Deep and Long

October 21, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Biology, Society

Evolution has been unfolding for billions of years.  In addition to length, evolution has depth.  Evolution is perhaps deeper than it is long.

In evolutionary theory, there are arguments focusing on the specific place in the hierarchy of scale that evolution actually occurs.  Richard Dawkins emphasizes the reductionist position that just above the molecular level, genes are the center of the evolution universe.  The late Stephen J. Gould had been an advocate for multilevel evolution with selective processes engaged in many levels whether they were gene, individual, species or larger groups.  The human genome has been mapped.  Conservative political reductionists such as David Brooks concede that the gene offers little depth of understanding without embracing the gene’s relationship with the environment.  The alliance between Neo-Darwinians and neo-conservatives is showing strain as a reductionist point of view, whether it is evolutionary theory or geo-political theory, gives way to an understanding that transformation is not about the individual, but about the whole.

This work examines four chords, symphonic sections or scales while exploring evolutionary process:  biology, society, ontogeny and individual experience.  Within each of these four sections are additional levels, nesting hierarchies not unlike different sections of an orchestra carrying a theme at different musical scales, with each note within each scale representing a transformational focus point.  For example, within biology there are the many levels through which selective processes influence the transformation of populations, species, individuals and genes resulting in evolution in the present and over time.  Natural selection, sexual selection and Lamarckian selection are the selective processes we are aware of.  There are more.  I suspect Lamarckian selection can be broken down into a number of selective processes in the same way that a condition like autism can be broken down into several etiologies or causes.  Evolution is deep.  We’ve a ways to go.

Society, like biology, is another evolutionary scale that reveals many levels where transformation occurs.  Burdened by the theory of natural selection, theorists have been hesitant to detail how exactly society evolves.  Habermas, Wilber, Gebser and Thompson approach this problem from a philosophical perspective.  I argue that understanding the impact of sexual selection and Lamarckian selection on human biological evolution opens the door to understanding societal evolution.  Stepping through the door, we again see evolution operating on several levels.

Societal evolution operates at the level of the individual, the community, society and the world community.  Like biological evolution, there is constant violation of these levels with numerous other intralevels that are engaged and passages between levels that are traveled that we just don’t have facile words for.  For example, evolution at the level of people that get from one place to another while wearing headphones doesn’t exactly constitute a community but impact, and are impacted, in a number of ways that influence the environment and social change.  There is a not so subtly different community of cell phone users that commonly text message.  Texters are a community, a community with deep impacts on society.  Texters massing to protest have compelled governments to change in Asia.

Dawkins created and encouraged the idea of the “meme.”  Revisited when we are using an explanatory model that embraces a multilevel perspective for societal evolution, a meme as a concept experiences a transformation.  Memes nest as evolutionary scales nest, with memes within memes within memes characterizing the transformation of society.

Evolution on the scale of biology unfolds on several levels.  Evolution on the scale of society also occurs on several levels.  Boundaries between levels are porous.  Following the path of evolution is not just tracing a journey over time.  Understanding evolution requires an ability to note the multileveled characteristic of evolution in the present, whether it is biological or societal.  If that weren’t subtle and complicated enough, consider that during ontogeny, at any moment, the environment is impacting, modifying and evolving physical, behavioral and unseen features of the individual, as many levels are ontologically informed.

Evolution is not only long.  Evolution is deep.  In the present, evolution is so deep as to be immeasurable.


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