This is not to say that we cannot and should not use energy as efficiently as we can, or that we could not have good quality lifestyles with less energy per capita than is now used in the united States, or that we should heedlessly use our industrial scale energy flow to crowd out the legacy ecosystem to such an extent as to weaken the whole life structure. I will later argue that we should increase the energy budget of all earthlife.
b. Keep the Combinatorics Going
I have indicated that it is the diversity of atomic aggregates – the 92 plus elements – and their combinatorial possibilities, in and over successive levels of organization, which underlie the diversity of relational regimes, and complexity, in our universe. This is a part of a thesis that order building in the Universe is a combinatorial process.
One of the great values of ‘globalization’, especially market mediated globalization, is its mobilization and integration of diverse materials, production processes, and human living arrangements and preferences.
Over the last few centuries, we have seen competitions between organizational structures having varying degrees of centralization, and varying degrees of reliance on coercion and consensual arrangements. We can expect such competition to continue.
Well constructed market mechanisms, relying on arrangements in which market participants have considerable latitude to define and execute mutually beneficial transactions, have demonstrated considerable capacity efficiently and productively to develop the potentials of what we call human welfare. We are currently seeing a need to improve the design of international financial markets. But the general trajectory of having considerable scope for using consensual arrangements, and market mechanisms, to mediate much international economic activity seems to be well established at this time.
c. Overcome Some of Life’s Successes
Everyone recognizes that reproduction is central to life, and earthlife uses nucleic acid strings which we call genes to code for faithful reproduction of the action pattern which is a living organism. Biologists such as George Williams and W.D. Hamilton have provided models of how reproducers favor those carrying their genes, formalizing the experience of living things from time immemorial.
In many ant and termite colonies, the specialization of reproduction in one queen concentrates reproduction of the entire hive into one lineage (though in some cases more than one male may participate in seeding the colony).
Human agricultural societies have often been organized along lineage lines, with dynasties and caste systems.
But in industrial societies, particularly of the Anglo American model, functions in the community have been allocated by means calculated to find and put in place individuals best suited to perform them. This model has intuitive appeal when assessing how to compose many political and economic units into a global ecumene.
When industrial societies are more stable over time, perhaps even stagnant, will this pattern persist or will caste systems reappear? Yet to be determined. In the meantime, we seem likely to be bucking the lineage undertow, powerful as it is.
I have posited that group making is central to the way the universe works. But in the assembly of groups of groups, as in global organization, we see and experience the persistent tensions between local identity and larger identity. Witness our efforts at nation building in Iraq, and Pakistan. No sooner do we more or less perfect a local union, than we are called on to subordinate it to a larger, and in this case pretty inchoate, one. Such is life.
d. Recognize That Coordination Entails Constraint. So Join In Globalization, but be As Farsighted as Possible About the Terms.
In group making, one has to give up some freedoms to gain some benefits. To get the benefits of globalization, we will have to give up some degrees of autonomy. No way around it.
In more technical language, in the formation of any aggregate, there is a sort of negotiation of forces in the reduction of variance, or the degrees of freedom, on the part of the components. In living systems, where the components have a volition function, a degree of internal organization allowing them to attempt to determine the form of their relationships with other things, and in some cases some internal imaging system to allow them to picture what they are doing, there can be an attempt to join the fold, so to speak, or to resist joining the fold. Humans can attempt to negotiate the terms of participation in a group, and at least in western polities often do so.
The terms of the group making do have important consequences. Leo Buss pointed out how in our evolved life systems the basic question of rigidity or flexibility of cell walls – which was sorted out rather early in the multicellular explosion of @600 million years ago — led to the many differences between plants and animals. So the architecture of globalization matters. Enormously.
Assuming that we are headed toward a globally unified human society, we might hypothetically evolve anything from a minimal set of international coordination mechanisms to a rigid global system in which the global commons were commonly owned and administered, and the central control mechanisms not only specified the protocols for interaction between ‘states’, or subsidiary organizations, but also the operating procedures within the subsidiary political entities.
Among the major issues is and will be the extent to which harmonizing the internal organization of the participating state bodies will be required. One of the insights of hierarchy theory is that at any given level of organization, the relationships between components counts for more than the relationships within them. If this is so, we might expect continuation of several models of national organization in the international matrix. But to hint at complication, instability within components – read ‘failed states’ if you will – might be prejudicial to organization among the state-components. And persistently toxic states or rogue states — like North Korea of the moment — might require some greater-group intervention. And in volitional aggregates, or systems, like individual humans and their ‘state’ collective creations, the aggregate unit not infrequently does intervene to some extent in the relationships among the constituent units.
One can expect the integration process to continue to proceed through a sort of ad hoc series of ‘felt necessities’ – such as coordination on nuclear proliferation, infectious diseases, means of achieving a measure of stability in already globalized capital mobilization and allocation mechanisms, etc.
This process of evolving through a series of felt necessities can also apply to the organizational structures of our primary multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, etc.
But if and as we can develop a set of sciences of organization, with reasonably useful modeling capabilities, as I suggest later, we might be able to predict both felt necessities and various means of coping with them, and select institutional models with a degree of useful foresight.
e. Guard against parasitism, at all levels
Leo Buss pointed out that in organizations made up of cell lineages – groups of cells replicating in parallel – one lineage of cells could gain replicatory advantage over others in ways either advantaging or disadvantaging the over all organization. (Let us say by a mutation arising in the replication process.) One cell lineage in effect parasitizes the others. The same is obviously true in human organizations.
In the general evolutionary process, ‘natural selection’ weeds out the disadvantaged multicellular organisms. They do not replicate as well as the advantaged organisms do, and the less viable plans get washed out.
Something of this sort may work out in human social systems. Better organization formats may outcompete poorer ones.
But in ‘globalization’, we are looking at one global organization, and we do not as yet have parallel Earths to set up competitive substitution of the better globalizations for the poorer ones.
We could have crude and wasteful selection mechanisms. Poorly organized global polities can degrade or collapse, and then surviving humans and their descendants could try again. But trying again could well be made difficult by depleted stocks of valuable resources, like iron and phosphorous, and by a badly messed up climate.
There is much to be said for trial and error, including the likely impossibility of avoiding it entirely. But as to policing parasitism in human organizations, we will need to use the devices which have arisen in our cultural evolution to date, such as the free press, the general practice of requiring transparency and accountability as to the operations of international organizations, and other means of exposing and coping with corrupt, or parasitic, behavior within out international organizations.
f. Maintain Integrity in, and Extend the Reach of, Our Collective Representation Systems
What has made us an unusually effective large animal holds out some, but limited, promise for making successful our ‘cultural evolution’ into a globalized human society. What has made us an unusually successful large animal to date?
The preceding layer cake of life picture makes easy a characterization of the human niche in the Earthlife Organization Chart. We are a manifestation of group organization of large animals, using an elaborate communication system we call language. We are extreme socializers at the big animal level .
However, what distinguishes us is not that we are a social animal. The arthropods evolved that trick long before us. We are large animals using an uniquely powerful communication system to facilitate our group coordination.
That communication system has evolved into a powerful set of tools for representing our relationships with each other and with the universe in which we live. With the development of better instruments for observing the Universe, and better protocols for probing and explaining it – which we call science – language and graphical systems have evolved into a massive and increasingly powerful set of what we might call representation systems.
As to human social organization, these representation systems facilitate an apparently unique measure of what we have come to call ‘cultural evolution’ – the ability to adopt new tools, techniques, organizational patterns, etc, by means other than the slow processes of genetic and selection mediated evolution.
The representation systems we have developed and continue to hone give us some measure of ability to project the consequences of how we are organized and function. And this gives us the potential, or at least the appearance of a potential, to project images of, and to try to engineer, the large scale systems which globalization entails.
This seems so straightforward as almost to make mention unnecessary. But we have seen and continue to see around us situations in which deeply engrained human emotional needs and desires work against the instructions of well researched science. Witness the intelligent design movement. And we have seen in recent years how the desires of subsets of our human group for the satisfactions of today war against predictions of global warming which seem increasingly well founded.
Our human communication systems must be made to be accurate and reliable, throughout their various uses, rather than systems for the delusion of self and others. And that leads us to our next topic.
g. Make Human Organization More of a Science. In This Effort Apply the Tools of Relational System Analysis, Including Social Network Analysis.
Today practitioners of statecraft have much in common with the master builders of the great Gothic cathedrals. They have a substantial body of experience at hand, and the advice of a variety of specialists. But what we call materials science and other engineering disciplines have given us the ability to build structures of much greater size, scope and complexity than was possible in centuries past. As we now address the building of national and international governance and economic institutions, we need to accelerate a transition from the craft of national and international institution building to the science of national and international institution building.
Two leading candidates for such sciences are network theories, given considerable stimulus and clarity by Laslo Barabasi, and complex systems analysis, given early impetus by Robert Ulanowicz. I will touch briefly on these two. However, there are a number of additional disciplines,
At the core of network analyses is the appearance of ‘scale free’ networks. Here is an example, dealing with the links between shareholding in a subset of leading business organizations, included by Guido Caldarelli in his modestly, but I think accurately. entitled article “The structure of Biological and Social Systems”, found in SIAM News, Volume 37, Number 3, April 2004.
Scale free networks like this one exhibit power law distribution characteristics. Power law distributions have been found to be ubiquitous in the universe – thinking locally, in the size of earthquakes, cities and wars, in the pattern of linkages in cells, in metabolic processes in living creatures, in the pattern of linkages in the internet, in the distribution of economic activity in national and international economies, etc.
It is obvious that such patterns of linkages will manifest themselves in international economic and political arrangements, as Caldarelli and others suggest. Best we understand these phenomena in some detail.
Lazlo Barabasi has been a leading investigator of network phenomena over the last decade. He has done much more than detail the scope of the phenomena. He has probed the causes, seeing that such phenomena arise in phase transitions, involving the transition from chaotic to ordered phenomena (which tracks the correlation mechanic I have heretofore identified) and identifying the ‘preferential attachment’ phenomenon involved in the creation of the networks (which also tracks operationally the correlation mechanic). See e.g. his book “Linked”, Perseus Publishing, 2002. His insights are well founded, and productive. In his opinion, and mine, ‘network science’ will and must be a key science of the 21st century,
‘Complex systems analysis’ has a great many practitioners and embodies more than a few approaches. Yaneer Bar-Yam is an active explorer of this topic at this time. In my view approaches explored by Robert Ulanowicz in his brief book “Ecology, the Ascendent Perspective”, Columbia, 1997, should be developed in greater detail, because they embody ‘information theoretic’ tools and expressions which are consistent with ‘network’ theories, and illustrate means of detailed examination of specific physical and economic systems.
The Santa Fe Institute is a major nexus for research over an extensive range of disciplines and approaches which could be related to issues as to social organization. One can access some ot their work at http://www.santafe.edu/research/topics-living-systems-dynamics.php. This Institute has a deep bench and extensive connections. In scale free network terms, it is a major research hub.
Elements of our national government are aware of these bodies of theory and knowledge, seen from one viewpoint or another. I would suggest that the State Department equivalents of major nations, and the United Nations, should have budgets and internal support systems for pursuing research and prediction capacities using these tools, and some related to them, as to international economic and political structures.
h. Clarify Our understanding of Ethics
Most of the vast commentary on ethics can be conceived as being concerned with how humans (and in some cases other species) can be brought to function productively in groups. From this perspective alone, ethics can be said to be protocols for group function.
I have proposed that a correlation dynamic underlies the formation of aggregates in both inanimate and animate levels of organization. If this is true, we then posit a fundamental driver for ‘ethical’ behavior not explicitly taken into account in treatments I have found heretofore. From this perspective, ethics are the handmaiden of the group making imperatives, or opportunities, made available by the correlation dynamic as expressed in living organisms.
If we then take the point of view that gene building must accord with and exploit, so to speak, the thermodynamic processes which underlie organizational composition, and frame its potentials, then such genes as may have been contributory to survival-enhancing ‘social’ activity for a given organism at any point in its evolution would have been allowed survival in the selection process of life. (The same could be said about genes which tended to produce or not to produce streamlined bodies in sea living animals. Genes code for biological systems which fit into their physical circumstances.)
Likewise, ‘cultural’ practices which accorded with the efficient operation of groups of humans would have been met with the rewards made available by the group forming dynamics of the universe.
I am in effect asserting an underlying dynamic in group assembly sufficiently powerful to induce into its service both the reproduction system and cultural evolution. Both genes and culture must go with the thermodynamic flow, I suggest.
Assuming this basic perspective, we still are put to the task of defining what ‘ethics’ are workable and productive in human society.
If we translate ethics into modalities of cooperation, we are into territory which scholars are continually searching. As to our evolutionary past, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society records a continuing series of papers on this subject. Harvard University’s Program For Evolutionary Dynamics, headed by Martin Nowak, probes this territory. Nowak’s recent article on “Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation” (Science 8 December 2006:
Vol. 314. no. 5805, pp. 1560 – 1563) includes three ‘rules’ stated in terms of types of reciprocity. Sober and Wilson, in “Unto Others’, Harvard, 1998, have proposed mechanisms of ‘group selection’.
