Sunday, 30 September 2012

Reaching the Anthropocene !

Humanity today is like a dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. We created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, Medieval Institutions, God-like technology. [1]

Evolution for ever…

We are the Anthopocene
Evolution of Earth is billion-years-story-line about how to increase diversity, enlarge options and finally reaching the Anthropocene.

Chemical, geological, and biological evolution of our plant shaped its fate and drove it through tremendous changes, such as setting up an atmosphere containing free oxygen. But recently evolution has set free the most vigorous driver of its evolution, humans. Within a tiny elapse of time this mind-powered, bonding-driven and tribe-centred cooperators conquered Earth. Humans are now challenging the state of the planet.

Human social systems and their economies now have the power to shape our planet, for the better or for the worse [a]. How did we arrive there? It started a little 14 Billion years ago.

Story one... 

Fusion outburst of the sun
Following the Big Bang rapidly the evolution of chemical elements started. Nuclear fusion in the first suns burns hydrogen to deuterium, to helium and helium to lithium. Matter ejected at end of  live-cycle  of these suns is gathered in new suns and there it is fused to chemical elements like carbon, nitrogen or iron. Supernovas throw these elements out into deep space, gravity aggregated them to new suns. For many hundred millions years this evolution of more and more complex chemical elements went on. Once having advanced building more and more complex elements chemistry finally could start adding other complexities to a world previously dominated by physics only.

A new kind of interaction of elements came possible that kept their nature when they met and aggregated; chemical reactions. The aggregation may break up and its initial elements can enter unaltered into new, different aggregations (molecules). Fusion merges elements into new elements. Their fission, if possible, does not produce the initial elements unaltered. Increasing number of chemical aggregates, minerals, came possible once fusion in stars had produced elements such as carbon, oxygen, aluminium, silicate or iron. New worlds came possible, such as icy comets or rocky planets

Story two... 

A step further down the time-line,  when rocky planets like Earth had formed,  their geology could evolve from chemistry. The evolution of planets could take off [2]. Enriched mineralogy of the planet  evolved and preceded biological evolution. Biological evolution was evolving out of increasingly complex chemical reactions that came possible now when building on the recycling of matter in the geological processes of  planet Earth. Intrinsic question, what path of chemical-geological evolution of  planets opens the path to biological evolution - see Mars and Venus for possible dead-ends, but wait for surprises from rocky-icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Planet Earth - current configuration
Biological evolution is happening first on the level of very complex molecules. Reproduction of about the same is added as new and essential main pattern of change. From now on biological evolution will be the main driver of change for billions of years. Survival, simply be lasting reproduction of about the same, is now the key notion.

Biology added new forms of beings to a world previously dominated by physics and chemistry, and geology of the planet got complexer. Biological and chemical process took many millions years to assemble first single-cell organisms having stable mechanisms to achieve reproduction. These stable carriers of "reproduction of about the same" evolved to multi-cell organisms, being even better carriers for  "reproduction of about the same". In the same time the chemical evolution of the planet continued; free oxygen in the atmosphere changed completely the face of the Earth, including its geology. In the end the oxygen-rich atmosphere opened evolutionary paths towards mobile and information-gathering beings of high energy consumption, animals. 

Live began to shape Earth, in the sea and on land, be it as plant or as animal. Reproduction is the game, survive through reproduction. Biological evolution of bodies, organs and senses got complemented by evolution of nerve systems that support complex behaviours, tuned to survival and better reproduction.  Astonishing interactions of individuals, such as insects in colonies, fish in swarms, wolfs in packs, entered into the picture. Interactions tuned to support the survival of the kin.  Complexity of nervous systems and brains increased and now evolution of minds could set in; minds with the function to support intelligent interaction of individuals for their selfish and common benefits.

Story three... 

Evolution of mind and culture began. Groups of late primates and early humans started using tools, fires and camp-sites. Furry plant gathering  knuckle-walking species evolved to hairless, sweating, game hunting species. Hounding in groups and maintaining the camp-site requires cooperation, going beyond selfishness and caring only for your kin.