As to our current everyday world, in our current stage of ‘cultural evolution’, we are all familiar with mechanisms in our society designed to identify and reward reciprocators and punish defectors in social contracts. Witness credit rating organizations of several types and several levels of economic organization, and criminal prosecutions for fraud in its various guises. Such mechanisms are being and will be built into international relations. If group serving behavior costly to its initiators is to persist, the probability of reward – often seen as reciprocal benefit, either direct or indirect — must be consistent and high, we have found.
And this gets us to our next requirement.
i. Build Regularity and Reliability Into International Relations
Lawyers who deal with international matters are well acquainted with assertions that there are no laws in international relations, only interests and tactics. We have recently survived, and seen off with relief, a National Administration which gave frequent expression to this viewpoint.
But there can be no relational regime at any level of organization — excluding for the moment randomness — without regularity in its composition. There can be no social organization among animals without regularity in the modes of interaction between the animals. We have ‘laws’ at each successful, durable level of human organization. Such organizations cannot function efficiently without ’laws’ — rules of good order — regularly observed.
So in any successful, sustained globalization, contracts must be regularly performed, treaties observed, funding commitments fulfilled, guarantees of security honored, debts, whether of ‘private’ or ‘public’ bodies, repaid. For this to occur consistently, mechanisms for denying reward to defectors will be required.
j. Create Coordinated Control of the Emergent effects of an integrated Global Human Society on other Earthlife and Earthlife’s support systems.
Reconciling the interests of the many components of human society will obviously be a monumental and unending requirement of a globally integrated human polity. But the harder task will be coordinating, and restraining where necessary for our continuing viability the impacts of the human hive on things external to it.
We can use the word ‘emergent’ precisely here. We can see that the combined effect of the human hive – the emergent effects of the human composition — is to deplete the sea of fish, warm the atmosphere, enlarge the ozone hole, and quite possibly to create an overdraft on the Earth’s ability to sustain us. Our collective human representation system is working well enough to create and disseminate this information among us. There may be other problems of which we are less well aware.
But at this point we are obviously not well enough organized on a global basis to restrain ourselves in a sufficiently coordinated manner to prevent clear and major damage, and risks of damage, to our common base.
k. Recognize That the Power Law Rules
Our powerful social instincts often seem to cry out against inequality among us. But for as long as credible statistics on human welfare have been collected, something like a power law distribution of wealth has been the norm rather than the exception. And before we could do systematic studies we knew that ‘the poor’ – and the wealthy – were always with us.
The power law will rule welfare outcomes in any effectively globalized human society. That is just the way the universe works. We can no more abolish this law than could we the law of gravity.
This observation is not made to make more smug the better off among us, or justify callous or cruel dismissal of remediable hardship among us. We will and should strive to ‘lift all boats’. We in Western polities assume that we should have the distribution of rewards among us reflect with some consistency the relative contributions of human society’s respective participants.
We can credit John Rawls’s advice that we should adopt ethical – that is, group serving – guidelines as if we do not know our individual standing under such guidelines, or rules. We can try to maximize over-all human welfare – if that were our guide, and it cannot be our guide without qualification and constraint, on which I will next touch – knowing that within the distribution of such welfare not each and all will be equally well off.
l. Change the Concept of What It Takes For Global Humanity To Succeed
I here adopt the same power law premises used so cruelly in the preceding proposition, to support the proposition that for humanity to fulfill its expansive ambitions for long-sustained, high energy civilization, the scope of earthlife and its inbuilt, supporting artifacts must be increased.
I construct the argument by adapting one made by Stephen Gould, in his book ‘Full House’, Harmony Books, 1996. Gould argued, in substance, that complexity in organisms would be distributed in ecosystems over geologic time according to a curve of invariant slope. He put this argument in a chapter arguing that over evolutionary time, evolution did not bias the ecosystem toward having a greater proportion of complex things. Therefore, if an ecosystem was to have more complexity in it, the ecosystem would need to be larger. The slope of the complexity curve would not change. This argument assumes that the ecosystem must have much low complexity life if it is to have the high complexity life component.
I adopt Gould’s argument that (a) one could array complexity in the action patterns of species or categories of life along one axis and array the total number or total mass of the organisms in any category on another axis, and (b) the appearances of complexity could be ranked in a curve form, with more complex organisms or systems being relatively rare in number and small in total biomass. (I would, however, change the shape of Gould’s curve, making it into a straight power law curve.)
Given this logic, consider the implications of the following two graphs.
The logic of this construct is for there to be more scope for the high free energy density, high complexity life styles we favor, the over all supporting ecostructure must be greater.
It seems to me that this enhanced ecosystem might have a substantial artifactual component. How the enhanced ecosystem would be allocated as between artifact and biology I do not reach at this point.
If this argument is sound, Global Humanity, if it is to realize the ambitions we now assume for it, will be required to change its focus from how much we can appropriate from Eden’s table – from the legacy ecosystem and its supports – to how we can enhance the over all scope of the life phenomenon on this Earth.
Here I argue that the global integration of human society expresses the fundamental group building mechanics of the universe, itself based on an underlying correlation mechanic.
But, I argue, continually sustained, high energy global integration is by no means the only possible future before us, and not necessarily the most probable one.
To achieve such a future, we must sustain and develop the human representation system to give us the social organization tools soundly to imagine and successfully to erect and maintain such a global system. We must sustain high energy flows in the human system. We must somehow manage to image and to manage our collective effects on our earthly setting. Of perhaps greatest difficulty, we must learn that we cannot achieve our own objectives if we do not subordinate ourselves to the service of earthlife sufficiently to enhance the entirety of the earthlife enterprise.
1 Some hierarchy theorists have long suggested that we are forced to use different languages to express the interactions at different levels of aggregation. The description of interactions within the nucleus of atoms with many nucleons is generally described by language different from the language of chemical bonds – interactions between atoms and molecules. And that language differs from the language often used to describe interactions between cells, and between multicellular units like animals and plants. I have proposed that the language of correlations can span these different levels.
At each level there is a form of localizing linked entities relative to each other, or to put it otherwise the fixing of relationships, i.e. non random patterns of interaction. Boltzman-Shannon statistics – power law distributions – apply at each of the different levels, such as to distribution of atomic weights, to interaction patterns between cells, to action patterns among multicellular creatures. Barabasi has observed that power law distributions arise in phase transitions, and these distributions reflect the creation of order , resultant from correlation processes. Thus we have the signature of the correlational ordering process across all levels of organization. At our human level of organization, we can easily see hierarchical arrangements reducing the variability in action of elements subsumed in an hierarchical level, and we can, with some care and consideration, see the outlines of an energy minimization dynamic in operation in these arrangements, as well as, more generally, social structures. .
2 The terminology of equilibrium and non-equilibrium thermodynamics can be misleading to the general reader. The language reflects a view of ‘equilibrium’ in an isolated system, thus having no energy flows through it, where equilibrational processes have fully played out for that system. 19th century thermodynamics presented a picture of such systems, sometimes extrapolated to cosmic scale. But Chaisson’s picture of the universe, and other work on the rate of expansion of the universe, would seem to suggest the entire universal rig is not in equilibrium, and states of matter such as suns, planets, galaxies, etc have free energy rate densities. Our statements about physics, including thermodynamics, might need to reflect the current base state of the universe rather than assuming equilibrium as a current base state. Secondly, equilibrium conditions can obtain in systems having energy flows through them, at least for measurable time frames. Standard terminology characterizes such situations as ‘steady state’ situations. They might also be called systems in dynamic equilibrium. Life functions in the framework of and entails dynamic equilibria.
3 Terry Deacon, at UC Berkeley, is developing a concept called ‘teleodynamics’ in which he argues that evolution incorporates exploitation of the form building possibilities inherent in non-equilibrium thermodynamics and in the characteristics of the universe which allow the creation of what we call shapes, or forms. In this I agree, though I would refer to correlation processes as the means by which shapes or forms precipitate out, and use notably different language in explaining evolutionary ‘teleodynamics’. In Terry’s concept, genes would be the handservants of thermodynamics. In this document I join in this suggestion.
Barabasi, Lazlo “Linked”, Perseus Publishing, 2002.
Brooks and Wylie, “Evolution and Entropy”, Chicago, 1988
Buss, Leo, “The Evolution of Individuality”, Princeton, 1987.
Chaisson, Eric, “Cosmic Evolution”, Harvard, 2001
Goodenough and Deacon, The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, Oxford, 2006, Chapter 50
Gould, Stephen, ‘Full House’, Harmony Books, 1996.
Kauffman, Stuart, “Investigations”, Oxford, 2000
Salthe, Stanley, “Summary of the Principles of Hierarchy Theory”General Systems Bulletin 31: 13-17, 2002
Smolin, Lee, “The Life of the Cosmos”, Oxford, 1997
Sober and Wilson, “Unto Others’, Harvard, 1998
Ulanowicz, Robert, “Ecology, the Ascendent Perspective”, Columbia, 1997