San hunters - using techniques of group hounding
At this stage, processes had to emerge at group level that were fostering bonding within the group to ease cooperation and thus to enhanced likelihood of reproduction of the group. Evolution on group level triggers in. The evolutionary process is acting also on the level of mental processes, thus the evolution of the brain. The brain has to be the carrier of new skills, such as anticipating intentions of the other human so that the own behaviour gets adapted to it.

These new skills helped to built and share ideas, attitudes and techniques among members of a group, who bond with each other, building an even tighter knitted community – brain for culture.  Cooperation in competition, own reproduction and fitness of the kin, and reproduction and fitness of the group gets closer and closer dovetailed. History emerged, advanced cultures as complex pattern of values, ideas, behaviours, favoured skills and preferred techniques emerged too. Now these cultures are complex carriers for successful reproduction, lesser for the individual or kin but for the group. [3]

Nearly now and here...

There we are, humans today. The story-line is still a fascinating suite of bold steps; and many of their details have to be filled in. But what does it mean for us - here and now at the verge of Anthrophocene - for our societies, their infighting and their cooperation? It tells us from where our history started and what has driven us to a fair degree, and possibly will continue to drive us. 

Network - who links whom?
Thus, we should acknowledge that bonding in tribes, groups and recently in social networks are part of our home. It is a part of our identity-finding that is set in mind, although not in stone [6]. Million years of evolution shaped our mind for betting our own survival on that of our group.  Successful cooperation within the group secures reproduction. Cooperation is a wired-in mind-thing, a common culture-thing. The culture maps the minds.

Over the last million of years our mind and therefore our brain had to evolve to deliver a mind having competitive edge, for the group. Mind-based cooperation has to over-balanced individual selfishness, and did so up to the point that we armed our minds and cultures with possible justification for self-sacrfiying actions for the benefit of the group. Mind and therefore brain have evolved to deliver drivers that can out-power selfishness. These divers come in different forms, such as emotions, mental maps of the other, irrationality-rationality, storytelling and myths, the latter including religion as one of the most powerful drivers. All these divers shall foster bonding and cooperation within the group helping to fight off or to compete out the other group. Up to the point - we shall survive they shall perish!

... promising abundance if...
Since Palaeolithic times each of the countless thousands tribes invented its own creation myth. During this long dream-time of our ancestors, supernatural beings spoke to shamans and prophets identifying themselves to the mortals as gods; gods being shaped by the environments of those who invented them.The creation stories gave the members of the tribe an explanation for their existence. The creation myth was the essential bond that held the tribe together. No tribe could long survive without it. The creation myth is a Darwinian device; it was the principal diving force that shaped biological human nature, mind and brain. Consciousness driven by emotions, having evolved over millions of years of life-and-death struggle was designed for survival and reproduction. Pre-humans had to rely on bonding and cooperation among individuals. Bonding is based on cooperation among individuals or groups who know one another and are capable of distributing ownership and status on a personal basis. [1]


...wise villager...
If we are " a dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world..." but having  "...created a Star Wars civilization with Stone Age emotions..."  using "...Medieval Institutions, God-like technology..." then we have to acknowledge that state of our mind. We have no other, no better mind. 

So, we should do what evolution taught us best, namely bonding a group by a common culture that is geared to maintain reproduction of the group. Thus we should build the global village on our planet using the best means and insights we have [4, 5] and getting as many humans involved as possible.

A village rarely is an idyllic place. However normally is sufficiently productive and peaceful to sustain reproduction of the villagers. And that's in the first place "why we are about" and "what we are", as the story-line of evolution tells. There is not more intelligence in our design. Being soon a bit more than seven billion humans on Earth we have no other choice but shaping the Anthropocene of planet Earth. So let's build that village, rapidly.

Ukko El'Hob

[1] "The social conquest of earth" by Edward O. Wilson, quoted;

[2] "The Story of Earth: The first 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to a Living Planet." by Robert M. Hazen;

[3] "Wired for Culture. Origins of the Human Social Mind" by Mark Pagel;

[4] "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think" by Peter H. Diamandis;

[5] "Planet under Pressure"

[6] Human behaviour: A cooperative instinct, Simon Gaechter, NATURE

[a]  see: